Today college students and professors across the country will be staging a walkout. As most of us now know, higher education in America is crumbling, and it’s because our colleges and universities, stripped of funding in the global recession and terrified to speak up in a wartime climate, have taken on the toxic model of corporate governance that solves every financial crisis by placing the burden of the budget cuts on the lower class, the poor.
I am poor. I have taught at UNCG, Greensboro College, North Carolina A&T, Guilford Tech, and Guilford College. Everywhere, the story’s the same: the adjunct professors—the people who teach the biggest classes—are paid the least. According to a certain old school species of capitalist logic, this doesn’t make sense. Why are the faculty in greatest demand supplied with the lowest wages?
It’s because we’re unprotected. We have no tenure. We have no contracts beyond the semester. And, let’s remember, this is North Carolina. We are one of the worst states in the “union” when it comes to education (49th). We have no union. This is why we’re finally taking collective action. And students are joining us in the “Faculty Forward” movement because they, ultimately, are the ones paying the price in this world we’re creating.
When a student’s introduction to higher education is an overburdened burnout teaching seven (or even eleven) jam-packed sections at three to five different colleges, that student sees that overburdened burnout as the tired inattentive face of education, and, more importantly, receives an education that reflects that burnout, that poverty, that necessary absence of attention. Furthermore, when such students see their colleges exploiting adjuncts, we send those young people a powerful message: certain people don’t matter.
Many colleges are now reinforcing that message by simply exterminating the adjunct class rather than pay them a living wage. Instead of finding money in the bloated salaries of administrators—vice presidents and compliance officers—we’re just laying people off like we’ll be doing at Guilford College next fall.
The alternative is dignity and solidarity, structural change through collective action, a recognition that exploitation in higher education runs counter to the core values of respect and equality we wish to teach our children.
I have been a part-time worker as a war correspondent, a landscaper, a fast food cook, a construction hand, a musician, and a college professor. I have seen this out-sourcing story play out all over this economy. I’ve accepted evictions and unemployment and have even considered selling my body on Craigslist. But I’m sick of it. The walkout on April 15th, tax day, is a way for all Americans who support education to stand up and express your disgust and say, in the words of Dee Snider: “We’re not going to take it. No, we’re not going to take it. We’re not going to take it anymore.”
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