Why I Didn’t Go to Columbus.

The world’s went and gone crazy, and I stayed home.
With the widespread election of the GOP to wider public offices at all levels of government, public employees — specifically those in education — have come under attack.  Not only are budgets being slashed, but collective bargaining rights are being stripped from public employees in states like Wisconsin, Indiana, Idaho and yes, Ohio.  Unions have organized many protests against these actions, the most “successful” being those in Madison, where as many as 100,000 protestors descended on the capitol.  These efforts convinced the minority Democrats in the state senate to flee the state, stalling indefinitely the bill to ban public employees from collectively bargaining.

As freshly elected Republican governor John Kasich of Ohio asked for and ultimately received similar measures from his party’s majorities in the Ohio House and Senate, a similarly vehement if numerically smaller opposition began voicing objections through protests in Columbus.  Several colleagues traveled to Ohio’s capitol to voice their opinions in protest, and others helped to organize local showings of solidarity.

It’s odd. Even though I’m in full support of maintaining collective bargaining rights for all public employees, and though I fully oppose such unnecessary cuts to education, I specifically chose to not participate in any of this vocal opposition.  Why?  Because that very union that is now so threatened failed to protect people like me from being far more exploited by the public academic system.

See, I’m a part-time public employee, an “adjunct” faculty member in three different departments of two Ohio universities.  Though I have the same credentials and teaching experience as many of my full-time, tenure-track counterparts, and despite many attempts I have not been hired by any universities in this capacity.  Therefore, I am not represented by the Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors, or any other organization.

I typically teach between five and six courses per semester, and I am compensated an average of $900 per credit hour with no benefits.  In an average week, with preparing lectures, reading to maintain currency of knowledge for teaching, in-class instruction, office hours, grading, maintaining web course management, and other service tasks as assigned, I work approximately 60-65 hours per week.   This is in addition to the research and writing that I need to do to advance my career, and the job applications I constantly am working on for full-time positions. Occasionally I am awarded a couple of hours per week of assistance from a graduate student, though those hours are dedicated to one particular assignment. In other words, if I am awarded a GA by one department, that GA cannot work on my grading from a teaching assignment with another department.

Last year, for these efforts, I made about $28,000.  In terms of teaching (and admittedly, only teaching), I’m doing the jobs of between one and four faculty members.  According to The Chronicle for Higher Education’s faculty salary survey, assistant professors at my institutions, with generally smaller teaching loads, averaged over $54,500.  Beyond this, I have (as I mentioned) no benefits like supplemented premiums for health insurance, though I am required to contribute 10% of my gross earnings to the Ohio State Teachers Retirement System.  I generally have no job security from one semester to the next, because my assignments are each at the pleasure of the departments by which I am employed.  At any time, for any reason, I can be released from my assignments.  This means that, even if I were a part of the AAUP, I could not participate in any strike for fear of immediately losing my job.

Now, what I want to be perfectly clear about here is that I am not complaining about my current situation.  At the same time, though, I feel it is necessary to include these details when explaining why I have not joined the efforts to oppose the banishment to collective bargaining rights in Ohio.I have made the choice to continue as an adjunct instructor in the face of a poor full-time job market for academia because I love my job.  I love teaching, I love researching, and I have stayed with these tasks because I feel they are exceptionally important to our society’s well-being.  It’s a personal duty I feel it’s my life’s purpose to fulfill.  As a corollary to that belief, I feel as though not performing these functions would potentially be a disservice to the world, taking away my particular talents from the fields in which they are the most useful.

Despite what some of my family, friends (and even colleagues) have suggested is a “foolish” level of dedication to my craft, I am not seen by the AAUP as an equal and am instead a member under-compensated lower class of academic workers.  In some cases, where industry professionals are sought to instruct a course in addition to full-time jobs in fields of their expertise, the part-time status granted makes good fiscal sense because these instructors are not dependent upon income from their teaching assignments.  However, for another group of instructors,

Author: Andrew Shears

Andrew Shears is an Assistant Professor of Geography at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pennsylvania. His research interests lie at an intersection of the human-environmental nexus, and includes branches of mapping, technological, memorialization and urban geographies. He lives in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania with his wife Amy, a professional photographer.