Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Adjuncts! Tell Your Story Here!

(Editor note: Please share this post far and wide - on twitter, on your blog, Facebook, wherever. I don't blog-flog as a general rule, but I welcome any sharing of this post that anyone wants to do. Let's get as many stories as possible, and then we'll see what we can do as far as getting them out to a wider audience.

Also: I'm not going to respond to comments because I just want this to be a comment thread of stories, with minimal distractions. But I am reading all of them and listening.)

So it's been a rough week in internet-land for postacademics and adjuncts (and their defenders).

If you have a strong stomach for condescending, insulting comments, click here or here. But if not, let's just say that there has been a lot of insulting nonsense posted recently at academic forums, with (presumably) tenure-track faculty and/or grad students implying that academia is still basically a meritocracy, that folks who don't get tenure-track jobs are deficient in some way, and that adjuncting isn't really a major problem (and that even if it is, adjuncts know the market is crap so they deserve what they get).

It's cruel nonsense, of course ... but it's still obnoxious, and I don't think we should let it sit out there unchallenged.

But in an era when data about adjuncts is hard to come by and where graduate departments don't publish their placement statistics, it's hard to refute what those people are saying.

A few of us were talking about this problem on Twitter, and came to the conclusion that one thing that should happen is for more adjuncts and other contract faculty to share their experiences in a public forum. If more of you "come out" publicly about your experiences, then we stand a better chance of drowning out the voices who are insisting that everything is equal, that the most deserving always get ahead, and that things really aren't that bad out there for folks in the social sciences and humanities.

We need, in essence, a chorus of people who are on the lower rungs of academia to stand up and tell their stories.

Ideally, every single adjunct would have a column in a major magazine where they could do this. :) But in reality, of course, most of you don't have that kind of platform, and/or may not be comfortable "outing" yourselves publicly in that way - using your real name, and opening yourself up to shame and criticism.

So, here's a public (anonymous) platform for you to tell your stories, adjuncts. Take over my blog!

I want to hear about your working conditions, about how grad school did (or did not) prepare you for what you encountered on the job market, and about how adjuncting makes you feel as a person and as a scholar. If we hear stories from a lot of you, then it becomes easier to drown out the nasty comments and Pollyannaish narratives that are out there.

It certainly won't end the problems in academia, of course, but it might help in some small way ... if only by shaping the discourse on adjuncthood around your experiences, rather than around the statements and assumptions of tenured faculty.

So leave a comment (or email me at leavingacademia at gmail.com). Tell us about your adjunct life.


I have no strict guidelines for what I want people to write, but I do have some general thoughts about what would be most helpful. It would be great for people to include some basic info about (1) when you finished (or left) grad school, (2) what discipline you're in, and (3) what type of grad program you attended - top 50, an Ivy, a state school in the Midwest, whatever.

Then, tell us what adjuncting/contract teaching is like for you. How many classes you teach (or how many campuses you teach at), how much money you earn (preferably annually), and what kind of benefits/job security you have (or don't have) at the schools where you teach.

And finally, I'm curious about whether you feel that your grad program/advisors prepared you for what you faced on the academic job market. Did you know things would be tough and that you'd probably wind up adjuncting, or did you think you'd get a tenure-track job? Did you feel like your advisors were honest with you about your chances on the market, or not? Were you led to believe that leaving academia was possible?

So tell me your story, either in comments or over email. Or write it on your own blog and post a link here. You can leave a name or stay anonymous. Give as much detail as you want.

Don't be afraid to leave a comment - I can't tell, specifically, where you're posting from on my blog stats. I won't be publicizing any identifying info I get about you, obviously. And I will be deleting any negative, attacking comments off of this post, if they appear.

This is a space for you to tell your story, and I'll keep it safe for you. So let's hear from you ... what's it like to be an adjunct, and how do you feel about how you got to this point?

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(Huge, huge shout-out here to the people who do this full-time: The Adjunct Project, Adjunct Action, New Faculty Majority, and many others who I'm probably leaving out. I am most definitely not the first person to try to collect the stories of adjuncts and I'm no expert on this ... but since this blog has gotten a bit more traffic in recent weeks, I thought I'd take this chance to collect some stories to (hopefully) help out the larger movement and to advance the debate about adjuncthood/academia more generally.)

