An Adjunct Catching Fire: Part 2

Adjunct Mockingjay is continuing her work for the resistance. If you missed Part 1 yesterday, read it here. As she told us in Part 1, “Rebellion should never be polite.”

She’s been doing her best to shift the odds. Let’s keep helping her. Add your thoughts below and then share & tweet this piece.

An Adjunct Catching Fire

by Adjunct Mockingjay

I’m one of the Katnisses of the world: I stand up for myself & defend others, but then go PTSD in a closet.


A rockstar scholar stole the research of someone she called stupid.

Just let that sink in for a moment—not because it’s especially heinous, but, in case this, or something similar, has ever happened to you. In academia, know that usually if someone doesn’t like you, if someone abuses you emotionally or verbally, it’s not about you. It’s about their insecurity.

And it should be reported.

As a survivor of abuse, I don’t always have the impulse to tell others. I tend to internalize the abuse I experience because I start thinking I must have deserved it.

The more I thought about the intellectual theft, the longer we stayed in class every week, the more she systematically humiliated every student who wasn’t a “favorite,” I started getting angry. But I wasn’t necessarily getting angry for the reasons I just listed because I didn’t know it was okay to be angry—no one would say a word against Rockstar, not even when we were outside class, so, being a new grad student, I couldn’t put into words what I was angry about, per se.

I became suicidal that semester. Rockstar triggered all of the insecurities about being worthless I was trying to suppress from childhood. I had worked so hard to prove my father wrong, that it was nearly the end of me when someone I respected zeroed in on that vulnerability and tried to blow me to pieces.

The only thing that kept me from going through with it was that, for the first time, I realized that I was angry. But I didn’t understand where the anger should be directed. As my husband and I sat and talked on the kitchen floor, I realized I wasn’t angry with myself.

I was angry at Rockstar.

Getting angry was the only way I had of not going through with killing myself that semester. So I started complaining to fellow students in my creative writing class before class would start, but no one told me to report Rockstar—reporting her was not even something that was on my (our?) radar! That is so embarrassing to admit, but reporting was a huge blind spot for me precisely because I was indoctrinated to accept abuse.

Never accept abuse.


I should’ve reported Rockstar. I just didn’t know where to go. In retrospect, I should have written a formal complaint to the chair of the department, used the same letter for the Dean of Students, and I would have forwarded it to Rockstar so she could know that I was reporting her abusive behavior. If I were the same person at 25 as I am at 33, I would have brought it up during class–even if it meant no one joined me in confronting how she was treating us, but just so they would know that someone was calling her on it and they weren’t alone.

Other things that happened in that class:

  • Rockstar held the final class at her house,
  • which meant the PowerPoint presentation I spent weeks making was useless (and I give really good presentations—no reading off slides nonsense) because
  • the Other Student and I had to give our presentations in Rockstar’s cramped living room, and
  • a large portion of the class was noticeably tipsy because the schedule transpired thusly: Other Student’s presentation, then dinner with wine, then me, so
  • it was 9:30pm when I gave my presentation, and
  • a large portion of the class was tipsy, so
  • there was basically no discussion of my presentation.

The way the assignments were supposed to run was: you give your presentation, the following week you submit a 5-page paper on your topic, revised from class discussion, Rockstar provides feedback, you use these 5 pages for the basis of your final 25 page essay.

Since Other Student and I were giving our presentations on the last day of class, our 25-page papers due 5 days later, I made sure I handed my 5 pages over to Rockstar at her house.

During dinner I asked Other Student what she had planned to do, and Other Student informed me that Rockstar told her to turn in her 5 pages weeks ago so Rockstar could give her feedback ahead of time. Rockstar never made a similar arrangement with me.

After my presentation, I gave my 5 pages to Rockstar and she said she would email me comments. She emailed me the following two sentences on the day the 25 page paper was due:

The only thing I wanted to say about the five pages, which were well written and on the right track, is to push yourself a bit to think about the issues raised in the relevant readings.  But over all, I thought you were off to a good start.

She gave me a B- for the class, which is the grad school equivalent of failing because anything lower than a B doesn’t count toward your course credits.

In the Amazon preview of Rockstar’s book, the one where she told me she was stealing my ideas to my face, I see a friend’s classroom contributions plagiarized as well.

So it wasn’t just me.

I should have reported her. Silence is not the ally I need. And rebellion should never be polite.




The following semester, I am happy to report, I got myself into therapy and it was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. I am convinced it’s why I’m still alive. If you come from a similar family culture where the phrase, “You need therapy!” turns the option into a pejorative, try to fight against your programming and get the help you need. And if you are ever abused, or witness the abuse of others, report it—even if you have to do it anonymously to feel safe. You and your classmates deserve to feel safe, and to survive and thrive.

