What’s Love Got To Do With It?



I woke up this morning thinking about the articles, letters, and blog posts written by precariously employed scholars who have decided to leave the university. These highly personal and often poignant pieces resonate with grief. They have become so ubiquitous that they have reached the status of a genre known as “Quit Lit.” The label is revealing. Nobody likes a quitter. Written in the form of farewell  letters typically express a love for the work they are abandoning. Many talk about their struggles, including the one that led them to the decision to leave. They talk of love for their discipline, the university, and their students.

And that is what I want to write about today, the love. Love of scholarship, love of teaching, love of the institutions that many feel have ultimately betrayed us.

Let me be clear. I am, at the time of this writing, still teaching. I still love sharing and learning and reading and writing. But the honeymoon is long over, eyes are wide open, my commitment is wavering. Anyone familiar with quit lit might find themselves scratching their heads, tsk-tsking at the conditions, or chastising us for continuing if we are less than satisfied with our employment situation. Readers might wonder at pieces that claim dog walkers are better paid. If you don’t like it, lump it. Move on. Feedback media can reveal a lot.

But today’s musings are of a more personal nature. What do I love about the work that I have been doing for twenty-five years? As I reach the end of the road, what will I miss?

I will miss reading and sharing and inspiring. I will miss those moments when a student waits to talk after class, with questions and curiosity and a desire to know more, with outrage and confusion, and a desire to understand why. I will miss the bright and thoughtful papers that I have been privileged to read. I will miss introducing students to new peoples, places, and ideas. I will miss the conversations. I will miss the feeling of accomplishment and pride that a student displays after braving a creative assignment like a poster, poem, or portrait.

Does this make me an idealist? Probably.

Do I still love these aspects of my work? Definitely.

If you would like to share your thoughts on what you love about your work, why you continue, or why you had to leave, I invite you to use the comments section or contact me about writing a guest post.


Guest Post – Lydia Snow

Lydia Snow is an educator and advocate for the rights of non-tenured instructors in the United States.

Campus Equity Week 2017: The Impossible Job

Lydia Snow

Waking early this morning I came downstairs and realized I haven’t written at all this semester. I like to keep my adjunct organizer friends and supporters informed simply by telling the story of campus resistance on the ground as a teaching adjunct. I haven’t written my exit piece yet. In fact I was too busy teaching four different classes and organizing Campus Equity Week on campus with the help of my union UPI 4100 IFT.  What started out as an idea from friends on the internet through the New Faculty Majority and the AFT turned into a nine month project spearheaded by adjunct artists and activists and labor organizers from all over the USA. Andy Davis who teaches at Cal Poly Pomona in the Interdisciplinary General Education program and I were originally involved in collaborating with a group of artist activists designing projects that capitalize on the power of the arts to change minds and hearts for Campus Equity Week 2017 through historical reenactments. He and I were captivated by the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses on Wittenberg Cathedral on October 31, 2017.  The theme the whole group decided on captured our need to both conceal and reveal our complex identities as members of the precarious academic workforce: mAsk4campusEquity.

Anne Weigard from the New Faculty Majority was the lead organizer of the group and spearheaded the effort to purchase buttons, create a website, create a social media campaign, and enlist the help of others without a single dollar in the budget. Most of what happened we paid for ourselves, although I did apply for a 500.00 grant through the AFT and was awarded one at the last minute which will eventually enable me to pay the speakers who had volunteered to be on a panel on campus. One of the panelists David Mihalyfy and I decided to call it “Building Coalitions for Campus Equity: Challenges and Solutions”. Through my experience working with Faculty Forward Chicago and the Faculty Forward Network I had met David on social media who has been involved in multiple unionization campaigns, included SAIC adjuncts with SEIU, UChicago grad workers with AFT, and UChicago hourly library workers with Teamsters.

Besides David and myself, Olivia Cronk was the other member of the panel. She is on the English Faculty here at NEIU and had agreed right away to participate. As of this writing she has responsibility to teach and prep seven different classes in the Creative Writing and English program. A published poet she is the author of  a recent book, “Louise and Louise and Louise” and an earlier book of poetry “Skin Horse”, as well as the co-editor of The Journal Petra.

