Hunter adjuncts hold hallway office hours to protest end of office space, poor labor conditions
Many of us had students come by for office hours, which we did actually hold, and a couple of adjuncts did some video interviews. We handed out literature and had great conversations with adjuncts and students.
The group explains their situation in an open letter that was sent to the Hunter Envoy for publication next week. The full text of the letter is below.
Teaching for Liberation, NOT for Profit!
An open letter from Adjunct Professors in the Psychology
Department at Hunter College about our working conditions
and pedagogical stance
What happened to our office?
We recently found out that our only working space (a tiny room with 3 dysfunctional
computers) on the Hunter North 6th floor was taken away. This reorganization/removal
was done without any discussion with, or even explanation to, those of us who work to
organize and deliver quality teaching. Our disappeared office — inadequate to begin with
– functions as a point of fracture from which we can view the larger issues at hand.
The current context of teaching
As Adjunct Professors in the Department of Psychology at Hunter College, the largest
department consisting of 131 Adjuncts among 168 teaching faculty members (78% of
the total teaching faculty), we suffer drastically declining working conditions daily. The
context of teaching is intolerable–we work with an average of more than 250 students
per Adjunct with some extreme cases of 1000 student “jumbo classes,” while there is
currently no office space, no support network with our colleagues, and no means for
effective communication with the department regarding our concerns and grievances.
Our complaints and concerns are routinely met with responses that evade the real
issues, providing inadequate remedies for our dire ailments. In regard to the issue of
office space, we are advised to use a hallway in front of the Psychology Department,
the library, or a space allocated to graduate students as our “office” – a space where
each of us (131 Adjuncts) are expected to meet our students on a weekly basis,
hold make-up exams, talk about learning challenges and special needs, etc. These
new “office” spaces do not allow for talking out loud (in the library and graduate student
room, for example), much less for any level of confidentiality that students should be
granted when they come in and talk about their learning struggles.
Particularly for Adjuncts who work under Graduate Teaching Fellow contracts, teaching
is framed as a good way to build our CVs–a special “opportunity”–instead of work. It
is a perfect Catch-22 situation where we either teach and suck up the bad working
conditions or we lose our funding and health insurance. In reality, as Adjuncts, we don’t
have the choice to not work.
And work we do. We review and choose textbooks, stay abreast of current research,
implement new media and technologies, develop activities to engage students, and
labor to craft assignments and texts that will elicit the quality of learning our students
deserve. And yet, for some of us who teach two different courses with over 100
students, we are expected to invest less than 15 hours a week. There are weeks we are
constrained to these inputs, but this is not the kind of rote teaching we aspire to. We do
not seek to be reactionary teachers, generating reactionary students.
The coercive tools for a capitalist model of teaching
Here is our second Catch-22: the conditions of teaching in the Psychology Department
coerce us to teach from the “banking model of education” where the role of the teacher
is to merely deposit knowledge into the students who are to passively absorb the
knowledge that the teacher transmits. The working conditions push many of us to
conform to and reproduce the banking model, where we are supplied with over-priced
textbooks and multiple choice exams to deal with large class sizes. The system is
constructed in a way where the scantron becomes our only rescue!
As learning conditions decrease, tuition increases, all within an environment of
surveillance and discipline. If we are to comply with the neoliberal economic model,
it is a twisted logic and reality that simultaneously degrades the “product” of higher
education, while demanding higher and higher costs from both students and teachers.
Teaching is for transformative learning and not a tool of discipline!
Our abhorrent teaching conditions are our students’ abhorrent learning conditions. We
find these conditions unacceptable and demand to reclaim public education as a site for
critical and transformative learning, not a place for passive transmission of knowledge
and training students for future wage labor. In the midst of what we identify as
an “education crisis,” we are taught to teach as if the crisis is a matter of each individual
Adjunct’s teaching ability. A class on teaching will not solve the challenges, constraints
and contradictions we face every day. In reality, these classes systematically turn into
a means for disciplining Adjuncts to conform to the current conditions of teaching, while
pathologizing our students as “problems” or “security risks”… No amount of training can
change the material conditions that we and our students struggle within.
What we want, what we need!
We seek teaching conditions that exhibit and model the level and quality of education
we deem fit for our society. As active contributors to the development of our society
we must be treated with the dignity of consultation in the shaping of higher education
and the environment in which it is delivered. We seek the cessation of conditions that
coerce teachers to treat their students like human cogs in an education factory.
As education workers who are in solidarity with the March 1st National Day of Action for
Education as well as in response to our lack of working and communal space, we are
holding Adjunct Office Hours on the 3rd floor between Hunter West and Hunter
North on Thursday, March 1st, 12-1:30pm. Please schedule your office hours with
students there and come to connect with your colleagues!