That same semester, for the first two weeks of classes, I bounced around trying to find a critical class where I felt safe. Being on the creative track, as opposed to the critical track in my department, compounded my issues of being a fraud from that heinous fall semester—but I found a gender studies class taught by a wonderful professor who changed the way I thought, opened the door for what my dissertation would be about, and showed me the kind of professor I wanted to be.

Near the end of the spring, my professor mentioned in passing that she had a conversation with Rockstar about me. She didn’t go into the details of that conversation, only that it was surprising. When I checked my grades, I noticed Rockstar had changed my grade from a B- to a B.

An Adjunct Catching Fire: Part 1

Our #BurnItDown firestorm on Twitter this past weekend did a lot of great things—among them this two-part guest post from Adjunct Mockingjay. She felt inspired by this post from a former adjunct who was tired—very much so—of being a tribute to please the whims of university administrators.

Her bow is strung. Her quiver is loaded. Her aim is impeccable. #Badmin, watch out for your apples. The odds are about to shift.


An Adjunct Catching Fire 

by Adjunct Mockingjay

I’m one of the Katnisses of the world: I stand up for myself & defend others, but then go PTSD in a closet.


As a grad student, I had my research stolen by a rockstar scholar who yelled at me while calling me stupid. During her office hours.

That yelling is literal, not hyperbolic. A fellow class member walked in during the tirade and Rockstar apologized for yelling at me—she was smart enough to apologize in front of that student.

But maybe I should begin at the beginning.

I went to a Top 20 university for grad school where I took a Women in Media class from a rockstar scholar (hereafter, “Rockstar”). I had quoted her in papers as an undergrad, so I was excited to take a class from her.

It began innocuously enough: Rockstar said she was giving us the power to direct and teach the class. I am now instantly skeptical of any professor who uses this approach because the way Rockstar employed this pedagogical method exploited our class in two major ways:

  • as a knowledge mill so she could rip off our ideas for her work;
  • as a way to avoid actually teaching; and when she wasn’t pleased with what a student had to say during their presentation, she humiliated them in front of the entire class.

During the first class, we brainstormed a list of topics we wanted to cover, then we had to be responsible for “teaching” the class that week. The responsibilities included: finding readings to distribute to the class at least a week in advance and giving a 20-30 minute talk about the topic and leading the rest of the discussion.

effie and katniss at reaping_0

We had enough material to get us halfway through October, because students were to present their topics each week (to fill the three-hour class). Rockstar said after that point, she would take charge of the course. Sometimes there was more than one student assigned to a topic, so what ended up happening was the class got so far behind because only one or two students had the chance to present. Another student and I were literally the last ones scheduled to go on October 19th. But the class ran so far behind that she and I did not get a chance to present until the last day of class. In December.

This may not sound so bad, except when you know that our class was scheduled to run once a week, 4:00pm to 6:50pm. But we never got out on time. Class ran until 9pm at a minimum, and sometimes we were getting out at 10pm. Once, we got out at 11pm. (But only once.)

That’s right, she kept us in class for two additional hours—sometimes three hours—every single class. (I can’t even fathom doing this to undergrads.)

After a few weeks of this happening, and being harassed, without fail, at the bus stop while I waited in a sketchy part of Los Angeles at 10 o’clock at night, I politely said at the beginning of class the next week that, after a particularly scary bus stop encounter, I needed to leave on time because the bus stopped running regularly after 7pm.

Rockstar was aghast that I would suggest such a thing and demanded that someone drive me home after class.

Now, maybe it wouldn’t have been so awkward if Rockstar hadn’t issued this order as an angry command, but putting me in the position where I couldn’t be self-sufficient made me uncomfortable regardless. Also, this was my small way to foment a polite rebellion. I thought that other people would jump in and back me up about ending the class on time; or, at the very least, the professor would be mindful about our class time once it was brought to her attention that I was being harassed at night, especially since we were forbidden to allow our classes to go long when we taught our undergrads during the day.

Instead, Rockstar used this as an opportunity to officially announce three hours was “simply not enough time to cover the material every week,” and that we needed at least an extra hour. She joked that she had asked for a longer time slot but was told that the university didn’t have longer class sessions for grad students. To her credit she did poll the class right then and there. She asked someone—anyone—to disagree. I was not surprised that no one did. I reiterated my bus dilemma as one last desperate measure.

But, by an essentially unanimous “vote,” it was decided that class would officially go at least an extra hour every week—and I ended up being carted back home on a weekly basis by a number of rotating classmates who said it wasn’t that far out of their way and could give me rides.

