“I Wanted to Give Them Something to Hide Behind”

Finally, a magazine just for adjunct professors.

Dushko Petrovich
Dushko Petrovich.

Image courtesy of Dushko Petrovich

The sentiment behind artist and adjunct professor Dushko Petrovich’s new venture Adjunct Commuter Weekly is that the hundreds of thousands of part-time professors who commute between multiple campuses to make ends meet are a prime demographic for their own niche publication. It’s a need currently unfulfilled (in this former adjunct’s humble opinion) by any mainstream publications, partly because discussion of adjunct issues is often quickly overtaken by realpolitik talk about supply and demand and aggrieved tenureds who want to redirect the conversation to their perspective.

Adjunct Commuter Weekly began as a Kickstarter venture, bringing in enough money for Petrovich—who currently lives in Brooklyn and commutes to teach in New Haven, Providence, and Boston—to produce an entire debut issue in print: How vintage! He’s now re-launched the publication online as ACW, a Web magazine where adjuncts will find news, opinion, sample syllabi, interviews, memoir-essays, poetry, and even recipes, all produced to serve the commuting adjunct specifically, and all created by commuting adjunct professors. The website is also a multimedia affair, soon to feature podcasts about adjunct issues (recorded from Petrovich’s “office”; i.e., his car), and an ingeniously useful ride-sharing app.

I recently emailed with Petrovich to learn more about ACW, which I see as equal parts periodical and performance art. The conversation below has been edited for clarity and length.

What made you decide to dedicate an entire publication to commuting adjunct professors?

As you know it’s a huge—and hugely underserved—demographic, and a growing one. [Adjuncts] might not have much disposable income, but I did think it was a community that could stand some more visibility and respect. I wanted to provide them with content that reflects the realities of their lives, products that serve their needs, and a way of forming a kind of community.

I think the adjunct commuter has the potential to be an incredibly influential demographic. They are well-educated and talented, and they are the ones doing most of the teaching at American universities. I think they are the only people who will be able to save the American university from itself. But first they have to recognize and respect themselves as a group, so they can come to terms with the conditions of their employment and do something about it.

Tell me a little bit about your initial decision to launch a print publication in 2015. What was your distribution model? Where were adjuncts going to get this publication? Was it free? Where did your initial print run end up going?

Well, print obviously confers status. I kept seeing the businessmen hiding behind their peach Financial Times on the Metro-North, and I wanted to give adjunct commuters something to hide behind—their own newsprint privacy curtain. A way of saying: We exist. But also: Leave us alone, we’re tired.

I ran a Kickstarter campaign, so people who donated to that will be getting their copies in the mail. Then, I had a launch event at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, the worldwide hub of adjuncting, so a lot of people got copies there. Now, I’m throwing a party on the Ikea Ferry in New York on Labor Day, so people will be able to get copies there as well. But of course the main method of distribution is the Internet, so I’m building a website where people will be able to order a print copy and also have access to a lot more material, including our forthcoming ride-share app and podcast.

I’ve been writing about adjuncts for three years, and much of the reaction I get from the non-academic public (and some from the academic public!) is scorn and derision. How will ACW work to offset this rather unfortunate public perception?

You can’t expect too many non-adjunct academics to want to talk about adjuncting—they have so much to lose! That’s why we adjuncts have to take up the conversation ourselves.

As for the non-academic public, I’ve found that people who demean and dismiss educators are, almost by definition, in need of educational help. Oftentimes it takes a patient educator to work with them on their problems and get them to see where their anger and scorn are coming from. At the same time, I don’t think we can expect adjuncts to be therapists—unless they are actual adjunct therapists, charging therapist rates. So, no, ACW isn’t going to get too involved with public scorn, I don’t think. I think we’ll focus on our own demographic and try to serve the underserved, so to speak.

Just the act of saying, “Hey, commuting adjuncts deserve their own Financial Times” is subversive and dignity-bestowing and revolutionary, since adjuncts are so used to being invisible and dismissed as not being “real” professors.

I find a lot of people us the word “real” to bully people. In fact, I’m not actually sure the people making those kinds of comments are “real” people. You know? If you go deeper into it, the immediate question is: Why would universities create a category of “unreal” professor and then entrust most of the teaching to these people?

I’m sure a lot of these armchair ontologists will say Adjunct Commuter Weekly isn’t a “real” newspaper. And then people—or are they spambots?—will say that ACW isn’t a “real” website, and that I’m not a “real” editor, and so on.

Form is crucial. The form of the comments section, for example, instantly gives many people the idea that they are some kind of pundit. Just a small rectangle with a blinking cursor, and presto! So I think people should look carefully at form. That’s why the form of this project is a weekly newsmagazine—so people might start to wonder, why doesn’t my demographic have a weekly newsmagazine?

I am particularly interested in two of the pieces in the inaugural issue: Sam Messer, the “super-commuter” who flew from L.A. to Yale to teach every single week for nine years, and a vile-sounding mason-jar recipe that contains three, erm, wholesome meals in one convenient vessel. Can you tell me how you managed to get these once-in-a-lifetime-seeming pieces of content into your publication for free? Are these friends of yours?

Sam Messer is my colleague at Yale. I often drive him, since we live near each other in Brooklyn, and naturally, we wanted to do the interview in the car on the way to work. Charlotte Glynn’s recipe—of filling a mason jar with dinner, lunch, and then breakfast, in that order, so you can eat your way back through it during your long commuting day—was something she told me about at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in upstate New York. We were seated at a huge, majestic dinner table—something out of Downton Abbey—and I was telling her about Adjunct Commuter Weekly, when she said she had a recipe to contribute. And did she ever! It does sound vile, but I haven’t tried it.

Will your online model get enough revenue to pay contributors?

If the website generated any profits, I would want to divide that revenue with the contributors. Right now, however, it is a purely volunteer project where we are all coming together to share our experiences with the world. With the ride-share app we’re building, Ricardo de Lima and I are just volunteering our time to help the community. With the podcast I’m going to do, I won’t be paying people to talk—but I don’t think anyone pays for interviews, do they?

Now, if the podcast were charging listeners $40,000 a year in listening tuition, they you can bet I would pay adjuncts a lot of money to come on the show. It would be amazing how much money I would pay! Maybe I should start an online university instead.