A Year of Thanks

1 post a day for 365 days showing gratitude

a slight pause to address some pressing issues at the university i work for April 29, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — courtsbrogno @ 10:37 am

In recent weeks, the faculty at the university I work for has been in an uproar over the amount of administrative bloat and pay compared to faculty salaries. To illustrate this point, I’m borrowing some statistics from a fellow colleague who gathered information from the Sacramento Bee and our own university:

Changes between 2010 and 2014 :

  • Number of Students increased by 10%
  • Tenure(d) faculty decreased by 6%
  • Non-tenure faculty increased by 32%
  • Part-time instructors without benefits increased by 19%
  • High-paid administrators increased by 39%
  • Faculty salaries increased by 3%
  • Student Tuition increased by 41%
  • Total administrative salary burden increased 43%

But one thing that often gets looked over, even in this time of faculty outrage, is the plight of the lecturer (or adjunct as we’re more officially refereed to). As you can see from the above statistics, lectures have increased by 32%, so I think it’s only fair to share some of my views.

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Much has been written lately about the plight of the adjunct, and the poor working conditions of the adjunct university professor are being acknowledged by numerous and reputable news sources, and for good reason. Many adjuncts, also known as “freeway fliers,” teach at multiple schools, don’t have health insurance, have little job security, and make very little money. And some don’t even have an office.

As an adjunct, I don’t fall into those parameters. I’m the lucky adjunct. I teach at two schools, a highly regarded university within the California State University system and a community college. The university is ½ a mile from my home and the community college is six miles away, so my travel time is minimal to say the least. I have some form of job security; after teaching for 10 years at both schools, I have maintained entitlement, a system of guaranteeing me a contract, which also affords me excellent healthcare and other benefits. My job security right now seems good, though during the great recession of 2008, I was laid off every quarter at the university, but rehired at the last minute. For two years. While this caused me much stress, I still retained my job and benefits—others were not so fortunate. At both colleges, I share an office with one colleague. I don’t make great money, but as a single mom of two kids, we manage. We might not own a home—we may never own a home—but my kids have never gone without basic necessities.

Like I said, I am a lucky adjunct. But I’ve recently realized that I’m not really lucky: I’ve just become accustomed to my situation. A colleague recently described it to me like this: an abused person doesn’t usually understand that she’s being abused.

This may seem a bit hyperbolic, but I assure you it’s not. I teach 11 classes a year at the university, which is on the quarter system, and am only considered at .98% yearly work. I’ll never be hired as full-time, let alone tenure-track; In fact, in my department there are only 2 full-time adjuncts, while there are over 35 part-time instructors. And I only have an MA (you might notice how easily the word “only” comes out. I have come to feel that I am “only” good enough, and usually barely that). It’s not that I never wanted to get a PhD, but when I looked at the ROI of getting another degree, the math didn’t add up. Thousands of dollars more for fewer and fewer positions available.

So, I’ve made my way through the university system. Because I teach writing, rhetoric, and critical thinking, my work load is immense. During fall quarter at the university, I had 88 students. Each student writes three out-of-class essays and two in-class essays. That accounts for 440 essays I must grade, write meaningful comments explaining the students’ grades, and return in a timely fashion, usually within two weeks of receiving the essays. This number does not even include the revisions I allow in my classroom because without being able to revise, students don’t always learn how to do write better. This workload also does not include the classes I teach at the community college.

To that end, I consider myself a good teacher. Good enough to win the distinguished lecturer award from the California Faculty Association for the school year 2012-2013. During that time, I still carved out time to participate in several committees and go to conferences in my field. Unlike a tenured-track professor, I was never given release time for my work nor compensated for the conferences I attended.

One the most interesting committees I sat on was the Lecturer Committee. This committee was recently formed by lecturers for lectures: the concerns of the ever-growing body of lecturers within our department made the need that much more prevalent. As is commonly known, the “academic industrial complex” (as some are now referring to higher education) has become a business model, one that includes, among other things, hiring more adjuncts than tenure-track instructors. One peer-reviewed article noted that for the price of one tenure-track position, 4-5 adjuncts could be hired. Slowly at first, and now more rapidly, our department has gone topsy-turvy, with adjuncts outnumbering tenure/tenured track more than 2-1. During the 2013-2014 year, adjuncts taught 57% of all students who passed through our department; tenured/tenure track taught 35% of all department  students. The results are more startling when we looked at 100-level courses—courses usually comprised of freshmen only, though there’s always some sophomores, juniors, or even seniors who takes the class for some reason or another—where adjuncts taught 93% of the students and tenure/tenured track taught 0%. The remaining 7% went to Teaching Assistants.