It all sounds wonderful, right? I have the support of my union. I was able to reserve tables on campus during activity hour and lunch times for three separate days where we will give out flyers and engage the community that stops by about the issue of contingent faculty on campus and how the adjunctification of faculty was demeaning and hurt faculty but students also and most importantly their ability to be supported in the classroom and graduate in a timely manner because of all the course cancellations based on enrollment. I rented a computer and flat screen TV from media services and showed videos from a playlist on my youtube channel: Adjunct Life. I adapted Andy Davis’s idea that we rewrite the 95 Theses to reflect the current crisis in higher education to instead write our own NEIU Theses which we would parade to the administrative offices dressed in masks and academic regalia and post our own scroll on the 500th anniversary of Luther’s campus protest.  The idea was to have it be a reenactment of the historical event when Luther posted his theses as a campus protest against the Catholic Church.

So during the tabling I created a scroll and had special archival paper and pens and students, faculty and staff would be able to add their own thoughts about what issues they would like to address to the administration. It started with a resolution I had written and successfully passed at the 2017 IFT Higher Education Conference as a representative instructor delegate, the previous March in Springfield. I invited staff, students and other faculty to add their own personal call for change at our university.

I went to the IFT union meetings and asked for help from other members. They looked at me in confusion and dismissal. The interim new president of our chapter supported Campus Equity Week. He sent out email missives asking for others to help out in the effort. I received few if any responses. One union representative when I contacted him and asked for help with the project accused me of being unprofessional because he was working on the “bigger picture of organizing for social change and who cares about one week for Campus Equity Week?” Another adjunct stopped me in the hall and said, “Well what are we going to do? I thought we were going to meet and decide what to do?” I told her, “Well listen, we are all swamped and it’s pretty straight forward. All you have to do is show up and sit at the table and talk to the campus community about instructors and our issues here on campus trying to survive with this current administration and let them know about the action on Halloween when we will post the scroll on the administrative office door.” She gave me a dirty look and walked away and never showed up to table even though she had originally volunteered to do so.

I continued to persevere mainly because I had invested so much time talking to Andy Davis every Friday morning for months, not to mention the frantic emailing correspondence that went on with my fellow adjunct activists organizing artistic events on campuses to bring attention to Adjunct issues. When I stood up at the meeting I told the other members how other universities were participating but it had absolutely no effect. My husband came home one day and said he had a new nickname for me, “Gadfly.” So who cares if I don’t have support, if it doesn’t feel like a group effort? The main thing is just to do it and get it done.

I ended up spending all of the AFT 500.00 grant before I knew I was awarded it, I mean it’s expensive buying good archival markers and poster board, printing flyers and posters that look eye catching, and all the mAsk4CampusEquity and CAmpus Equity Now buttons and stickers from New Faculty Majority. Not to mention the scroll!

The panel went really well however. I wish in a way I wasn’t on it because then I could have taken notes on the other speakers and what they said, but some students of mine and Olivia Cronk showed up and surprisingly a number of tenured faculty came, even some chairs of their departments. I guess what’s happening now is that the adjunctification of higher education has affected just about everyone, including the chairs of the departments who were sent letters saying they were all being let go at the end of the spring semester. They are talking about super chairs who will run several departments at once. It was heartening to see them there, but I had to decline their invitations to moderate the panel because I wanted it to be an Adjunct panel. I didn’t want tenured professors asking us questions about our experiences. And then the adjunct who had agreed to moderate had to drop out at the last minute so we just moderated it ourselves, which worked perfectly well. After all what is a moderator anyway?


(I love this photo because being adjuncts we all brought our own beverage, my water bottle far left, Olivia’s coffee and David’s thermos)

I find myself being overly critical of academia and its protocols because they have done nothing to support me in my career as a professional music educator. To me these protocols and seem to reinforce a two-tiered system. But we had a lively discussion. Even though there were only maybe 20 people there I felt as if what we were talking about what really mattered in the deepest sense, like if anyone had been recording us it would have been listened to by adjuncts all over the USA because these issues are not just ours on our campus at Northeastern Illinois University but they are happening in every university, college and community college.

The tabling went well with several new adjuncts stopping by and asking questions as well as staff who were recently the victim of 380 positions cut due to the statewide budget impasse, but also due to mismanagement of funds on massive building projects and the hiring of more and more highly paid administrators and public relations positions.

Well then came the day for the great action. I had finally gotten people to add their grievances to the scroll and it looked fairly impressive:


The idea was to mask our identities and march our Halloween parade down together to deliver our NEIU 23 Theses to the administration. I had purchased Halloween masks and I had my Luther hat that Andy Davis had sent me from California. I brought all the markers and poster boards and dragged them up to this impressive room the union had rented and collapsed it on the big tables set aside for discussion between student groups and university advisory boards. Granted it was Halloween. Granted there was a Halloween Party going on downstairs in the cafeteria judging costumes. Granted there were recitals going on that conflicted with people in my own department participating. Granted I had bullheadedly continued to organize this event despite the overwhelming apathetic and outright dismissive response from fellow union members, but I waited. And then I finally realized that nobody was coming. Here is what I laid out on the tables in that room. I was hoping for more than 23 Theses.

