Joe is an adjunct instructor in two departments here at WCC: English and film. He was educated at Fordham (B.A. and M.A. in English), NYU (coursework in film production), and Columbia (MFA in film). While he does not have a doctorate, which is often claimed as the defining characteristic of full-time vs. adjunct faculty, he spent four full years taking courses full time in graduate school.
ED: That is indeed a lot of graduate work.
JS: Compare that to most doctors’ three. Moreover, in a recent search, I was surprised to see how many full-timers here do not have doctorates and how many adjuncts do. These are points that I hope will come out of our effort to highlight the substantial training of our adjunct population (Claudia Jacques de Moraes Cardoso, e.g., has a string of credentials, and she is not alone).
ED: Can you tell me about your experience at WCC?
JS: I have been here since 2008 and am now a senior adjunct. I spent the early and middle years here largely invisible. I experienced the usual humiliations of adjuncts. I was bumped a half dozen times or more, once finding out on Labor Day weekend that my Fall course was cancelled. I went to a department meeting my first semester where I was clearly a stranger in a strange land. I remember sitting there feeling like a wedding crasher.
I never went to another meeting again. Until recently, that is, when I attended a Zoom meeting and was told that this meeting was not for adjuncts and I felt the same as I did the first time around. I left the meeting. Plus ça change… Granted, the latter was a special situation and my attendance an unfortunate coincidence. But these experiences have left me with a suggestion for department meetings that I will mention at the end.
ED: I had similar experience, but after just a couple of years, I decided to take the plunge and join committees on campus. I was a member of the ASPEN Strategic Planning Committee in 2020 and joined the WCCFT Executive Committee. In both cases, I was privileged to meet many wonderful colleagues, including you. I am impressed by how much you do in and out of the classroom. I know you are also on the Faculty Senate, for example.
JS: Occasionally I met up with friendly fellow adjuncts such as a vibrant young English teacher who taught across the hall from me named Kimberly Mallory. For most of those years, I tried to teach film courses as well as English, but got nowhere, despite my qualifications. So it was a big lift for me when I was gratefully accepted into the growing film department by its new chair, Craig Padawer, in 2015, seven years after I began teaching. Something about this was different from my previous experience. I felt needed. I felt respected for my knowledge and teaching gifts, and it formed a turning point for me here at WCC.
I emerged from the shadows and began venturing out into the life of the college. A number of good things followed. I offered to take over the Friday Night Film Series when Jenny Evans proposed it, following Bill Costanzo’s retirement from the job, and I was accepted for the role. I competed for the job of advisor to the school newspaper (something that would have seemed laughably beyond reach for me several years earlier), and I was selected. I also stepped forward three years ago to serve on a new Senate committee called the Adjunct Issues Committee. Based on my service there, and encouraged by Claudia and by Richard Courage, I joined the union. At the same time, I was urged to become an adjunct Senator by the committee. I spent a year as an alternate before beginning a two-year term. (I am now in the second year of that term and looking for a potential replacement—suggestions welcome!)
I also took another important step. At the suggestion of my chair, I offered to fill a need by teaching a poetry class in the Collegium, a WCC-related educational organization that targets retirees and other lifelong learners. All teachers work as unpaid volunteers in Collegium, but the rewards are enormous. (As a new board member of that organization, I recommend that more faculty—both adjunct and full-time–consider teaching one of its 4-week or 6-week courses. Adjuncts, you’re in for a shock: You will be treated like gold!)
ED: Where do you feel you stand now, after 14 years?
JS: I no longer feel invisible. I enjoy valuable friendships among the faculty—both adjunct and full-time—staff, and administration. I am part of the working operations of Westchester Community College. But at a price. I am unpaid for many of those operations. And despite many expressions of gratitude, I still do not have the same level of respect that full-timers have.
ED: Do you have any advice for adjuncts and full-time colleagues?
JS: What do I conclude from my experience?
1) Adjuncts need assistance from the beginning.
2) Adjuncts cannot function optimally without respect.
3) Adjuncts need hope. One positive experience is capable of changing life for the better for adjuncts—going from feeling like a chump to feeling invigorated and hopeful.
5) Adjuncts must help adjuncts.
6) Adjuncts should be required to attend department meetings, despite the challenging consequences that would have to be dealt with.
With regard to the last item: There are going to be plenty of people who are all too ready to say “But adjuncts don’t want to come!” To them I say: It’s true. They don’t. But please go a step further and ask yourself: “Why don’t they want to? Why can’t they want to?” Then take it from there.
In solidarity, Eric
Eric C. De Sena
WCCFT Adjunct Representative
Member of the WCCFT Negotiation Team
Please reach out to Eric De Sena at email@example.com for any union-related concerns and/or to send me news items for future issues of FTConnect.