Adjunct Activism
Posted: 14 March 2006 05:52 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Being a part-time professor, I’ve become very familiar with the Fear Factor administrative technique:  fear of losing a class because of low enrollment, fear of losing health benefits, fear of ruffling feathers of the higher-ups.  I mean, the word [u:5858eba52a]adjunct[/u:5858eba52a] says it all!  "A thing added to something else as a supplementary rather than an essential part…a person who is another’s assistant or subordinate." 

I’ve taught at the same institution for six years now, so I’m very chummy with my colleagues.  I’ve got a reputation among the students.  I occasionally have lunch with the copy room guy.  I’m comfortable with my position…

BUT…

The Fear Factor creeps in every time I think of trying to organize something on campus.  There is a robust Campus Crusade for Christ club, a healthy Vietnamese Catholic club, a large Muslim Student Association, a weekly bible study at the cafe across the street.  Nothing for skeptics.  Nothing for agnostics, atheists, or humanists. 

How can I reach out to freethinking students and encourage their organization without becoming an administrative scapegoat?  How can I start something at the college I love that may cause me to lose my friends, my reputation, and perhaps my job entirely?

And how can I step up so that no other professor—adjunct or otherwise—will have too struggle with these fears?

Hmph.

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Posted: 14 March 2006 05:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Adjunct Activism

Being a part-time professor, I’ve become very familiar with the Fear Factor administrative technique:  fear of losing a class because of low enrollment, fear of losing health benefits, fear of ruffling feathers of the higher-ups.  I mean, the word adjunct says it all!  “A thing added to something else as a supplementary rather than an essential part…a person who is another’s assistant or subordinate.” 

I’ve taught at the same institution for six years now, so I’m very chummy with my colleagues.  I’ve got a reputation among the students.  I occasionally have lunch with the copy room guy.  I’m comfortable with my position…

BUT…

The Fear Factor creeps in every time I think of trying to organize something on campus.  There is a robust Campus Crusade for Christ club, a healthy Vietnamese Catholic club, a large Muslim Student Association, a weekly bible study at the cafe across the street.  Nothing for skeptics.  Nothing for agnostics, atheists, or humanists. 

How can I reach out to freethinking students and encourage their organization without becoming an administrative scapegoat?  How can I start something at the college I love that may cause me to lose my friends, my reputation, and perhaps my job entirely?

And how can I step up so that no other professor—adjunct or otherwise—will have too struggle with these fears?

Hmph.

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Posted: 15 March 2006 03:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Re: Adjunct Activism

[quote author=“lotus”]Being a part-time professor, I’ve become very familiar with the Fear Factor administrative technique:  fear of losing a class because of low enrollment, fear of losing health benefits, fear of ruffling feathers of the higher-ups.  I mean, the word adjunct says it all!  “A thing added to something else as a supplementary rather than an essential part…a person who is another’s assistant or subordinate.” 

I’ve taught at the same institution for six years now, so I’m very chummy with my colleagues.  I’ve got a reputation among the students.  I occasionally have lunch with the copy room guy.  I’m comfortable with my position…

BUT…

The Fear Factor creeps in every time I think of trying to organize something on campus.  There is a robust Campus Crusade for Christ club, a healthy Vietnamese Catholic club, a large Muslim Student Association, a weekly bible study at the cafe across the street.  Nothing for skeptics.  Nothing for agnostics, atheists, or humanists. 

How can I reach out to freethinking students and encourage their organization without becoming an administrative scapegoat?  How can I start something at the college I love that may cause me to lose my friends, my reputation, and perhaps my job entirely?

And how can I step up so that no other professor—adjunct or otherwise—will have too struggle with these fears?

Hmph.

Lotus: Four strategies—

1. Work with Center for Inquiry to bring an event to your school, which will attract students to the “cause.” A major event is the single most effective way of generating a buzz about our issues, while at the same time bringing something of value to your school that administrators will tend to appreciate rather than view negatively.