I thought to myself, okay, I give up universe. You are trying to tell me something. The university is telling you that this adjunct is worthless. There is no point in doing anything but agreeing with them. You have no friends, there are no such things as colleagues here, there is absolutely no reason that you wasted nine months of your life trying to bring attention to these issues and you need to throw all of this stuff away, including the scroll in the trash and go home and wait for the trick or treaters. But then I thought about my friend Miranda Merklein who had recently died in Massachusetts alone. She was a brave adjunct organizer, English professor, writer, mother and grandmother who and had lost her job organizing and didn’t have health insurance. She died sick and alone and nobody even knew that she needed help. She was 39 years old. We had been in communication for four years and she was absolutely supportive of every action, every piece of my writing, we communicated on social media almost daily and she had kept me going in our common struggle for adjunct justice. How could I give up now?

Instead I texted my husband: “So I’m all set for Halloween March and nobody showed up. Hopefully one other person will show up” He texted back, “Grab the bullhorn.and get ready to party.” So I dragged all of the pens and the posters and threw them under one arm and then all the flyers in the bag and started making my way down the stairs. When I got to the bottom of the stairs there was one of the adjuncts that I met during Campus Equity Week. He asked me if I needed help. He had shown up for his conferences but not one of his students had shown up. I said, “Yes, I need help carrying this stuff. I want to go to put the scroll up but I need some way to attach it.” So he smiled and said, “I would love to help you with that.” He has been adjuncting at NEIU for 20 years teaching two classes a semester but also at other universities in downtown Chicago. He had also come to the forum on Wednesday and had sat very quietly but told me, “Oh I do want to help let’s do this. Let’s do this together!”

So we went to the bookstore and got some packaging tape and then we went over to the Office of Academic Affairs and it was perfect, there was absolutely nobody there. It’s Halloween! Of course they all go home early or maybe they were attending a party, but even the secretary wasn’t there. So we put the scroll up with the packaging tape right by the elevator and he took several photos of me. I didn’t bother wearing a mask or a hat.


Then we left all the posters in the window so as the administrators went home they would see them and then he helped me carry the bags back to my office before promising to be in touch in the future.

And the amazing thing is I think that was one of the happiest days of my life. It’s hard to explain the significance of not being alone. Being a gadfly is one thing but having a fellow adjunct who’s just as pissed off at the administration to march down the hallways and put up the scroll with you is another thing all together. I hope somewhere there is one more adjunct who reads this and will get up the courage to stand up for our rights to dignity and respect in the workplace and beyond.

It’s lonely working for adjunct justice. And we need your help.

Lydia Snow

Contingent faculty as a bivalent collective.

By: Deidre Rose, Ph.D.

The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, also known as Bill 148, has recently been enacted in Ontario. The new legislation calls for significant increases to minimum wage rates in the province and significantly expands the notion of “equal pay for equal work.” Under the Act, “Part-time, casual, temporary and seasonal employees would be entitled to the same rate of pay as regular employees when they perform substantially the same work, in the same establishment, under the same conditions, and require the same skill, effort, and responsibility. (CUPE 2017)” Organizations like the Ontario College and University Faculty Association (OCUFA), the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union (OPSEU), and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) have been strong supporters of this legislation. In earlier debates, labour representatives expressed their concern that non-regular or contingent academic faculty would be excluded. These concerns have proven to be correct, at least for the short term. Since most non-tenured faculty in Ontario are unionized, the exemption relating to existing Collective Agreements will apply until January 2020. While contingent academic workers will no doubt welcome the arrival of something approaching pay equity, it would be a mistake to think that affirmative redistribution in the form of  “equal pay” would alleviate the marginalization experienced by these workers. The legislation does pay lip service to the recognition of non-regular workers by attempting to decouple remuneration from prestige, but legislation alone will not remedy the stigma because contingent faculty constitute what Nancy Fraser (1995, 2005) has called a “bivalent mode of collectivity,” and, as such any remedy would require both redistribution and recognition. The neoliberal university has long relied on the low paid work of this category of academics, and the internalization of neo-liberal ideology has resulted in their stigmatization. Equal pay will not remedy this situation.

