• July 23, 2014

If Colleges Valued Students, They'd Value Adjuncts

Value Students? Then Value Adjuncts. 1 Enlarge Image
close Value Students? Then Value Adjuncts. 1

I walk down the noisy hallway, where the students push and shove their way into the narrow stairway they use between classes. I break from the crowd and glance to my right. Through the half-closed blinds on the glass doors, I see most of my colleagues gathered in the conference room. They look serious, intently listening to the one in the corner, who seems to be giving the speech of his life. I am witnessing important business, I think to myself.

I am an adjunct instructor in an innovative writing department in Virginia. It doesn't take long for me to realize that I'm looking into a conference room of full-time faculty members. Then I remember that it's the second Wednesday of the month and time for the faculty meeting. Adjunct faculty members are invited, too, in my department, but it just so happens that the meeting is always on Wednesdays at 11:15 a.m., when most of the adjuncts are scheduled to teach so that the full-time faculty members can have this meeting.

Such is the life of the adjunct, and this outside-looking-in method of inclusion has been going on for far too long.

I am not bitter about my low salary, my lack of benefits, the uncertainty of a job next semester, or the terrible summers, when a lack of available classes means a lack of income. I'm actually thankful. I realize I don't have a Ph.D., nor do I have mounds of teaching experience. It was almost a gift, I sometimes think, that I was hired at all.

Before working here, I was a newspaper editor who had taught only one class for one semester at a nearby community college. I fell in love with teaching during that semester and decided I wanted to pursue it as a career. Entering the land of the four-year university was an amazing experience. I was full of adrenaline and nerves. My colleagues and department were supportive: Both full- and part-time faculty members were always available to answer my questions and give me the advice I needed to become a better instructor. In conversing with part-time faculty members in other departments, I heard horror stories about how they were treated with far less respect.

That was two years ago, and as time has passed, I have come to realize that my department is still top-notch when it comes to adjuncts. At least we are invited to meetings and get departmentwide e-mails. Unfortunately, I have also come to realize that this university—like many around the nation—fosters an inherent disregard for all adjunct faculty members. The university benefits by cutting costs; the full-time faculty members and departments benefit by being able to focus more on specialty classes, service assignments, and research; and the students benefit by … oh wait. It's the students who lose out.

 

In the classroom, I exude confidence. I walk tall, tell jokes, and keep students' attention. I can lead discussion like nobody's business, and I can wing it if I need to. And that's a good thing, because I am often not prepared for class. Sometimes, I admit, I haven't even read my own assigned reading for the day. It's not that I don't want to; it's just that I had to take on those extra two courses at the community college and finish up the freelance article so I could pay the mortgage for the month. Winging it usually works OK. But sometimes it doesn't.

My not being prepared for class is only one way in which the students suffer. More and more, I find myself completely drained by the end of the day. In the middle of a great discussion, a student directs a comment to me. To the detriment of the discussion, I stopped listening a few comments ago, thinking instead about my decreasing checkbook balance or the dishes that have been piling up as I have been grading papers. Or I stopped listening just because I have had similar discussions four times already today, and I am, frankly, bored and/or exhausted. At least once, I stopped listening because of the loud construction across the street, where the university is building a new performance center. And I couldn't help but remember the news a week earlier that budget cuts had put my job in jeopardy.

In the end, how much does it matter to my department, and to my university, if I do a good job? It's not like I can share this information in any formal setting.

When I leave the classroom, I know I could have done better. That isn't an empty thought; I try to do better every day, every semester, every school year. And maybe my efforts succeed—maybe I do a little better. But I can't help but wonder: Is it enough? If some of these distractions that come with being an adjunct were taken away, wouldn't my students benefit? If I could talk about teaching and listen to others talk about teaching in that conference room, wouldn't my students benefit?

Again, I am not bitter about the money (or lack thereof). I chose to enter this profession this way, and I can choose to leave anytime I want. What makes me uneasy is that cheap labor seems more important to academe than quality instruction. Colleges and universities seem to value football stadiums, basketball teams, new performance centers, unnecessary renovations, and whatever project gets supported with money that could go to adjunct faculty members more than the learning of students who are taught by adjuncts. It's not a money issue; it's a priority issue.

Adjunct faculty members can never fully teach to their potential unless colleges rethink their priorities. If institutions value their students' educations as much as they claim, they need to better embrace adjuncts. Perhaps it is about offering adjuncts a fair wage and more job security. But maybe just valuing their input or asking for their opinions would be a good start.

Again, I am in a top-notch department when it comes to adjuncts. But it seems that the other adjuncts and I should be in that conference room somehow; that's where it starts. We may not have the appropriate titles underneath our names. We may not have been through the rigors that terminal degrees require (though some of us have). We may not have the proper publications to our credit. All those things are important, no doubt.

What we do have, though, is a lot of students. Does it get more important than that?