This seems to make sense at first: why would a tenure/tenured-track instructor teach a 100-level course? They wouldn’t, right? But what’s interesting is when you realize that freshman retention is incredibly important. According to one study, “It is estimated that 40% of college students will leavehigher education without a degree[…]freshman class attrition rates are typically greater than any other academic year and are commonly as high as 20-30%.” And that “the implications of leaving college without a degree are many. Each student that leaves before degree completion costs the college or university thousands of dollars in unrealized tuition, fees, and alumni contributions[…] also frequently economically deleterious to the college dropout [which] often leaves him or her in a position to earn much less over a lifetime of work.” Furthermore, while freshman retention is significantly affected by such things as academic performance, social interactions, a sense of community, some scholars believe that “the primary responsibility for helping students experience a successful freshman year lies with the faculty who teach the freshman courses.”

It is therefore shocking that the academic system–at the university I teach at least–treat their adjuncts so poorly, when most adjuncts go above and beyond their job description to foster meaningful relationships with students and try and find time to give back to the very institution that denies them so much.

For instance, adjuncts are not allowed to participate in shared governance. The rationale from our department is that adjuncts are not encouraged to be part of the university system nor reimbursed for any time because adjuncts don’t know how the university system works, yet without being allowed to participate, how can we learn?

Most of the committees on campus are limited to tenure/tenured track only. Many of the fantastic trainings held on campus are also only for tenure/tenured track. Thus, if an adjunct wants to further his or her pedagogy, he or she must do so outside the university setting. Recently, a colleague of mine wanted to nominate a fellow adjunct for an annual award for faculty promoting diversity, but because her nominee was an adjunct, she wasn’t even considered for the award.

This “separate but equal” mentality in the minds of administrators and tenure/tenured track hurt us all. And the reality is there is nothing equal about the current ways the university treats adjuncts. Along with the fact that thousands of adjuncts don’t have an office, have little to no job security, and can barely afford to live above the poverty line, many adjuncts are missing the simple key ingredient that should be inherent in any job at a university—a place that devotes much of its time spewing such clichéd terms as opportunity, diversity, accountability–and that is respect, especially for the “lowly” adjuncts who are the foundation for much of what the university is built upon.

For years I felt fortunate to be an adjunct, but I no longer believe that. When the lecturer committee sent out an informal and anonymous questionnaire to fellow adjuncts in our department, the number one thing adjuncts wanted was not more pay, time-release for committee work, or better offices. It was respect. As one anonymous colleague noted, “Bridge the gap between lecturers and tenured-track faculty: less isolation…to help us feel less sweat-shop labor-ish.” Another wrote, “I’m interested in what it would take to be recognized as true colleagues among faculty.” These comments bring down the morale of the entire department—adjuncts and tenured track alike—and low morale within a department spreads out, directly affecting the most innocent of the system, the students.

So I’ve made a decision. No more. I will continue to teach because it’s my passion, but my department and the university will not receive one more ounce of my free time and energy. For years I was willing to accept that most of my extra work would be unpaid, but I cannot and will not accept that I don’t deserve respect—not just for the work I’ve given back to the university, but for the simple fact that I teach with passion and for the simpler fact that I am a human being who deserves to be treated with respect.

That is how you lose an adjunct. It might come in many forms—those who leave to pursue more lucrative jobs, those who decide to travel the world, and those, like me, who won’t give back in any way to the university they work for. From afar, it seems like the ivory tower of the CSU system doesn’t affect many people, but when you consider that the CSU system is one of the largest employers in California, this perception may change. Imagine all the intelligent, student-centered adjuncts that leave the system.

What a loss for the universities with adjuncts like me.

 

The drama of a broken elbow April 22, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — courtsbrogno @ 3:07 pm

As a family, we’ve been fortunate enough to avoid any broken bones. I never even broke a bone (except for that one time, junior year in high school, where I “kinda” broke my finger, but it didn’t really hurt and all I cared about was that I got out of P.E. for a month). We also haven’t spent much time in the Emergency Room.–once when Maddie had a concussion and another time when Luke had a fish bone stuck in his throat.

But that all changed a few months ago.

It was a Monday and I was teaching my classes when during my 4-5 class, i noticed Jessie, the woman who picks Luke up from school for me once a week, had called. I stepped out of class and called her back. “Luke fell on his elbow and it wasn’t a bad fall, but he keep crying and I don’t know if he’s faking it because he just wants to go home or if he’s really hurt,” she said. Well, if there’s one thing consistent about Luke it’s that he never cries when he falls down or gets hurt. Yes, he’s a emotional crier. But he’s taken tumbles that make me wince and he gets up just fine. Knowing this I canceled the rest of class and went immediately to get Luke.

As soon as I saw him, I knew we were going to the Emergency Room.

And of course, the emergency room was packed. But they did get us in rather quickly, and as soon as the doctor saw him, he knew he had broken his elbow. An x-ray confirmed this. And as soon as the doctor removed his shirt, I knew it: his elbow was bruised and didn’t even look like an elbow. The doctor was pretty sure he would need surgery as well.

luke 1

luke 2

luke 3

luke 4

Luke was in so much pain–expect when they gave him morphine–then he was pain free and hilarious. But they couldn’t send us home with morphine so they sent us home with a referral to an orthopedic surgeon and some other meds (I can’t remember the name).

