Why Still an Adjunct?

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. It’s the satisfaction I get out of seeing them progress, and knowing I may have had something to do with that. It’s getting to stand in the front of a classroom and see students look at a situation in a way they hadn’t before. In short, it’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.

Do Students Really Know?

In a discussion of why students are failing to engage in their undergraduate education, Thomas H. Benton wrote:

[S]tudents recognize that most of the teachers with whom they have more personal contact—graduate students, adjuncts, and other part-timers—are not well regarded by their institutions. Their lack of income, benefits, and job security are an insidious advertisement for the low status of some kinds of learning. Moreover, transient faculty members can’t help your career, since they may not be around next year and their recommendations carry little weight.

I think this is an interesting observation for several reasons.

My first thought when reading this was to question whether students really know which of their professors are full-time, part-time, grad students, etc. I think that some of them might know the graduate students, but I also think that most undergraduate students don’t have any conception of the concept of professor as anything other than full-time. I know I didn’t. And even when I was in college, there were adjuncts.

As a long-time adjunct and first-year full-timer (in my second incarnation in that category), I am also interested in the idea that references can’t be procured from professors who are transient. I had not ever thought of that as an issue, but perhaps that is because I have been transient so long. I do know that I am looking for a student from a college I used to adjunct for to give him a book I had promised him. But I don’t know where he is now or how to get in touch with him. Since I am no longer on the faculty there, they are far less forthcoming about details of students.

It is true that the college where I spent my undergraduate years, a small liberal arts college, does still employ–some thirty years later–a few of the professors whom I had as an undergraduate. Most have retired, but even some of those are teaching part-time. So if I needed references from those professors, I could still obtain them.

I wonder, though, how many of my community college students will even think of professors as references. I have only had two requests in my nine years of teaching at a community college for references. I agreed to both. Only one reference had to be written and the other person’s folks never contacted me.

Perhaps the concept of “professor as reference” could be used in developmental writing classes particularly to encourage student engagement and involvement.”

Do your students know the status of their instructors?

Adjuncts Threaten Teaching?

The Chronicle’s article, Writing Exams:

adjuncts and others who are the least qualified and the least experienced

Chronicle article on adjuncts, “Mediocrity is built into the system.”

And an adjunct, writing about his own life, said he is unprepared and doesn’t engage with his students. This certainly did not help improve the perspective others have.

Defining Cynicism

weasel_mediumThe Education of Oronte Churm, from Inside Higher Ed, has the definition of cynicism:

When a university’s program for research in the humanities bars adjuncts from applying for fellowship money and release time then uses their book titles and cover photos to swell the “books published by our humanities faculty” section of its glossy brochure.

The weasel is also from Churm’s post.

Administration Creates Adjuncts?

teacher-goth-looking-w-bkThe Origins of the Casualization of Academic Labor, by blogger Historianne, takes issue with Thomas Frank’s essay in Harper’s, which blames tenure-track teachers for the explosion of contingent faculty.

Tenured and tenure-track faculty, in my experience, don’t make arguments about how they can do more with less, nor are they the people who have been cutting the instructional budget at their universities. Administrators are the authors of this shift from tenured to casual labor, and they’re the ones who benefit from it directly.

Faculty may not be fighting it, but they are not the one making the decisions about contingent faculty.

Material Conditions

I sent a proposal in to a journal about the material circumstance of adjuncts and contingent faculty here in Houston.

That proposal was turned down. I’m glad in retrospect because it would have taken a lot of time that I didn’t really have.

Now, however, I am taking part in a documentary on the material circumstance of contingent faculty for NCTE and the Forum. If you haven’t taken the Contingent Faculty Questionnaire, go now and do that.

I would like to go to my other colleges and video tape where I worked and what the offices, etc, were like. However, I don’t know that I have the time to do that tomorrow and I don’t know that I want to drive all over creation in the hopes that the buildings are open on the weekend.

Would I videotape the couch that another adjunct and I shared after offices were damaged during Hurricane Ike? We shared the couch for a year. But, at the time, officially the adjuncts had just as large of offices as anyone else. Of course, we shared them with two or three or four other people.

ladder-of-success-topicsites-dot-comBut having come from my other two colleges, that seemed an entire ladder higher on the rungs of professionalism.

At CC1, where I taught for eight years quite happily and would remain had they offered me a tt, there are 3x as many adjuncts as ft. The adjuncts have two offices on campus. One has three tables and four computers. The other is not for the humanities, so I don’t know what it has.

At CC2, where I taught for one semester, and where I was offered a ft/pt position which did not make because there weren’t enough classes (ft work for pt pay), there were twelve cubicles marked with chest high gray plastic and cloth walls. You had to sign up first to get them. I think mine was shared, though they weren’t supposed to be, with a sociology adjunct.

You can see why I thought an office, with real furniture, even shared with four other people, was a good deal.

I guess you’ll have to watch the documentary to find out what the material conditions are under which I work now. Or wait for another day when I might be willing to share the office experience with you.

How Uni Profs Do Research

The short answer: They don’t teach much.

An article from Texas A&M’s Eagle says:

Daugherity, a computer science and engineering instructor, is one of four senior lecturers in his department who has been given notice. The four represent roughly 10 percent of the faculty in the department; however, they teach a quarter of the classes, he said.

So they are 1/10 of the department and teach 1/4 of the classes. Who teaches the rest? TAs and tt instructors.

Lecturers are typically hired at research schools to lighten the load for tt people so that they can do the research.

