Saturday, October 17, 2015

Life in the Pissant Swamp: You'll Always Get Me Cause I'm Part of a Union

I was asked in April and March of 2014 by a UUP, United University Professions, the faculty union at the SUNY system, representative for my feedback on what it is like to be an adjunct in the SUNY system. Now I have been asked to do it again because once again it is time for yet another round of worker-management negotiations in the SUNY system and thanks to UUP little has changed for adjuncts and some of that little change has been for the worse. Let me say note before I begin that I don’t think UUP is dedicated to doing much for adjuncts. It looks out for tenured factory and for this reason I think adjuncts should also join an adjunct union or leave UUP for the adjunct union.

So where to start?

1. Compensation: Given the amount of time we put into teaching, preparation, grading, and communicating with students our remuneration, even after the meagre pay rises, is far, far too low. Most of us, I suspect, work seven days a week several hours per day for pay that is probably below minimum wage when the actual time we put into our jobs is calculated into the equation.

2. I have worked since the 1980s in various capacities in the state university system, SUNY. I worked as a TA, then as an adjunct, them as an acquisitions editor with SUNY Press, and then as an adjunct again. I received credit toward my pension for this service, save from the last. I find it reprehensible that I am not receiving credit for my health insurance retirement for all my TA/GA service and for my SUNY Research Foundation Service. Though I am technically, I guess, not due this credit (thank you UUP and SUNY Big Boss Man) I find this all a convenient cop out, a typical SUNY sleight of hand. According to the union I have no recourse but to accept this treatment from our wonderful university system. Solidarity forever brothers and sisters?

3. Office space? Worse than in the movie. At least they had a degree of personal space. We history adjuncts had, in 2014 and 2015, one small thin room that we shared with all the adjuncts in English. It is not a place where one can really prepare for class or talk with students if other part-timers are in the room because of the noise. There is also an additional problem: one of the adjuncts seems to imagine that she is a full time faculty member and unreasonably expects the room to be her kingdom expecting others, but of course not herself, to be as quiet as a church mouse.

The faculty room in Communication while bigger and wider, still had the drawback of too many faculty doing too many things at once making in noisy. It didn’t, however, have unreasonable adjuncts who expected their room to be their own faire kingdom and us to be their serf like subjects. Still I moved my office to the library
4. My courses have ranged from three to two to one and back again. I wish the numbers were more consistent.

5. Participation in faculty governance? I have never been informed of whether and how I can participate in faculty governance even if I wanted to. One of the reasons I prefer part-time work is because I have little if any interest in being a full-time faculty and having to involve my self in the bureaucracy that is an ever-increasing part of “college teaching”. Bureaucracy kills the spirit of liberal arts education as will the ever-increasing adoption of Taylor principles higher education (the moronic SPIs, increasing amounts of paperwork, teaching for the test, etc.). Unfortunately, part-timers are being called upon to do more and more of the bureaucratic stuff without additional compensation. Thank you UUP and SUNY Big Boss Man. Welcome to the modern world of higher education.

6. The notion that you can have students who have little background in the subjects they take write “perceptions” of faculty is one of the looniest ideas I have ever encountered. It is even more looney when it is remembered that these “indexes” are not linked to our syllabi, something that show that some of the claims by students on these forms are simply and empirically FALSE.

7. As to adjunct hiring and firing, I have worked at four SUNY schools as an adjunct since the 1990s. My observation is that favoritism often plays a major role in adjunct retention or dismissal and that economic and benefit need, a factor that should be taken into account among others, is simply ignored. Why should wives of full-time faculty be retained over someone for who the position is essential? While we part-timers are represented by UUP I don’t think that our concerns and interests get enough attention from UUP. In fact, I often think it would be better if adjuncts formed their own union or joined an already existing adjunct union to represent them because the concerns of part-timers and full-time tenured faculty don’t always converge if they converge at all.

8. Faculty activity reports as they are now constituted are problematic. Why? Because they are made to fit full-time faculty and not part-time faculty. I am not one of those adjuncts with hubbies who work full-time at other colleges and universities and work as an adjunct because they dream of one day becoming a full-time member and/or have time to fill. Instead, I work three jobs because, given the crap pay for adjuncts, that is the only way I can keep my head above water. This means I don’t have time to do community service let alone to write a slew of academic papers as I work seven days a week.

9. One of the things that is fortunate for those of us who adjunct here in New York is that us part-timers have the wonderful option of having benefits, health, pension, and 401K benefits. These benefits make the long hours work for poor pay endurable. However, these benefits can be taken from us at any time. I cannot teach unless I get the benefits. Benefits are one of the few things that make teaching for this meagre compensation rational and worthwhile and make driving from Albany to Oneonta and back worthwhile.

10. I was given several verbal “guarantees” of classes in one Department. One of the “guarantees” involved me moving to the Oneonta area. Thankfully I didn’t do this because the “guarantees” of classes simply evaporated into thin air within a week or two.

11. Recently I was told that I would have at least one class in the spring. I was informed recently that due to money issues and new provosts I would not have a class. I, to say the least, am skeptical of this information. One reason I am skeptical is because of the inconsistency of what the chair has told me over the years. Another is the fact that I need, as of spring 2016, two semesters to get my healthcare after retirement. Conspiracy theory time?

12. Here is another one of those little tricks of the bosses, the educational robber barons, the powers that be that I so enjoy. I taught two classes at two different SUNY’s, Albany and IT Utica, one at each. Did I get benefits despite the fact that I taught two classes at two schools that are both SUNY’s, two schools that share the SUNY funding pool, and two schools that are represented by UUP? Of course not because apparently they are the same when the powers want them to be and entirely different when the powers that be want them to be.

I experienced another example of this is inconsistency in favour of the Big SUNY Boss Man recently. This term I taught three classes at Oneonta and two classes at Oneonta so I am eligible for health insurance at both. Does this mean that since the Big SUNY Big Boss Man treats working at two different SUNY's entirely differently when it comes to health care eligibility I get credit for both and thus only need one more semester of health care eligibility to get my health insurance after retirement? Of course not. To repeat myself, when SUNY wants to treat the two SUNY's as distinct, as when you only have one classes at two or more SUNY"s and cannot get health care because you work at two different SUNY's, they treat them as distinct. When you have enough classes to double your health care eligibility fun, however, they treat them as the same. Pathetic and pathetically obvious.

13. Lucky number 13 is probably my favourite of the UUP SUNY Big Boss Man adjunct scams. Backstory: I have over forty hours of sick time. I can use it toward my health care after retirement should I be able to adjunct two classes until I retire. If I can’t I lose it. Can I cash it out? Of course not since UUP agreed to give that up in the last negotiations with SUNY Big Boss Man. Can I use it? Of course not. For if I did I would be summarily fired for not doing my job. In sum this benefit that is not a benefit for adjuncts is made to fit only Mister and Ms Tenure Track and represents yet another instance of where UUP’s interests really lie.

14. I have severe asthma. I have severe back and muscle problems. I am about to go into the hospital for surgery to replace my hip in mid-December. Good old SUNY is thus cutting me off of health care just as I am about to have surgery.

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