A former adjunct professor has turned to film to highlight the plight of those desperately scrambling around to find work in the academy.
Mackleen Desravines said that in the US, debates about higher education focus on “the high end costs to the students…People think professors are going to drive a BMW. They don’t even know what adjuncts are. They think all professors have nice offices and fabulous lifestyles.”
Her own “tough journey” was rather different. Although she has recently secured a full-time job as a college instructor in English, she spent more than seven years as an adjunct professor, sometimes travelling between four different sites on the same day, constantly applying for permanent positions and, despite having two master’s degrees, rarely getting an interview. On one occasion, she faced the prospect of trying to survive over the three months of the summer teaching only a single course.
As part of her graduate school programme, however, Ms Desravines took a screen-writing class and was asked to “come up with something audiences might like”.
One day while out to lunch with a colleague, the pair realised that they could not “afford anything that wasn’t on the dollar menu and [that they] didn’t have a place to eat, so we sat eating in her car and said, ‘This is just pathetic.’” But Ms Desravines began to imagine a camera filming them and had “the idea for a series called Adjuncts, because this was our lives, lives that people just don’t know about”.
To put this into practice, Ms Desravines set up a company called Mack Escape Hatch, hired actors, two directors and film crew (all unpaid but given credits on IMDb) and began writing and producing her web series. The initial 10 episodes are all available on YouTube.
The series focuses on the rivalries and sexual tensions among a group of six adjuncts, but also on their desperate begging for just a few more teaching hours from the deans. One is told to attend an etiquette class for “cuss[ing] like a sailor” in class. Others consider donating to a blood or to a sperm bank as a way of making ends meet.
All have to deal with budget cuts, bad RateMyProfessor reviews and students who have “shit going on” and say things such as “I was in my boyfriend’s car. I got shot – would you like to see the wound?”
In the longer term, Ms Desravines hopes to “pitch to the networks for season two”, so that she can afford to pay actors and crew. In the meantime, she wants to spark a debate about how badly adjunct professors are treated and paid.
“Tuition costs are going up every year,” she said. “But who do you think brings in the students? None of this happens without the professors.”