No ‘Skin’ In This Game

Monday, April 29, 2013

At a recent town hall event at Raritan Valley Community College, I was given the opportunity to ask Governor Christie a question.

It was one I’d sworn I would not take. I am an adjunct instructor at RVCC, and I wanted to ask him about his position regarding teachers and teacher unions. But I did not want to go viral getting yelled at by the governor of New Jersey. Still, my hand raised itself of its own accord, and I found myself “sparring,” as one paper put it, with my elected official.

Governor Christie told me, among other things, that he believes in “shared responsibility” and that “we should all have some skin in the game.” He said that his cuts to pensions and benefits for teachers have, far from denying teachers, ensured the financial viability of these programs so that I, and teachers like me, will still have a pension when we retire. He also proudly touted the $750 million bond issue that will go to improving infrastructure at colleges and universities around the state, including at RVCC.

He told me, in short, that he is pro-teacher, pro-education and pro-student.

Except that his policies are none of these things, though many of them seem so on the surface. And he missed some important points that make his seemingly reasonable positions look extremely unreasonable from my perspective.

As an adjunct instructor, not a tenure-track professor, I have zero “skin in the game” regarding benefits and pensions because I have none. No health care, no pension, zero job security — none of the benefits Governor Christie assumes are a given for all teachers.

In this, I am far from alone. Adjunct — that is, part-time and non-tenure-track — instructors make up over 60 percent of the faculty at RVCC, a statistic that is on par with the national average. This is a problem not just for the adjuncts themselves, but also for the students and the institutions as a whole. Part-time adjuncts are generally over-worked, underpaid, rarely on campus — because they work multiple part-time jobs — and unable to be involved with the governance of the school or on-hand for their students.

This is also a problem for taxpayers, although most probably do not realize it. As an adjunct, I do not make enough to pay state or federal taxes. In fact, my salary is so low that I qualify for multiple welfare programs, including Medicaid.

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