In addition to the weekly stress of our “bonus” class, the practice of having students run the class didn’t go smoothly. Rockstar would be silent during the presentation, and often would tear the student apart in front of the entire class afterward. One week, a student presented on Something’s Gotta Give. She spoke about Nora Ephron, pleasure, and problematic feminism, and posed a question: How can we recuperate problematic work such as this one?

After the student was done posing her questions to the class, we were all silent (as was normal) while we formulated our thoughts, and Rockstar went on a tirade about how we were no longer allowed to use the words subversive, problematic, or recuperative for the rest of the semester.

Another student gave a presentation about fashion, using Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette as an example of fashion as text–I want to say the argument was about visual excess and hyper-consumption, but I can’t quite remember what the presentation was about, per se, because all I can remember is what happened after the student was done. In a tone of voice that sounded like she was smelling dog shit, Rockstar said, “That’s it?”

After sitting in class with these kinds of scathing critiques from Rockstar, and after a speech she gave at the beginning of one session where she specifically said that students were not doing a good enough job at running the class, I went to Rockstar’s office hours six weeks before I was supposed to give my presentation on women in comics.


(Not this kind, unfortunately.)

I asked for advice on what my approach should be for my presentation: representation of women in comics, women comics writers, or an ethnographic study of women who read comics? I said I was leaning towards representation of women in comics, and, in particular, romance comics because Harlequin started publishing their most popular romance novels as manga, printed entirely in pink or purple ink. I thought this might be the way to go because we’d already covered romance novels and soap operas, so it’d be building on things we’ve already discussed in class, and I could also talk about globalization and hegemonic femininity.

But trying to talk about the intention of women comics writers felt impossible without tracking down creators to interview, and doing an ethnographic study of readers felt beyond the scope of the presentation–and like a burden of reading for the other students–so I needed to narrow it down, but didn’t know how to choose. I brought in the Harlequin manga titles I wanted to talk about.

Rockstar called me stupid for not knowing more about comics, and she called me stupid again for needing help.

Yet she asked to borrow the Harlequin manga.

I kid you not: she called me stupid. But I left out that she yelled at me for needing help and she yelled at me that I was stupid.

I let her borrow my manga. (I still don’t know why I did that.)

I went to her office hours the next week–because I’m a glutton for punishment–with alternate presentation ideas. Maybe I should do TV instead, since we were doing TV the week before I was scheduled to go? Could I switch my topic since apparently comics are obviously not the way to go?

She yelled at me again. But a fellow student walked in while she yelled at me–because the door is open during office hours. Rockstar made sure she apologized in front of the other student. Probably not for yelling at me, I suspect, but for being seen yelling at me.

I went back a few weeks later to pick up my manga, and Rockstar told me that she was putting my ideas in the revised introduction to the second edition of her book.

I was struck dumb and after a few seconds said, “Okay. Glad I could be helpful.”

She didn’t yell or call me stupid. But I also didn’t ask for help. I collected my manga and left without sitting down.

Did she just tell me she was stealing my ideas? Is that supposed to make it okay?

Rebellion should never be polite.


Burn It Down: The Lonely Death of American Higher Education, Part 2

Adjunctski Baum

Today concludes the conversation between Robert Baum and his anonymous friend & colleague, Nikolai Adjunctski. If you missed Part 1, read it here. They know higher ed is broken, possibly beyond repair. And, as old friends, they can tease and challenge each other in the process.

Without further editorial ado, here’s the conclusion of this discussion.



RCB: There’s something terribly wrong, Nikolai. This isn’t our first time talking about this but this time, in 2014, it feels like something needs to change or you and I will die a very lonely academic death–much like Lebanon College.

ADJUNCTSKI: What does your instinct tell you?
RCB: Higher Education is running on autopilot. Like a ghost ship. Or a comatose body. It’s alive by machinations not innovations. Like it’s just, I don’t know, there–right over there–dying.

ADJUNCTSKI: What if higher education, the kind we practice–with the liberal arts and the humanities and arts and sciences all running 100% at places that respect and need our services–what if that higher education is already dead?
RCB: That means we’re the last generation of more than a millennium of scholars who dedicated themselves to truth, beauty, art, politics, rhetoric, thinking, and learning to become what Richard Rorty described as a different sort of person. And I don’t think I can be that person, be that last generation.

