end of quarter fog has lifted; or, precarity as a mode of being

I submitted final grades tonight, and it’s really quite amazing just how much head space that takes up: two new course preps, in a discipline I do not call ‘home’ (whatever that means) and visually-content heavy courses. Never mind the personal roller coaster of an aging (dying) mother in another state and a substantial commute layered atop the quarter. It has resulted in a quarter with not much to show, intellectually.

I’ve had many a moment to question the investment of time in relation to pay as ‘adjunct.’ I stopped keeping track of the hours of prep in relation to the pay, since it’s not really ‘about’ money… It’s certainly rewarding to see students come into their own in classes, and to see them command material in an original way, or take feedback and excel in future assignments. But as whole, I’ve had more new course preps over the last few years than anything, which directly equates to ‘time spent.’ But also inefficiencies, learning what works, and what doesn’t, depending on student populations at Institution A, B or C… And as I feel the hot breath of publishing post-dissertation on my proverbial neck, I know instinctively (and absolutely) that the ‘market’ does not applaud the time spent on course preps, nor care about precarity and what that entails; or personal circumstances that absolutely mean more than a journal article. Moreover, I know I am not alone in this realization.

Over the last few weeks though, I’ve had the opportunity to see the disparity of adjunct work, concretely. While it is bandied about in no uncertain terms as bargain rates for quality instruction, I have recently experienced a very transparent moment of inequity in relation to a close friend (cohort) and what a graduate student union can accomplish for the un-degreed, compared to the vicissitudes of post-PhD adjunct status of price per credit teaching rate. While my intention here is not to rail on the inequity, the specific situation was so ‘plain’ that it is hard to not feel it: two lecturers, same departments, same credit loads, same program, same qualifications. The soon-to-be-christened doctor will make significantly more than myself, as an already awarded PhD, simply because he is under a union.

I applaud the union for demanding fair wages for its student workers, and I benefited by those terms previously. But the question begs asking, what are the obligations of a department to create an equitable environment for non-tenured lecturers? Isn’t the situation already shitty enough? That my unioned counterpart might make nearly 1.5 times what I will earn next quarter, for ostensibly the same load… it seems more than ‘ridiculous’. But what are the options here? If a newly minted PhD does not take up adjunct, is this viewed as ‘damaged goods’? At what point does a simple non-academic job (that leaves head space for my own personal academic work) be viewed with the same neutral qualification as an irregular, underpaid lecture position? A recent forum in the higher ed points to this concern (though I cannot find the post at this time…)- and it seemed like the advice/ tenured view is that we must maintain institutional affiliation, no matter the cost. (I refuse to utilize the ‘neoliberal’ adjectival account of the situation. While apt, it’s wholly unsatisfying as a nuanced explanation of the situation. But that is a different post.)

As I head into Winter quarter with a rare opportunity to teach a class for a second time and teach another class that I had an opportunity to ‘assist’ in several years ago, I feel optimistic about what I may accomplish for myself, in addition to teaching load. Neither are visually intensives course this time, and the commute time is greatly reduced, less students, etc…. And yet. As I consider my lower wage to said counterpart, the antagonistic, stubborn and spirited side of me wants to offer 2/3 effort for teaching: to demonstrate the department’s value placed in adjunct vs forced pay of a unioned grad student.

But that is simply unfair to the students, of whom are my primary concern. If only Universities’ economic bottom lines were that straightforward.