The book begins by informing us that the American colleges and universities are bound by a caste system. At the top of the caste are 320,000 associate and full professors, most of whom have tenure or will soon receive that reward. Below them are about 170,000 assistant professors, of which most are on the “tenure track.” The third tier consists of instructors and lecturers who aren’t in line for promotion and who handle introductory sections at modest salaries and benefits. (A number are faculty spouses unable to find other employment). The fourth and fifth castes are made up of part-time adjuncts and graduate assistants. They are the contingent people of the campus - exploitable, disposable, and impoverished by low wages. They do the bulk of the undergraduate teaching at many universities. (Pg. 15)
What is an adjunct?
Adjuncts belong to a diverse group of teachers called contingents, who are hired to take on chores regular faculty members don’t want to do. They come from respected professions like lawyers and film producers who teach one evening course (largely because they enjoy it) or are among the gypsy scholars who commute among as many as four campuses in a single week. Pay rates are shamefully low. The American Federation of Teachers found the average is about $3,000 per course, which means many get less. And of course there are no benefits.
Here is an example of the huge inequality found in the adjunct/professor pay structure:
At Queens College, a branch of the City University of New York, the pay is better than average but the disparities are typical. When students walk into the gleaming building that is Powdermaker Hall, they might see one classroom where a full professor is explaining the economic ideas of the Nation’s founders. He’ll earn $116,000 for six classes taught over nine months-$17,000 per course. In the very next room is an adjunct teaching political theory to thirty bright-eyed freshmen. But she gets a flat fee of $4,600, admittedly higher than the national average, but so is the urban cost of living. Moreover, the professor has health insurance, sick days, sabbaticals, and a hefty TIAA-CREF pension. The adjunct’s benefits are akin to W.C. Field’s reward in The Bank Dick- “a hearty handshake.” (Pg. 48-49)Adjuncts are not respected:
Many adjuncts are not respected by the salaried faculty members and administrators and are not perceived as part of the campus community.
Why is adjunct teaching a trap?
Many women think they can have families and stay in the game by adjuncting. They get trapped there. Age and time trap them. Vagabonding from job to job isn’t so terrible when you’re young, but it takes a toll on you as they get older. In another example sited, an adjunct teacher tried to cobble together a livelihood by teaching sixteen “distance” courses. Online teaching, she said, was tougher than face-to-face instruction, because if you do it seriously, “you never get a break from it. You almost sleep with your computer. (Pg. 54)
The sad fact is it is difficult to earn a living wage teaching as an adjunct even when you teach multiple classes.
What are the chances an adjuncts position will morph into full-time?
Many years of adjuncting wouldn’t count as valuable classroom experience. Rather, for most, it’s a black mark. This was borne out by an informal survey Angelo Gene Monaco, the vice president for human resources at the University of Akron, performed. Out of curiosity, he surveyed sixty heads of departments at a sample of Midwestern colleges. Only three told him they’d even consider hiring a contingent for a full-time post. Monaco created quite a stir at the 2008 meeting of the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources when he declared: “We’ve helped create a highly educated part of the working poor.” (Pg. 53)
A real life example:
Which brings me to Kate; I’ve previously written about Kate’s disillusionment with her job after she was repeatedly passed over for promotion. Kate has since abandoned her dream of being a controller or CFO and refocused her energies on becoming a full-time teacher at a local college. She taught her first adjunct class last semester – an introductory business course.
Initially, Kate was extremely frustrated by the lack of support she received from the college. She had difficulty setting up her email, accessing the school’s intranet, and even getting a ‘teacher’s edition’ of the book. She earned $2,600 to teach the class which met once a week for four hours. She took a week of vacation from her day job to prepare and lost sleep fretting about whether to send emails to students who hadn't turned in their homework.
Next semester she is contracted to teach this class again along with a 12-week accounting class. Surprisingly, the 12-week class pays the same as the 6-week class; it too meets once a week, but for three and a half hours instead of four. I can’t imagine the accounting class taking any less time to prepare, so there goes another week of vacation.
Has Kate fallen for the adjunct trap?
Unfortunately, after reading this book I think she has. I told her what I had learned from the book, but she refuses to listen. My experience has been when someone wants something badly they rarely listen to naysayers.
What do you think? Is adjunct teaching a trap?
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