ADJUNCTSKI: What makes you so special?
RCB: To teach my students
ADJUNCTSKI: What if they don’t give a sh*t?
RCB: But, they do. And you know this too, Nikolai.
ADJUNCTSKI: Some of them do.
RCB: Many do. It takes them time. But, once we get out of port (September) and onto the open seas (October/November) we’re ready to bring them back to port (December) as changed people. We wouldn’t do what we do if it didn’t matter to someone.
ADJUNCTSKI: I don’t think they give a sh*t and I don’t want to waste what little time I have left here on them.
RCB: Oh my God. This is so typical, Nikolai. You want to just walk away and leave the mess for me. I’m Mr. Enthusiasm. Professor Let’s Try Again. How dare you?
ADJUNCTSKI: No one cares, Robert.
RCB: Please shut up.
ADJUNCTSKI: Administrators? Program Directors? Presidents? Boards? They’ve been fed their own salty sh*t for so long they have no idea they are eating the fecal matter of their modules–their, I don’t know, andragogy? Do you trust ANYONE who uses such a word? What is that? I don’t get it. I am expert on X and I teach X and students take X and I get paid to do X and suddenly I’m told that X isn’t good enough. Where is Y and Z? I do not know Y and Z. I know X and I think you, Mr. Administrator, made up Y and Z because you don’t know sh*t.

RCB: So perfect.
ADJUNCTSKI: And it’s only so complicated because bureaucrats need it to be complicated so they can justify their f**king existence to some other bureaucrat who must show progress–these measurable results, these benchmarks, these agendas and strategic plans. To hell with all of them and to hell with all of this data gathering and studies funded by dirty fascists like Bill Gates and committees initiated or resurrected or implemented or education products and graduate school programs and digital blah blah brought to us with smiley WalMart faces. I have an idea. Let’s analyze the data and see what the results show. No? Not ever? Right. Not ever. Because sometimes the results show you that you are NOT doing the thing you claim to do and you are NOT able to justify the costs of new programs or hiring new administrators or building new buildings to celebrate the Y and Z all the while my work as an expert in X is neglected and gradually dies out like you and me. That’s what they want; and they are dirty fascists for wanting it.

RCB: Explain.
ADJUNCTSKI: No. You explain. Aren’t you closing a school? Didn’t these people kill your college? How does a college just end, comrade? Only people in power can kill a college. So?

RCB: Does never having become the school Lebanon College professed to have become count as killing? Does having countless resources both human and economic thrown at the accreditation process that was supposed to all but guarantee cash cow market driven education count as intentional death? What about Deans like me spending most of their time attempting to do the work of a Registrar or Systems Analyst or Librarian while also steering programs and hiring new faculty and making sure the curriculum is doing what it claims to be doing? Does that count as killing a college?
RCB: No. Look. Comrade. It just died.
ADJUNCTSKI: Nothing just dies.
RCB: My father died. My best friend’s father to my dead father just died. Sometimes people just die. Isn’t that the lesson of Russell Banks’ novel and Atom Egoyan’s film The Sweet Hereafter? Sure there are many reasons why my father was released from the hospital and then suffered a heart attack after extensive heart surgery–I could obsess (and have) about that moment. Why send him home? What were you thinking? I’m suing you for malpractice. Complications surrounding the life and hunting accident will forever haunt me about my best friend’s father’s death. Many questions about the years of unemployment, the desperation, the chaos, the rage and all of that. But, he died. My dad died. People die. Colleges die.
ADJUNCTSKI: You’re dodging the question.
RCB: No. I’m not. Lebanon College died. People much smarter than me and with more resources than me couldn’t make it work. Allied Health didn’t work. Business innovation didn’t work. The only thing that seemed to work was General Education with some kind of active almost Chamber of Commerce approach to community needs.
ADJUNCTSKI: Then why continue operations for so long?
RCB: Because like the adjunct, the college believes next Fall everything will be different. And it wasn’t. The college died.
ADJUNCTSKI: You’re so full of shit. I will do the job the reporters should’ve done in August. Ready?
RCB: Fine.
ADJUNCTSKI: Did you have enough money to run operations?
RCB: No.
ADJUNCTSKI: At what point did you know you didn’t have enough money?
RCB: Before I arrived in April.
RCB: Since about 2007.
RCB: Well, the state, the federal accreditor, and the regional accreditor all asked the same questions about finances across the 2000s. In fact, one of the main criteria for accreditation is economic viability: will you be here in three years to provide students with the education you promised? It’s a miracle the place remained open this long.
ADJUNCTSKI: How did it stay open this long?
RCB: The generosity of our immediate community, anchor businesses. And hope. A seeming abundance of hope.

