Standing up for myself

Today I withdrew from some lecturing in a topic I really, really, really like, at one of the local universities, because they wouldn’t offer me enough work to make a decent chunk of part time work. One of the problems with part time academic work is that it’s an hour here and an hour there, each time involving a trip to and from campus, and very few economies of scale. Plus there are no resources – no office space, no access to computing, no access to photocopiers, an expectation that I will use my personal resources (i.e. my home computer and home internet access) for preparing lectures and accessing the course web site. And on it goes. An adjunct’s life is not a pretty one.

What I was being invited to do was to collude in exploiting myself. The particular program I was going to be working in is strapped for cash to pay casual staff, and I really do understand the constraints they are operating under. However I do not see that it is my responsibility to help them to manage their budget. So often, I have made an effort, tried to just help out a little, given a bit here and a bit there to make sure that other people succeed, but ended up fraying at the edges, because I do too much work for too little reward. And in the past, I have crashed and burned quite badly as a result of that desire to get involved, to put in the effort, to work just a bit harder, even without much reward, so that my colleagues (hah!) can do well. I don’t want to go there again.

But now I’m worried that I’ve done the nose and spiting face thing…

Time for a nice glass of wine, I think.

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16 responses to “Standing up for myself

  1. Go you!!! I have done jobs like that and have ultimately felt it was just not good for me. Kia kaha

  2. You are so right, and by doing this, others may see. You make a difference. I believe in this whole heartedly (few things I do).

  3. I think you have done the right thing. I too lecture at uni – often in a ‘plug the gap’ capacity (which only speaks to my ability to teach at all levels and quickly pick up subjects). Fortunately I get support and good pay for this so I don’t mind helping out.

    The university that asked you to help out yet did not offer anything in return should think again.

  4. Good stuff, Deborah! I’m proud of you.

  5. I’m sure you’ve done the right thing. But it’s always hard, making these decisions. Well done.

  6. As someone who always fills the gaps at work, and then resenting it and being angry, I am impressed. Go you!

  7. You can’t work for pie!

  8. I’m an adjunct too, Deborah, and I completely sympathise. I feel like my entire work history since going onto a part-time motherhood, part-time self-employed basis has been doing too much work for too little reward. I was astounded last year when a commitment I made to teaching a couple of sessions turned out to include virtually no preparation and an expectation that the lecture would be videod for the university to keep as a resource. I won’t do that again (plus who wants to be on video? Not me!).
    I’ve been lucky enough to be able to keep the research side of my activities going, which is really far more fun and rewarding than the teaching, and more or less makes it worth putting up with all the stuff you describe so well.

  9. Interesting about the videotaping, Carol. Usually the video is only put in a course website that the students have to log in to, so they can use it for revision. They can’t download it, only watch it online, and it’s not available to anyone outside the course. and it’s usually destroyed at the end of the semester – otherwise server space would become a really serious issue quite quickly. It’s quite common – you might even say standard – for lectures to be taped like this these days. But if they’re being kept ‘as a resource’ as you you suggest that is a breach of the staff member’s intellectual property and i’d suggest the union needs to start discussions on this issue.

  10. But I’m not a staff member, M-H, but a casual employee. And it was actually a different university to the one that I’m an adjunct at. So I don’t have a union.
    Good point about the videoing for revision purposes. That makes sense. My issues with it were that:
    1) there was totally insufficient time allocated for preparation – something like 1 hour for a 3 hour long lecture! and
    2) that the idea was that the lecture would be permanently available to the department as a resource. I was pretty unhappy about this for the reason you mention – intellectual property issues. I went through with it out of a (probably misplaced) sense of duty, and I’m sure not doing it again ..

  11. You have to look after yourself first – colleagues are right down the line of priority after yourself and your family.

  12. I think you’ve done the right thing. I understand the factors that might make you doubt it, but, even if not intentionally, the university department in question is objectively exploiting your good will.

    I’ve often wonder what would happen if all university staff could be persuaded to spend a week working to rule: i.e. sticking to the 37.5 or 40 hours for which they are contracted; apportioning their time between 40% teaching, 40% research and 20% administration (yeah, right) (and, no, it bloody doesn’t even out over the course of year!).

    I suspect the response of the university administration would be to send us all on “Time Management and Handling Stress and General Cheerfulness” seminars run by one of those smug hired-in consultants, who, unlike adjunct teaching staff, command handsome remuneration for their services.

  13. Yay you!

    You have inspired me to do something about my own Varsity troubles

  14. I don’t understand why they don’t at-least give you reasonable access to there academic resources. It all seems a bit more like the institution cutting off its nose, not you Deborah. Could you mention it to the student union? I mean how academic is being stingy about bandwidth and photocopies :(

    I think that intelligent people allow there brains to idle, until needed, at which time they do produce the adequate grunt.

  15. On the one hand, when I read experiences like this, I think ‘penny wise, pound foolish’, as my grandmother used to say. But it also reflects a more symbolic dimension to adjunct status. Of course, most departments can afford to cover internet access, photocopying, etc, and most could in fact afford to pay a casual rate that more accurately reflects prep. time. But withholding reinforces the distinction between tenured/ continuing and casual staff, and is also in line with the still present ‘you’re lucky to work in academia’ attitude held by many in administrative positions.

    Our School has lost a lot of excellent contributors through this approach.

  16. More effective than work to rule or perhaps a different take on work to rule would be simply to do the job they’re paying you to do. Spend your one hour preparing using only the materials made available plus what you already know (ie, not your materials but what’s in your head), then lecture for three hours. Then walk away.

    At some point it will become obvious that this does not work.