Isaac Sweeney teaches writing at James Madison University and Blue Ridge Community College.

Comments

1. 22228715 - October 21, 2009 at 07:13 am

I have sympathy (and empathy) for your main points. But as a current adjunct and past full-time faculty member, one of the things I miss least is faculty department meetings. We could go many hours without mentioning the word "student." So I think you yearn for it only because you don't have it. What adjuncts really need is not the meeting, but the connection of information, collegiality, and participation in the larger picture of what the faculty is trying to do as a work group. If that happens at faculty meetings, great. But I think it's fairly rarely the location of where it happens, if it happens at all.

2. drtimothy - October 21, 2009 at 08:18 am

The culture of academe values the fulltime workforce. If you are a fulltime faculty, you are in the loop; if you're not, you're not. Adjuncts exist because of economics. Noting more, nothing less, nothing other. Adjuncts are valuable for the bottom line. If an adjunct is good in class and there is a need for him/her, he may be hired-rehired. If he/she is not so good in class and there is a need for him/her (i.e., an available section), he/she may be rehired. One thing is certain: If there is no no availalbe section, he/she will not be rehired. Simple as that.
All of the stuff about quality teaching and student learning is just that: stuff. That's how the culture exhibits itself. Always. That's the stuff of how it is. (From an adjunct and former administrator).

3. demery1 - October 21, 2009 at 10:15 am

This article is unbelievably insulting. To suggest from one's own experience that an adjunct can NEVER reach their potential is ludicrous. Many adjuncts are dedicated, professional, and (as you note) have terminal degrees in their field. To balme your inattention to your students on being a contingent faculty member is just plain lazy.

4. lydacher - October 21, 2009 at 10:46 am

To demery1: This article is unbelievably realistic. The writer isn't lazy, he's exhausted and exploited. At my university, adjuncts not only have to put up with all that is described above, but for the past few year's they've received letters in December that warn them that they are "on the bubble" and are not likely to be hired in the future (just in case they weren't stressed enough). Now, our administration has decided that grad students are the "best" teachers for undergraduate courses, so our adjunct pool suffered massive cuts. Most of our adjuncts are educated, skilled, professionals who have devoted much of their lives to our university and our community (which is geographically remote, so other teaching opportunities are extremely limited). It's an outrage.
P.S. I'm not an adjunct; I'm an Associate Professor.

5. gmd1057 - October 21, 2009 at 11:52 am

It just goes to support the really rather obvious hypothesis that the US professoriate's dominant social-justice politics/ideology is compensatory, i.e., is designed to disguise with verbiage the de facto exploitative nature of their actual economic lives. "We need our pay/raises/benefits/workload/etc. -- so you administrators do whatever you have to, to keep those things coming."

Slavery looks vile now -- but at the time it appeared totally natural and inevitable to those whose economic lives were built on the exploitation involved.

6. kmessina - October 21, 2009 at 01:15 pm

I think there are many excellent points in this article. However, I am appalled that any faculty member, adjunct or full time, can justify not being prepared for class. Not even reading your "own assigned reading for class", is unacceptable. I was an adjunct for ten years, and have empathy for the challenges facing adjuncts. However, if I had not been able to provide quality education to my students, then I would have quit teaching and moved on to a different profession. In fact, I actually did have to take full time work outside of teaching for several years, and teach part time at night, just to pay the bills. Bottom line, the students do suffer when faculty are not prepared. In fact, to come to class unprepared is disrespectful to students.

7. gmd1057 - October 21, 2009 at 02:06 pm

kmessina -- You're not taking account of the author's rhetorical situation in designing this article. The only people in academia who can change this system are full-time university employees (tenured faculty and policy-setting administrators). If people say exactly what you say, those controllers have zero motive to change the system, and every motive to leave their enviable economic arrangements intact by not messing with the existing system.

In essence, you are arguing that it is inappropriate of slaves or prison workers to do less than the topshelf work expected from well-compensated fulltime professionals, despite the minuscule fraction of fulltimer compensation they are offered per hour worked.

8. btuberville - October 21, 2009 at 02:40 pm

A few years ago, I was working as an adjunct at the university where I received by master's degree. In a discussion with a former mentor, she said "This will be good for you; if you're ever in a position to be in charge of adjuncts, you'll know what they go through."

Fast forward to 2009, and her prediction (if one could call it that) has come true. I am in charge of adjuncts in developmental education at a relatively small university, and having been on both sides of this article, I want to weigh in on this discussion.

First, gmd1057 is correct in the assertion that the only ones in academia who are in a position to change the system are full-timers; however, I think it's a bit rhetorically dangerous to lump tenured faculty in with policy-setting administrators. Tenured faculty can lobby (and often have lobbied) for more perks and more institutional respect for adjuncts; the real decision-making, though, lies beyond the tenured faculty and in the hands of those administrators who have their figurative fingers on the fiscal button. Until those individuals have a change of heart, and until state legislatures are not so fiscally frustrated, the current situation will continue.

