Killing the Hungry Ghosts

In honor of the ghosts circling around us this time of the year and it being Campus Equity Week, albeit low key as we ramp up for 2017, Bri Bolin writes a post-ack column about her movement through adjuncting and the wisdom she has from organizing inside and out of unions. She’s a brave woman in her outspokenness and in sharing her important story early on in mainstream media. Check out the links in her bio below after you read this her great contribution to our growing collection on this site.

Bri Bolin is a co-founder of PrecariCorps, a 501(c)(3) offering much-needed financial, emotional, and professional support to adjunct faculty. She worked as an adjunct for 11 years, organized for the last five, and earned her post-ac credentials in May 2016. She will receive her M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology in May 2018. You can read more about her journey in Alissa Quart’s article about the hypereducated poor in Elle, in Joseph Fruscione’s Adjuncts Interviewing Adjuncts column in Inside Higher Ed, and in her Interludes for Robert Craig Baum’s Thoughtrave: An Interdimensional Conversation with Lady Gaga.


Killing the Hungry Ghosts
Bri Bolin

As long as you’re a full-time adjunct, your modus operandi will be crisis response. The stress, fear, and anxiety will damage you if your lack of healthcare does not. If you don’t hear it from me, you might not hear it at all, so I’ll say it: GTFO as fast as you can or fight like there’s a gun held to your head, because there is.

migrant-intellectualAt first you may wonder what you did to get stuck in such a predicament. You’ll retrace your steps and curse yourself for whatever idiotic, wrongly-timed action along the cause/effect pathway led you to this hell. You may feel guilt. Shame. Worthlessness. Do
n’t worry. This shouldn’t last long. You’ll develop keener vision during this phase. You’ll notice that your colleagues are also held hostage. You’ll upgrade to collective consciousness as you travel further away from the ascending and descending eternal Kübler-Ross guilt-grief spiral. The first thing you’ll likely want to know is the name of the person holding the gun.

When I was a child, I pictured God as a white businessman seated at an empty desk suspended in a white void, but I never imagined that this personification was a prescient image of those who acted as gods to control the world’s wealth. During a bout of pre-semester, stress-induced insomnia in January 2015, I scanned Oxfam’s report on the 80 people who were as rich as half the world, thinking of my childhood God. I found Him in the graph showing how it only took four years to concentrate 50% of the wealth from 388 to 80 people whose demographics mirror His pale face and graying hair: 85% are over 50; 90% are male.

Source: Oxfam, January 2015: “Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More”


I don’t have to tell you that power is also concentrated in a similarly infuriating manner in U.S. and global higher education by administrators who have forgotten their priorities (Badmin). Badmin misappropriate our college’s wealth away from the classroom and toward Elysian corporatist ideals like property acquisition and higher bond ratings for non-discretionary funds. An older example, but a good one, a synecdoche, if you will: in 2014, the College of DuPage Badmin embezzled student and taxpayer money on frivolities like $500K bonuses and feasts of halibut, chicken mousse, and Bavarian cake. They spent another quarter million on booze and furnishings for an upscale French restaurant on campus, listing this expense under “educational supplies.” We learned about this because of a whistleblower with unyielding ethics: Kathy Hamilton, Board of Trustees member and hero of the highest caliber. These anti-Badmin are so rare that they deserve a title, a term of endearment—Goodmin.

Those of you reading this are likely already helping to expose corruption and increase our visibility. As you know, adjuncts are still fairly invisible to the powers that be. The Higher Education Price Index from Commonfund Institute, the top manager of educational endowments, eliminates contingent faculty from their data. US News & World Report fails to present ratios of contingent to full-time faculty for institutions.

It’s all a bit dizzying from the vantage point of the office shared with every other adjunct in the neighboring five departments—if you’re one of the lucky ones who has an office. Some of you still fear coming out of the adjunct-office closet because you could be disappeared, but I want you to think long and hard about this: an adjunct’s struggle is Sisyphus’s struggle—unless you GTFO or die trying. The gun being held to your head is loaded with poverty, anxiety, stress, sickness, and even death, as was the case with uninsured Adjunct Patron Saint Margaret Mary Vojtko.


Image of a hungry ghost from the late 12th-century Japanese Gaki Scroll

By this point you know who’s holding the gun. You can’t eat cultural capital, but Badmin can. Think of them as hungry ghosts: greedy souls with gaping, ballooning bellies who can never, ever get enough and who will devour your labor for their own sustenance. Migrant Intellectual taught me this about hungry ghosts: “Imagine the furies combined with succubi and incubi in an endless loop that infects the master tracks of your life; the only thing you can do is remix, create new sound architecture, hit the overdrive, maybe some delay and feedback with a little wah wah pedal.” In other words, you’ve got to kill them (metaphorically) before they kill you (actually). 





This is the most honest version of my activation story thus written. Now that I’m five months post-ac, I’m healing at a remarkable speed. I’m not as angry as I was, although I’m still angry.

I’m also no longer eaten by that nightmarish, trademark adjunct anxiety. I’m surprised that it faded so quickly. If you’re still an adjunct, I know that your anxiety and anger are unbearable, and I know that you feel all-too-strongly the analogy that Junct Rebellion and others have made connecting adjuncting and abusive relationships. At a certain point, you realize there is so little left to lose that there’s nothing to do but fight in whatever way you can.


Bri during Campus Equity Week, 2013.



P.S.  Unions are giants in the adjunct world right now, but please know that no matter how many of them form and win their demands, that they’re admittedly engaging in a struggle with a 40-year timeline (just ask one of their bigwigs). That won’t help you or your family, but if you fight with all you have while you’re there, you’re helping, and you’re a warrior. Keep the mission alive that started decades ago: rid the universities of every last hungry ghost, and live to tell the tale.


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