How long? How long?

Through the generosity of people who read this blog, the Adjunct Emergency Fund collected $625, which was sent yesterday to our adjunct in Los Angeles.  This money will save his art from destruction; he can pay the overdue amount to his storage facility, and might even have a little left over to rent a van so that he can retrieve the art.  The issue of his rapidly approaching homelessness, however, still remains, as does that of those others discussed.  Since posting our call for help, even more stories have been shared – an adjunct couple soon facing a choice between dropping healthcare for their family of five, or being unable to pay their mortgage.  A Teaching Assistant making arrangements to sell her eggs in order not to lose her apartment.  The list continues to grow, and the cries of the needy can’t be denied.   We have an entire professional class in this country that, in one generation, has been ruined.  We are now facing a second generation of unsuspecting graduating students, innocent and unaware that the scholarship to which they are dedicating themselves will award them with poverty and destitution.

As terrible as these stories are, there is another growing trend still more gruesome — that of adjunct suicides.  All over the country, there are adjunct deaths, often not publicly connected to the despair of this life of poverty which finally overwhelms the will to live.  There are instances where the schools hurry to hush up the grisly facts of such suicides.  The most public example of this was the recent suicide of Dr. Antonio Calvo at Princeton University.  Months have gone by and the incident was at first stonewalled, and then locked behind the ivy walls — we may never know the full truth of what drove Dr. Calvo to his death.

Denise Munroe Robb writes in The California Community College Journal of other deaths in the California region.  Michael Cour and his wife Janice Gervais died on New Year’s Day, 2011.  Michael Cour taught at El Cajon Valley Adult School and coached track and cross-country at the Grosmont Union High School District.  Janice Gervais was an adjunct, teaching in the English Department of Miramar College, as well as a humanities teacher at Grossmonth.  Michael Cour was 60.  His wife was 70.  She had cancer.  They both became unemployed, and found themselves facing foreclosure on their home.  They filed for bankruptcy.

This is one of the most despicable aspects of long-term adjunct abuse: the fact that people in their 60s and 70s, who have continued to work throughout their lives, don’t have enough savings or security to retire, rarely have healthcare for their illnesses  - and certainly don’t have enough savings to weather an economic crash that renders them completely jobless.  To have reached that stage of life and be facing homelessness and ruin is enough to break even the strongest person.

Robb writes, “After shooting his wife Janice and setting fire to their home, Cour died on January 1 of a self- inflicted gunshot wound.  Their bodies were found in the rubble.”

Only two days ago, 71-year-old Dr. Rudolf Alexandrov, an adjunct professor of math at Chestnut Hill College in suburban Philadelphia, joined this growing list.

Regina Medina, of The Philadelphia Daily News, reports that during a math class on Wednesday, August 3, Dr. Alexandrov became agitated, left the room, and leapt to his death from the railing of St. Joseph’s Hall.   He fell nearly 30 feet to the marble floor below.  The suicide was witnessed by his students and his wife, also an adjunct at Chestnut Hill.

Medina writes, “The tragic sequence of events remained a mystery yesterday.”

It is no mystery.  Not to those of us who understand the despair this life can cause.  Dr. Alexandrov was said to “suffer depression” and struggle with thoughts of suicide.

Many of us struggle against those same states of mind.  Who wouldn’t?

How long must this continue?  How long can this atrocity of extended labor abuse, and the long-term despair it causes, go unacknowledged by the general population? How many times will university presidents, with their high six-figure salaries, issue bland statements of condolence to families, then leave it to their well-paid PR staff to protect the school’s image?  How long will this inhumanity be tolerated?

Have we become a society where heartlessness and greed have gained such control that there is no law to protect us? That there is no human outcry?  Have we become a society so broken by this cruelty that we are numb to the suffering of our fellows?

Isn’t it time we begin to call this all out attack on our profession, the quality of our lives, and now our existence itself what it is:  a genocide of the American professoriate?

Yes, the Adjunct Emergency Fund is one small attempt to stop the suffering. We are grateful for even the smallest donation.   But much, much more aggressive action is overdue.  We are being destroyed.  We must become a mass collective of people, joined together, if not for ourselves, then for those whose despair drove them from this life.  We need to demand justice for the labor abused of this country, for all the workers who are feeling despair, and we need to do it now.  Behind the veil of the corporatized university, in the shadows just beyond our clear sight, lurks a deeper movement to destroy the professoriate.  I remember that, as an elementary school student, I was taught that when Communist regimes took control of a country, the citizens they arrested, imprisoned and killed first were the professors, the scholars, those able to formulate a cogent reason for resistance.  Capitalism doesn’t destroy in the same way.  It destroys by thrusting people into poverty and despair.

