A day in the life of a UConn adjunct faculty member

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GEU-UAW Local 6950

UConn graduate students speak to university officials.

Wednesday, Feb. 22, about halfway through the spring 2017 term, was a pretty typical day for me.

I’m in my late thirties and last year received my Ph.D. from Harvard in American Studies with a specialty in immigration history and literature. Since 2012, a year after I moved to West Hartford and a few months after the birth of my second child, I have been teaching a course or two, in English, history or American studies, each term at UConn’s Greater Hartford regional campus.

I wake up around 6:30 am to shower and dress. By the time I’m ready, my two daughters are waking up, or at least my 6-year-old is; my 4-year-old is more of a lounger in the morning. I help the girls dress and give them breakfast. While they eat, I prepare their school lunches and snacks. The bus comes for my older daughter at 8:15, around the same time my husband leaves for the Storrs campus to teach there, where he is a faculty member on the tenure track.

I walk my younger daughter over to school and then get on a bus to downtown Hartford. I volunteer a few hours each week at a legal services organization for immigrants.

I return home by bus before lunch, responding to student emails on the way. I eat lunch in front of my home computer while reviewing my notes and presentation for my afternoon lecture, which I prepared the previous day. I spend an hour finishing the grading of student response papers. The course is a survey of American literature with a writing component, so I spend about 10 hours a week, on average, grading papers. Then I post readings on the course website, selected the previous day, for my other class, an advanced American Studies seminar that meets on Monday nights.

I pick up my younger daughter from school a bit before 3 o’clock and then greet my older daughter at the bus at 3:30. My husband arrives home around 4 p.m. and I drive over to the Hartford campus.

I pick up some library books — mostly preordered from the Babbidge library in Storrs— that I’ll use Thursday to prepare for my Monday lectures. I teach my survey course from 4:40 to 5:55 p.m. Then I have my “office hours.” I meet with students in a large office shared with other adjuncts at the Hartford campus.

This particular Wednesday, I have two meetings. The first meeting is difficult because the student asks me to work with him on an independent study in the fall. Because I am an adjunct and employed on term-by-term contracts to teach specific courses, it is difficult for me to commit to students regarding future teaching. Also, as an adjunct, I am not paid to advise students or to conduct independent studies. Although I am the best faculty member to work with this particular student, to say yes to his request would mean committing to work for free.

The next meeting I have is rather sensitive, since it involves trying to figure out how the student can make up past work or drop the advanced seminar. The student has had serious family problems that have made it impossible for her to attend class and submit assignments. This is precisely the kind of meeting where more privacy is needed.  After my office hours, I return home to make dinner with my husband and to bathe and read with my girls, who go to sleep around 8:15 p.m.

Then the work starts up again. I finish up a post-doc application and correspond with my academic advisor about a recommendation letter. Next I gather bibliographical citations for an American history project I am working on with a team of Harvard graduate students and postdocs. This is a part-time research job that I have taken on out of both intellectual interest and to supplement my teaching salary. I usually devote a bit of time in the evenings and a few hours on Friday to this project.

I then finish up an abstract for a paper I’ve been asked to submit for a conference panel in the fall.  Attending this academic conference is important to me, as my co-panelists are important scholars in my field. But I have misgivings about making a commitment to attend, as the conference will be in Montreal and the combined cost of the flight, hotel and conference registration will be at least $1,500. As I am paid less than $5,000 to teach each of my courses and am allotted no research or conference budget from UConn, I will have to seek out alternative sources of funding. Around 11 p.m., I take up the novel I’m lecturing about at UConn next week and head for bed.  I go to sleep around midnight.

My position at UConn is unique in some ways, but typical in many others.

Like me, most adjuncts, the majority of whom are women, have the same credentials (ie., Ph.D.s or terminal degrees in their fields), as faculty on the tenure track. But a tenure track faculty member is paid on average three times as much as an adjunct to teach the same course, and, unlike adjuncts, also receives health benefits and funding for research and service to UConn.

Although adjuncts are experienced and dedicated teachers, they lack the resources and the security to teach and advise students most effectively. In the current contract negotiations with the university administration, the American Association of University Professors, which represents all faculty, is asking for improved job security and working conditions for adjuncts. This makes sense on both equity and efficiency grounds.

From an efficiency standpoint, talent and intellectual capital are being wasted and mismanaged.

I am involved with a research project at another institution while teaching at UConn because adjuncts are not well incorporated into UConn’s academic departments and research initiatives. Adjuncts in many departments are not kept informed about events, lectures, or conferences.

Nor do adjuncts weigh in on departmental decisions about curricula and courses, many of which are taught by adjuncts. Academic departments generally provide little in the way of guidance or evaluation of adjunct teaching. The AAUP has recently formed an adjunct faculty committee to help remedy this problem by making academic departments more aware of it and suggesting ways to better integrate adjuncts.

From an equity standpoint, conditions of employment are unfair for adjuncts and their students and education is suffering. The number of adjuncts at UConn has been rising over the past decade and, at the regional campuses, almost all courses are taught by adjunct faculty. Higher tuition has not meant higher pay for these faculty members.

The university is now devoting a great deal of money to moving the Hartford campus to a new location in downtown Hartford.  If the goal of this move is to encourage students to become involved with the life of the city, there should be more attention paid to the problem of adjunct faculty-guided independent studies and internships.

To truly adhere to its mission of providing quality higher education to students of Connecticut, UConn must focus attention and resources on education at the new campus, which means also on teaching by adjunct faculty there.

Yael Schacher is an adjunct professor for the University of Connecticut.

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