The lecturer said:

“Our senior lecturers are highly qualified professional teachers,” he said. “Sure, it would be cheaper to replace them with a new graduate or even an advanced doctoral student, but I think it’s safe to say it wouldn’t be better for students.”

I was thinking they would probably use adjuncts.

However, that’s not what the Powers that Be say.

“We will have to make up for the loss in teaching power of the non-tenure track faculty by larger class sizes, and increasing the load on the tenured faculty,” Newton [dean of College of Science] said. “It will hurt to some extent the research and service they’re expected to do.”

Full-time, Overloads, and Adjuncts

First, before I begin, I will say that had I not received a full-time offer this year, I would not have paid much attention to Community College Dean’s discussion of what it means to be a professor with an overload. Does it impact adjuncts? Should we care? Does it impact the full-timer’s work? These are some of the questions CCDean asks.

The reason I now find it relevant is that I will be teaching an overload this fall. It is not by choice. My four-hour classes only count as 3.75 and my options are to take an underload, which will not be possible because the alternative assignments are all already taken, or an overload.

Truthfully, I don’t want an overload. I’m new at the school and I’ll be learning at least as much as most freshmen students, though hopefully not the same things! I really am expecting to be too busy to teach an overload. But since I have to teach it, I guess some of that learning will be put off.

I also don’t want an overload because they are going to pay me for it as an adjunct. So my extra work will earn me an additional $1000. Not cool. I’d almost rather they took the $1000 from my annual pay and let me teach an underload. But that’s not an option.

This is the framework from which I came to CCDean’s discussion. His discussion isn’t really on that topic, per se. But it is an interesting tangential point.

Folks who teach overloads also tend to be less available for committee meetings, since they’re more likely to be in class at any given time. Others have to do more unpaid labor so they have time to do more paid labor. It doesn’t smell right, and it somewhat discredits the idea that full-timers should be paid more because of their college service. If they aren’t available to do that college service, what, exactly, are we paying for?

I think THAT is CCDean’s most significant point.

What are we paying ft’ers for?
1. Years of service. That explains one set of “steps” in the promotion and pay ranks.
2. Degrees. That explains the other set of “steps.”
3. Tenure. I don’t mean that in the academic sense, but in the real world sense. We are paying our ft’ers to be around for the long haul.
4. Committee service. I think that’s a low ranking point. See the academic tenure rules for clear proof of that.
5. Name recognition. As an ft’er I am supposed to get my college’s name “out there.” I am supposed to publish and present and let people see that the ft faculty at MyCC is active, professional, and amazing.

That’s what I think they are paying for.

Name Recognition
Having been an adjunct who gave three different colleges Name Recognition on 19 publications and 29 presentations, I think that while Name Recognition is important, it is not limited to ft faculty. In fact, I think it is sometimes, at least in CCs, limited to adjunct faculty.

At CC1, the home of my longest tenure (length) as an adjunct, I sent the CFP for the state English conference to all the tt professors. No tt profs applied, only adjuncts did.

So I am not sure that, in the CCs at least, name recognition is usually that important.

HOWEVER, I also know that I lost my bid for a ft position at MyCC last year because I didn’t have as many publications as another candidate.

So, at least in this financial climate, it is important to the adjuncts who want to get tt jobs.

Years served
At least in my systems (four), no one was paid extra for having been a long-time adjunct. I know that some systems do, but I think these are rare. So we pay twenty-year veterans and newbies out of their grad classes the same amount.

We OUGHT to pay them based on seniority, but then we’d have to pay them more. Most of the point of adjuncts is to help the administration balance a precarious budget.

Also in my systems, there was no additional pay for advanced degrees. (See discussion above.)

This is what I think is the most important reason to pay ft’ers.

We pay ft’ers so that the courses we need taught and want taught will be taught. I dropped three schools and five courses last week, when I got the offer from my college. Five classes, including four hard-to-staff classes, will go begging. They’ll find someone, I am sure. But it won’t be someone who is qualified to do the work. Or at least it won’t be as qualified as I am.

That’s not bragging. That’s truth. I taught those courses BECAUSE they are hard to staff. I have the skills and it’s why I had the classes.

Ft’ers rarely leave a position two weeks before classes start. They don’t do that because they have ft pay.

Yes, we pay adjuncts squat so that we can keep the bills of the college down. I know that. But we pay the ft’ers a living wage so that we can keep the dropped courses down.

Committee Service
CCDean seemed to think this was the most important thing that differentiated ft’ers from adjuncts. I have never seen a CC where this mattered though. No one got ranks, promotions, tenure, or raises based on committee service.

You reward what you value.

Colleges do not reward committee service.

Is it any wonder that ft’ers are willing to do something to get out of a null advantage?

“Full-Time Adjuncts” is a Misapplied Term

In the email they sent out they called it “Most Adjuncts Like Working Off the Tenure Track.” The Chronicle has an article about full-timers who are not in the tenure track. They said they like their jobs.

Being non-tenure track does not make you an adjunct.

My alma mater has two non-tenure track lines which have been filled by the same people for twenty years. Their jobs are secure. They don’t have to go through the interview process every year. They also don’t have to publish and they don’t have to get their PhDs.

Non-tenure track does NOT equal adjunct.

A full-time adjunct is someone who teaches full-time hours for an hourly wage much lower than the regular faculty and does not get benefits. I am a full-time adjunct. Those guys are just non-tenure track full-time faculty.