Wednesday, October 28, 2015


The student newspaper at George Washington University, The GW Hatchet, recently reported the layoffs of several part-time creative writing faculty members, ostensibly owing to institutional cost-cutting measures. For many years, a number of distinguished part-timers have taught at GWU, and I often regard my own time teaching in the creative writing program—mostly in a part-time capacity—as a formative period in my life. Back then, part-timers often carried teaching loads (2-2) resembling full-time loads and provided valuable departmental service that full-timers often did not provide. Noting that adjuncts probably earn a small fraction of what the full-timers take home, it does not seem like best practices—either corporate or programmatic—to eliminate these low-wage positions.

The article quotes a senior staff member as indicating that “budgetary pressures” drive the reductions among the part-time ranks. Moreover, the article quotes a full-time faculty member as saying “cuts to adjunct faculty will also make full time instructors’ jobs more difficult because they will have to take on more classes and have less time to spend one on one with students.” Both statements trouble me. In terms of cost-cutting, I have to imagine that the leadership of a wealthy, land-owning school could choose from a host of other options rather than axing a handful of part-time faculty, but appears to punish both the creative writing concentration as well as the category of people who may have to scuffle the most with our expensive world in order to teach the arts of prose and poetry. The full-time faculty member, meanwhile, conjures too much privilege among the tenure-track ranks, and misses the point. Here we see part-timers losing part of their livelihood as well as their foothold in the field. I enjoyed the response from a current part-time creative writing instructor (who loses a job) for voicing, in effect, that GWU should invest in people, and should tighten its belt, therefore, by not “[setting out] as many buffets.”

I taught more than 65 courses in the George Washington University English Department, the vast majority of them as an adjunct “professorial lecturer” earning less than $3,000 per section. A goodly gang of folks taught alongside me, in a part-time capacity. We supported each other professionally and personally, and we, as a group, often engaged in service activities—reading series management, literary magazine advising, public office hours, and so forth—that built durable community among hopeful young writers. GWU shames itself by laying off such a vital part of its creative writing program. The very same laid-off instructors are probably reflecting upon the fact that the university does not seem to care much about their plight, and hopefully, these abandoned teachers will not look back as they depart, and not do the university any favors in the future.

complaint week 2015 editorial schedule
October 28: GWU Fires Adjunct Creative Writing Faculty



Image: "The Schoolmaster" by Adriaen van Ostade (1662).

mark wallace said...

Would would it take, maybe 15-30K a semester out of the basketball budget, to have retained these jobs and these opportunities for STUDENTS? I know that budgets are different for different departments, but clearly, there's top-down "logic" at work here, logic suggesting that the arts are irrelevant--always partly because the arts might be a place from which challenges to power might emerge.


That's a great example.

I'm also under the impression that some faculty at this school -- I won't say which department -- are paid pretty well but hardly teach or don't teach at all. The cutting of one such position would enable all these faculty members to stay employed -- TEACHING.

It's not only that the arts are getting cut but also that people who are struggling to make it as artists are getting cut, when they could use the support the most.

I suppose if bball demonstrated that they could "challenge the power of other bball programs" then we might not say cut $30 grand out of its budget!

I remember the Sweet 16 -- ehhhhhh back in the early 90s, right?


Anonymous said...

Excellent complaint! It continues to amaze me how institutions of higher learning (not only GW) can paper-over their own incompetence by claiming that "budgetary realities" have forced their hand, as if they aren't responsible for setting realistic budgets in the first place. What a crock. Certain people representing certain interests see Creative Writing as an easy target. What's less STEMy than a poem? Hmm. Meanwhile, GW supposedly has advanced a new investment in the arts with its takeover of the Corcoran, but nobody on the Corcoran faculty has a contract beyond August 2016. Maybe this will change in the coming months. We'll see.
Lastly, it's probably not a coincidence that adjunct workers have been slashed throughout GW departments since their successful unionization campaign a couple of years back. Also, cutting adjuncts and increasing full-time teaching loads has the effect of raising the "ratio of courses taught by full-time faculty" category in the all-important US News and World Report college rankings. It's not so much the quality of education that counts but the perception of the quality of education. Hmmm, again.
-- Jr


I completely concur, Jr. Thanks for the comment. I think that GW should stop pretending to be a school that has some liberal arts classes and instead just become The George Washington University in Corporate Studies of Every Discipline. You'd still be an English major, but you'd study all the corporate writers, and analyze all the corporate literature, and write all the corporate copy. You'd do a senior thesis in corporate branding, then graduate -- and be part of the fodder. Chemistry, Anthropology, Art, the same. Why pretend? But I digress.

