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?
Want to know more about the horrible person who wrote this piece, and what her problem is? Read more from Kareme D’Wheat at: http://moderndisappointment.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/the-charlatan-in-the-room-the-secrets-of-your-part-time-professor/.