Contingent professors are nearly 75.5% of the professoriate, according to one liberal study; they are 50%, according to more moderate ones. Most contingent professors are adjuncts or part time faculty; they do not have the flexible schedules to be available to their students. Therefore, they will receive vitriol online or offline from a student who received an “F,” blaming their inaccessibility. Adjuncts are typically not paid for office hours (and usually have no office!). They have no job security, no insurance and are not paid to grade, write letters of recommendation, or return your email. Similarly, part time professors, dependent on the school, have little to no control in textbook selection, paper topics, or class time. The majority of the Rate My Professors ratings have to do with the cost of textbooks, horrible subject matter, and the awful course time. Of course, hotness factors in as well.
Adjuncting is, in a sense, “paying one's dues” on the road to a full-time position. Yet, when the part time positions now outnumber the full time positions, the new university model of “business as usual” is focused on student satisfaction, rather than intellectual development. Rate My Professors is one of the problems. It contributes to the peer mentality of populism within education. Popularity due to “hotness” should not be definable criteria for a contingent professor.
The more students connect with their professors on an intellectual and personal level, the more likely they are to give them that extra rating. Students who bond with their professors, within these dynamic “pockets of learning,” have a higher likelihood of giving professors better ratings, due to their passion for the subject. However, I argue, the chili pepper forces students to blur the lines between student and teacher, especially if the professor is a member of the precariat.
Due to adjuncts, other obligations, meetings and professional development are pushed by the wayside. There is no formal training to be an adjunct professor; therefore, essential campus connections are missing. Due to the Affordable Care Act, a legislation meant to help and aid workers, many universities cut the number of classes and required hours one is legally allowed to teach, since over fifteen would require that employees receive healthcare coverage. Hence, the need for adjunct professors to teach at more universities and the feeling of fragmentation.
In my experience, while grading papers on my break during my day job, a student confessed his romantic and erotic love of me in his final reflection, challenging me to accept his passionate offer. This paper was also posted and saved to the Blackboard Global Reference Database. Fear overcame me. Intuition told me to ignore it. I did. Then the student followed up. I received a fantastic evaluation.
Students are not consumers. Contingent faculty are not interested in their satisfaction level, they are interested in making enough money to pay their rent. Thus far, in the current university model of contingency, particularly female contingency, showing up and delivering a lecture are all we are paid for; we, too, are turned into a transaction. Similar to the porn industry, if we complain or remark about a change, our bodies are easily disposable.
Every semester, I have a young man who approaches me in a romantic context. When popular culture and the blogsphere tell me that I can make more money as a stripper or as an escort, than as an adjunct professor, it is a telling sign. However, as adjuncts, we are the majority. A change is coming, unionization and collective bargaining gives contingent faculty a voice. Nonetheless, this is only part of the problem. Systematic gendered and racial inequalities are being played out inside the classroom. The American Association of University Professors reports, “The gender disparity is greater, fully two to one, for non-tenure-track positions, where 29.4 percent of female full-time faculty members hold positions off the tenure track compared to only 14.7 percent of men. The number of male part-time faculty rose 10.3 percent between 1975 and 1985; the number of female part-time faculty rose by 54.1 percent during that same period. The rapid growth in non-tenure-track appointments of women has had little if any effect on the number of full-time women on the tenure track. It is also disturbing to find that, although similar proportions of white and African-American faculty members are found at institutions without tenure systems (9.1 and 10.2 percent, respectively), the proportion of African-Americans in non-tenure-track positions (15.2 percent) is more than 50 percent greater than that of whites (9.6 percent).”
Rate My Professors presents female professors, and the contingent professorship especially, as disposable and ratable. We become just warm bodies in the classroom. Rating women precariat professors on a hotness scale reduces women to their fuckability and not their research interest or skill level, forcing women into the role of ciphers for the erections of male students. In a world where higher education is becoming gendered, Rate My Professors, do us a favor: Eliminate the chili pepper for good.
Published June 22, 2016
Image: Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher
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Veronica Rose Popp is an activist and writer from Chicago. She has a Bachelor’s from Elmhurst College in English and History, a Master’s in Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University and a Master’s in English with a concentration in Literary Studies from Western Illinois University. Popp has been published in The Collagist, PenCambria, Popular Culture Studies Journal, Journal of Fandom Studies, Journal of Popular Culture, Still Point Arts Quarterly, Gender Forum, Rag Queen Periodical, The Last Line, and Bitch Media. In 2017, Popp was Essayist in Residence for Rag Queen Periodical, nominated for the Silver Pen Writers Association Writing Well Award and longlisted for the New Welsh Review Writing Awards AmeriCymru Prize. Popp teaches composition at Elmhurst College and National Louis University. Her research interests include feminist film studies, queer theory and creative writing pedagogy. Popp is the Chair of the Modern Language Association Committee for Contingent Labor in the Profession and believes the feminization of adjunct labor is a growing concern. Popp has given public readings across Chicago including, Reading Under the Influence, Strange Hour, and Bring Your Own Diary.