July 01, 2022

City East Harbor Mission Pierce Southwest Trade Tech Valley West Emeritus

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Where Are the Adjuncts in ‘The Chair’?
Updated On: Feb 07, 2022

When I applied for unemployment this summer, I had a realization: I’ve been an employee of the district since 2011, having taught in five of the nine LACCD colleges (LAVC, Pierce, Trade Tech, City, and Mission).

I recently sat down with excitement to watch "The Chair," the six-part Netflix miniseries that everyone in the LAVC English department has been talking about. The issues discussed were real and relatable, except for one glaring omission. Where were the adjuncts? There was nary a mention of them anywhere in the series.

I should have been furious — I hate to see inequality. But instead, I just sighed with disappointment. The disparity in the series only mirrors what I see in English and other departments on campus, where adjuncts are not only not seen but also are often ignored.

Adjuncts are the demographic that does the grunt work of teaching. On some campuses, they make up 80% of the faculty. They don’t have job stability, are hired on a contingency basis, and are not offered fully paid healthcare (though Governor Gavin Newson has proposed $200 million to cover healthcare for Californian adjuncts).

They are also the first point of contact for most students.

Every semester, when I introduce myself on the first day of school, I make a point to tell students that I am an adjunct. For many students, this is the first time ever encountering the word. I’ll hear them say things like “a junk professor,” and that's when I walk to the board and, in big letters, write the word “adjunct,” telling them their first research assignment is to look up that term.

I then explain that I am a "career adjunct," although that term is an oxymoron, like “social distancing.” Since rhetoric is what I primarily teach, I follow that with statistics and case studies about career adjuncts. Being a woman of color and an immigrant, I am the norm in this profession. I tell my students there aren't enough full-time job openings to give all adjuncts a full-time position, however dedicated they may be to their profession and no matter how educated they are.

One of the predominant issues in "The Chair" is the hemorrhaging of students from the humanities and mainly traditional English literature classes as students seek more STEM-related fields. Having been in this profession for over a decade, I have seen low enrollment first-hand. I’ve been told that it peaks and dips and is dependent on the economy. Whatever the reason, we are losing our students. It makes me wonder: If we were more equitable toward our adjuncts, would we be in this situation in the first place?

Eventually, most adjuncts become distressed by the Cinderella’s-stepmother treatment meted out to them and get tired of being treated like second-class citizens. Often, the best minds leave to pursue other professions.

In “The Chair,” Sandra Oh, who beautifully plays the role of the English department chair, says, "Teaching is not a pastime. It is a profession." As it is, many view teaching as what one does when all else fails. This imbalance of adjunct professors versus full-time tenured professors is only compounded when a popular TV show decides not to mention or depict the reality of an English division in which 80% of faculty are adjuncts.

By Fatema Baldiwala

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