Adjunctski: That damn word again . . .
RCB: Okay. There’s definitely bureaucratic stupidity at the College, across the decades of documents I’ve reviewed. Sure. And it’s true: the situation in Lebanon does have a lot of corporate problems, especially the idea that market trends are how you best direct operations. Small colleges are fantastic in boom times; but when the economy busts, the small not-for-profits, the private colleges, are the first to feel the shock waves.


RCB: So, you’re done.
RCB: As in?
ADJUNCTSKI: I’m going to burn the whole thing down and then take a long vacation.
RCB: Why now?
ADJUNCTSKI: Why not now? It’s not getting better.
RCB: True.
ADJUNCTSKI: So, we burn it down.
RCB: What is this a scene from Batman Begins? (laughing)
ADJUNCTSKI: (cold eyes, dead stare) In many ways yes. I am your teacher trying to tell you to mind your corners for years. Burn the city. The academic social experiment failed. The fascists once again took over.

RCB: The sad thing is: we invited them in. We were mesmerized by all the talk of “measurable outcomes” and “strategic planning” and “essential course outcomes” and “transparency” and “shared governance” and “best practices.” It all sounded so legit. It sounded so corporate. And stable. And decided. It sounded like a breather from the endless unpaid work and daily (no, hourly) need to get back on our feet and start a new set of tasks but THIS TIME with a plan, with a strategy, with something akin to something to hold on to. Governance. Executive leadership. Hybridization. It was all so welcoming, like the way Heidegger said yes to the Reich so he could have a moment’s rest inside the warm bosom of an entire system dedicated to educating “the Volk” or giving him a rectorship that would establish “the old ways” in the new world order of Hitler’s vision for a people’s utopia. Like Heidegger and his disciples, myself included, he, and we, will be forever haunted by our embrace of an odious someone who wrote the most thought provoking philosophy about everything.

ADJUNCTSKI: Heidegger was a dirty fascist who deserved to die in shame.
RCB: We’re not doing this again.
ADJUNCTSKI: Maybe next time.


ADJUNCTSKI: You know we can never leave, like the Eagles song, yes?
RCB: I only know how to do this well: to share and get others to share their lives; to just be together for a few hours focused on stories and people and events that matter.
ADJUNCTSKI: I just do it for the crap paycheck now.
RCB: Truth? Beauty? Goodness?
ADJUNCTSKI: No. Not any more. It’s impossible to tell the truth when you fear for your livelihood each and every day. So, I choose to not fear and just teach when I can and earn money other ways. You cannot tell embody the truth if you are broken down by endless false starts and untenable promises and bottomless assurances from administrators who are conditioned to serve the administrative lapdogs of the institution’s owners, not you, the scholar or teacher or even “Hobby Prof” that decided to bring your experience, wisdom, and leadership into a world that actually embraces a kind of sing-song nonsensical equity that considers with all seriousness a “talking stick” (you talk/I talk/whoever holds the stick gets to talk) conflict (avoidance) resolution philosophy found in too many human resource manuals.

RCB: I once walked away from a week long symposium after someone used a stapler as a walking stick.
ADJUNCTSKI: You should’ve slapped them in the forehead with it.
RCB: You assume, old friend, that the staple would penetrate.
ADJUNCTSKI: Or that the #badmin would even feel it if it did.
RCB: Are you actually going to finish that book?
ADJUNCTSKI: Yes. I’m not teaching this Fall. You?
RCB: Yes. I no longer have a job. So, it’s back to square one version of life version seven point zero. Write. Produce. Maybe start a new college. I don’t know.
ADJUNCTSKI: I hate them.
RCB: I know.
ADJUNCTSKI: I hate them all.
RCB: I do too. But, as you say, what makes us so special? We’re not the first or last to hate people who care nothing about learning and wisdom and beauty and sharing the most profound experiences of our lives with each other, our students, our communities. How many of our predecessors drew swords against the oligarchs of their time? I’m hazarding a guess that most of the people we admire and how to become have had to burn it all down.
ADJUNCTSKI: On this we agree.
RCB: It was nice visiting with you, old friend.
ADJUNCTSKI: Please shut up.

As always, I’m happy to run guest posts. Inquire within. Your anonymity will always be protected if you want to be the blogger academia deserves (or needs) right now.

Bat Signal



Burn It Down: The Lonely Death of American Higher Education, Part 1

Today I give you Part 1 of a dual guest post. It’s the brainchild of former adjunct-turned-dean and current activist, Robert Craig Baum. He and a friend/former colleague–who wants to be known here as Nikolai Adjunctski–wanted to share some of their stories and experiences. They’ve given us a clever & funny kind of creative interview.


Baum/Adjunctski will give us…strong opinions about the current state of higher education. Happy reading, and stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow.