Second, has anyone noticed that most if not all of the people talked about in this article teach ENGLISH?? Are there no other adjuncts in no other disciplines?? I happen to know that there are; but it's easier to make the argument for the subjugation of adjunct faculty when one highlights those from a department that, on most university and college campuses, lingers at the bottom of the power totem pole. Those of us who toil in the composition trenches have long known about inequities when it comes to money; for some of us, even full-timers, it's a sad fact of academic life.

9. gmd1057 - October 21, 2009 at 04:01 pm

Faculty understandably don't want to feel guilty of exploitation, so they blame the administrators that run things in order to pay the institution's bills. As in almost any organization in an advanced economy, the largest bill in a US university is personnel (salaries, benefits, support, etc.).

The it's-administration's-fault argument is like a slaveowner's liberal-minded wife demanding the best Parisian fashions and vacations in Europe, while claiming it's her huisband's fault that slaves aren't treated better.

Apparently contemporary US faculty don't care very much how they will look to the future, as long as they can live well now.

10. isaacsweeney - October 22, 2009 at 09:25 am

I'd like to respond to a couple of the comments, especially the negative ones (though I appreciate all of them).

drtimothy - "That's just how it is" is never a good argument.

demery1 - I'm sorry you were insulted, though I'm not sorry I wrote what I wrote. I am also dedicated and professional. Just think how much better we could be if we had the respect we deserved. And if we can be better, then we have yet to reach our potential.

kmessina - I agree with you completely and I don't think it should happen. Unfortunately, as the essay argues, much of the blame for it happening can be put on the priorities of the university.

btuberville - "it's a sad fact of academic life." See my response to drtimothy above.

Again, thanks to all.

11. ncadjunctfaculty - October 22, 2009 at 05:34 pm

btuberville--English faculty are not the only low-paid faculty. I happen to know that at our local University art faculty (FT) make significantly less than any other FT faculty on campus. As a psychology adjunct, I am paid consdierably lower than full-time faculty who teach fewer classes and fewer students than I do.

12. ncadjunctfaculty - October 22, 2009 at 05:41 pm

Recently in our state, furloughs of 10 hours were instituted across the board for all state employees. This posed a problem for adjunct faculty, who are only paid for classroom contact hours (which, yes, cuts into one's motivation to overly prepare for classes). MY father, an adjunct faculty member was told that he was to take those hours not fromt he classroom time but by refusing to engage students before and after that classroom time. He was told to activiely refuse to spend the extra time outside of classroom hours discussing anything with students. When he is not paid for those hours anyway, I only see this as hurting the students, not in any way giving my father his furlough hours.

I agree with the writer that colleges and universities are shortchanging students by not treating adjunct faculty properly.

13. gtkarn - October 22, 2009 at 11:21 pm

"I am not bitter about my low salary, my lack of benefits, the uncertainty of a job next semester, or the terrible summers, when a lack of available classes means a lack of income. I'm actually thankful. I realize I don't have a Ph.D., nor do I have mounds of teaching experience. It was almost a gift, I sometimes think, that I was hired at all."

Gag me with a spoon. Sorry, despite the insights of this piece, I find these sentiments disgusting. For years now I've been fed up with those who are so appreciative of the crumbs thrown to them, so ready not to be bitter.

But wait! As I read on, it hit me. This is a satire! A fine send -up of the mewling adjunct. Sorry for my initial response. I must confess, though, the need for more continued attention to the steadily increasing percentage of adjuncts in certain fields, at certain course levels (composition/writing anyone?), and the ongoing erosion of a professional community nurtured by these hiring practices.

Finally, the observation above about "English" being at the low end of some "totem pole of power" is worth meditation. How often, before my retirement, was the language I heard from many, especially younger, colleagues, riddled with Foucauldian messages about distribution of "power." All I could do was sigh and note how often those who claim to be in the know about "power" often don't get much further than talking about it. So many in the humanities, and in English especially, seem like Hamlet as he is for most of the play --- words, words, words. They never get past that. Worse: the words become a substitute for the action they should be taking.

14. rightwingprofessor - October 23, 2009 at 02:50 pm

This was a pretty good article until the end when he goes off the rails by claiming his salary is not "fair." Of course it is fair! The university offers a salary to teach a course, noone forces Mr. Sweeney to take it. However he is willing to teach a course for that wage, both sides get what they want, how is this not fair. For the university to give Mr. Sweeney extra money for no reason is not fair to the students or the taxpayers. Noone is being exploited here.

