Sunday, April 05, 2009

What's it like to be higher ed adjunct faculty?
Tell your story

For decades, higher education has been aping the personnel practices of corporate America and relying more and more on part time, temporary, and non-tenure track faculty, especially to teach the course required for graduation.

While this is great for administrators to free up money in their budget for other things, it can wreck havoc on the lives of those who didn't expect to get rich teaching but did expect to be able to pay their rent and student loan payments every month and know that they'd continue to have a job if they were doing it relatively well.

Various groups have been working on changing this at the state level, and adjuncts and contingent faculty are finally starting to come together at a national level in groups like the New Majority Faculty, which I am a part of.

To help us figure out which things to focus on changing, WE NEED YOUR STORIES.

You can post them as text in the comments of this article or if you are feeling more multimedia, as a video reply to this youtube thread.

Tell us what has happened to you as an adjunct, non-tenure track, part time, temporary (usually all of the above) faculty member in higher education, both on the job and in your personal life as a consequence of having a job.

For example, I told my own story here, and the story of an instructor who resorted to going through the trash for pop cans to make ends meet. I have known instructors who still lived with their parents into their fifties and others who have had marriages unravel because their income didn't live up to their spouse's expectations for someone with their education level.

On the professional front, a friend of mine set up a PACE program for his college, then when the time came to give someone a full-time tenure track job to run it, they hired someone from outside the school (who promptly asked my friend how to do his job since he had padded his resume). Just recently, this instructor was fired from his community college after eighteen years of service, most likely because he was vice president of the part time faculty union.

Your stories will not only help us figure out what to fight for but give us powerful evidence to present to legislators and groups that work on higher education issues that using Walmart labor practices does real harm to real people.

If you wish to remain anonymous, that's fine, though the more specific the details, the more useful your story will be, for example, say what state you are in, whether you are at a two-year or four-year college or research university, public or private, what discipline you teach in, your qualifications to teach, and how long you've been doing it. Any information you don't want to include is okay though.


Cletus said...

How stupid must you be to live with your parents into your 50's before seeking employment elsewhere? Oh that's right... you'll just CENSOR this post b/c you're a pathetic whiner that can't handle dissent or opinions that don't conform to your own.

Jim said...

I spent several years on the part-time, adjunct academic staff trail after finishing my psych PhD just in time for the Carter debacle followed by the Reagan Depression. I thought I was well on my way to a nice tenure-track position when I left grad school with a half-dozen articles accepted by peer-reviewed journals, but that was not to be. Between academic stints I lived on soft money doing program evaluation work and the like, until I retreaded myself as a clinical psychologist and abandoned all hope of the academic career I originally sought, and which I still mourn--although my income is no doubt better than it would have been in Academe.

Professor Smartass said...


Where are your kids going to go college if our higher ed system implodes like Wall Street from imitating their practices?

Is a computer programmer a loser because his job is outsourced to India & China?

Jethro Bodine said...

Professor Smartass: My response has to do with a post that was removed by the blogger simply b/c it was contrary to the bloggers stance. But to answer your question, a computer programmer is a loser if he's 50 and still living in his parents basement. Not only is s/he a loser but the quitessential moron for not having sought greener pastures. You have evidence to the contrary? Or should you change your monicker to professor dumbass? And BTW, those high profiles on wall street... do they have PhD's or don't they? So what's your point?

Anonymous said...

I had a contract to teach graduate-level classes in my field when I was still ABD and then wound up getting pregnant, with my due date smack in the middle of the semester. Of course no senior faculty would cover for me, and I was in no position to break the contract, so I had to come up with creative solutions to buy myself some time off.

I couldn't afford to pay even the subsidized costs of on-campus daycare, which didn't take into consideration how I would manage to take time off in the immediate postpartum period. I decided to build in a no-classroom time research project for the students around my due date, with the hope that I would have at least a week to recover from the birth before I had to go back to work.

Long story short, my baby wound up being late and I had to go back into the classroom days after she was born. To their credit, my students completely understood how unfair the situation was and gave me a huge round of applause when I showed up to teach my first postpartum class (with my breasts leaking the entire time).

All of my students that semester were very understanding and patient when it came to getting assignments back later than usual, restrictions on office hours, my need to bring my baby to class and nurse her on occasion, etc. But I should not have had to rely on their good will--had they given me bad recommendations as a result, I would have lost my contract for the following semester.

So many people have said to me over the years, "Oh, you're so lucky to have such a flexible job," having no idea that someone working at even the worst non-academic job at least gets three to six weeks of maternity leave. I got none.

Anonymous said...

I’ve worked as a part-time adjunct for twenty years at a number of schools. At one school when the head of the department got tenure, he fired me a half hour later, sending me a letter that said a composition course I taught 6 years ago (12 semesters ago) did not get a good rating from the students. At another school where I taught for seventeen years I was fired because I had only a B+ rating from students, yet I had published more articles and books than anyone on the full-time faculty, one of my books being translated into several languages. I have two masters, am an A. B. D., yet the almost all full-time faculty that I’ve met look down their noses at adjuncts, even when you’ve published considerably more than they have. It’s a pathetic situation; the system remains extremely corrupt, narrowly bureaucratic, and blindly and opportunistically narcissistic.

