It seems a lot of the big milestones in our lives are just ordinary days for other people. Today I met my final class at a university where I’ve taught for nearly 15 years. It hasn’t been 15 easy years; far from it. As a lecturer/adjunct/contingent/whatever instructor I have had much less job security and far less respect than a tenured faculty. Lecturers, however, are less expensive than tenured faculty and the ratio of tenured faculty to lecturers is changing in “favor” of lecturers. While I think this is morally wrong, it was always a trend that operated to my advantage. As a former boss pointed out, “You’re a bargain to the university. You bring 30 years of teaching and real-life experience to the classroom at 1/3 the cost of a tenured faculty member.”
I had not intended to leave my job. Maneuverings, questionable maneuverings, by my college and another college, left me (and the other lecturers who teach what I teach) high and dry. None of us have been officially “told” anything. We would probably not even have KNOWN had I not been one of those conscientious teachers who wants to know what’s going on in their college. I read the minutes of the Undergraduate Committee meetings and, starting last spring, I watched the whole thing play out publicly but in a non-public way. I figured that sooner or later we would be told and something would be done for us, but we have never been told and nothing has been done for us. On behalf of my colleagues who aren’t as well vested as I am in the benefits offered California State Employees, I contacted our union rep who has taken on our situation and maybe something good will result.
Lecturers are regarded as categorically inferior to tenured teachers. It’s believed that hiring lecturers brings down the teaching standard at a university. Ironically, many of us are where we are from the love of teaching vs. the love of academia. I’m one. Many of us would have loved to get a Ph.D but didn’t have the money to do that. I’m one of those, too. Few of us are losers who just “couldn’t cut it in a Ph.D. program” or who couldn’t get in. I got in to three, but at $28k/year there was no way I could go.
Tenured instructors are not necessarily better teachers, either. That Ph.D. does NOT confer teaching ability. I hear complaints constantly from students about my tenured colleagues not showing up for class until 20 past the starting time; of tenured faculty whose English is incomprehensible to students; of tenured faculty who are unavailable to talk to students; of tenured faculty who never return papers and wait forever to post grades. Yet…if a lecturer is repeatedly late for class, the lecturer loses their job. If a lecturer cannot speak English well enough to be understood, he or she could lose their job. If a lecturer is paid for office hours and doesn’t keep them, that lecturer can lose his/her job. In my college we lecturers were expected to present and publish at the same rate as our tenured colleagues who teach half as many classes for 3 times the money. We lecturers had to do the conference thing on our own dimes, too. A conference often cost me upwards of $1000 in plane fare, hotel and miscellaneous expenses. Tenured faculty were comped and paid. The double-standard in my college was horrendous, and even though I toed the line scrupulously, I was never thanked or lauded or anything. I simply got to keep my job.
This semester I found myself at a point that required tremendous self-control. If I allowed my anger to spill out AT ALL I would hurt myself. This was very difficult at times as students can be angels and they can be incredibly evil (the situation with any class anywhere at any time). My challenge was to make it to the end of the semester without “shitting in my hat” as my brother would say. Today I said good-bye to the people who have been help and support to me through these many years. On the way out I ran into another instructor I’ve always liked, but have not had the chance to get to know. A few weeks ago I told her I had retired and we talked openly and as if we were really friends — not two friendly ships who passed in the halls. I know I would like her if I knew her. She’s a Russian woman, very bright, who teaches accounting and has — as is obvious in her blue-green eyes — a marvelous soul and rich experience. She was the last person I saw today, and we cemented our wish to finally get to know each other. I got on the elevator, walked through a classroom building I’ve always liked, walked to the parking structure, got in my car and left. The campus — San Diego State University — has been my place of work since I moved to California in 1984. I have longer, more continuous ties to that place than any other place on the planet.
Driving home I naturally hoped for a “sign” and, well, I got it. When I was 10, and saw the film, Lawrence of Arabia, I was profoundly affected. That movie set me on the course of my life like no other single thing has done. From it I learned stoicism, wanderlust, curiosity, iconoclasm, passion and ferocity as life values. It propelled me into a higher level of reading since, of course, I checked out Seven Pillars of Wisdom from my school library. And so as I left the city behind and began the stretch that becomes burbs, then rural, then country Mohammed’s radio gave me this: