Adjunct Shame

I’m supposed to hold office hours for students in my Literature and Advanced Comp classes. Honestly, I try to avoid meeting students in my office. Because it’s not my office. And I’m kind of ashamed of it. I’m not opposed to shame. Shame can be instructive. I’m just tired of this particular shame. What do students see when they walk into the adjunct office?

  • A cramped, windowless room filled with awkwardly arranged desks littered with paper, books, and one old printer that barely works. (The other day, someone moved a desk from against the wall and opened the drawer to find a long-lost bottle of headache medicine that expired in 1986. Srsly.)
  • Up to a dozen tired-looking adjuncts working away like 21st century Bartlebys, squinting at student writing or hunched over typing up their latest boring assignment.
  • Mice. Possibly. I can see evidence of their presence in the mornings when I come in and find that the bagel someone left behind yesterday has been munched to bits by tiny mouths. There are also cockroaches.
  • Half-broken computers circa 2003 with keyboards so crusted with crusty crust that I always sanitize my hands after touching them.
  • A shelving unit along the wall. Each shelf is helpfully labeled with an adjunct’s name. This is where I put my stuff. I like to think of it as the shelving unit of shame. Instead of listing my office number on my syllabus, I should write: “my shelf is in Room 1233.”

Sometimes full-time faculty members walk by and dare to glance inside the sad adjunct office (we’re above the 10th floor, but we’re still the “sad women in the basement,” as Susan Miller called us.) They look curious. Who are these Martians teaching the Freshman Comp classes that I do not want to teach? But the curiosity passes; they always move on quickly to their Very Important Research and committee chairmanships.

I try not to hold office hours in the office because students pick up on our invisibility. They walk into this shitbox and realize immediately (if they didn’t know before) that we are nothing. That we are less than nothing. What kind of teacher would have to work in a mice- and cockroach-infested high-rise dungeon covered in goo and oozing with palpable despair?

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3 Responses to Adjunct Shame

  1. Smart, smart, smart to hold those hours elsewhere. The cost of a few cups of coffee at a cafe or wherever you hold the hours helps to preserve your dignity in your students’ eyes.

    The appearance of your workplace and your office matters. I was just reading “Unclutter Your Life in One Week,” and it talks about the importance of a tidy, respectable workspace. It can impact your promotions. The fact that you aren’t able to make your workspace tidy and respectable indicates what the school thinks of you.

    Is there any way to get OSHA involved? I’m betting there’s some sort of hazard lurking in those walls.

  2. Caitlin says:

    For your immediate purposes, yes–great strategy.
    I wonder, though, if there isn’t some value in making more students aware of the two-tiered nature of teaching in higher education. I don’t ever think it’s a good idea to be one of those bitter adjuncts who rails at her class each semester about the unfairness of it all–there’s no quicker way to lose their respect.
    But I am perpetually astonished by how little distinction students see between the people who teach them. The credits count the same towards their graduation, so the professors must be the same, right? Maybe it might not be a bad idea to show them the underbelly of the university. Maybe invite a few questions.

  3. Anthea says:

    Great strategy! Yes, I totally agree. I had some colleauges who were given an office that was in the basement, had mice and a bad tempered squirrel who didn’t like noise. The squirrel had somewho managed to move in and also had a habit of chewing paper. One colleague made the mistake of forgetting the bag of a bunch of student exams in the room and that night the squirrel decided to see whether they had some flavour and chewed them!!! Let’s just say that none of my colleauges held office hours here and asked the admin to remove the illegal colleague aka the squirrel as soon as possible.

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