In a review of my self-published essay ebook on adjunct life, called Students Losing Out, Claudia Dreifus, co-author of Higher Education?, said, “Here’s the dirty big secret of American higher education: It is being financed by thousands of underemployed adjunct faculty who work only for pennies and the love of teaching.” She’s right, but this is only one of many “dirty big” secrets. In my first year as a tenure-track professor, I have discovered another one: the tenure-track job sure can be a cushy one.
After being a full-time adjunct for a while, this tenure-track stuff is kind of a cinch. Of course, everything has to do with perspective. I used to travel between two colleges to cobble together minimum wage; now, I go to work in the morning and stay in the same place until I go home. I also teach at a two-year institution and the majority of my job is supposed to be devoted to teaching; I’m sure this situation is vastly different from a research-heavy institution. Still, I am required to serve the college in various capacities and engage in scholarship and/or other varieties of professional development. I also have advisees, something I never had as an adjunct. A few times during the semester, I even have to take stacks of papers home and stay up late grading them. While this sounds like a lot, it’s still a pretty good thing, relatively speaking.
For example, I recently attended the New Faculty Majority’s national summit. I’m getting reimbursed for all of my travel expenses plus a daily allowance for meals, which I didn’t go over; I’m actually going to make a little money on this trip. Another example: This semester, I’m teaching a 5/5 load, but my classes never start before 9 a.m. and they never end after 12:20 p.m. Add in some office hours and it’s rare that I leave my office after 4 p.m. As Dolly Parton said, “Workin’ nine to four …” or something like that. The thing that really makes this all so great is a livable wage all year long.
I worked hard to find this position and I still work hard. I still love what I do and I am truly grateful that Richard Bland College has given me a chance. At one point, when I was an adjunct, I was mildly scared of a tenure-track job, in no small part because of the comments from tenured and tenure-track faculty members who frequent The Chronicle’s Web site. They made it sound rough. So far, compared to being a full-time adjunct, it’s been anything but.