17 comments:

  1. Thanks, I'm adding this to our blogroll (#NewFac Web2.0) and "bearing witness" file.

    Labor historian Jack Metzgar explains the "bearing witness" concept better than I can at We are worth more

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  2. Great idea - Totally in support of crowd-sourcing this movement. The Adjunct Project's initial google doc a few years ago was a great start, but the narration of our plight is an important element that seems to be generally lacking. I'll put mine in context: I'm Canadian and was trained in the UK in History from one of the top 5 departments. The PhD was fully funded. I returned to Canada to teach and finish writing up. In general I think Canadian adjuncts are better off than our American counterparts, whose working conditions and culture I find shocking in many ways. I’ve taught at several Canadian institutions since completing; I’ve got a book out, several articles, and last year received a $70K research grant. I've applied to over 80 jobs since 2006 and received ONE interview.

    Last year, when I held the grant that employed 8 PhD students, I was on social assistance in order to help make my rent: this struck me as a little weird.

    What I don't think departments realize is that as much as there are people scraping the barrel, there are many of us who are simply exhausted by this rat race. I am; my partner is. I teach, I obtain grants, I instruct and supervise students - undergrad and grad - and right now because of austerity budget cuts we're cobbling together enough for me to remain working at my institution. I guess for me it comes down to quality of life: I live in a large fantastic city where I pay c.$75/mth to get around on a good transportation system. I walk to work. If I took a 9 month VAP somewhere what would that get me? I'd loose all of the networking I'd done to help create a support system for myself outside of academia, I'd loose access to vital research resources, I'd have to BUY A CAR and MOVE - not inconsequential costs - and then it would all be 'done' after 9 months. And the teaching load would be what? a 5/5? a 4/4 or a 4/4/4? With maybe two repeats? Screw that - seriously. I enjoy teaching, but I also firmly believe that what makes me a good teacher (I have damned fine reviews) is that I constantly bring my research life into the classroom. So a VAP teaching load is not only financially unwise for me, it's also intellectually unwise.

    One thing which is apparent in all of this is the inability on the part of TT faculty to see the fundamental distinction between a salaried culture and a waged culture. If you pay someone to teach a course, often the hours are broken down. But are Adjuncts paid to TRAIN and TEACH student assistants who are incompetent? Often the response is 'this is mentoring'- yes, yes it is. But at the hourly rate I'm being paid, it doesn't actually come into the contract break down, nor does it actually figure into how I pay rent. If you want to micro-service intellectual life, you have to break down something as important and crucial for teaching development as 'mentoring'. It needs to be in the contract just like office hours, marking, lecturing, and invigilating. In my mind this also extends to research. My university receives plaudits for my research production even though I'm not paid for it. Yes, they supported my grant via indirect costs. But is that the pay off? There is an unwritten rule that basically says 'hey, I need affiliation, and you need research, so let's make a deal?' But is it fair? Are Institutions acting like those huge journal publishing machines everyone is angry about? Again - micro-service structure says perhaps maybe there's something here. Or maybe perhaps our academic culture shouldn't be so hasty to look askance at 'independent scholars'.

    At the end of the day, I'm just tired - grad school didn't prepare me for this. Adjunct work has an amazing potential to act as a silencer. We need other ways to realize voice: this is a great start.

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  3. The 2 Year Life of the MindMay 22, 2013 at 12:22 PM

    I would like to add another point of view to this discussion.

    I AM a full time CC faculty member and have been for 4 years. I have to teach 5 classes per semester for the full contract, but usually teach 6 for an extra class, with the extra class tacking on an extra $1200 for the adjunct rate. We are losing enrollment (as are many colleges across the country). There is a rumor that we will be required to teach 6 classes at regular contract rate (currently in the 37K-42K range, depending on whether you have a PhD or Masters), which means I would take a salary cut if I taught 6 classes instead of 7. Also, we have to teach summers and a full load is 4 classes (in only 8 weeks).

    It's exhausting. I'm exhausted. Students are now being referred to as "customers" and the "customer" is always right. I spent all last academic year getting constantly sick. I'm never sick, but now my job is making me. Students have the upper hand and we are pressured to pass students who don't deserve it. I deserve better than this. A job shouldn't make you miserable.

