Ethical Quandries In Becoming an Adjunct Prof.

from CC License holder at Flickr, Robert the Noid. Note: search "Professor" in Flickr, pictures of men come up. Seacrh "female professor," and you get tarantulas and Harry Potter stuff.
from CC License holder at Flickr, Robert the Noid. Note: search “Professor” in Flickr, pictures of men come up. Seacrh “female professor,” and you get tarantulas and Harry Potter stuff.

I will not be insinuating any wrongdoing or accusing Universities of being slave masters in this post. I will not be bitching about adjunct wages. I am interacting with my reality, forgetting for a moment that things for adjuncts are in real need of intervention.

Adjunct wages are an improvement over my current wages. Especially during the Spring semester. The second-best (or maybe third or fourth or fifth) money I’ve ever made. But it also means I get to do what I love to do, which is talk, read, and write all day long about reading and writing, which makes small money seem like a big deal.

Here are some important pieces of my reality: my student loans are currently in deferment as I finish up my MFA, and I have the privilege of a domestic partnership with a person who is relatively well-employed, so we can (sort of) afford for me to make $20,000/year. Or less. I am also comfortable with working multiple jobs in order to serve my life as a writer, mother, and reader (in that order).

It is my ardent wish to someday be paid a living wage for talking, reading, and writing all day about reading and writing.  To not have to do anything else.

But none of this is why I sat down to write this post.

This week, I had a massive disappointment.

About a month and a half ago, I accepted an offer to teach one section of a literature course scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at Tiny-Private-University a bit east of here. I got to develop my own syllabus, which was fun, and I get to teach The Book That Changed My Life.

About two weeks ago, I was hired as a part-time lecturer (fancy speak for adjunct) at Large-State-University a bit west of here.

While each university is 1.25 max hours from my house, they are three hours from each other.

I went to an interview, and exchanged a half dozen or more emails with Chair and Assistant at Large-State-University, one of which suggested that someone would be in touch with me soon “about [my] availability.”

A week passed during which time Tiny-Private-University (which pays only a bit more than half what the Large-State-University pays per section) offered me a second section of the same course, later in the day MWF, which I also accepted. Large-State-Univeresity only promised me one section (but insinuated that there would likely be 2).

When my burning need to have a plan for classes and a life that was to start a week from Monday overcame my ability to patiently wait for communique from Large-State-University, I reached out to Assistant to find out about the training sessions, and to give her my availability, now Tuesday/Thursday. Which was answered with “But, but, all first-semester teachers have a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule!”

Which was the first I’d heard of it.

“Didn’t anybody tell you? I can’t believe you didn’t know!”

How could I know? I reviewed all the correspondence. It was not in the job posting. It was not in the offer letter. It didn’t come up in the interview. It was not anywhere. Why would I assume it?

Which meant I had to decide: probably less money at Tiny-Private-University, a job I had accepted first, developed a syllabus for, and ordered books for the book store; OR, Large-State-University which is sexier AND pays more, but I had nothing in hand and would be obliged to drive there every day for the week before the semester began for training sessions.

I wanted to choose Large-State-University because money. Adjuncts do this all the time: better offer elsewhere, go there. Since these offers are almost always made at the last minute, this is not a thing adjuncts should have to worry about, or feel bad about doing.

But after some time and reflection and weeping (for a lost plan, a lost semester of getting paid mainly to read and write and talk about reading and writing), and after making a mental pros-cons list, I decided that the university to which I felt ethically obliged, Tiny-Private-University, is probably a better professional choice, too.

Here are the primary reasons: Tiny-Private-University has a smaller faculty + student body, which means more entrenchment in the culture, more support, and smaller classes. Developing a Western Euro Lit syllabus that spans the Renaissance through Early Modern looks way, way better on the CV of a trained creative writer than teaching a staff syllabus at a bigger school, even if more money looks better in my bank account. And hell, what’s one more semester of 7-day work weeks?

