Isaac Sweeney, in his Chronicle article, Why Am I Still an Adjunct? answers the question in a way I think most long-term adjuncts would agree with.
I keep doing this work because of the relationship I get to develop with 25 new students in each of my courses, every semester. Itâ€™s the satisfaction I get out of seeing them progress, and knowing I may have had something to do with that. Itâ€™s getting to stand in the front of a classroom and see students look at a situation in a way they hadnâ€™t before. In short, itâ€™s because I love to teach.
Most of the folks in the comments agree with him. Teaching is wonderful. The pay, while terrrible, is more than we would make for equal hours elsewhere. (Yes, I have worked at McD’s. Why do you ask?) We are using our degrees. We are doing what we love.
Is the system a problem? Yes.
Is it going to get worse? Yes.
We’re in a “hiring chill.” That means that we aren’t hiring any new folks right now. All the needs for those new faculty are going to be met by adjuncts, fine teachers who haven’t managed to get a ft job, even though they love the work they do. Perhaps (maybe?) even because they love the work they do. (And thus don’t spend time doing other work– like conferences, presentations, and publications.)
I was what I like to call a voluntary adjunct for seven years. And then for two I was actively on the job market. Now I am a non-tt, contingent (annually renewed contract) faculty.
Lots of adjuncts would be thrilled with the opportunity my school offered me last year. But now, they won’t be able to get it. We’re in a crisis mode because of the legislature cutting funding.
What will happen when all classes are taught by adjuncts? Will universities and colleges still exist? I don’t know.