    While I understand the plight of adjuncts, I can't figure out why in the hell you would want to do this full time. Yes, you make more money and you get benefits, but there are other demeaning things you're made to do because as full time faculty, you're expensive (as we are often told) an just as expendable. I'm VERY VERY unhappy. I have a goal to get into the business world and might jump ship for temp work very soon. I can't take it anymore. I am demeaned and disrespected on a daily basis. My classroom authority is gone. I don't even know why I'm there because someone with a bachelors could teach the level my classes are at. As for the adjuncts, make your goal full time work in something that gives you a life and a living wage. I can promise you that Academia does not meet those qualifications. Whatever you do, good luck.

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    1. thanks for this important comment! i want to add that I don't believe adjuncts and post-acs are fighting for what you have, but rather, fighting to change the exploitative working conditions in the university for everybody. I got out of academia in 2006 for just the reasons you say, but if you think you are miserable in your working conditions, imagine doing the same work for less pay, and with no benefits and no job security, because that's what is happening for adjuncts. when i was still in the business, i knew people teaching 10 classes at 3 different institutions in one semester just to make ends meet. so then add commuting and no office space. total anonymity. right now the university has successfully divided and conquered, but if FT, TT and tenured faculty could all put their heads together with PT, adjunct or whatever you want to call the lower rung, perhaps we could really see some change. you being here and participating in this conversation is a start!

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    2. My heart goes out to you. This sounds straight-up hellacious. I'm so sorry. I hope your ship-jumping is spectacularly successful.

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  4. mfa in poetry, state university , 1995

    after ten years teaching at a local community college, i complained (once) about (horrific) job conditions and was essentially blacklisted--not fired outright, but offered no classes in the fall or any time thereafter.

    tried talking to the chair: she didn't return my calls. tried talking to the dean: she cited budget cuts. asked my union rep about it: he said that my two phone calls to his office were a waste of his (not our) time (less than whole ten minutes, total, btw).

    i now "unteach," meeting students informally for "office hours" at local cafe while still working the kind of odd jobs students usually have (i was a roadie for a local rock band, for instance).

    presently, i owe $50,000 in student loans (which are in default) and continue to live just above the official poverty line--as i did the entire time i was an adjunct.

    and i'm not even complaining.

    thanks for keeping me anonymous as one of the "perks" of my job was acquiring a stalker, lol.

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  5. I have a Masters in secondary education and one in English literature. I've been a high school teacher for 12 years, but I wanted to make the move to teaching at the college level. So, I got trained in online teaching, began teaching for an online high school, and began adjuncting at the local community college.
    I loved adjuncting, and the pay wasn't bad- I taught one class per semester that was a hybrid, two hours of face to face and three hours of online lab work for $480/month. My kids were great. My issues stemmed from my position (or lack there of) on campus.
    I never knew if my class made until days before class. Despite being promised more classes, and more sections, I saw other, less qualified adjuncts hired after me, while my position remained the same. I never got resources, or exams from the department. I was left completely alone.
    Which was fine in many ways, because I knew how to teach. But it made me wonder.
    Because I taught full time, I did not have to worry about my adjunct job covering benefits. I'm actually leaving the area this summer to start a PhD program in English literature. Because of my background, I'm not nervous at all about teaching. But I am nervous about what job market I'll end up in. I am nervous about the reality of juggling several adjunct jobs where I'm invisible as I was here.
    But frankly, after 12 years of teaching high school, while conditions are bleak, they are in many ways better, so I'm hopeful.

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  6. MA in English, state school in the midwest, 2004. I was fed the old line: "When the tenured retire, positions will open." Instead, a different, uncomfortably familiar storyline happened. To cut costs, universities and colleges began relying on cheap, temporary labor. I started work as an adjunct in 2005 with the mistaken idea that with hard work, my position would become full-time. Not so.

    I get less and less classes each semester as my college relies more heavily each year on grad students' labor without granting them tuition remission. I make between $19,000 and $26,000 a year. No benefits. No 401K. "Paycheck to paycheck" is pushing it.

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  7. phd in english, 2004. I responded to another comment above, but regarding my own experience as an adjunct, I wanted to add that adjuncting forced me to ask myself every day,"Can adjuncting turn a person into a bad teacher the same way that prison can turn a person into a criminal?" I quit it back in 2006, and it was the most unhealthy environment I've ever worked in.