15. csgirl - October 24, 2009 at 07:37 am

I agree with the author's main point that universities value football teams and fancy buildings more than they value quality instruction. It hits the fulltime faculty too, though. I teach at a large private undergraduate university, where the fulltime faculty sit in a warren of teeny cubicles -two to a cubicle - with no space to even consult with more than one student at a time. Electricity is provided through a maze of old cords attached to power strips here and there. I wonder if we could even pass a fire inspection. And then I remember - the adjuncts are all forced into one room with open desks. They have it even worse. At the same time, the university just added a huge new building with a 3 story "social space", and the administrators all sit in sleek modern offices. I wouldn't mind the office situation so much except that it really impacts teaching. I can't run small group tutorials in my office, and since the cube doors are all broken, they lock the corridor leading to the cubicles so the students can't get in without a passcard. You can imagine that really cuts down on students coming to see me for help!

16. intlprofs - October 24, 2009 at 08:40 am

Adjuncts need many places on websites for more visability, job searches, teaching overseas in developing countrues, etc.

It perhaps could be be their own space/place/ to use as a clearing house/resource center, you think?

International Professor

17. mark88 - October 24, 2009 at 07:29 pm

The needs of the said University is not just an employee either professor or adjunct. The University needs a dedicated professor that are happy to his work and knows how to teach and handle the students with , then everything will follow such as cooperation, ideas, etc. for students sake.

18. djbeyers - October 26, 2009 at 09:45 am

While I have to appreciate the commentary regarding the general attitudes towards adjuncts, I find this article to be rather contradictory of itself. Perhaps I am missing a point. However, reading the author state on one hand that adjuncts ought to have more respect and then to relate how he often does not prepare makes it difficult for me to see how his comments esteem the role of the adjunct. Or for that matter, why universities ought to give him more. Granted, I know his argument is in favor of better wages and commitment so he could commit to his work. However, I think one ought to commit themselves fully to the work they have, regardless of its benefits.

As an adjunct myself, I value every moment in the classroom. I don't teach for the money. Could I use it? Absolutely. But I know that it is an honor and tremendous responsibility to teach. For that reason, I am certain to prepare myself fully for every class.


19. karen19 - October 26, 2009 at 10:27 am

I think the author's point is the lack of accomodation for adjuncts. I myself have been an adjunct, and also just finished a second advanced degree. I completed that degree as a part time student and found the inflexibility of full time faculty appalling and frustrating. The university was more than willing to take the tuition of the part time students, yet completely unwilling to offer classes at times that were more available to part time students.

Full time faculty have routines that they don't like to break. Their lives lack the sense of urgency that "real life" does. While adjuncts may not always have time to be as prepared as they like to be, their experience is invaluable to students. A full time faculty member should be more than fully prepared for class. It's their only job. An adjunct has a demanding job, and is teaching in addition to his or her full time job. That's not to say an adjunct should come to class unprepared, it is just a different kind of teaching experience, the value of which is derived from real life experiences rather than research and theory.


20. catcat - October 26, 2009 at 02:16 pm

I work as a full time visiting in a small liberal arts college and I still identify with many of the author's observation. My provisional and vulnerable status breeds a kind of schizophrenia that is only detrimental to students' overall learning experience. Constantly looking for a job and worrying about the future, constantly being reminded, directly and indirectly, that I am not really part of the university community and that my affection for my students is misplaced and unrealistic, knowing very well that nobody cares about what I do in the classroom and that I teach more hours for less pay than regular faculty, they all add up. Again, I am full time, with benefits and a decent pay. What, I guess, ticks me off, is the disconnect between the progressive politics this university and esp. this dept pride themselves on, and the reality of academic hierarchies thrown in the face of whoever happens to be at the bottom. I particularly identified with the faculty meeting scene in the article. I don't really want to have more time eaten up by pointless long meetings, but it hurts to be specifically excluded from them (in the language of the announcement), to be asked to leave dept meetings when issues not concerning adjuncts and visiting start being discussed.

I see my students primarily suffering in that we cannot plan long term working relationships (their program culminates in a capstone thesis). I also know people in my situation--me included at one point--battling mental health issues exacerbated by this vulnerable position.

Just my two cents.

21. drtrevithick - October 26, 2009 at 05:07 pm

WHy in the world are you not bitter about being paid about 1/3 of what you should be getting? This seems quite silly. Go ahead. Be bitter. Then organize and try to do something about it. Alan t.

22. drtrevithick - October 26, 2009 at 05:15 pm

I should have also noted that I am entirely in agreement with gtkarn. Get two spoons. And something else for rightwingprofessor (perhaps it's Alan Greenspan himself-surely they're given him a professorship somewhere) who is always waiting in the wings in these dramas: hey pal, he's actually not getting what he wants, and he is getting hurt. I know you like your lettuce from people who are actually sleeping in the fields but some of us fell bad about such things. By the way, I am an adjunct and work at six course at three institutions. I'm good at what I do, I have a PhD, and I am "bitter": I'll take on some of the load for Sweeny here. You know, he ain't heavy he's my ... etc.

23. extra_furniture - October 26, 2009 at 10:33 pm

Thank you, rightwingprofessor, for helping me keep my disgust fresh. This is the same argument used to justify unequal pay for women and minorities. You right-wingers always look out for yourselves with a smug attitude of "I got mine."

