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Adjunct faculty across the country are calling for a walk-out today to protest their working conditions, including uncertain course loads semester to semester, and low or stagnant pay.

Here Karen Hildebrand, an adjunct professor at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, takes on this issue:

I have been a temp for 20 years.

I began teaching as an adjunct in 1995 at Brooklyn College (part of the City University of New York). I had enrolled in an MFA program there, and hiring adjuncts was CUNY’s form of financial aid to graduate students.

Adjunct instructors, in case you are unaware, are part-time instructors in colleges and universities. (Trust academia to give a fancy name to a temp.) Adjuncts are paid by the course and hired by the semester.

But they’re an entrenched part of the system. The trend of hiring adjuncts has grown. They now comprise over half of instructors in higher education.

In 2000, I moved with my husband to Plattsburgh, New York (20 minutes from the Canadian border). He was hired in a full-time tenure-track position to teach at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh.

I began teaching there as an adjunct – teaching acting, theater arts, public speaking, English composition, then getting involved with the community and creating a course for theater for children.

After about six years (the longest audition of my life), I figured it was time to get a full-time teaching job.

I armed myself with a little PR packet and a spiffed-up resume and made an appointment with the Dean of Arts and Science.

Long story short, no full-time job was available for me. No full-time job has been available in the six years since that hopeful application. I have continued to teach as an adjunct instructor, feeling resigned but lucky because my husband has a better income.

It would be great to have my excellent work as a teacher acknowledged and rewarded.

The relationship between administration and faculty is positive, at least at SUNY Plattsburgh. According to United University Professions (our educators’ union), laws in New York State prohibit adjuncts from walking out on the job, so instead of a walkout, there will be Adjunct Action Day with adjuncts speaking and various other highlights.  The day is supported by President Ettling at SUNY Plattsburgh and other administrators.

Getting to the Point…

This National Adjunct Walkout Day aims to help adjuncts achieve parity with full-time faculty – better pay, job security, equality in professional development opportunities, etc.

But there are two things about this day that are pretty basic to how we treat each other and how we view the world.

First, hiring people as adjuncts sets a very bad example to college students. That’s not the way to treat people.

Instead of signaling “Get used to it – this is the world you will inhabit, we will use you, wring everything we can out of you and throw you out,” educators should be signaling, “Young College Graduate – we will help you make the world a better place.”

Second, this thing of paying substandard salaries to teachers is a victimization of people who love what they do.

Ask any musician or actor how many times she or he has been asked to donate a free performance. After all, to the people hiring them, it’s not real work – it’s fun! It seems people who love what they do are punished for it.

Parents tell their children, “Get a degree in something you love – but make sure you can make a living from it.”

Following that logic, teaching is one of the things that you shouldn’t get a degree in.