What do you think? Did I make the right choice? Should I have assumed that I would be required to teach MWF? Is this a normal procedure? In my experience + knowledge, it isn’t. Though my experience and knowledge of adjuncting is admittedly limited. Is it even reasonable for any university to require people to whom they’re not offering a living wage to teach on a particular schedule?

I welcome your thoughts.

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In Response To Haughty Posts About What Food Servers Wish You Knew -or- 4 Important Things About Tipping

From Flickr user torbakhopper
From Flickr user torbakhopper

My current money-getting gig is as a food server at a brew pub. I generally LOVE my job. I am energized by hanging out with people, I am witty and friendly so I often get laughs + big tips, and it’s fast, fast money which leaves me lots of room and time for writing, grad school, running, and being a momma + lady friend.

Do I want to do this job for the rest of forever? No. But I am glad it’s a skill I have. I like to say, “It’s the closest thing there is to having a money tree.” Need cash? Pick up a shift. Usually around $100 in your pocket.

But it is hard work. It’s hard physically and intellectually and emotionally. Sometimes, people are jerks. You have to be nice anyway. Always you have to hold at least eight things in your mind at once. It is not a job that just anyone can do. Sometimes, after busy weekends, it hurts your body, especially when you’re not 22 anymore. Ha.

People I don’t know are constantly touching me. People ask dumb questions about my tattoos. Men look at parts of me that have nothing to do with their hamburger (uh, no. Not a euphemism.). People tell me how much they want to do x artistic thing if I happen to mention I’m a writer, because they ask. I do not volunteer information about myself as a general rule, or unless I’m making fun of myself. For example, on Sunday morning, I told a table I could see was good-natured + full of humor that, “I usually go home and cry after brunch.” They laughed.

But whenever I read things like “Servers Not Servants: 31 Things Your Waiter Wishes You Knew”, I go through this cycle. First I’m all, “Oooh. Yeah!” And I get all fist-pumpey and self-rightous. Then, I go to work, and I start to notice how frequently people interrupt me when I’m talking to them, in the middle of answers to questions that they asked me. And I get annoyed and I stop liking my job.

Then I start to notice all the other bullshit from the article (or some other like it), and I get really super pissed.

Last night, I had a sharp headache that pain medicine (ibuprofen, acetaminophen) wouldn’t touch. I just wanted to be asleep in a dark room. But I was at work because I had to be. Because I need money. Because with jobs like waiting tables, you don’t get paid if you don’t go.

My first three tables were people who pretended to be jokey and fun, but continually interrupted me and acted like rude jerks. Two out of the three tables weren’t good tippers. I felt grumpy and annoyed while I waited on them, these are feelings I do not normally experience toward my tables. I have to wonder now if their poor tips were a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Even in the midst of the dang headache, I realized that I was being poisoned by the article. So I had to make a conscious choice to return to my blissed out state of legitimately enjoying “helping people.” Ha. Semantics.

I play little games with myself to make the job fun + to not allow it to become sucky and dehumanizing the way restaurant gigs can do. I never tell tables my name unless they ask me. If they care enough to ask, they will likely use my name. If I tell them, and they call me Miss or Ma’am instead, it pisses me off. The first thing I generally say to tables is, “What may I bring you folks to drink?” or “Do you know what you would like to drink?” I don’t have an introductory spiel because more often than not, people don’t listen (even if they don’t interrupt), and it pisses me off to repeat the special and the soup after I’ve already said it, minutes before, to people who *seemed* to be listening.

Here’s the thing, I don’t care if you hate where we put you and ask to move eighteen times. I don’t care if you claim you’re in a hurry and then tell me you’re ready to order when clearly you haven’t actually looked at the menu because you ask me what I suggest, what it comes with, what ingredients are in it.

I don’t care if you change your order after your friend goes because what she got sounds better than what you picked.

I don’t care if I recite the soups six times at a table.

