COCAL IV Papers and Commentary

Michael Dubson
Author, Ghosts in the Classroom
Address for COCAL IV
San Jose, California
12 January 2001

Thank you. I am glad to be here. Nothing could have kept me away. Not a nasty winter cold, and not my fear of flying. That poor woman in front of me...I hope she was able to find her wig.

Tonight is the world premiere of Ghosts in the Classroom, with, I hope, many things to follow. The idea for this book came to me when I was working at a place called Quincy College in Quincy, Mass which, if this college were a restaurant, it would be a greasy spoon. But it was one of the places I landed as a happy adjunct, straight out of graduate school, my Master's Degree in hand, my student loan debt hanging over my head.

I worked there for several years, and all the while I heard over and over, "We want to hire you." "We're going to hire you." "As soon as THEY let us hire anybody, we're going to hire you."

When they finally did, a new president was securely installed at Quincy College. He promised to hire more full-time faculty, but he said we must have a "national search to find qualified candidates." Adjuncts, of course, could apply.

So I applied. And the result of course was a rigged search. No adjunct had a chance. The president had instructed the committee to hire outsiders.

The aftermath of that for me, after years of promises, after years of believing them promises, was devastation. And rage. So what was I going to do with this rage? Get an ulcer? Go over the edge? Or fight.

That's when the idea for Ghosts in the Classroom. If I had my stories, there must be dozens, hundreds of others out there.

So I rented a post office box, took out an ad in Poets and Writers magazines and proceeded to wait. After a couple of weeks, I went to check the box, expecting maybe half a dozen responses. I had an armful of responses.

Over the next few months, I went through the essays, selected the ones I wanted to use, and began working with them. One day in March of 2000, I sat down to begin typesetting the essays and transferring them into the desktop publishing program. Boy, do you want to be depressed? Spend an afternoon reading adjunct horror stories. I kept thinking, "These poor people. These poor people." But these poor people were me.

And I saw then, the power of adjuncts sharing their stories with each other, bonding by offering support and solidarity, creating a text that we can use to cry over or fight with.

In many ways, it's too bad Academia did this to me. I am what they should want. As a student, I loved being in college. I loved all the experiences I found--the openings, the exploration, the stimulation. I wanted to continue those experiences as a teacher, and to help the next generations of young people to experience what I had known.

Being an adjunct, however, has been a lesson in itself. I have learned that even though they'll hire me over the phone, sight unseen, I'm still not good enough or experienced enough years later to be hired full time.

I've known too many full-timers who can talk for hours on all the dimensions of critical thinking, and why it's so important to have in our classrooms, and yet they don't seem to be able to tell the difference between the person in the job itself and the terms of the job.

I've learned that it would be fun to send all the administrators to a desert island and watch them form ad hoc sub committees to determine who has to gather the firewood.

I've learned that my experiences in academia don't match the pontification one hears at commencement and convocation ceremonies.

I've learned that the leaders who run higher education just don't care about what's going on in the classrooms. If they did, they wouldn't offer jobs under these terms. They simply wouldn't do it.

And I've had enough. I want to be part of the work that will make this better. We deserve decent pay for the work we do. We deserve to have some level of job security, so we know we'll have work next year and what it will be soon enough to plan. We deserve to have access to insurance plans and retirement plans that are fair and equitable.

I want to work for all this, and I want the book to help. I dedicated this book to you, all of you: "This book is dedicated to all those people who, loving their field and believing in the importance and power of learning, went into teaching with the highest of hopes and the best of intentions--only to find themselves trapped in the adjunct track."

I will be spending a great deal of time over the next year making sure that as many people as possible find out about this book, one way or another. Because I want this book to be a boulder that goes out into the sea of academia and throws up such a spray that it washes away the corruption and exploitation that is such a part of the system today.

Thank you. And now that I've finally made it here, I can call Dionne Warwick at the Psychic Friends hotline and tell her that yes, I do know the way to San Jose.

Order info:
Camel's Back Books
P.O. Box 181126
Boston, MA 02118

Cost of book is $12.95 per book, plus $2.00 shipping/handling per order.

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