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  8. Let's give this another bump. I started Tumblr to collect adjunct story links in one place, set to accept submissions too, but most will be links.This is the next post, syndicated to the New Faculty Majority Facebook page and our twitter streams.

    You can refresh the post returning to drafts and republishing or re-dating it to bring it back to the top (internet attention span being what it is). I'm not sure what returning to drafts and then republishing would do to comments.

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  9. ERMEGERD JC, I clicked on that first one, because I didn't in a million years think there'd be an *entire, 9-page CHE forum dedicated solely to how much I suck*. Holy shit. Those people are HELLA MEAN. What the eff? I understand that Internet people are by nature hella mean, but that shit's going to make me cry myself to sleep. The bright side is that I now have a lot of choice new adjectives and descriptors to use in my essay. STAY STRONG, PEOPLE! I'm still here, I'm still alive, that straight-up-bananas level of vitriol isn't harming me, so it won't harm anyone else either. Love to all my postac homies, as usual! ~Rebecca

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  10. I have two MAs, one in philosophy and another in English. I graduated with both degrees from Indiana University in 2010. I was an adjunct professor for four years at a state community college, Ivy Tech, where I taught Ethics, Introduction to Philosophy, Composition 1 and 2, World Literature, and American Literature. I typically taught 6 classes a semester, and earned roughly $10k a semester for doing so. I quit in January 2013.

    I hated every aspect of my job besides lecturing and discussion. Most of my students were uncritical, unprepared for college, and unmotivated to move themselves forward. The administration grouped together ESL, non-traditional (ex-cons, unemployed, older, etc.), special-needs, and traditional students all in the same classroom without distinguishing between each groups distinct needs. I dealt with people losing their homes, potentially losing unemployment benefits (if they didn't maintain a C average), and under the threat of failing the conditions of their parole (same situation as above). I saw non-traditional students enroll, take student loan money, and never return to class. We gave students three opportunities to do so before cutting their aid. Once, I saw a student walk off campus with 4 new laptops from the bookstore to go the pawnshop.

    I believed the worst part of the job was evaluating student writing. It wasn't just poor quality work, but it often seemed a window in their minds and souls. I've never been more frightened to be an American. Our country has been overrun by uncritical religious zealots and freewheeling morons without an iota of sensitivity towards other cultures, nor the evaluative faculty for determining human worth beyond a person's cash value.

    Our culture has been reduced to a state of moral degradation beyond words. When I was a graduate student, I watched a tenured professor present on the aesthetics of cum shots. I am an atheist, nihilist, and punk rocker. I don't believe in demarcating high and low culture; however, there is still a need for critical evaluation and informed judgement. I can't help but believe our society has staged this mess for itself. The rites of Spring must be given, and I recommend sacrificing our laissez faire manner if horror is the price of freedom.

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  11. From blog, I learned two things. Firstly, the life or working condition between being a postdoc and being an adjunct does not seem to change significantly. I did not know that adjunct salary is just above poverty line which is what postdoc salary is at the moment. Secondly, I feel that the academia system seems to need restrcuturing. These days academic institutes are operating like an corporate and money rolling machine, and in the advanced degrees, the professors or principal investigators are busy with grant writing, lecturing and committee works but mentoring the students or the employees in their lab. In some discipline, you might not need a postdoc experience to become a professor; however, in some, postdoc'ing is basically a modern well-educated slavery system. This makes me feel even sadder since as a well-educated bunch, we can't change the environment and I know a lot of them are not willing to do anything about it.

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  12. I just received a contract that pays a very low amount x credit hour x number of student, not to exceed an undisclosed maximum pay. Basically I have been asked to teach a 3 credit hour class for about $850. I would think it was a joke if it wasn't so sad.

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    1. To add to my above comment: I have a doctorate, went to a state school with a well respected program in my field, and have 3 years of experience at the school that offered me the contract. In the past I was encouraged by my faculty mentors to take out loans to travel to jobs that pay sub 20k, as it was necessary to land a tenure track job (I did not take their advice). At one point I had 35 contact hours for less than $17k, and have since scaled back. I am working to transition out of academia and into a home based business. While I enjoy my teaching, I have been subject to some pretty bad stuff. I share an office with 5 or more people, have been bullied into participating on university committees, and have been pressured by superiors into lowering my academic standards to maintain gpa and graduation rates. I have never once been observed or been allowed to see my student evaluations. I have had to purchase dry erase markers, basic office supplies, and, yes, even a computer keyboard. I know my situation is pretty extreme, but it has soured me to academia as a whole. I would love to regain my naive regard for higher education. Please understand why I with to remain completely anonymous.