I don’t care if you ask me the same question three times expecting a different answer.

I don’t care if you want separate checks.

These things are par for the course, the territory, hazards of the work I do.

I don’t care if you interrupt me. I expect you to. We are transacting. We are not friends.

It is my job to make you believe that we are friends, even though we are not. Maybe this is shallow, but it’s another self-protective measure. Serving is performing. And it is serving. I have the answers to your questions. I know how the food is prepared. I am  your link to the kitchen, the manager, the hosts, etc. I want to get you fed and on your way as quickly and as happily as possible so that someone else can have your table.

Sure, it’s nice if you tell me when I take your order that you’ll want some mayo, mustard, A1, and a side of ranch, honey mustard, and Italian. But if you don’t, and if you ask me for those sauces and condiments and I make 85 trips to the kitchen, that’s cool. It’s what I’m there for.

It’s nice if everyone could order a mid-meal glass of water all at once, instead of folks ordering one-at-a-time. But you know what? Whenever one person asks for water, I make eye contact with every person at the table and cheerfully, as if I haven’t a care in the entire world, say, “Would you like a water, too?” This has proven an effective strategy + it makes me efficient. But if everyone else declines, then someone asks me the second I return with the first guy’s water, the other water goes lower on my priority list. Like, if I get around to it. And when shit like that happens, I recognize I may be forfeiting a portion of my tip. But sometimes, to paraphrase a Six Feet Under character to whom I was once compared, my humanity rises up.

It is my job to know and do all this stuff. To do whatever I have to do in my own head so that I can be pleasant and make your dining experience a good one.

What I’m saying is you go ahead an be as obnoxious as you want to be.

Mainly, what I care about is that you pay me for my service. I forget about every awful way you were if you leave me a nice tip.

20% of your check is minimum. I have a house, kid, partner, and car, just like you. I forfeit my nights and weekends so you can enjoy your time off. If you are unwilling to part with $8 to $30 of your dollars for the privilege of table service on date night, then don’t go out to eat.

It’s absolutely true that food servers make no money per hour. Every money we get paid by our employer (I am on the clock for $3/hour) is eaten up by our obligation to Uncle Sam (from our tips), and many of us have to pay in to our employers to satisfy our tax burden at the end of the year. Sometimes hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Food servers have expenses like every other professional (yes, professional): waiting tables is hard on shoes and clothes. I replace my sneakers at least once a year and I cannot buy the cheap ones. I ruin T-shirts like nobody’s business. My work pants all smell like grease.

At the end of my shift, I am obliged to tip out a percentage of my sales to the people in the restaurant who help me do my job to your satisfaction. Bartenders, hosts, bussers, etc. If I get bad tips all night, my obligation to those other people does not change. I often tip out 30% of my tips. Sometimes more.

I rely on the people I wait on for my entire income.

If I do a good job, tip me 20%. If I do a great job, tip me 25-30%. If I suck, you don’t have to tip me, but remember that everybody has a bad day sometimes. Would you like it if you didn’t get paid on days you felt like garbage at work?

Here are a few little thinking points:

1) If you get a discount, tip on the amount before the discount, and never assume the gratuity is included (ask if you can’t tell, we are HAPPY to answer that question).

2) If you buy merchandise from your server, tip on the total amount of your check, not the total less merchandise. That merchandise is still in her sales, and she still tips out on it, even if you don’t think of a T-shirt, mug, or bottle of salad dressing as a tippable item.  Your server brought it to your table, right? You can usually make a second transaction at a bar or gift shop or with a host if you don’t care to tip on merch.

3) Tip your food server as you would your favorite person in all of the land. Even if she isn’t.

4) Your server didn’t make the food. If you hate your dinner, tell your server, she will do everything she can to get you something you won’t hate. Ask to speak with a manager if you want, provide constructive feedback (what was wrong with your food specifically. “I don’t like it.” is not helpful), and still tip your server well.

That is all.