The tendencies associated with the growing corporatization of the university have led to an increasing valuation of research over teaching. Research is seen as “more product-oriented” and, concomitantly, the researcher “more company oriented” (Buchbinder & Newson, 1999:371). At the same time, teaching has been increasingly devalued. In short, “Professor/researchers became entrepreneurs in this market-oriented model, and research activities became the priority, while teaching activities became viewed as a less productive or less efficient use of time, unless they involved graduate teaching” (Buchbinder & Newson, 1999:371, cited in Langan and Morton 2009: 396). “Sessional,”” non-regular,” “adjunct,” or “Other,” faculty constitute a reserve of low-paid and marginalized academic workers.  Remedies that address the sometimes gross pay differentials between tenured and non-tenured faculty will not remedy the marginal status of these workers. Indeed it will likely result in their being replaced with “teaching only” tenure-stream positions (as is already happening at some institutions). These positions will probably go to recent graduates who will have better job security and benefits than the contingent faculty they replace but will ultimately occupy a marginal and second-class status within the university.

For the most part, non-tenured faculty, as a group, are confined to teaching and often prevented from even applying for many of the larger, more prestigious research grants. They are paid significantly less than their tenured counterparts for their teaching, and teaching is considered less important than research. Contingent faculty are usually required to re-apply for their jobs every four months and spend a considerable amount of time on this along. For these reasons, we tend to have less robust publication records, a fact that is used against them.   When full-time, tenure track positions do become available, they rarely go to members of this group. While there may be many reasons given to rationalize this on an individual basis, the fact of the matter is that the real underlying cause is a cultural misrecognition or stigma that is associated with contract teaching.

Hired on a contract basis that may be as short as one semester or as long as three years, contingent faculty are often prevented from participating in departmental meetings, denied institutional support for grant applications, and generally excluded from any activity apart from teaching assigned courses. Indeed, while graduate students are often invited to participate in the hiring process for new faculty, contingent academic workers are not. Furthermore, when full-time hires are offered in the new teaching intensive full-time positions, long-term contract faculty are seldom, if ever, hired. Indeed the issue of conversion (from contract to tenure-track status)  is one of the sticking points in the York University strike that is underway in Toronto, Canada, as I am writing. Institutional and societal stereotypes that posit these workers as “failed academics” or “tenure risk” effectively categorize a diverse group of scholars as unworthy or incapable, and the career trajectories of sessional faculty are limited very early in their career. Most often, people who teach a large number of courses do so out of economic necessity or out of a mistaken idea that teaching experience and teaching excellence are a path to full-time employment. In fact, as mentioned above, contract faculty are rarely considered for full-time positions because it is said, they/we lack a robust publication record. The problem is, this does not explain hiring graduates with no publications and no teaching experience or failing to hire people who have significant teaching experience and also have a relatively robust publication record. Nor does it explain not hiring adjuncts for teaching-intensive positions. As Langan and Morton put it:

Departments that have no problem hiring adjuncts to teach courses semester after semester many times hesitate, they say, even to consider these instructors when full-time, tenure track positions open up. Younger candidates, with new Ph.D.’s and less teaching experience, seem to beat them out, many report, even for jobs that are teaching-oriented (Langan and Morton, 2009: 402).

The institutional norms and practices that leave nearly one half of the academic workforce in marginal and poorly paid positions create a situation where the economic marginalization and misrecognition “… intertwine to reinforce one another dialectically,” as institutional norms usually preclude the participation of adjunct faculty from participating in departmental life or serving on committees. Redressing the issues facing non-tenured faculty, or the “Other” faculty as the title of a report by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario report aptly proclaims, requires both redistribution and recognition.

Affirmative redistribution, which would mean in this case in a more equitable rate of pay for non-tenure track faculty, would not remedy the social injustice and, in fact, only serves to draw attention to the non-regular faculty without addressing the issue of two-tier hiring practices. A redistributive remedy including increasing the rates of pay, ensure decent working conditions, and perhaps improve job security for non-regular faculty would no doubt be welcome. However, in the long run, these measures would not disrupt the two-tier system and devaluation of teaching within the corporate university. Furthermore, pay equity will very possibly lead to the disposal of long-term adjunct faculty in the short or long run.

While redistribution would no doubt be welcomed by precarious faculty, a long-term social justice framework would require that the university community place value on the teaching,  research, service, and other unpaid work carried out by non-regular faculty. In short, that the administration and our tenured colleagues “accord positive recognition to a devalued group specificity” (Fraser 1995).

Note: An earlier version of this article can be found here: https://cascacultureblog.wordpress.com/2018/04/30/the-neoliberal-u-and-me/


Buchbinder & Newson 1999. The University Means Business: Universities, Corporations, and Academic Work. Garamond Press.