No, of course it isn't only adjuncts in English who are poorly paid. All of us at our junior college are paid the same paltry salary, yet we generate millions of dollars so that the full time faculty and the adminstration can make nice salaries. We aren't asking for equality of salary or benefits, but when we make 19% of what the FT faculty makes and don't have a single paid sick day (flu virus, anyone?) all the time knowing the college is run on our backs, it makes life very difficult.

24. rodwhen - October 27, 2009 at 09:36 am

I was a graduate assistant at a major university. I never felt exploited because I had worked in the real world and know what real world work is like. Have you ever worked in telesales? I have worked as an adjunct at 3 colleges simultaneously with a combined teaching load of 9 classes on 4 campuses. On days I don't have class I serve as a substitute teacher. I will take this and be grateful rather than work in a phone room, a restaurant, or a convenience store graveyard shift any day forever.

25. vicden1 - October 27, 2009 at 10:15 am

Everyone here is speaking from the point of view of the University. If you want to see a second class citizen try the adjunct at a Community College. Rather than looking in on Department meetings to which you have been invited, and have been scheduled to exclude you, you are the only person that teaches in that discipline.
Adjuncts teaching far more than the upper limit of credit hours, yet being told that there isn't enough money for the full time (or even half time position).
Adjuncts are the backbone of the community college, especially those in rural areas not dripping with people who: A. have a higher degree, and B have not been run off by their abysmal tratment by the college. And for those who say Faculty have to step up, you can't pass blame to the Administration, well it is almost always true that the people who have the expertise are not the ones who sign the checks.
Now I expect someone will comment that Community Colleges are not "real" Higher Ed

26. townsend_harris - October 27, 2009 at 10:42 am

Because I worship, worship, worship The God called The Market, because I *believe* everything Our God The Market tells me, I've got a good deal as an adjunct. Our God The Market tells me the only way to optimize the value of my teaching is to spend as little time and effort on it as possible. Our God The Market tells me to minimize my efforts as much as possible without getting in trouble with my bosses, without losing my income from teaching. Just like my dean and provost and president and chancellor, I worship Our God The Market, and we all understand each other, all of us acolytes of Our God. I've only got to keep half an eye on my apostate chair.

27. ncadjunctfaculty - October 27, 2009 at 11:35 am

vicden1--Not everyone here is speaking from the University perspective. My father and I are both community college instructors. I am adjunct, my father is full time at one CC and adjunct at another CC.

I think the arguments that essentially say "stop whining" or "you're not doing it for the money" are missing the point. I teach because I love teaching. I have worked in industry and I was paid a fair wage. I now teach because of the lifestyle and the students and the fact that I live in one of the rural communities mentioned by vicden1 where there are few jobs for professional, degreed persons.

But as much as I love it and am committed to my students, it does seriously cut into a person's motivations to prepare for class when you teach 6 classes of 30 individuals, are truly keeping the community college afloat, and yet your W-2 reports earnings of less than $20k. Full-time instructors are paid for non-classroom time. Adjunct instructors are paid for classroom time only. Anything else--meeting with students, prep, etc--is on my own time, something which is scarce because I must work another job to make ends meet.

I think regardless of the tone of the article and specific foibles of the author, he has a very good point. If colleges (community or otherwise) are going to rely so heavily on adjuncts to teach their students, those institutions ought to treat the adjuncts as the professionals we are.

28. tbohs - October 27, 2009 at 06:55 pm

Why are we in this job?
Like Sweeney, I'm a nwspaper editor who decided I would like to use my years of day-to-day wrting experience to help students learn to write better. I signed on with the local community college two years ago as an adjunct. I have been treated well. The pay won't let me quit my day job. But those things are not my main concern, my students are.
Anyone who goes into a field notorious for low pay, such as education, and then complains about the low pay, needs to rethink what he or she is doing. If you are looking for a big paycheck and lots of prestige, become a doctor, not a teacher.
Sweeney already works for cheapskates in the newspaper industry - trust me, they all are. He should be used to low pay. As for going to meetings, well, just show up. That's what newspaper people are trained to do. Besides, as one responder pointed out, not much of importance happens in most meetings.
Sweeney is concerned about the students, or so he says. No one is stopping him from becoming a better teacher. If he has taken on too many things and doesn't have time to prepare for class, whose fault is that? It all comes across as a bit too much whining.
Newspaper jobs stink. Call-center jobs stink. Corporate jobs stink. Adjunct teaching jobs stink. It's life. You don't like it, do something else. But, please, y'all quit complaining.

29. 12036743 - October 28, 2009 at 07:40 pm

As an adjunct, I give much more back than what I'm paid for. There's the rub. I don't think the writer is asking for "big paychecks." I would have to teach 15 classes to make full time pay-- w/out benifits. And the truth is, I feel guilty that I've propagated my own existence and need for 15 years by allowing myself to be exploited. What the line, "I propose a toast to my selfcontrol."

