‘Show us that you value us,’ adjunct instructor asks Maine legislators

Katrina Ray-Saulis HZL

MSEA-SEIU Member and Central Maine Community College Adjunct Instructor Katrina Ray-Saulis asks the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs to support LD 1878 establishing a commission to study the use of adjuncts in the Maine Community College System. “I, like most adjuncts, struggle to make a livable income. If you calculate my time outside the classroom doing prep work and grading, I am working for minimum wage. I pay for health insurance out of pocket, which means high deductibles I can’t afford. I work multiple jobs to keep my household afloat, and I don’t take days off. I am passionate about the subjects I teach, and about teaching, but I am being held back by a system that increasingly does a disservice to me as an instructor, and to my students,” she told the committee Jan. 23.

Senator Millett, Representative Kornfield, and members of the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs, My name is Katrina Ray-Saulis. I live in Augusta. I currently teach at Central Maine Community College and Kennebec Valley Community College. I am here on my own time to testify in support of LD 1878, which would establish a commission to study the use of adjuncts in the Maine Community College System.

As soon as I finish speaking, I will have to leave for one of my hourly wage side gigs, because even though I have been blessed with the opportunity to teach, which truly is a blessing, I don’t make enough to money teaching to make ends meet.

This is the kind of issue that adjuncts face all the time. I love teaching. There is nothing I would rather do. And I truly love teaching in the community college setting. The students are ambitious, they are diverse and they are changing their world and ours in beautiful ways. They are amazing people who deserve me at my best.

But I fear that the stress I’m under due to the lack of job security and low wages means they aren’t always getting me at my best. I piece together full-time work by filling my empty hours with nannying gigs and freelance writing work. Just thinking about my schedule is exhausting, but I’m doing what I have to do to get by in academia, because I love teaching.

Adjunct positions were meant to be the exception, not the rule. Retired professionals who want to share their knowledge, or people working in the field who like to teach a class here and there. They were never meant to be a career, but with a lack of other options, they have become that for so many of us. And it is a career filled with confusion, uncertainty and insecurity.

I, like most adjuncts, struggle to make a livable income. If you calculate my time outside the classroom doing prep work and grading, I am working for minimum wage. I pay for health insurance out of pocket, which means high deductibles I can’t afford. I work multiple jobs to keep my household afloat, and I don’t take days off. I am passionate about the subjects I teach, and about teaching, but I am being held back by a system that increasingly does a disservice to me as an instructor, and to my students.

I grew up on food stamps and wearing donated winter coats in the Western Maine mountains. In my mid-twenties I made the decision that I didn’t want to work retail jobs forever and I applied to CMCC, a decision I have never regretted. Going to community college changed my life in myriad ways, but I’m still nervous about my financial future. I invested thousands in my education and took out students loans that I will be paying for years to come. My goal is to one day work full-time in the community colleges that did so much for me. However, as time goes on, it becomes more and more apparent that those full-time positions are disappearing. When a faculty member retires, they are replaced by two or three adjuncts. And I am losing hope in seeing a return on my financial investment into my education. 

We frequently talk about how we should be working to keep younger people here and through LD 1878 we have an opportunity to create stable jobs for people like me, who want to teach in Maine’s colleges and deserve job security. People like me who want to buy houses, raise children and stay in Maine.

LD 1878 is an important step toward providing adjuncts with job security, healthcare and career paths. It is also an important step in ensuring that the Maine college system is competitive in hiring the best employees. We, Maine’s adjunct instructors, value Maine’s educational institutions, and we are asking you to show us that you value us, as well.

Updated: January 24, 2020 — 12:58 PM