by Kate Daley-Bailey
Editor’s Note: Part 1 of this post ended with a few lines posing questions about what those in an adjunct position can do, which has been re-posted here as a lead-in to Part 2.
So, make a final calculation… low pay, temporary positions, no benefits, no resources, often no office space or it is a closet shared with five graduate students, and limited time to research (which is one of the few ways to advance). So, why don’t we boycott? Why don’t we unionize? Reenact Norma Rae in front of the University Center?
The reasons are many:
1. We like our jobs. We often like the people we work under and we like our students (okay, we like about 90% of our students). I feel that what I do matters, it requires that students learn about people different than themselves and it teaches them to look at not just what they think but how they think it. There is reward in that. Our students, reluctantly or not, listen to us… and some of them actually learn stuff!
2. Our situation is precarious… but not precarious enough. When you make very little money and have to reapply for your job every semester, you have little recourse. Adjuncts are paid per course, so even when we are paid well (I count myself in this group) if you only get one course per semester… that radically changes your income… from if you get, say, three courses. The Adjunct Project has compiled some data regarding what adjuncts get paid… it ranges from $1,500 per course to the upper end of $4,000 per course (dependent on degree, subject area, and experience). Now that sounds awesome until you realize that part-time means that you can only teach a limited number of courses. In Georgia, if I teach at one state school part-time, I have to sign a contract that says I am not teaching at another state school to make ends meet. I would love to teach full-time and I have, but full time means the university would have to pay for benefits and that is not something the university system is willing to do. So, every semester adjuncts wait to find out 1) if they have a job and 2) how many courses they will get. And the departments hiring adjuncts don’t know if they will have money to hire an adjunct or how many courses they can pay them for… until the state approves a budget. So, you see how the system itself is broken and has been broken for a while. Where I currently work I am lucky enough to have a signed contract (at least for the semester) but if I didn’t the university has the right to fire me (temporary personnel) “without cause or advance notice.” 
We are contract workers and there are lots of us! Our situation is bad but not bad enough. We are not fast-food workers, coal miners, or immigrant laborers. We are well-educated ‘professionals’… who just happen to work for minimum wage. I think that perhaps part of the reason that adjuncts’ grievances are not taken seriously is because we don’t look like we are exploited. Because part of making a living for adjuncts requires that we pretend that we make a living. No one can tell just by looking at us that we are lowly adjuncts and not tenured professors… to the public eye, we look the same (there is an academic dress code… it usually consists of tweed coats with elbow patches, Buddy Holly classes, loafers, corduroy pants, worn leather satchel, etc.). You get the picture; the public who don’t know what all these titles mean (adjunct, associate professor, tenured faculty, contingent, etc.) imagine all professors (people who teach college classes) as the 1950s caricature. The image of Dr. Indian Jones keeps creeping into my mind. We have an office, secretary, adoring students, and we are often seen climbing out of our office windows to avoid our academic duties to search out adventure, ancient artifacts, and fight Nazis.
Okay, so we are not mill workers and we are not Indiana Jones. We have had, perhaps, many more opportunities to change our paths than those without the luxury of education… but I would argue that we provide a vital service to the community and we deserve to be paid for our work. And, as has been pointed out to me and others, if we don’t like it… we can always leave. It is our choice to be undervalued. And I guess it is … but notice that no one makes the above argument with regard to other public service workers who also don’t get paid much (like firefighters, those in the military, nurses, and even other teachers… although teachers have recently been hit by a wave of propaganda in the U.S.). As adjuncts we may not risk our lives in public service but many of us have certainly invested our lives into public service.
3. We have a skill set but it is not monetarily valued. After spending four years as an undergraduate, three years in graduate school and teaching on the side, and now after teaching at the college level for ten years, having taught 52 classes (Introduction to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Introduction to World Religions, New Religious Movements, Early Christianity, Religion and Popular Culture, Religion and Media, Religion and Literature, Theories and Methods, Religious Diversity, etc.), having published two chapters in academic books, written book reviews, written extensively online (Bulletin for the Study of Religion and Religion Nerd), and having presented research at both regional and national conferences in my discipline… it is difficult to think about starting over, although given the market, many people are having to start over. I am very good at what I do. I teach and I teach well but our culture does not value the humanities in general. Our work is seen as a luxury and not a necessity.
4. It is embarrassing. In our culture, we have a very odd way of showing how we value people. We pay a lot of money to be entertained. We value certain people and what they do by paying them lots of money. There is another class of people that we hold in very high esteem but we show them we value them with a type of ceremonial respect. This second group of people (teachers, firemen, police officers, EMTs, soldiers, nurses, etc.) these are the unsung heroes… actually, scratch that, they are sung… they are just don’t get paid very well. A capitalist market is all about value… but not values. If I told my students today that I was a part-time adjunct with no benefits, that I didn’t know if I would have a job next semester, they would be floored. They live with the illusion that I am financially rewarded for my work. I used to be happy to let them live in that illusion if it allowed me to keep their respect. I do not want to shame myself or my department, or my school… and I would like to be considered for a job next semester.
