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Life as an adjunct

December 31, 2006

This was buried in the comments section of this post. As the new year starts, where do you stand?

There’s one segment of the adjunct population not mentioned in any great detail in this discussion; namely, those for whom adjunct work is the only option. For myself and many of my friends, the idea that there are a bounty of well-paid non-academic jobs out there is a canard.

BOA, you pointed out somewhere that you are self-taught in your IT job. That’s impressive. You also pointed out something I have had a hard time explainign to my non-academic friends: my Ph.D. is not worth the paper it’s printed on. You did this more gently, though, when you noted that your graduate work was not germane to your present IT job. I’ll take a further step: when I have applied for non-academic work, I leave my Ph.D. off of my resume. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help. There’s the small matter of all those years working as a “teacher” at however many colleges and universities. And that’s a hard one to explain.

I and my cohort are in an odd position. Most of us would hate to see the end of adjunct and casual positions in academe. Why? Becasue we would be out of work. Sadly, adjunct work is the only work we can get.

After a certain age, 30? 35? 40? Starbucks just is not a viable option.

I’ve come full circle. I used to be striving for a full-time position. I wrote, published, went to conferences, the whole deal. But … nothing. I got interviews, but never got the job — the list of stated reasons is baffling. And then, finally, I just gave up trying. But I kept teaching, albeit as an adjunct. Why? Because I had (and have) no choice. Now, when I learn that someone is retiring, I hope they don’t re-fill that position because that means there may be more work for me.

It’s a living. Granted, it’s a high-brow version of a McJob. But it does pay the bills.

  1. Inside the Philosophy Factory permalink
    January 2, 2007 10:35 pm

    There are better and worse places to be an adunct. In Nebraska the pay was uniformly low and there was 0 hope of job security if you didn’t kiss the backside of the chair.

    In Minnesota, at least in the community college system, adjuncts are covered by the union, they get comparable pay and health insurance –what they don’t have is long-term job security or their own offices… but, that is about it.

  2. Piss Poor Prof permalink
    January 4, 2007 10:46 pm

    I congratulate the union shops. I have no doubt they allow for more perks (which health coverage is no small thing).

    I can’t help but wonder, though, if unions are not much more than a stop-gap solution. The real numbers of tt-positions is declining, which leaves that no-small thing of job security ever-more tenous.

  3. Second Line permalink
    January 5, 2007 2:09 pm

    Actually, in my experience unions are more a part of the problem than the solution. (this saddens me greatly) When unions push for a provision or clause stating that if an adjunct teaches more than x credits within a calendar year, they must then be couted as full time employees, they effectively limit my earning power. The school or department is never going to allow me or any other adjunct to teach over the credit limit, no matter how good we may be. In the end, it’s far more cost effective for them to simply hire another body rather than allow me, or anyone else, to teach more classes. And it doesn’t matter if I would be willing to forego full-time status or benefits for the sake of more classes to teach.

    I’m not really sure what kind of broader ideological paradigm unions employ or adhere to. It looks to be some form of utilitarianism. The problem, though, is that accomplishing the “greatest good for the greatest number” turns out benefit a very small number. Sometimes I wish they’d ammend their aproach to something like achieving an “okay good, for an even greater number.”

  4. Inside the Philosophy Factory permalink
    January 8, 2007 8:22 pm

    “second line” — it depends on the union. The thing is that our contract states that if you teach two classes (4 credits, maybe?) you get on the salary scale, at three you get a percentage of health insurance, at four — more of the health insurance and at five classes you get 100% health insurance.

    Since it costs the same salary for every adjunct over two classes, and the health insurance costs happen the same as well — adjuncts don’t get screwed very often.

    Also, the contract says that 70% of courses must be taught by full-time unlimited (tenure/tenure track) faculty.

    What is making some worry now is a provision under discussion that if you do X number of consecutive semesters at 5 credits (full-time) then you are automatically full-time unlimited. Since the deans and often the departments don’t really want the adjuncts to become unlimited, the worry is that they’ll be allowed to do X-1 semesters and then get the boot — or take a cut to avoid that provision.

  5. Piss Poor Prof permalink
    January 9, 2007 2:32 pm

    ITPF: I am interesting to find out if your suspiciouns about X-1 hold out. I suspect that they will and won’t. That is, unless you have a scrupulous dean (which you probably do), then (s)he will want to be fair to all. In order to be fair, they would have to assume every adjunct is on the way to, I think your term is, “unlimited.”

    When everyone is on track to be unlimited, then no one is. How to solve? Reduce the total number of courses (which I wonder if your union addresses) just under the limit. Wal-Martification of adjuncts…

  6. SourDad permalink
    January 10, 2007 12:31 am

    Where do I stand? Still straddling the fence. This fall the faculty at the old cc were set to strike. One thing they were fighting, you guessed it, an increase in adjuncts. I cut my throat either way, not that they wanted or needed my support. If the faculty win, which they did, there’s no increase in work for adjuncts, if the administration had won there would have may have been no new full-time position for the next decade. Adjuncting more is just sticking it in deeper, and I would like to think they will replace the soon to retire. Still hoping…

  7. Second Line permalink
    January 10, 2007 4:19 pm

    The thing is, while one person made out well (the full-time hire), many others (adjuncts) were screwed in this. The irony is that in the scenario you paint, Sourdad, I would have sided with the administration.

    I’m aware that at this point I haven’t a snow ball’s chance in hell of getting a tenure track job, or even a non-t-t full time one. I’ve been out of grad. school for too long (7 years) and the academic community views me as “damaged” goods. Adjuncting, then, is my only option.

    And believe it or not, in a calender year, including Summers, if I teach about 15 to 17 classes, I can earn a decent enough living. And I can teach this many classes because I’ve been doing it for so long.

    I wonder if soon we will really fall into the madness of requiring adjuncts to have publication records. yes, that would be madness.

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