May Antonio Calvo, Michael Cour, Janice Gervais, Rudolf Alexandrov, and all the others driven to their deaths rest in peace.  But may we not rest.  Not until we gather together in powerful opposition to what is happening to so many of us.  May we not rest until we demand jobs with justice, lives with dignity.  May we not rest until we triumph.  We owe it to those who were so beaten that they could no longer fight.  We owe it to those who have fallen.

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13 Responses to How long? How long?

  1. Betsy Smith says:

    As Joe Hill urged, don’t mourn–organize!

  2. Trota Campos says:

    and as Joe would surely agree, go IWW

  3. Pingback: How long? How long? | A is for Adjunct | Scoop.it

  4. isweeney says:

    I don’t know if organizing will solve all the problems, but it might help. If not an “official” organization, at least people willing to stand up for themselves and not be taken advantage of.

  5. rr says:

    If it’s so bad, why not do something else? When real people have really bad McJobs, it’s hard to feel sorry for ajuncts in bad positions.

    • Real people? Aren’t we all “real people”? And
      isn’t it true that we all should come together to
      demand workers’ rights and a living wage? It is
      very sad that someone would write a comment like this.

  6. rr says:

    Yes, of course you are real people. But so are those working at WalMart or McDonalds. And many of them have far fewer options than you do.

    I was an adjunct for awhile, and the university used the carrot of a possible TT convert to keep me in line. I loved teaching but I got tired of getting strung along, so I decided to do something else. So I did.

    I wish you well, but I hope that you will eventually decide to do something else if it gets to where you are facing homelessness.

  7. joe jacobs says:

    I think “rr” has kind of a point.

    No one has a guarantee of employment when they graduate college or even when they get a Ph.D. I certainly didn’t when I got my Ph.D. But getting a Ph.D. opened up more options than I would have had had I not gotten one, and I decided to exercise them when pining for a TT position wasn’t paying the bills. You have options as well, far more than anyone working at Wal-Mart or McDonalds.

    What is keeping you in this position? The carrot of a possible TT conversion? The pure joy of teaching?

    I wish you well in your quest, and I’m not saying that it isn’t a worthy goal, but there are people in my community who cannot get jobs at all because no one around here will hire anyone with a prison record, even for a non-violent infraction. It’s worse than not being able to work at what you love. They can’t work at all. Those folks really need help.

  8. isweeney says:

    “Other people are worse off than you” is a fallicious argument. Using this kind of comparison undermines the problems that come with the overuse of adjunct labor in academe. This kind of comparison avoids the issues.

  9. “A genocide of the American professoriate”? Ridiculous. No matter how bad the sufferings of adjuncts, and I’ve been near suicide myself, they can’t justify hysteria.

  10. Julia says:

    The biggest financial regret in my whole life was getting an M.A in English. I feel terrible for these adjuncts, and I don’t think any part of the article exxagerates their misery. I have encountered abuse myself as an adjunct. I feel bad sometimes, but when I meet a young, starry-eyed wannabe grad students in English, I tell them they are making a huge mistake, unless the degree is “for fun” and they do not need it for financial support. I also own my mistake and do realize that I do not have to stay adjuncting. I am currently planning to go back to school for dental assisting. I am better off that way. To stay in adjuncting is to die slowly. We just need to stop employing ourselves this way and let the college system collapse without us. DO NOT take a job adjuncting!

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  12. Jacobin says:

    I’m an adjunct and I’ve done lots of “else”. My biggest mistake was going back to get a third masters degree in Library Science. It’s one of those fields where after you get the degree, they want two years experience, so a catch 22. I’ve applied for 5 library positions at the college where I’ve been an adjunct for 10 years. You’d think I would be a known quality. But apparently the HR department there has the same idea as Groucho, “we wouldn’t want you to be part of an organization that would have you as a member.” I remember leaving a PhD program with the idea of going back to the printing industry where I had worked before entering graduate school. The interviewer was incredulous. “What will prevent you from just running off to go tour museums in Europe for a year?, he asked. My experience is that there isn’t a lot of “else” out there other than even lower paying part-time work, which I’m already doing.

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