Nikolai Adjunctski was an adjunct from 1997-2010 in the Twin Cities; his anonymity needs to be respected as he is involved in a class-action labor suit against one of his institutions. Adjunctski holds a doctorate from both American and European universities and will soon publish the Anonymous and The Coming Insurrection, which inspired “Burn It Down: The Lonely Death of American Higher Education.” Robert Craig Baum, better known as Migrant Intellectual and FancyNewDean has been ordered by the Board of Trustees to shut down Lebanon College in Lebanon, NH, where he served six months as Dean of Academics. He is the author of the legendary Itself as well as the forthcoming Thoughtrave: An Interdimensional Conversation with Lady Gaga and What Remains (On the Life-Giving Dasein of Suicide), all on Atropos Press (Brooklyn and Dresden). Baum holds his PhD in Philosophy and Integrated Liberal Arts from the European Graduate School, MALS in American Studies and Literary Theory from Dartmouth College, and BA in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America.

(Part 1)


RCB: We first met where?

ADJUNCTSKI: You were big-time August Wilson Fellow and I was stupid actor and adjunct.

RCB: Guru Coffee?

ADJUNCTSKI: Yes. Don’t remind me. Nicoltte Avenue. Minneapolis.

RCB: You were Samuel in Samuel’s Major Problems.


RCB: Then you punked out on us: I had to play the role then the play never got produced.
ADJUNCTSKI: I did not punk out on you, my friend. You were just too full of yourself. It was hit you in the face or walk away, and that time I chose to walk away.
RCB: I didn’t realize until looking at your CV that you were also a doctoral student at UMN-Twin Cities in Cultural Studies.
ADJUNCTSKI: You never asked.
RCB: Well, it’s usually something a new colleague or actor volunteers.
ADJUNCTSKI: You never asked.
RCB: What do you remember about that time? 1998-2001?
ADJUNCTSKI: You were so f**king full of yourself.
RCB: Shut up.
ADJUNCTSKI: So (laughing) Seriously, my friend. You were full of yourself but in a good way. You know like when you’re a kid in a candy shop. You had everything. I lived in 24-hour cafes and under the bridge that collapsed in ‘07. I had nothing. Absolutely nothing.
RCB: I was full of myself but . . .
ADJUNCTSKI: . . .not full of, how do you say in polite company?
RCB: Shit?
ADJUNCTSKI: Yes. You were not full of shit. Just full of yourself.

RCB: It was really nice to have funding. And the Fellowship guaranteed I would teach the Senior Seminar. Most of my colleagues on the East and West Bank were teaching intro courses and other wage slave populated courses.


RCB: I’m on my own.


RCB: Since the Fellowship ended in May 2001.

ADJUNCTSKI: So, you adjuncted for more than decade?

RCB: From 2001-2003 I was really on my own; then I reconnected with the Theatre Department. I attempted to get back to the Black theatre research. In September 2004 (almost ten years to the date of this dialog) I was accepted into the European Graduate School. I wanted to pursue both, the UMN-Twin Cities doctorate and then the Philosophy PhD but . . .

ADJUNCTSKI: Well that was stupid.

RCB: You, my old friend, are absolutely right. I should’ve just walked away when I walked away, as the Underworld tune goes.


RCB: How long did you adjunct in the Twin Cities?
ADJUNCTSKI: For about nine years after you left.
RCB: 2001-2010?
ADJUNCTSKI: Yes. And you?
RCB: 2003-2011 in New Hampshire and Vermont mostly. Online 2007-2011 also at the same schools.
ADJUNCTSKI: Working contracts that don’t pay as much as fancy Fellowship must’ve been hard for Mr. August Wilson Fellow?
RCB: It was stressful not getting paid on time; and, in every case, every class, every campus, what was maddening (to the point of needing therapy) was not getting paid for all of my work.

ADJUNCTSKI: By the time of the 2007-2009 crash, I was numb to the whole thing. I taught my students. Did my work. Went home. No curriculum development. No committees. Just teach class, go home. And even then I was still not getting paid for all my work, either, comrade.

RCB: Well, not to burst your bubble, Nikolai, but I was only making $17,500 while also paying for my own health care for me, Shelly, and George (about $300 a month). The next year when we moved back to Vermont, my household income was about $7500 for 2001-2002.
ADJUNCTSKI: I made $27,000 at the restaurants–mostly off the books. Catering too. I think I averaged about $1850/three-credit contract around the Twin Cities.
RCB: So much for fancy fellowship?
ADJUNCTSKI: So much for fancy anything.


