Eating Our Young

[This is the title of a proposal I just submitted as part of the Rhetoricians for Peace/Labor Caucus special event proposal for 2012 CCCC.  I’m starting this series of posts in order to get ideas someplace I can find them, and if any discussion ensues, yay for that too.]

I just got an email from the lead advisor for my department that she needs to over-enroll one of my gen-ed composition courses (which are already capped at 25, which is too high, but they’ve been that way for decades…).  A student late in his career needs the second course and wanted the course I’m teaching in the fall (we have 6 different Comp 2 courses that all fulfill the requirement).  We’ll set aside the conceptual problem of a student who waited so long to take a required course, and of a student who under those circumstances feels entitled to ask for my course instead of any of the other 5 that fulfill the same requirement.

When I first read the email, I kind of balked, and almost wrote back to whine about being the person whose section is over-enrolled. Fortunately I waited, because I’m pretty sure I know what would have happened had I complained.  There’s a pretty high likelihood that the student would have wound up in a section taught by one of our adjunct faculty members.  As I say that, I need to be clear that I’m not accusing the department of intentionally exploiting our adjunct faculty.  But it sure is easier to make those kinds of requests of faculty who aren’t likely to argue back, isn’t it?

This has happened to me before, by the way; seven or eight years ago, I taught a Business Writing course (yes, really) capped at 25 students.  It always fills as many sections as we can offer, and somebody in the Dean’s Office wanted to put 7 extra students in an adjunct’s section.  I flipped out and insisted that all of them be added to my section, which turned out OK in spite of its recklessness. Anyway, I remembered that as I was wondering whether to write back complaining about my course cap being overridden by dictate instead of by request.

And I will say, for the record, that had the department simply asked me whether I’m willing to take an extra student, I would have without even a second’s hesitation, as long as there wasn’t an opening in any other qualifying course the student could fit into his schedule.

Certainly there’s an issue with class size and protecting course caps here, and at some point I’ll have to think about the connections between that issue and the point I’m about to get to here.  They’re more intricate than they might seem at first glance. Anyway, the issue here is the extent to which full-time faculty, especially those of us with nothing to lose (in terms of teaching evaluations or what-have-you), are willing to take on extra students in our courses so junior faculty, adjunct faculty, and grad students don’t have to. How many of us would be willing to make that commitment?  How many of us would be willing to pledge, or vote on a department policy saying, that adjunct faculty/grad students are the LAST option for course over-enrollments?

I wish I felt more confident in the answer to that question, but I just don’t.

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