Friday, June 29, 2007

Adulthood Sucks (and so does adjunct-hood)

Remember that sweatshop essay you wrote for freshman composition? Or, if you didn’t write one, certainly your classmates did--I’ve read multiple versions of this essay in portfolio committees and General Education Assessment Review committees.

No doubt, you pointed to unfair conditions, substandard wages, and blamed callous CEOs whose only concern was the almighty dollar—let any unhappy workers leave. You probably noted that those CEOs cited even worse conditions elsewhere—hell, those workers were damn lucky to work for these low wages, as it let them climb out of poverty.

If you were particularly insightful, you noted that those CEOs work for share holders who expect a robust return on their investments, and thus, share holders, not specifically CEOs, should be held accountable. Perhaps you even realized that a free market economy would not likely achieve equitable treatment, and hence government would need to intervene (I haven’t read many of those essays).

In the case of education, you are all those share holders. Despite how people like to complain about it, you elect the government. The school boards run the schools, the governor runs SUNY (The State University of New York)—but YOU elect these “CEOs.”

SUNY colleges—universities, ag/tech colleges, community colleges—all rely on sweatshop labor. We call them adjunct professors, and we pay them around $2600 per course, or based on the work load of full time professors (three courses per term), just over $15,000 a year. Statewide, roughly 60% of instructors are so paid. (And while SUNY colleges offer these people health insurance, many others in community colleges go without.)

A few departments in a few colleges have consistently fought against such glaring injustice, pioneering and expanding, for example, hiring adjuncts as full time lecturers. Yet even here, although this development is certainly welcome, the sweatshop continues. Full time lecturers are paid just over $30,000 to teach four courses per term, and they are denied access to tenure. Thus, many of them will work, grateful they can at least pay the bills, but will retire in poverty with little to no savings. Others cover their liability by continuing to teach as many as six courses a term at other institutions ON TOP of their full time obligations, as well as a wide assortment of outside occupations--all to earn just what a typical full professor earns, but at the expense of their personal lives.

Additionally, English professors in particular do so at virtually impossible odds. First year students arrive, convinced they know everything about writing, unable to identify the subject and verb of a sentence, let alone write a specific thesis statement, angry at instructors who challenge them to grow, annoyed they have to take writing courses at all. Even worse perhaps, I consistently see Juniors and Seniors—English majors, Professional Writing majors, Education majors and so forth—who can’t write without such basic errors as comma splice run-ons, subject/verb agreement, pronoun/antecedent agreement, misplaced modifiers, faulty parallelism—let alone effective paragraphs, sentences, rhetorical purpose. Those instructors who push this face the wrath of students seeking the easiest way through their course work possible, encouraged by administrative policies that abdicate responsibility for oversight to the course evaluation forms students complete at the end of each course, thus encouraging faculty to teach to make students happy, rather than prepare them for the outside world. So we graduate students who can’t write.

Well, suppose students want to learn in such an environment: where are all these instructors in the face of such obstacles? In their cars, on the way to their next college job—or jobs.

The pattern isn’t new—why are so many high school graduates, “A” papers in hand, so poorly prepared? Large class sizes, overly protective parents, ideologically focused school boards? Hard to tell—probably several interlocking reasons.

Here’s where you, the share holder, come in.

Changing this takes money. This means paying more in taxes—or giving up other services. I can complain all I want about my “bill burden,” but my choices are (1) increase income or (2) cut expenses. Government is no different.

Here’s the reality—you own a sweatshop. What will you do?

Is education important? Are fair employment practices? Is this what you want for your family, your community, your society?

We frequently see complaints about high taxes, but we pay a fraction of the taxes most industrial nations pay (we are also the ONLY industrial nation without national health care!). Washington keeps touting tax cuts to stimulate the economy, but ignores the growing discrepancy between rich and poor since the Reagan fallacy, admitted by his own people, created by the “trickle down” economics preached by the much more cynical Bush administration? Have you noticed that each federal tax cut costs you more locally? And for all those complaints about high taxes in New York—have you lived in other states? Yes, the taxes may be lower—and you also can’t get the services New Yorkers enjoy.

Sure, the mantra drones on about wasted government money. Yet, the U.S. spends more on the military than EVERY NATION ON EARTH COMBINED. Overkill?

Here’s the point—as a citizen, you are the shareholder. You, implicitly, agree with these developments. You, the shareholder, could also decide to instruct your “board of directors” otherwise. You could make it clear that education is a priority in New York State, or in whatever state or country you live, and that running sweatshops is not acceptable.

Or was that freshman composition essay just talk?


1 comment:

Dora Renee' Wilkerson said...

I LOVE this post!

Dora Renee' Wilkerson