Meantime, I just want to say Juniaaaaaah! Juuuuuuuniah! The one, the only!


Anonymous said...

I am often amazed at how some of these our institutions (specifically, community colleges) will often beat around the two very fundamental concerns of the part-time faculty member—1) pay and 2) opportunities to teach courses that float the part-time faculty member’s boat and that he/she is qualified to teach—by implementing other measures that create a sense of “engagement” with the part-time faculty member (“How can we make the evaluation process more rewarding,” “Would you like us not to charge you for a parking pass,” “Join us for a luncheon,” speaking of buffets, “Here is a coffee machine,” to even creating a “what can we do” institute headed by yet another fairly well-paid administrator). I am often amazed that, in 2015, it still takes studies, surveys, unionizing (the dues are/can be a bit steep), and now even an institute to attempt to tend to these very basic needs/desires. The money to pay for the yearly salary and benefits of the new administrator, to heat and provide electricity and coffee to the new office, could obviously go toward paying part-time faculty a few more bucks. Such an institution might even reduce the course load (but not pay) of the full-time faculty member to, say, four classes and allow him/her the time and opportunity to research and write, while allowing more offerings for part-time faculty. I am not wholly envious of the full-time faculty member at a community college and his/her 5/5 course load, and I do like the coffee machine—it just seems that anything and everything that is done is done in the name of avoiding, not doing, not having to do the most basic, obvious, things. Welcome to Bottom Line Community College.



Thanks, RITA, and welcome back. I think Mira is looking for you, yo.

As for what you're saying -- absolutely. It's not uncommon for an institution to sort of "hook" an adjunct on working there, through certain incentives. Some of that, actually -- tends to be service, stuff that the full timers aren't capable of doing, and at the same time, might make one feel a bit more important. In the end, though, the part timers are expendable, as this situation shows, and the college or university has no trouble letting them go.

Full timers at a CC are probably teaching a 5-5 as you say, which is a far cry from the 2-2, 3-2, or 3-3 common at most private / state schools.


Anonymous said...

As the world congeals into three colossal superstates, The NorAmEuroPac, RussoSinoAsia, and IndoAfroLatam, there is only room for those willing to apply their time to productive, quantifiable output.

Competing endlessly, fiendishly with the other, there is no room for such fluff. The educational institutions are adjusting accordingly, ensuring that the graduates they produce will turn their energies towards these ends.

The 1%, hands fully on the rudder, whose inherited bookshelves already bulge with the endless prattle of wastrels who don't know how to make a deal ensure with their contributions and endowments that there will be no one left having the sort of education that causes them to make comments like, "Wow, isn't this Orwellian?".

Heather Fuller said...

Cowardice, lack of creativity, Lean mgmt principles ... what gives. American institutions make token cuts in the guise of economy and at the expense of the high road. It's reactionary. It's gross. It's what happens every time the Farm Bill comes to Congress. Cut food stamps - a tiny line-item - but throw gobs of cash at drones. Poor people suffer. The cultural work of a nation suffers. How can single mothers and starving artists stimulate the economy (as the Cato Institute waxes on about how the top 1% is the true economic machine and by golly needs MORE tax breaks!). Parisians may talk about their oeuvre but they wouldn't cut an adjunct for all the brie in Bayonne.


In complete admiration of this comment, Hthr.

You said it all.

In fact, had GWU really tried to build a cohesive program, they would've gotten us full-time contracts, instead of chronically under-employing us. In the end, we *had* to move on, but might've stayed had the emphasis been on people -- not on buildings, buffets, and business school.

---------yrs, b.a.


To the "world congeals" commentator -- eh, the system flagged this as spam, but it doesn't quite read that way. I'd be happy to write a response if you want to give yourself a name of some kind, even if you called yourself Orwell, or Andwell, or Butwell. Either way. There's an unwritten rule here of "self identification", is all. Thx. Yrs, BA