Janice Newson and Howard Buchbinder, Garamond Press, 1988.

Cairns, James 2017. The Myth of the Age of Entitlement: Millennials, Austerity, and Hope. University of Toronto Press.

CUPE 2017 https://cupe.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Summary_of_the_Fair_Workplaces_Better_Jobs_Act_-2017-Latest002.pdf

Donoghue, Frank 2008. The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities. New York. Fordham University Press.

Field, C. C., Jones, G. A., Karram Stephenson, G., & Khoyetsyan, A. (2014). The “Other” University Teachers: Non-Full-Time Instructors at Ontario Universities. Toronto: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario. http://www.heqco.ca/SiteCollectionDocuments/Non-full-time%20instructors%20ENG.pdf

Flaherty, Colleen Book argues adjunct conditions must be viewed as civil rights issue. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/01/29/book-argues-adjunct-conditions-must-be-viewed-civil-rights-issue

Fraser, Nancy 1995. From Redistribution to Recognition? Dilemmas of Justice in a ‘Post-Socialist’ Age. New Left Review 212:68-93.

Langan, Deborah and Mavis Morton 2009. Through the eyes of farmers’ daughters: Academics working on marginal land. Women’s Studies International Forum 32 (2009) 395–405. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277539509001010

Mysyk, Avis 2001. The Sessional Lecturer as Migrant Labourer. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, v31 n3 p73-91.


Rose, Deidre 2018. The Neoliberal U and Me. https://cascacultureblog.wordpress.com/2018/04/30/the-neoliberal-u-and-me/


1. Select readings for course.
2. Order/upload readings.
3. Request Courselink/Blackboard etc. Site.
4. Prepare short outline (for course selection purposes).
5. Determine assignments/tests/exams with due dates and weight.
6. Prepare long outline (to hand out to students first day of class).
7. Plan out weekly lecture schedule and prepare document.
8. Populate website.
a. Discussion boards.
b. Course syllabus.
c. External Links (required and optional).
d. Weekly lecture schedule.
e. Citation Guidelines.
f. Assignment information.
g. Drop box (if using).
h. Grading scheme.
i. Other.
9. Plan out weekly lecture schedule and prepare document.
10. Order documentaries as applicable.
11. Check rooms for passwords and equipment.
12. Prepare lectures.

Who we are.

Sessional lecturers, adjunct professors, contract academic faculty — these are just some of the job titles that encompass a growing number of university teachers who work under precarious and often underpaid conditions. Our members are a varied group, and here I will discuss the first of four categories or “types” of contract academic faculty, using my own work history as a template.

For many of us, our first steps into the life of uncertainty begins as we approach the final years of our doctoral program. At this stage, we are gleeful and excited to have the opportunity to teach undergraduate courses in our field. We are told that this will give us important teaching experience, and after all, most of us are obtaining our doctorate with a view to an academic career. And for some this is the outcome, but this is a very small portion of our numbers. In my own case, the teaching took up an incredible amount of time, I had close to 500 students and although I had a fair number of graduate teaching assistants to help I was also responsible for mentoring the GTAs. Teaching and writing a dissertation are not highly compatible (unless you are fortunate and are teaching an upper year seminar that focuses on your topic) and all too often the result of this opportunity is that your dissertation is delayed and you run out of funding. Now you are caught in a bit of a trap because your funding runs out and you must continue teaching to support yourself, at least that is what happened to me. In fact during my final semester as a doctoral candidate I was teaching four courses at four universities in different parts of the province. Somehow I managed to cobble together a decent dissertation, but I was scrambling around teaching and grading and therefore not able to produce a robust publication record. By now I had a fairly reasonable sense of the situation as during the course of my teaching I met with several colleagues who had been teaching assistants or sessional lecturers while I was an undergraduate. Some had been employed as sessionals for eight or ten years, despite active research programs and decent publication records. So, unlike many new graduates, I was not optimistic about my future job prospects… to be continued.




About this blog.

For a while now, I have been sharing information from other sources about the trials and tribulations of part-time or contract academic faculty. Our conditions vary from country to country and even within any given country, but despite differences we also share much with one another. There are a number of good books out on the topic, and I am working on one of my own. Here, I hope to invite comments and conversations with other people in this situation (I have been a sessional lecturer for 22 years) but also with people who care about the quality of postsecondary education and care about social justice more generally. Right now this is a free site, so the occasional ad might appear, hope this is not a problem.