More Big Issues in the Adjunct System
I’ve read many articles and editorials exposing the myriad indignities faced by those poor souls caught up in the higher ed. adjuncting racket. Stories about loading up on classes to make just enough money to get by, stories about hustling to survive without medical benefits, stories about the anxiety that comes with never knowing what kind of schedule the next semester might bring. I’ve found many of these tales relatable, as I myself have put in time as an adjunct, but there’s one problem that I recently encountered that I’ve never seen discussed—the problem of office spaces being used to store dog carcasses.
I don’t want to say the name of the small Midwestern community college where this happened, but I’ll say that the school recently made headlines after the college’s president accidentally killed two students and permanently blinded himself when he tossed a can of spray deodorant into a microwave while subbing for an absentee science teacher. You’ve probably seen the viral video of the horribly burned bureaucrat being hauled off by paramedics, insisting that history will excuse the tragic outcome of his experiment when they realize the magnitude of his discovery.
Sad, weird stuff. That all happened the semester before I was hired and tasked with teaching twelve credit hours of “Introduction to Wordenisms.” If you’re wondering what “wordenisms” means, as I was, all I can share is the definition provided by the chair of the college’s English department at the time of my hiring: “It’s like, a word for the study of how, like, words come together, or whatever. Like those lines of words, like the way they run from one side of the page to the other, you know?”
Taking this to be a somewhat muddled attempt at describing sentences, I decided to treat the courses I was being assigned as I would any other basic composition class, although a piece of advice provided by the Chair, “Using a pizza is a great way to illustrate fractions,” cast some doubt on what exactly I was being tasked with.
Anyway, after being hired I was delighted to hear I’d have an office all to myself, and thrilled when the chair handed me a key of my own. I’d never had my own office before; at my previous school I shared a designated adjunct workspace, really just a gravel lot out behind the library. This was a fine arrangement at first, as long as the weather held, but eventually became untenable after a couple of the sociology adjuncts started luring rodents into the lot by leaving roast beef everywhere, catching the creatures and packing eight, nine, ten at a time into paint cans in order to manufacture their own rat kings. And then it didn’t take long for huge masses of predatory birds to catch on to the fact there were bunches of defenseless rats in the lot, and long story short I finally lost my temper with the entire situation after a student of mine seeking clarification on the finer points of MLA-style citations stumbled into a raven/ rat king scuffle and lost eight toes
So, yes—I was excited that I’d have a space of my own, to hole up and plan and prepare. That afternoon I went down to the basement, where my office was located, found the right door, and went inside only to discover a small, windowless room with a simple chair, a trashcan, and a plain wooden desk with a dead mastiff stretched out across it.
The dog was recently deceased, the body still warm, the blood streaked across my desk not yet dry. Horrified, I ran back upstairs to the English chair’s office to explain what had happened and found him in the middle of his lunch—a large yogurt which he consumed by drawing the contents of the plastic container into a syringe and then injecting into his open mouth. At first he mistook the look on my face for confusion at this odd mannerism—it is a strange way to eat yogurt, but actually tame compared to the Chair at my former place of employment’s habit of asking everyone in his office to whisper a secret to his PB&J sandwich before he’d take a bite—and when I explained the situation with the dog he actually looked relieved.
“Oh,” he said. “Yes, there’s been, like, a problem with stray dogs storming the campus at night, and every once in a while we find a dead one in the morning and we’ve, like, got to put the body somewhere, you know?”
Obviously this explanation only raised more questions, but before I could ask any the Chair set down his yogurt and syringe and placed a Tupperware container filled Cheetos dyed green with food coloring on his desk. He took a fistful of these and offered them to me—he called them turtledicks, and said they were his favorite treat—and then crammed his mouth full when I declined. “Talk to Heather, in the department office,” he mumbled between bites, “she’s the one named Heather.”
So I went across the hall to the department office and walked inside, only to discover that the space was empty save for two receptionist’s desks in the middle of the room facing one another, behind which sat identical, mousy women who appeared to be in their mid-40’s. I asked for Heather and they simultaneously asked how they could help me, then turned to each other and scowled.
“You’re doing it again, Heather,” said the first.
“No, Heather,” said the other, “you’re doing it again.”
The second Heather turned to me and explained that she was Heather and that her doppelganger was her somewhat confused secretary, a claim immediately refuted by the first Heather, who claimed the exact opposite.
I suggested that maybe they could both help, and explained my predicament.
“Killing dogs is a maintenance issue,” the first Heather said. “You need to talk to Jerry, in maintenance. Unless the dog is already dead, then you need to talk to your Chair.”
“You need to talk to your Chair about that,” the first Heather explained. “Unless the dog isn’t fully dead, in that case it’s a maintenance issue.”
“No,” said the second Heather. “It’s only a maintenance issue if the dog isn’t fully dead. If it’s dead already you need to talk to your Chair.”
The fact that I had taken a job as an adjunct at a community college should already make it clear that I’ve fought my fair number of losing battles, dear reader, but that day I decided to retreat and change tactics. I thanked the Heathers for their time and went back down to the basement, hoping I could find another faculty member who might be able to assist me. After knocking on several of the office doors around mine to no avail, one finally opened to reveal an obese man with thinning hair and asymmetrical bloodshot eyes. I explained that I was a new adjunct instructor and in need of advice, he introduced himself as a tenured professor of motorcycle appreciation and then listened patiently as I told him about the dead dog and runaround I’d experienced that day before telling me that I was lucky to be sharing my office space with a single dead dog and not upwards of a dozen. He pointed down the hall, “That woman with the scar who teaches knitting, she’s got so many corgi corpses in there with her that she threw her chair out and sits on a stack of bodies.”
Apparently most of the adjunct offices at this school were filled with dog carcasses, only tenured faculty free from the burden. The dogs did indeed come in packs during the night, according to the motorcycle appreciation professor, although he couldn’t say why. I asked him why the school stored the bodies in adjunct office’s instead of burying them and he rolled his eyes and explained it all had to do with permits, that the college was wary of garnering too much attention from local government lest someone become suspicious of their status as a tax exempt religious organization.
In the end I only taught a single semester at this college, and while it was certainly a memorable experience it wasn’t, in retrospect, even the worst semester I’ve had. I served on a textbook committee once, at a different school, and while that gig involved fewer maggots I actually ended up having to deal with way, way more dead dogs.
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