August 14th, 2014
It was a nice spring day in 1999 — my second semester of teaching. I
was walking past a campus tour group and saw one of my students leading
it. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect: as I was passing them, a
parent asked if all university faculty were full time. “Yes,” my
student said. I was taken aback, because I’d told my classes about being
adjunct, as well as a bit about what “adjunct” meant and how many of us
there were in the English department alone teaching freshman writing.
next day, I pulled him aside after class and asked him about it. “I’m
not mad at you; I’m just curious: Your class knows I’m a graduate
student, not a full-time professor with tenure. I don’t even have my doctorate yet. Why did you tell that parent all university faculty were full time?”
“That’s what the university wants us to say to parents,” he replied.
This is one of many moments in my career I’d like to revisit with the
knowledge and dedication to activism I have now. Granted, things have
improved a bit since then: another former student told me in 2013 that
tour guides tell parents the school employs a variety of professors, and
that some of them teach at other schools. This is slightly better, but
still not ideal at a school whose tuition is among the highest in the country — yet whose senior administrators receive CEO-level compensation.