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  13. I was working on a PhD, but stopped and just took the MA and ran because I started to see the return on investment would be minimal.

    After that, I worked as a freeway flier adjunct from 2010 to 2012 at two community colleges (multiple campuses within two systems). IF everything went perfectly, I could make what I considered a livable income. IF I could get 3 classes per semester at both schools - each school paid about $2650 per course. With 6 classes I could pull in over $3000 a month - that would actually enable me to save enough to live in the month we did not get paid during Christmas break. I had to work summer - preferably 4 or 5 classes. Since summers are expedited the pay during the summer actually felt like a real job.

    However, that did not happen every semester. Budget cuts, declining enrollment, and sometimes the necessity of a full-timer to "poach" an adjunct's class cost me. As a result I usually had to dip into savings during winter break. Generally I made between $28K and 37K per year. It varied based on how many classes I could hustle up. I had HEAVY transportation costs - put 60,000 miles on my car in two years, had to repair it more than once. Since I was a part time "contractor" and not really employed with the schools, I deducted a lot of my car costs as business expenses on my taxes which did not come close to covering it but softened the blow a little.

    Working conditions were fair - at system "A," the newer campuses were built with adjuncts in mind which was simultaneously nice and depressing. There was adjunct office space nicely outfitted with workrooms with necessary supplies and cubicle "office" space, each with a computer connected to a printer, and a drawer that you could claim.

    At system "B," they were less organized and had to improvise more. FT faculty didn't even have a lot of support, and adjuncts obviously much less. I had to use my own laptop because the computers provided in the adjunct office space were so inadequate. The only redeeming feature of that school was that the FT faculty, some of them at least, were more cordial to adjuncts. At system "A" I knew hardly any FT faculty and they didn't care to know me.

    I got tired of it, realized FT positions would never be forthcoming there and even if they did, I wouldn't be very competitive. So I applied for every single FT community college faculty or university lecturer job I saw, which amounted to dozens around the country. My success rate was okay - I got 8 calls/phone interviews, 4 in-person interviews, and 2 offers, took the best one.

    Now I've been on some hiring committees and seen it from the other side. Adjunct experience is actually a plus in a community college search, but to a point. It's a plus because you know how to deal with students and can hit the ground running, so to speak, when it comes to the primary assignment - teaching aspect of the job

    Ironically, the only place where it hurts you significantly is at the school you adjunct for, or schools closely associated with it. It's kind of like the absurd bias schools hold against their own graduates. More than 1 year but less than 7 years adjunct experience is generally good. More than 6 or 7 years and the hiring committees will start to wonder why you did not move on to something better. If you have been an adjunct for that many years, EXPLAIN WHY, especially if it has to do with family issues. That will usually get sympathy on the committee.

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  14. I graduated in 2000 with an MBA in Leadership and Organizational Behavior from a well-known university in Pgh, PA. After working in in the corporate world for 7 years, I decided that working as an Adjunct would be the best option after my first child was born. SILLY ME thought that adjunct work would allow me to remain marketable once I decide to go back to work full-time. I WAS WRONG~! Fast forward almost 11 years and here I am....a career Adjunct. I teach at 3 different universities. I have a pretty decent union contract at one school and have worked up to an acceptable income for someone working "part-time". HOWEVER, I agree with the above comments: the students are simply "blah" and have this sense of entitlement. Sadly, they are our customers and in the end, somehow they seem to win. Regardless, I still run a tight ship, but as the FALL 2013 approaches, I am starting to dread going back to the grind. I am burned out and really hate it. I have even thought about working retail, instead of teaching, however my stupid ego is getting in the way: "What will my students think of me if they see me working at the Gap folding clothes???"

    This is truly the ULTIMATE dead end job around. So sad. I regret being so naive and optimistic that this would get me somewhere in my career. I feel like I haven't done much of anything in 11 years. I am ready to start over, but as the "breadwinner" until my husband finds a job, this is as good as it's going to get.

    Sigh.

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