Sadly, the meds they sent us home with didn’t really help and in fact, made him throw up for about 6 hours. So on top of being in terrible pain, he also threw up. His nights were terrible: he couldn’t get comfortable and every time he moved, his arm hurt (it’s amazing how much we don’t really think about how connected our arms are to everything we do). It was a terrible experience for him, and as his mother, because there was nothing I could do to make him feel better, I felt just as terrible (well, emotionally terrible, not physically).

He spent most of the next few days lying around, uncomfortable while we waited to see the doctor about his surgery:

luke 5The few times he could get up and walk around were short lived:

luke 6

We did get to see the doctor rather quickly and surgery was scheduled the Thursday after it happened (they have to do the surgery quickly as they want the swelling to go down, but not the bones to set).

Luke had no idea what he was in for, so at first he thought the whole per-surgery thing was kind of exciting:

luke 7

The surgery was supposed to last about 1/2 an hour, but instead lasted almost 2 hours. I guess the damage was more extensive then the doctor first thought and Luke needed 2 pins put through his elbow to stabilize the area.

And Luke waking up from recovery was a NIGHTMARE. He’d been put to sleep once before, at about 2 years old, for some dental work, and he woke up pretty violent then. The same thing happened when he woke from this surgery. He was thrashing and screaming and confused and nothing could calm him down.

luke 9

The nurses were incredibly nice and the anesthesiologist came twice to give Luke more meds, but nothing worked. Plus there were other people in recovery and Luke was just ruining their experience. I’m pretty sure that no patient has ever been kicked out of recovery faster than Luke. At first they told us he’d be there for about 2 hours, then they said he needed to drink a box of juice before he could leave just to make sure he didn’t throw it up, but when he wouldn’t stop screaming at the top of his lungs, the nurse told him just to take a sip of juice, waited about 30 seconds, said he didn’t throw it up, and then helped me and Luke’s dad get him dressed in record time, while everyone else worked on our release papers, and then we we’re practically pushed out the door. But, believe me, I don’t blame them one bit.

After the surgery, it was back to square one: not sleeping because of the pain, crying all night, having a difficult time even walking around. All this lasted for about 3 days. It’s a good thing I have a pretty flexible work schedule because i had to take the entire week off work. And while that put me way behind, nothing was more important than being there for Luke.

Finally, about 2 weeks after the surgery, Luke got his cast on:

luke 10

Once the cast was on instead of the splint, his arm was more stabilized and unable to move as much, and so, he could  move and play as usual.

The cast stayed on for 3 weeks and then finally, it came off:

luke 11

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luke 14

luke 15

His elbow is healed and his arm is tiny, but I’m as happy as is he.

Luke finally got to take a full bath without a plastic garbage bag around his arm and he was beyond thrilled:

luke 16Now everything is back to normal and we’re just working on exercising that elbow until it gets straight, and it’s coming along quite well.

But I knock on wood and send out prayers to the universe: “No more broken bones, please. Please, no more broken bones.”

And although I know the chances of Luke breaking another bone are high, I never, ever want to see him go through so much pain again. It broke my heart that there was nothing I could do about it.

The saying–“when you have a child it’s like your heart goes walking around outside your body”–is so true. And the heart breaks more easily when it’s not inside my own chest.

 

2015 is going to be the best year ever…well, soon, soon it will be April 13, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — courtsbrogno @ 11:18 am

2015 came in with a bang. I celebrated with my dear friend, S., and many more friends.new year1

new year 2

And a few days after the new year, took a family hike up Madonna, all the way to the top, to play under the lights shaped as a Christmas Tree:

new year 3

i had great plans for the new year: write everyday on this blog to get my feelings out and to keep up with the few people who actually read this blog, and most importantly, to practice my writing for the summer when I WILL get down to finishing the revisions for one of my novels. I was also going to exercise more and be a kinder neighbor, daughter, friend, mother.

But none of that happened. None. Because of my terrible Winter quarter schedule.

Yes, when school started January 5th or so, I was in for 11 weeks of total hell. My schedule was terrible. I was teaching 5 classes (I at the community college and 4 at the university), which is the same as I always do, but I was basically teaching M-Th 8-8. Yes, I had a break from 5-7pm. but that gave me just enough time to get Luke, run home, feed my children, help Luke with homework, and then rush back to teach from 7-8p.m.

I’m not kidding when I say this schedule completely overwhelmed me. I felt like I was always at my office and always exhausted, and then because Luke broke his elbow (more about that in another post) and I took a week off of work to be home with him, I got so behind in my grading that I still to this day cannot believe I actually caught up.

So for about three months, 2015 wasn’t so great.

But it’s a new quarter and I’m feeling much more balanced, so I’ll be keeping up with my new year’s resolutions: writing more, exercising, catching up on thank you cards, spending more quality time with my kids, and trying to still give love and care to myself.

At least I’m going to try. Really try.