ADJUNCTSKI: What is wrong with higher education?

RCB: Too many bureaucrats, not enough teachers. And now, the corporate cohorts from the development wing have moved into the curriculum team sector, the accreditation team sector, and the marketing & recruitment sector when they were always better seen, not heard. I preferred it when they resided miles away–or at least a few buildings away. And they’re now grabby, wanting more and more power now that we’re in the bust economy (still).

ADJUNCTSKI: Like children.

RCB: What do you mean?

ADJUNCTSKI: The bureaucrats, the so-called “badmin”–they’re children, petulant children who need to be punished.

RCB: Exactly.
ADJUNCTSKI: And this description is not at all exaggerated. They behave like children. We’ve talked about this before, yes?
RCB: Yes. Often. (laughing) Welp, there goes my next academic gig?!
ADJUNCTSKI: Who needs it? This way they treat us. Who needs them!
RCB: So, children?
ADJUNCTSKI: Children believe in their version of the world so strongly that only counter myths, other stories, can shift their behavior. They do not yet understand how to incorporate new points of view or–heaven forbid–re-evaluate their own. They must be taught. In feedback loops. Too many administrators believe in their vision of the world with equal strength but do not take to learning better ways to get the job done. They become petulant.

RCB: So, what do you do about that?
ADJUNCTSKI: Discipline them. Timeouts do not work with these people, comrade. You must discipline them.
RCB: How?
ADJUNCTSKI: Refuse to leave their office after they slap you in the face with fewer courses than contracted or promised. Enter their closed door meetings with five, seven, ten adjuncts demanding equal pay for equal work.
RCB: How far would you go?
ADJUNCTSKI: I have already been banned from three campuses, my friend. How far do you think I will go?
RCB: I’m guessing far.

ADJUNCTSKI: I will burn down buildings next time. I will burn tires and disrupt operations and call on cyber friends to shut their entire operation down the next time any administrator steals from me. They steal our labor, our intellectual property, smile at us as they say “it’s just business” and I am starting to wonder, my friend, if we, the teachers, need our Lenin moment.

RCB: Where teachers pick up guns?

ADJUNCTSKI: Oligarchs are oligarchs and they tend to not change until they have gun in face?

RCB: I cannot advocate violence, Nikolai.

ADJUNCTSKI: That’s because you grew up privileged on Long Island and that fact clouds everything you do.

RCB: What’s so different now?

ADJUNCTSKI: We had to give them a chance. Education was changing rapidly again, with the new technology, course modules, new Federal and state money. We needed to hold back. They promised to take care of us. Remember? Remember how many times?

RCB: Endless. And they’re still making the same promises. Hold on, just one more term. It’ll be different next year. And my favorite: hey, if it were up to me, I’d hire you for three times the salary. Well, stupid, it’s very much up to you because you are the f**king Academic Dean who hired me and who authorizes pay increases.

ADJUNCTSKI: Throw the worst administrators to the dogs; those #badmin who have endless job titles and reams of paperwork to support their endless job titles. (You ever notice how these people have the thinnest human resource files? As though they’d actually been collecting an exorbitant paycheck to produce nothing, like some manager in a Kafka story?) Demand the resignation of anyone who denies adjuncts timely and equitable pay. (You ever notice how administrators always have their salaries paid on time yet adjuncts and other at-will workers have to wait six weeks?) Gather together on campuses around the world and tell your stories, tell the moment in your professional life you finally said enough is enough. (You ever notice how the smartest, strongest people who study equity for a living and teach about social movements are the last ones to “get it” when talking revolution?)

Coming tomorrow, Part 2: Burning it down and walking away.
iron man explosion

A Rainy Day Conversation with the New Boss; or, “Relax, God’s in Control”

Another week, another guest post about living the reality of the new college campus—one complete with more and more (and more) highly paid senior administrators who….well, surely some of them must do something.

Ladies and gentlemen, Kareme D’Wheat wants to share her recent conversation with the department chair. Like what you read? Felt it echoed your own experiences? Let us know in the comments.

A Rainy Day Conversation with the New Boss; or, “Relax, God’s in Control”

By Kareme D’Wheat

Warning: This piece contains profanity. [Fan-fucking-tastic. –JF]

An overcast Wednesday afternoon during the first week of classes is as good a day as any for an awkward interaction with those who could ruin your precarious “career” with one flick of a finger.

As an adjunct at a small liberal arts school, I am only slightly more annoying to most tenured faculty than a student. Because talking to me is a waste of time, my interaction with my peers is extremely limited. (Yes, I said “peers.” Those with equivalent qualifications to mine are peers and colleagues, not overlords.) But this semester I have a new opportunity that needs to be managed. And by opportunity, I mean risk. I have a devout new department chair.

