I spent the better part of today posting articles from various news outlets in regards to Mary Margaret Vojtko’s death earlier this month on my personal facebook account. By the time evening had approached I had gone through the comments threads, reading all accounts and opinions on what I can safely say is the official death of the American institution. This however isn’t some new phenomenon, higher education has been on life support for decades and much like tonight’s Dexter finale the plug has finally been pulled. Ask anyone in the teaching profession and they can tell you that our educational system as a whole is broken. While there are unions attempting to band together contingent faculty I feel the effort is about a futile as placing a bandaid on a bullet wound. Do I have a solution to fix the problem? No. The only thing I can do is shed light on the situation with the help of my documentary partner Debra Leigh Scott.
I know there is an early post on this blog in regards to how I became part of ‘Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed. in America. What I haven’t done was give my personal opinion. I tend to reserve judgments and opinions on the subject for fear of saying the wrong thing, more so considering the film is still in production. Even though I’ve reviewed reels of interviews shot over the the past three years I don’t know what the final product will be. It still doesn’t have that voice I’ve been looking for.
When I agreed to take on the task of doing the tech end of things on ‘Junct I really had no idea how far in over my head I would be. I was naive enough to believe a feature documentary could be completed in a year and under 10 grand. Here we are approaching year four and I don’t even want to fathom what DLS and myself have put towards this film, let alone tally up the hours we put into it. However, I don’t regret it. While the majority of interviews are down right heartbreaking there is one little piece of me that truly believes this is the right thing to do. The odds of two people trying to get out this message to the general public is staggering but we have to try. I personally need to see this through.
If you asked me 3+ years ago the definition of an adjunct I would have instantly conjured up someone who had a day time professional job who taught an occasional night class because they enjoyed sharing their practical knowledge. In fact I had one such Pathology instructor years ago who was gainfully employed at a rather large pharmaceutical company based out of Philadelphia. It was hands down one of the best classes I had ever taken. Not only did this man know his shit, he loved sharing his knowledge. I ended up taking every class he taught at the local community college and he is now tenured. That said, I was completely oblivious to the new definition ‘adjunct’.
Contingency faculty consists of 70% of the teaching force in higher education. This statistic has been thrown around for as long as I’ve been working on the documentary. These ‘New Faculty Majority’ are not remotely close to my definition in the previous paragraph. These are individuals piecemealing a living, often falling well below the poverty line as they juggle courses from as many as 4-5 different institutions per semester.
How is this happening?
Colleges started to catch on a couple decades ago that it was far cheaper to pay for part timers. Honestly from a business stand point that is brilliant and it’s becoming more prevalent in ALL professions. A tenure track professor retires and an institution in turn hires three to five people in that person’s place. There’s no longer a retirement plan to fund, no medical, benefit bills to foot thereby being a cheaper alternative for them. There is also the ability to not hire people back if the adjuncts views and teaching methods aren’t aligned with the personal views / mission statements of that particular institution. Let’s be honest, there will always be someone waiting in the wings due to the surplus of PhDs in humanities, but that is another story. This is a no brainer for colleges. Cheap disposable labor, what’s not to love?
“Oh wait! Let’s get grad students to teach. We can save even more money!”
Why should you care?
One of the greatest difficulties we’ve been trying to overcome is shaking the stigma of ‘white people problems’ with ‘Junct. In the beginning it was difficult just getting anyone to interview. One even balked after the interview when a simple release form was handed to them so that we could potentially use the footage in the final piece. I can’t say I blame them. I would be hesitant as well, knowing what little employment I had could be gone by going public in a film. It was a rough beginning but once our presence was known more people started to come forward to tell their story. The problem is the demographic thus far. The interviews we’ve gathered have been primarily Caucasian females. Ninety minutes of white women ‘bitching’ about their livelihoods or lack thereof isn’t a compelling documentary to incite discussion nor change. My main concern is the audience is simply not going to give a shit. Just about everyone, regardless of profession is suffering financially.
This is why you should care if for no other reason:
You aren’t getting your moneys worth, plain and simple. You, the viewer needs to question where your money is going when paying the exorbitant tuition fees at the institution of your choosing. It’s obviously not going towards the people that are educating you. For myself personally I don’t mind paying a lot of money for something if I know it’s worth it. Ten years ago I would have loved for nothing more than to get my masters in history or forensic pathology. I embrace being a jack of all trades, master of nothing but realistically speaking a masters would be just about as worthless as the BA hanging up on the wall behind me. Again, that is another story for another time. Bottom line is educators are not getting paid their worth, they're stressed out and don't have the physical or mental stamina to maintain a good track record in the classroom. They are not bad teachers. Think about how good you would be at your job only making between 15-20k a year with no benefits or a retirement fund.
Start asking questions.
That’s all I want from this film.
...and maybe for these institutions to stop being dicks.