30. zagros - October 29, 2009 at 07:24 am

I worked for seven years as an adjunct professor after earning my Ph.D. During that time, I taught as many as 7 courses a semester, wrote three scholarly books and published 14 articles, several in top journals. I was either the top scorer or the second highest scorer in my teaching evaluations in the department while students received grades that were slightly below the departmental average in each of the four different institutions where I taught. I also sat in at department meetings as the adjunct representative at two universities. I was the editor-in-chief of one of the journals i my field and served as an officer in one of the regional learned societies.

For the first two years of that seven year time span, I was a "full-time" adjunct working at up to four different universities or colleges with none of them allowing me to teach more than three courses for fear that I was teaching too much as an adjunct (this wasn't because of a complete lack of benefits--since I taught at least three courses in the same university system, I did receive health insurance and earned credits in the pension plan). Little did they seem to care that I was teaching twice that many courses because I taught at other institutions.

The next five years, I worked as a manager in state government and a practicing economist, while still teaching up to four courses a semester (I taught then on nights and weekends). I continued to outproduce the full-time faculty in both research and in teaching, while holding on to the full-time managerial position outside of my teaching responsibilities. Yet when openings came for full-time faculty and I put in my application, I would not even be asked for an interview.

Finally, after seven years, I received my coveted full-time teaching position and left for it. Yet, I am not bitter about the experience at all. Why? Becuase, in fact, the ability to teach a variety of different courses and subjects (I taught in three different disciplines due to having an interdisciplinary Ph.D.) provided me with the tools to blossom as a researcher and professor when I did become full-time. The connections that I made at all those universities where I had previously taught have allowed me to find publishing opportunities that I never would have had if I had not been an adjunct. The ability to see governance structures at many different universities has provided me with respect from the administrators since I know first-hand about "best practices" at other universites. The practice of teaching so many courses has enabled me to be very efficient when it comes to doing preps for my courses and has let me understand what works and what does not work in the classroom, since I often changed things regularly when I was an adjunct so that I would not be bored with delivering the same lecture as so many of my full-time colleagues do.

The point is that the adjunct experience CAN be very valuable if you approach it from the standpoint of being an apprentice.

31. 12068801 - October 29, 2009 at 10:58 am

Karen19 writes: "Full time faculty have routines that they don't like to break. Their lives lack the sense of urgency that "real life" does.... A full time faculty member should be more than fully prepared for class. It's their only job." As a FT faculty member, I have to disagree with this. For so-called 'regular' faculty, teaching is far from the only job - over the course of a career one's responsibilities careen between research, teaching, and service assignments that can vary from the enjoyable (like serving on a discipline-based committee nationally or on campus) to the awful (like chairing a professorial responsibility committee or the traffic committee); many faculty have other career-oriented responsibilities, and most have families and the responsibilities that come with them.

But NONE of this excuses being unprepared for classroom activities.

And I hope it's pretty clear that ft professors do LIVE a "real life."

I do know that adjunct or 'contingent' faculty (awful term) deal with stressful and inadequate working conditions as well as an often desperate sense of insecurity, but please don't demonize FT faculty who are, increasingly, working in your behalf. After all, our graduate students are the next generation of adjuncts, since the proportion of regular positions is rapidly shrinking. Indeed, that shrinkage among the ranks of the tenured professoriate is only adding to the weight of service responsibilities for those of us who are left, so you can bet that we're fighting it!

32. mercy_otis_warren - October 29, 2009 at 11:28 am

"More and more, I find myself completely drained by the end of the day. In the middle of a great discussion, a student directs a comment to me. To the detriment of the discussion, I stopped listening a few comments ago, thinking instead about my decreasing checkbook balance or the dishes that have been piling up as I have been grading papers."

Yes, because full-time TT faculty in an R1 (my position) never have to worry about a decreasing checkbook balance. We never have to worry about the fact that, say, we are only given enough research support for a year to attend precisely one conference, but are nevertheless expected yearly to fill out a detailed activity report that demands costly research and conference travel, which ends up on my dime. It's not like I belong to 4 professional organizations (all needed to look active), which I pay for personally yearly at about $400 total. My Amazon charges never zoom up when I have to pay myself for $60 monographs I need for my research but our library will never buy (and the alternative is a limited-time ILL borrow).

And my dishes never pile up when, say, I have to finish a conference paper, or an article deadline, or a book review, or multiple committee assignments, while advising students for next semester, and putting in our book orders for the spring to observe a new mandate, and teaching a new class to fulfill the dean's demands that we up our enrollment figures in our department, or um, grading papers. (I am this week involved in SEVEN of these activities simultaneously--and my book is already out.)