2. Realize that working with the Center for Inquiry on a campus doesnt mean you have to be in the business of supporting an “atheist support group.” While many secular, skeptic, atheist, Bright and humanist students do often feel besieged, especially considering the increasingly religious climates on American campuses, Center for Inquiry campus groups run the gamut: some are science advocacy, some treat the paranormal, some are more philosophical, some are more social, some are cutting-edge and activist on religion and separation of church and state, especially when it comes to issues concerning the proper role of religion in education. Find the focus that works best for you and your campus.

3. Realize that by working with us on a campus as a faculty supporter (even adjunct), you are contributing to the learning community of your university. Through the events we help put on, we challenge students across the country to not take their education for granted. If the goal of university is to promote unfettered inquiry into every area (this is the noble tradition of the university) then our issues of concern fall naturally within that scope—many professors and administrators have found our programs to be exactly what the University sadly these days has been lacking, namely, critical inquiry into unchallenged beliefs. And if you cant engage in that while in college, where can you?

4. Sometimes simplicity trumps grand strategy. If we identify students on your campus interested in starting a group, just providing support (faculty sponsor, a helpful and encouraging ear, etc) is all that is required from you. Socializing with skeptic and humanist students, helping put on social events like movie nights, and remembering to not be exclusivist (allowing for students of all viewpoints to get involved) would be a good start.

DJ Grothe

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"Few have the courage of their convictions. Fewer still have the courage for an attack on their convictions." - Nietzsche

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Posted: 16 March 2006 06:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Re: Adjunct Activism

[quote author=“lotus”]
How can I reach out to freethinking students and encourage their organization without becoming an administrative scapegoat?  How can I start something at the college I love that may cause me to lose my friends, my reputation, and perhaps my job entirely?

And how can I step up so that no other professor—adjunct or otherwise—will have to struggle with these fears?

Hmph.

Hi Lotus
Everything DJ said is exactly on-point—What I’m going to add is that the fear of consequences that coming out as an unpopular minority will bring can’t let you stop being yourself. Tom Paine said something roughly like this: trying to pretend to be something that you aren’t sets you up to be dishonest about everything else.
I’m not in a situation to have to worry about losing a job because of my choice to see the world without supernatural explanations—but the two other issues you raised, losing friends and reputation, are different. I think there are a lot of “closet” atheists—more than we suspect, and they are glad to meet me.  But if someone doesn’t like me because of my ethnicity or my choice to be a freethinker, I don’t need them to be my friends. I have lots of friends who are at least accepting me even if they don’t agree with me, and many who do. Having friends does not mean having to struggle or change yourself so someone will like you. Having friends is about accepting one another.
Reputation is how you are seen from the outside. If you are honest, trustworthy, friendly, what’s there not to like? If foolish people are going to point at you and whisper “There goes that hussy atheist…” it is they who are missing something, not you.
The job thing—I’d say try to find out what the law is about exactly what violations constitute grounds for dismissal, and whatever you do, document, document, document. If you have any commendations, keep them on file, with photocopies somewhere else, and scribble in a desk calendar whenever you are doing something about the campus club, if you decide to do that. Your courage will inspire only good things in the students who are helped by a campus group for freethinkers. My atheist friends include an archaeolgist, an artist, writers, an attorney, a couple of attorneys! Anyway, productive, thoughtful people who just happen to be independent thinkers who don’t need a supernatural explanation for why things are the way they are.
In Southern California, it’s pretty safe. I find I do well if I explain how I began to experience awe when I think of the size of the universe, or try to think about deep time. If someone tries to say “God made it that way,” I just shrug and smile. So far, nobody has tried to hit me.  :D

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Posted: 17 March 2006 03:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Thank you both for your replies.  They were encouraging and true. 

The idea of academic freedom is always on the debate table at higher education institutions, but the freedom to organize or bring activism to campus is always hush-hush.  Seems they go hand-in-hand to me.

I still have a lot of searching to do.  Thanks again!

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Posted: 18 April 2006 10:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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In high school I have met the very same question.  If somebody gets mad at you for anything, just remember “Just smile and wave”.  This strategy has worked very well for me.

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Fighting the evil belief that there is a god(s).

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