5. We are, on the whole, invisible.
So, besides a good bitch fest, what does this typical adjunct rant accomplish? Okay, besides possibly jeopardizing my hopes of future employment? Not much if it is not met with a change in action. So what am I to do?
A. I can look for other work… well, most adjuncts have at least one other job. Part of the problem here is how uncomfortable I would be working alongside my undergraduate students at Target. Not to turn my nose up at service jobs (I have had plenty) but teaching requires a type of division between students and their teacher. If students see me as a co-worker, they are less likely to acknowledge my authority in the classroom. However, it is more uncomfortable to be poor. I am always looking for supplemental work… and now I have added full-time positions into my insistent job hunt.
B. I can go to the University… this too is problematic because adjuncts do not have any representation in our administration. We have no voting rights in our departments… we are often invisible to full-time professors and upper administration. If I go to the administration with my grievances, it is likely that I will not be rehired when the time comes for courses to be passed out for the upcoming semester. In my situation, publicity would only make my employment situation worse.
C. I can unionize. I’m not sure what rights I have on this front. Georgia is a Right-To-Work state… this sounds good but it actually greatly limits the role of unions in the state.
D. I can strike. See the issues mentioned above.
E. My plan… wait for it… is to admit that I am an adjunct! I am coming out of the adjunct closet! I refuse to hide the fact that I work a lot for very little!
I am suggesting that other adjuncts come out with me! We must BECOME visible… the public must see us, our students must see us, the administration must see us, and most importantly, we must SEE EACH OTHER. We have to know we are NOT ALONE.
So, I’m going to make a pin to wear on my backpack with a label that says ‘A IS FOR ADJUNCT’ and wear it everywhere I go. Okay, so it is not Gandhi’s Salt March but it is something.
Calling all Adjuncts– Make your own ‘A IS FOR ADJUNCT’ signs, buttons, etc. Wear them everywhere… and when someone asks you what it is all about you can talk about what it means to be an adjunct! Maybe no one will care but other adjuncts will notice and at least we can form some type of support group. We will know we are not alone.
Adjunct Awareness and Appreciation: Not an adjunct but want to help us become visible? If you are part of the administration or faculty at a university or college, use your voice to speak for us. We need you and your support! You can help the administration to see us! We need to have more of a say in how the university is run! Just knowing that you are aware of the work we do makes a difference. Students, local businesses, and the public, show your solidarity with us by thanking an adjunct. Know an adjunct? Maybe make them cookies or a card or hold an Adjunct Appreciation Day… and give all adjuncts free coffee! Of course, the best thing for adjuncts is for us to be able to find work for the long-term but even just knowing that we are seen is important.
Acknowledging that there is a problem is the first step.
Hello, my name is Kate and I am an adjunct.
Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the plight of adjunct faculty in the university. When I first saw the numbers I was dubious… I mean, these numbers can’t be right, can they?
“Combining the contingent employment categories as described above, the graph shows that more than three of every four instructional staff positions (76 percent) are filled on a contingent basis. By far the largest category of employment is the part-time faculty (we explore the nomenclature for this category below). Tenured and tenure-track full-time positions combined form the next largest category but represent less than 25 percent of all appointments, and the proportions of individuals in both categories have been declining steadily. Over the entire period covered by the graph, the most rapid growth has been in part-time faculty appointments, which increased in number by more than 300 percent between 1975 and 2011. By contrast, the number of faculty members in full-time tenured or tenure-track positions grew by only 26 percent during the same period. In the most recent two-year period, it appears that growth in full-time positions off the tenure track actually was slightly more rapid than the increase in part-time faculty positions.”
The above quotation is taken from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) website regarding the numbers from last year’s analysis regarding the state of the profession.
This image is GRAPHIC! You have been warned.
More research and resources:
The Diane Rehm Show on NPR: http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2014-04-16/growing-reliance-adjunct-professors/transcript
The Adjunct Project http://adjunct.chronicle.com/
 “Full-time professors, associate professors, assistant professors, instructors, lecturers, senior lecturers, and teaching personnel with such other titles as may be approved by the Board, shall be the Corps of Instruction. Full-time research and extension personnel and duly certified librarians will be included in the Corps of Instruction on the basis of comparable training. Persons holding adjunct appointments or other honorary titles shall not be considered to be members of the faculty.”