This is not to mention the time I have spent over the past several weeks in various appointments for the infertility that now dogs me because I waited until well into my tenure clock to try to get pregnant, and the checkbook balance that will suffer when next week I hand over a $3500 check to my fertility doctor as the first payment of my IVF.

"Or I stopped listening just because I have had similar discussions four times already today, and I am, frankly, bored and/or exhausted."

Some of my tenured colleagues have been having the same discussions for 25 years. They still manage.

"At least once, I stopped listening because of the loud construction across the street, where the university is building a new performance center."

Yes, we full-time TT and tenured faculty are never bothered by noise (after all, the university issues everyone but adjuncts gold-plated noise-cancelling headphones). And TT and tenured people never have to deal with the juxtaposition of the university thinking their disciplines are pointless while building vanity buildings.

"And I couldn't help but remember the news a week earlier that budget cuts had put my job in jeopardy."

Yes, because TT faculty -- especially in the humanities -- never feel any insecurity about their jobs, because of budget cuts and other factors, like GETTING TENURE.

Hell, I could let MY mind wander during my classes over the things I have to do THAT ADJUNCTS DON'T. (According to the survey, 77% of you don't serve on committees.) Those meetings your FT colleagues go to? THEY TAKE A LOT OF TIME. Our adjuncts don't advise students, or talk with them about grad school, or about undergraduate grants and research projects, or have to attend job talks, or read job or grad school applications, or have to fill out progress reports, or have any research demands, or have to fly the flag when the Provost visits, or have to submit grant applications, or write book reviews, or try to keep up with the latest scholarship in your field.

You're an adjunct--you don't like it-- I get it. But, Mr. Sweeney, don't think for one effing second that your laziness and wandering attention and lack of devotion to your teaching is something that is justified by your status and your school's perceived treatment of you. TT faculty -- and even tenured faculty -- have an enormous amount of demands on their time YOU simply don't have, and regardless it is their responsibility -- like all teachers -- to give their students full attention.

Maybe you just suck as a teacher. If I were an adjunct, I wouldn't want to think you were typical.

33. isaacsweeney - October 29, 2009 at 02:13 pm

mercy_otis_warren:
I hope you don't teach composition, or communication, or something that involves (directly) critical reading, critical thinking, rhetoric, or argumentation.

34. adjunctcarol - October 29, 2009 at 05:00 pm

Thank you Isaac for writing the article.

I have worked as an adjunct for 11 years. I love my calling, my plight (as in a commitment of honor, not a bad situation)as an adjunct. I have it great as an adjunct. Most years I teach 40 credits (quarter system; FT is 45), I can teach Summer classes if they have a minimum number of students, have a shared office with a healthy and adequate amount of space and resources (a computer, Internet, IT help, a phone, a printer- although no private area to talk with students), some professional development funds (although quite limited), year round health benefits (I pay the premium), and accumulated sick leave. My pay per contact hour has almost doubled in 11 years (I still make under $30,000). This is in thanks to the atmosphere of the school I work for, and to Washington State Laws due to strong unions and some lawsuits.

Yet I was and am still outside looking in. I am invited to attend department meetings, union meetings, and commitee meetings (although it is all volunteer work). We established an adjunct specific committee to meet face-to-face with administrators last year. Our FT faculty are decent, caring and supportive. I help develop curriculum; choose my own books. New institutional ideas that impact my academic life come my way rather surprisingly at times, and if these new sytems or policies are not implemented in an adjunct friendly way or are inconsistent across divisions, I speak up.

I am not leaving this town, so I don't pursue FT work elsewhere. Do I feel like I give too much? Sure sometimes. But I am prepared for class as the students deserve the best instruction I can provide despite my title, pay, or whatever. I do wish I had the opportunity for a tenure review process to help my teaching.

35. commserver - October 29, 2009 at 07:32 pm

I am an adjunct who had to deal with students who didn't seem to be too prepared and didn't care.

I had been teaching the same course in the business department for 6 years and had 2 sections.

My full-time colleague teaching the same course could care less about the students and what they could learn or not learn. This person more than not gave student bad grades.

I on the other hand tried to help the students. I curved as much as possible. Yet when students complained about me I get called to the carpet. I was told that this semester because of "less than" ideal student evaluations I was not teaching the course. I was given some lesser course with fewer credit hours.

Being an adjunct often means having to put up with departments that can simply replace adjuncts at will.

36. lmj482 - October 29, 2009 at 11:02 pm

I am an adjunct teacher at a community college and totally relate to this article. I fell in love with teaching, but nearly ended up in the poor house trying to pursue teaching as a profession. In addition, I became well acquainted to what it was like to not have health care. I have taken another full time job to fulfill my financial/health care needs, but I have to ask why? Why are adjuncts undervalued? I did manage to get an evening class in addition to my full time job for winter quarter, and hopefully there will not be traffic stalls in between the day job and the teaching. I am pretty sure the students are really the ones losing out - I was very popular among the students.

