When our livelihoods depend on our online teaching jobs to be stable and consistent, we need our managers/deans/department chairs/associate deans to be communicative and let us know if we can expect a drop-off in workload (or worse, a total shutdown). Unfortunately, not all deans or department chairs take their job of informing and communicating with online faculty as seriously as we would like (and as we should expect). We wait for the email that says we are scheduled for the next term, while looking at the stack of bills that need to be paid against the contracts coming in.

 

Over time, we come to expect a natural rhythm to a particular school. For example, I know at school XYZ, I will not see if I am scheduled unless/until the courses pop up in Blackboard and not to bother asking because my boss doesn’t know either. At school ABC, I know months ahead of time - because my boss is thoughtful, considerate and understands that adjuncts depend on their income from teaching to take care of their families.

Processes and Logic

Some schools have a logical and communicative process with procedure, others communicate with what seems to be little procedure, and then there are those that leave you asking “what the heck happened?” One term goes by with no class, and we chalk it up to enrollments. Another term goes by, we email the dean and ask what may be happening and what can be done. Usually we will get an answer, but sometimes we hear what an ex-boyfriend used to call when he knew I was upset with him, “thunderous silence”.

On occasion, we have lost the school entirely but we may not even know. Sometimes there are warning signs; a frustrated boss, a change in leadership, notes about declining enrollment, pay cuts, or multiple terms with no classes. But sometimes, faculty have absolutely no warning and no idea they have been “delisted” and are no longer teaching at a school. This has happened to me and most of our clients who are full time adjuncts report it has happened to them. Thankfully it is not common, but it does leave us asking, “what happens when a school suddenly goes dark, and what can you do about it?

Going Dark

Whether we determine the lack of communication was caused by a non-confrontational boss, lack of care/concern about adjuncts, a change in leadership (the new team may not even know who is on their roster - yes this happens), steep enrollment drops that are embarrassing to admit (or impact stock price and confidence), to call it disconcerting when a school goes dark is an understatement. If your gut is telling you that your boss wasn’t happy with your work (or just flat out didn’t like you), you may be right. 8% of deans report to us that they have cut faculty loose by saying nothing at all, and not assigning a contractor or part time employee to another class with no communication whatsoever, largely to avoid confrontation. It reminds me of the old Office Space scene (my favorite movie) where they simply “fixed the glitch” by removing Milton from payroll. When I push back a bit and ask deans if they think that is an appropriate way to handle the change, I usually get a response like “the contract is term to term” or “we just aren’t renewing that contract” or “so and so expected it anyway.” If I push further and ask, “what if the faculty was counting on that income?” It’s either usually silence, or “they shouldn’t have when our contract says there is no guarantee of further courses.

Will you ever find out what happens if a school went dark? Maybe, but likely not. If you ask and get an answer, it may not be the real reason you were permanently benched. Some of our clients report being benched by about 10% of their schools/clients each year, and knowing that is their benchmark turnover rate and the rate at which they need to acquire new schools to keep a consistent income level.

What To Do If Your School Goes Dark

If you have a good relationship with your boss, you can phone him or her and try to inquire whether you should “expect that you’ve lost the position and work hard and fast to replace the lost income” or if you should expect “to be scheduled in the near future”. If the answer is to replace the income, you can ask what precipitated the change for your own professional growth (and curiosity). Remember don’t burn bridges even if you were treated poorly – this is a very small industry. You may want to jump through the phone and scream expletives, but resist the urge. If you do not know who your boss is (yes this happens to), you can find the name of the Dean online and email him/her with a history of your work and find out when you can expect to be scheduled (phrase the email with an expectation you will be until you find out otherwise – we have been told by deans that this makes them occasionally think twice about firing the professor because it means confrontation, the very thing he/she was trying to avoid). If you get a class right after asking, you should be looking for work anyway – chances are it will happen again. On rare occasions, no one will reply and you will never know. Listen to your gut and ask around on our forums if anyone else has experienced that situation with a particular school. (be careful though, admins do lurk in there)

Preventative Income Loss

One of the reasons that Adjunctpreneurs¬ģ advocate for diversification in workload, types of schools and bosses(!) is to protect a devastating loss.

If there is a change in guard at one school that is half of your income, you have some degree of uncertainty for the foreseeable future. Keep job applications in the pipeline like you would any other client funnel, because while Going Dark may not happen very often, losing clients/enrollments/high workloads does.

 

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Contact the author Dr. Dani Babb
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