Anonymous said...

I'm not an educator, I'm just here to say things are bad all around. I have worked in IT for years, and suddenly a couple of years ago guys from India start showing up. I don't fault the Indians, they are nice guys just trying to survive, but there are SCADS of educated IT American citizens here in America, why import IT workers? Bottom line, the big telecoms etc are trying to save/make as much as possible, Americans be damned. This goes for all types of employment, including education, unfortunately.

Carol Jordan said...

I taught at the Community Colleges in CA for several years before I was downsized in 2003. I can so relate with anonymous' posting about outsourcing of jobs to India and China. I was forced to sell my home and relocate to Oregon where I am paid 1/3 of what I made in CA. As far as Cletus' comment about being a "pathetic whiner," Cletus obviously hasn't had to balance a household budget on a part-time faculty's salary, and jobs are not that easy to find to supplement our poverty-level wages.

Professor Smartass said...


Some people choose their career based on what they enjoy doing more than the financial rewards that come with it, so the greener financial pasture has a psychological cost.

Also, this problem was not created entirely by market forces but by legislation that created multiple classes of faculty and a decades long assault on the very idea of higher education and the funding of it.

Therefore, by getting together and trying to change things, we are not "whining" but participating in democracy rather than believing that the rules of the game came from God and can never be changed.

Chris is Maryland said...

Adjunct pay is disgraceful. Period. But I have a somewhat different approach that works for me. I teach at a private, four-year school in Maryland and have for 17 years. I treat it as a rewarding hobby (not financially rewarding, but rewarding nonetheless). I'm passionate about teaching, passionate about my field, but I do it on my terms. The disgraceful pay gives me that leverage. I don't need the money. Hell, I could deliver pizzas and make as much, but fortunately, I have another career that pays me a comfortable salary. And I let my students and "superiors" know that. The $2,000 or so I get for teaching a three-credit course barely covers expenses--and it certainly isn't enough to compel me to attend faculty meetings, "standardize" my syllabi based on guidelines a committee drew up, join in presidential "roundtables" or administrative hearings, let alone debate with students about whether they should earn full credit for a paper they turned in three weeks late, or whether my attendance policies are "fair." Someday, I'm sure, I'll annoy someone enough that they won't renew my contract. I'll be sorry when that happens--but not so sorry that I'd be willing to change the way I teach or run my classroom. The institution has far more to lose than I do (sadly, so do the students). I have plenty of other rewarding hobbies. In the meantime, I'll continue to teach a class that students love and recommend to their friends, and that helps them master the material, make a living in the field, and get into grad school if that's what they want. A lot of adjuncts, in my experience, approach teaching hat in hand, as if the school is doing them a favor by hiring them. It seems like they don't understand or properly value their own contributions. That's inexcusable. You can't force an administration to value its teachers, but you certainly CAN recognize and properly value what you bring to the classroom.

Sherry L. Ackerman said...

I am a little surprised at the lack of collegiality and professionalism being offered one another on this board. It strikes me that there is much more to be gained through unified, conscious and compassionate discourse than there is through mud-slinging and/or name-calling.

One of the points that I would like to raise is that of "choice". It seems to get overlooked that some adjuncts actually prefer part-time employment and consciously choose it....rather than simply 'accepting' it because 'they can't find full-time employment'. Cases in point are those who have retired from full-time positions but wish to remain active in their discipline, those parenting young children and/or caring for aging parents, those who are actively engaged in the business world but still have a passion for The Academy and so forth. I think it is critical that we begin to revision the "profile" of the adjunct from merely a downtrodden, harried individual who "can't find full-time employment" to also include the curious, eager academic who may actually prefer part-time employment at this point in his/her life.

I have been self-employed as a consultant for three decades and, thus, have elected to keep my hand in The Academy via part-time status. I have published several books in my field and the part-time position offers me an "affiliation" when approaching publishers. My consultant business is, of course, much more lucrative than college teaching. I, nonetheless, get a lot of "juice" from the classroom exchanges that enrich and enliven my writing projects. I think that it is quite unfortunate the way that adjunct faculty are regarded by most full-time faculty. There seems to be an erroneous cultural myth that adjuncts are simply, as stated above, "persons who can't find full-time work". This, in my case, is certainly not true.

I have been active in working toward adjunct inclusion and equality in my setting, but have encountered considerable resistance to the idea. I have not found "the system" to be very progressive in terms of this particular issue.

Sherry L. Ackerman, Ph.D.

Caroline said...

It's degrading, demoralizing, depressing,....and extremely satisfying. I love the work, love the students. Hate not having health insurance when the "full-timers" do (even though I teach at least as many classes), Praying and writing for public option, elimination of pre-existing condition exclusions, so I can at least get individual coverage that actually covers my needs, so I can keep going to this low-paying job that I completely love. Thanks for your story, Chris from Maryland.