37. pstein88 - October 31, 2009 at 12:06 pm

I'll never forget the martyr adjunct who, when walking after class to his twelve year old car, was greeted by the college president, who by chance was also walking to his own car, a much nicer car, and who said to the martyr: "Thanks for all you do!"

The martyr decided then and there, prodded perhaps by seeing the president's mercedes, to quit subsidizing the six figure incomes of top administrators and to find a better paying job.

Just because someone loves his job doesn't mean that he has to accept poverty wages.

In fact, there is an argument to be made that if you really love a job, a calling, and the people you serve, you will insist on dignity and real value being attached to the job, abhoring its being debased. You will choose to walk away from it and truly protect it rather than see it destroyed by consuming it and weighing it down with added numbers of putative devotees.

38. davidcomposer - October 31, 2009 at 09:06 pm

This is a little off the topic, but I have resolved to address it when it comes up. "Colleges and universities seem to value football stadiums, basketball teams, new performance centers, unnecessary renovations, and whatever project gets supported with money that could go to adjunct faculty members more than the learning of students who are taught by adjuncts. It's not a money issue; it's a priority issue." Music and the performing arts, my liberal arts colleagues, are academic disciplines and are part of the University's mission to the creation and preservation of knowledge. Public performances are part of the work of these disciplines, and should not be equated with the entertainment, recreation, and public relations functions of sports programs, however valuable these activities may be perceived to be. As an adjunct in music going on 12 years, I would suggest that Isaac treat himself to a student recital, film, or play to refresh his mind, and also to stimulate his class discussions. Use paper plates.

39. laoshi - November 01, 2009 at 02:14 am

Adjuncts are valuable, as teaching fodder. But they ain't faculty and shouldn't be surprised at the sorry lot they've accepted.

40. davidcomposer - November 01, 2009 at 10:41 pm

On the contrary. We are faculty, and we do an important job. We bring to our students the perspective of scholars and creative minds that do not depend on the hot house environment of academe to practice our profession. I and my fellow adjuncts in music work professionally outside the university as performing musicians, church musicians, composers, arrangers, writers, etc, bringing our professional experience into the classroom. Personally, I rather enjoy not having to go to faculty meetings, prepare tenure reviews. or get involved in department politics. There is a certain amount of job security in not being a threat to anyone. But then, we musicians are used to surviving in the "real world." I can see how it can be hard if you are in a discipline that prepares you for teaching in higher ed and nothing else.

41. adjunctcarol - November 02, 2009 at 10:19 am

The academic situation of treating adjunct as commodity, cheap labor, an accepted form of slavery... what have you is simply that: a situation. Situations change and it is the ones who understand it who can make a difference. Keep on teaching, while making headway toward equity, and respect: keep fresh for the students, bring up issues that demonstrate blatant or subtle disrespect, develop and support your unions, compliment the powers that be for positives, sue if called for (unfortunately money talks), remember your passwords, smile if you can, and hold your ground.

42. timebandit - November 03, 2009 at 08:39 am

I think this author would be better off trying to teach high school. Better pay, job security, etc. With a master's degree, I'm sure it would be pretty easy to get a rapid teaching certificate. That's what I think when I hear people say "I love teaching" as opposed to "I love research." Plus you can always supplement that by adjuncting one college class on the side, as some of my colleagues did at the last place I taught part time.

43. johnny_sevier - November 04, 2009 at 01:02 pm

No one who is teaching as an adjunct faculty member should do so with the expectation of steady work or a living wage. You can't expect to make a career for yourself as an adjunct. That's not how the positions are designed. Using adjuncting for a couple of years to supplement your income while you write up? Good idea. Using adjuncting to share the professional expertise you've acquired in your day job? Good idea. Using adjuncting to stay intellectually active though you've retired or become a stay-at-home parent? Good idea. But don't think you can have a humane, respectable, professional life based solely on adjuncting. You can't. If you try to, you will end up broke and bitter, and you'll have to shoulder some of the blame yourself.

44. adjunctcarol - November 05, 2009 at 02:15 pm


Never ever expect steady work, but sometimes one can better predict steady work. The worst part is not being able to stay emotionally distant and stay uncommitted to the students, your colleagues, and the school itself in case you are replaced. Repeat to self daily: "I accepted this work, the pay, the insecurity and ... but expect respect and demand it"

Nothing is sure but death. A huge portion of our adjuncts have taught well over 10 years. Most are not going anywhere anytime soon. If someday another FT in our department is hired, our school will also have more classes, and with a de facto seniority system, I will most likely remain employed.

45. laoshi - November 27, 2009 at 01:43 pm

@davidcomposer (#40): Adjuncts don't have to "to go to faculty meetings" because they ain't faculty.

46. isaacsweeney - December 03, 2009 at 06:25 am

laoshi: Then why are they called adjunct faculty? Perhaps you would like to enlighten us with some reasons for your claim? Maybe a little logic instead of baseless comments?

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