The Department of Labor Wants To Know Why I Didn’t Keep Adjuncting Forever

Today, I was called by the New York State Dept. of Labor to be interrogated by an anonymous bureaucrat. Apparently my application for unemployment has been flagged as not exactly in order. It seems that, if you quit a job, the People In Charge of Giving Out the Money do not like to give you money.

At first, the Judgmental Bureaucrat talked to me like I am some loser trying to game the system and steal from all the hardworking people. I know she is just doing her job, but it was all rather depressing. It’s one of those times when you want to say, “I would like to be addressed as Doctor [last name] during the duration of this phone call, thank you very much.” Except you don’t because, even when your dignity is on the line, you don’t want to sound like a pretentious asshole.

Judgmental Bureaucrat could not fathom that I left adjuncting in Spring 2011, a job that after all paid about $300 per week before taxes, on purpose. I told her that I got another job, a self-employment gig. Still, she was incredulous. “You left Blah Blah College because the pay was low?” She asked. “Didn’t you know that when you accepted the job? Didn’t you?????”

Boy she really got me there! Yes, Judgmental Bureaucrat, I knew and I signed on anyway. It wasn’t until later that I realized I’d rather stick a fork in my eye than work there. Imagine that!

I explained that working conditions at Blah Blah College were also an issue. I had no desk and no office (except one shared by dozens of others). I asked, “Do you know what it’s like to be a teacher and have no space to meet with students, at least one you can count on being available?” The computers in the office were circa 2003, and the space bar didn’t work on one of them because there was some goo stuck in there. I couldn’t type documents on it. If I had to send an email, I would have to write a preamble like this:


before I actually typed the message. It was very professional! I also told Judgmental Bureaucrat that there were often mouse droppings in the office in the morning when I came in. I remember this because the other adjuncts and I used to marvel that the mice could make it all the way up to the 15th floor. They’re impressive climbers. Or, they know how to press elevator buttons.

Judgmental Bureaucrat softened up a little bit when I told her about the mice poo. Apparently, if a mouse is shitting in your workspace nightly, quitting your job is a viable option. But if you don’t make enough to live on, don’t get health insurance, have no guarantee of employment from one semester to the next, and find the whole situation unethical and unconscionable on every level, well you just have to suck it up sister!

Not to be defeated by my ruthless recitation of the facts, Judgmental Bureaucrat asked, “Did you ever talk to your supervisor about these conditions?” Good question! No I did not. Silly me! Has Judgmental Bureaucrat ever worked anywhere before, aside from making phone calls on behalf of the People in Charge of Giving Out the Money? What was more likely to happen if I complained? Would my working conditions be remedied tout de suite, or would I mysteriously not be offered a class the following semester and also find myself blacklisted by the HR department. No one wants to burn bridges if they don’t have to. And besides, it’s not like the Chair of the Department, or whoever my “supervisor” might be, could do anything about it anyway. She’s just a cog in the machine (a different, more highly respected part of the machine) like me. What is she going to do, get a butter knife from the faculty lounge and clean the goo out from under the space bar?

What’s really interesting about all this is that Blah Blah College is publicly financed (although less and less, thanks to creeping privatization), so I was earning a taxpayer-funded wage as an adjunct. Unemployment benefits are also paid through taxation. So I have to go through this interrogation to switch from one publicly-funded revenue stream to the other. Weird!

Finally, Judgmental Bureaucrat said she is going to call Bah Blah College and talk to them about my complaints. I did not expect or intend this, as I was trying to avoid burning bridges. I guess that is just not possible. What I really want to know: is the Dept. of Labor going to ask the employer a lot of impertinent questions? Is Blah Blah College going to have to explain why 75% of intro courses are taught by part-timers? Are they going to have to rationalize paying a non-living wage and failing to provide adequate computers or office space? What will happen if they don’t have a good explanation for these things? Something? Nothing? Frankly, I think the mouse droppings are the only complaint that Judgmental Bureaucrat thinks I have in my favor. That mouse excrement is the only thing keeping me in the running for unemployment benefits, just like Free-Market Jesus intended.

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3 Responses to The Department of Labor Wants To Know Why I Didn’t Keep Adjuncting Forever

  1. I’ve never tried to get unemployment. I’m interested to see if you can get it after leaving an adjuncting gig. The conditions you mention sound pretty awful, compared to the places I’ve worked. But then again, I haven’t had fantastic conditions either. If it weren’t for the fact that my husband was making a lot more money than I was and could support us, I would have had to leave teaching a long time ago. Sigh. It just sucks.

  2. Anthea says:

    Ahhhh…this all just sucks. Yes, unemployment sucks. Your tale about the mice droppings reminds me of an episode which I heard about whereby a graduate student who was a TA had left a pile of papers by mistake in the room used only by Teaching Assistants over night. The next morning when she went to rescue them she discovered that they’d had been chewed by the resident squirrel!!! The department in question weren’t phased. The adminstrator just told her when she exclaimed and complained about the rodent in question “Oh, you’ve met the squirrel then?”.

  3. Pingback: “Will you hire it, hire it, hire it?” | A Post-Academic in NYC

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