Having been newly tenured, this particular member of the establishment stepped into the position of department chair at the same time as our new college president hired new administrative staff, including a shiny new provost. Actually, 3 provosts. (Maybe one of the Associate Deans hired them?)

Because our school needs more administration.

Because our school isn’t thriving somehow, although 95% of students find a “satisfying career position” or go on to grad school upon graduation.

Because our rock wall and spa-like campus don’t provide enough incentives.

Because the children of the well-to-do need more, deserve better.

In tandem with our student population’s privilege and ambition runs a parallel trajectory of privilege and complacency in the college’s tenured faculty. So any actual ambition on the part of a colleague is to be viewed with suspicion, like expired fireworks. It’s even more volatile if that colleague has his or her thumb on scheduling and curriculum.

After a knock on the door and casual pleasantries, the course of conversation is light, but forced. The office is large, and haphazardly furnished with what looks like artsy, uncoordinated office throwaways from the last 30-40 years, which is also the approximate age of the department chair. She is dressed casually, with unkempt hair, looking exhausted and seated behind the desk in half darkness, lit only by a desk lamp.

Conversation superficially turns to other higher-ed institutions—particularly their closings or mergers. The question came, “How could something like that happen?” My answer was simple: overspending. “What constitutes as overspending?” one might ask…

Me: No one needs 3 provosts.

Dept Chair: We have 3 provosts—2 of them assistant provosts.

Me: No one needs 3 provosts.


It’s like that moment when the fake mustache starts to peel off, and suddenly, the antagonist senses there is something wrong.


But it’s too late. And I can’t stop the inertia of our conversation. I am the protagonist blowing my cover.

In an uncoordinated attempt to change the subject, I then offer to teach more classes, ones that need instruction and are vacant. Nope. The new provost has set a decree that adjuncts can only teach a limited number of classes per semester. “What are you gonna do?” shrugs my department chair. This, apparently, is due to the ACA. The school is attempting to avoid any insurance coverage they might be expected to incur by, you know, following the law. And for whatever reason, everyone is perfectly cool with this, and no one sees—or cares about—the inequity. Trickle-down scheduling is in the offing.

It has occurred to me that I need a change of scenery. Keeping my head down has been the best method of not getting canned. I’ve found that desperate, survivalist sweet spot: keeping my profile low. Visible enough to be of use, but not high enough to be a threat. And suddenly, on an overcast Wednesday, I’m fuckin’ whack-a-moling all up and down all over the place.


The department chair, after telling me that there are going to be “big changes” to the curriculum (read: your classes will get fucked, consider yourself warned), tilts her head and rolls her eyes to the side and says, “well… you could come to the department meetings.”

And from my mouth fell these words completely without thought, “I’m not paid to attend meetings. And I won’t pay for child care.” I then, horrifyingly, reminded her of what I make annually, and said, “I don’t have child care. I have me. If you have a meeting when the big kids are in school, and my husband is not working and can watch our baby, then I can attend.”

It is almost as if instead of coffee that morning, I drank truth serum.


As I sit in my department chair’s office and explain to her that I cannot attend meetings that I am uncompensated for, and that I cannot pay childcare on what I earn to attend these meetings, I can feel her disdain for the conversation. She agrees that she “knows” how expensive childcare is. She has kids, too. She writes out her own childcare check. For every day of her 4-day work week.

But for my family, an adjunct’s family, the cost is not just money. It’s not paying other bills. It’s half of what I spend on weekly groceries for one day of childcare for my children. It’s once again hoping that I can float a check for a utility or fill my tank with gasoline. It’s a sacrifice that is not worth the public appearance. I regularly look for work in my field—work outside academia. Finding a “good job” in the current economic climate has odds that are worse than roulette. I should be earning a comfortable living, given my expertise and work history. Instead, I am sitting in a furnished office that is not mine, justifying why I don’t give out free work, and wishing I had a proper job so that I could give all of this the finger.

Even if I attend a meeting, my input is viewed with vaguely amused curiosity. I’m a rag and bone man sitting at a board meeting. I have no actual say in the governance of anything. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to meet the provost—or one of them, anyway. And I hope, for everyone’s sake, that my mustache stays in place.

Did I mention that my department is currently looking for other adjuncts? Anyone interested? No?

Legion of Doom

Want to know more about the horrible person who wrote this piece, and what her problem is? Read more from Kareme D’Wheat at:

If you want to join Kareme, Lady Spitfire, Penny Provocateur, and other anonymous guest writers, let me know.