There's a lot of weight in being a part-time adjunct. That is, emotional weight that is hard to carry.
For instance, this week I received an email from Penn State Altoona's HR, a contract for next semester to be returned in three days. That's quick turnaround, since my home printer is down. And I notice my title changed. This semester, rather than being a part-time Lecturer, my title is part-time Instructor. The contract had a representative to contact to discuss the contract, who I emailed. While the difference between a lecturer and an instructor may be meaningless to Penn State, it does seem to mean something in many people's minds. Lecturer seems like a higher title than instructor. Because of this understanding (perhaps misunderstanding) I would prefer my title not to change from lecturer to instructor next semester. Sadly, the representative I am to contact about my contract is out of town, according to her email's automatic reply. Its now past three days, and I haven't heard back from her. One more needless worry. There's a lot of weight placed on the shoulders of adjuncts. Unnecessary weight.
When I was offered the full-time position out-of-state in September, my boss at Penn State Altoona replied quickly, suggesting he was going to try to open a full-time position. But he couldn't guarantee anything, of course. That is certainly not the reason I chose not to accept the out-of-state position, which I mentioned in my previous blog post. And it was odd returning to my position at Altoona to find other part-time faculty there already, having not been told I decided to stay (one was to be on an overloaded "part-time" position). Lots of people love this work, even at its worst. But, having not heard back from my boss by November, I decided to email him to ask if anything came of the possible full-time contingent faculty position at Penn State Altoona. He replied that he "forgot" all of that began with me, and that he was not supported in creating a new line. More weight on my shoulders.
Some hard numbers: Of the 19 Integrative Arts faculty, 10 are part-time adjuncts like me (53%). Four of the 9 full-time faculty are "Teaching" faculty, meaning contingent full-time faculty. So, despite the good press Penn State gets, its efforts to improve the working conditions of contingent faculty help few of the actual contingent faculty, people teaching the bulk of the classes here. Most of us are outside of Penn State's concerns--invisible. One of the remaining 5 full-time faculty is emerita (retired). Of the four tenure-stream faculty, two are split with other departments. So, of the 19 faculty members in integrative arts (dance, music, theater), two are full-time dance/music/theater professors in a tenure-stream (11%). Tuition for each student at Penn State Altoona in 2018 is $14,214 in-state, and $23,466 out of state, not counting additional fees and housing. When I came to Penn State Altoona in 2015, tuition was $13, 658 and $20,890 respectively. Ten years ago tuition was $11,490 and $17,578 respectively. The cost of gas in 2015, when I started teaching at Penn State Altoona was $2.40, and in 2018 its $2.49. My commute is 58 miles, from my rental in State College to the campus in Altoona. My salary at Penn State Altoona has been $1000 per credit, which hasn't changed since I began. There is no cost of living increase for part-time adjunct faculty. In 2013, adjunct salaries were increased from $925, and in 2008, from $900.
During this time since 2015, I have been drawn, more and more, to old country. Not new country, with its oft-jingoistic messages, but old country. Old painful country music that was written to cry to. That is, country and western music about loss, divorced, and sadness. Very much, my career as an instructor at the university level has been like a marriage. I love my scholarship, and am invigorated by the possibility of adding new knowledge to the field. I love teaching my students, seeing where these undergraduates will go with their lives. But this marriage between me and university is a dysfunctional one. Here are a couple of country lyrics that have meant something more to me in recent years, with links to good versions on YouTube.
- I'll get along, you'll find another. And I'll be here if you should find you ever need me. Don't say a word about forever or tomorrow. There'll be time enough for sadness when you leave me. Lay you head upon my pillow. Hold your warm and tender body close to mine. Hear the whisper of the raindrops blowing soft against the window. And make believe you love me one more time. For the good times.
- When you found somebody new I thought I never would forget you but I thought then I never could. But time has taken all the pains away. Until now, I'm down hurting once a day. Once a day. All day long. And once a night, from dusk til dawn. The only time I wish you weren't gone is once a day, every day, all day long.
- Don't close your eyes. Let it be me. Don't pretend its him in some fantasy. Darling just once, let yesterday go. And you'll find more love than you've ever known. Just hold me tight, when you love me tonight, and don't close your eyes. Maybe I've been a fool, holding on all this time.
- I don't care what's right or wrong. I don't try to understand. Let the devil take tomorrow. Cause tonight I need a friend. Yesterday is dead and gone. And tomorrow's out of sight. And it's bad to be alone. Help me make it through the night. I don't want to sleep alone. Help me make it through the night.
- After three full years of marriage its the first time that you haven't made the bed. I guess the reason we're not talking there's so little left to say we haven't said. While a million thoughts to racing through my mind I find I haven't said a word. From the bedroom the familiar sound of our baby's crying goes unheard. But what a good year for the roses, many blooms still linger there. Lawn could stand another mowing. Funny I don't even care. As you turn to walk away. As the door behind you closes. The only thing I have to say. It's been a good year for the roses.
Without a place in higher education, I find some comfort in recognizing, through music, other places. I certainly find joy in my students, who work hard and are paying too much in tuition. I garden and hike much more. I feed birds. But a lot of that is, if not masking a persistent melancholy, escapism. But its an escape to a real community, of family and non-human animals, where the anti-community the university is for contingent part-time faculty remains placeless.