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Should I Adjunct?

Should I Adjunct?
September 21, 2008
(Also appears in Mama PhD)

I taught for several years at a state school of fairly low rank and then taught at a very diverse urban public university, which I loved. Now I teach at a fancy liberal arts college on occasion, which has been great, but it doesn't quite thrill me. I feel like I'm not really teaching them much of anything or it doesn't really matter because they're gonna make it no matter what. At Urban Public U., students cried when I left.

I'm about to quit my job in all likelihood. It makes me cry on a weekly basis. The reasons for the tears are pretty complicated, mixed up with my own sadness and disappointment that this gig did not work out and with the cruelty and insane politics I find myself on the receiving end of. The stories I could tell. So I don't know what I'm going to do next. I'm toying with doing some consulting and actually have done some of this work already and could get more pretty easily. I have ideas I want to write about and I still like teaching so I'm applying for faculty jobs, but, like you, I'm limited geographically. And, quite honestly, I want some life balance. I'm working about 60 hours/week right now with job plus research. The laundry is not getting done; homework slides; you know the drill. Oh, and there's the TMJ and headache issues. So do you think adjuncting, if you're doing it as a true part-time job instead of with the hope of gaining a tenure-track job, is viable? Would you ever see yourself back on the tenure-track? I'm interested in CC jobs, but the t-t ones I've seen are 5-5 and I just don't think I could swing that. Anyway, I'd love to see you write about adjuncting in a positive way. In what ways could it not be exploitive? I'm thinking of Marc Bousquet. Would he think it's bad always? It seems the perfect solution for a parent who wants to teach and be a part of academe but doesn't want a full-time gig. I can't even find a part-time gig in the Ed Tech field. Is is bad to want to work part-time? Why do I feel guilty about that?

You feel guilty for much the same reason mothers often feel guilty over whatever choices they make on the work/life continuum, for the same reason we feel guilty if we buy ziplock bags instead of biodegradable cellulose baggies, for the same reason educated whites often feel guilty about racism: because we live in a world that's convinced us that all social problems somehow boil down to our Personal Choices. And you feel guilty for the same reason academics everywhere feel guilty and anxious over academia: because so many of us have internalized the idea of our own powerlessness and dependence on the almighty Job Market.

Which, in a word, is bullshit: so get over it. Yes, adjuncting is a pain in the butt, even if you like it (as I do). You have to go through the same orientation process as if you were being hired full-time; you have to scramble around to come up with a course at the last minute; you probably won't have an office; you'll probably be underpaid relative to your colleagues, your experience and your talents. You'll have to do a lot of irritating paperwork (but you'll be freed from a lot of other irritating paperwork, plus most irritating committee work), and you will probably, like all new faculty everywhere, not be told things you really need to know. Because you lack an office and aren't on campus much, you'll have a harder time finding these things out.

And, most of all, look, yes: adjuncting is exploitive, "the system" (mostly state legislatures and other funding agencies) budgets higher education on a shoestring, and it is my firm opinion that the "oversupply" of PhDs, the rise in part-time employment, and the growing number of women in higher education just might have something to do with one another.

On the other hand. If it's the kind of institution you like, the students will be awesome.

But you didn't make that fucking bed, and you hate your current job. You're interested in working at a community college, which is awesome; community colleges are vital institutions. 5-5 loads are insane. Being freed from committee work and annual reviews and Building a Tenure File is really pretty nice.

Writing for a general audience is a lot more fun. You can certainly find the job you want; you've got oodles of experience, and enrollments always go up during recessions.

The trick is to find work on terms that are acceptable to you, not to Marc Bousquet. Who after all, supports part-timers and adjuncts; what he doesn't support is the institutional situation too many of us find ourselves in. Here's what you hope to find as an adjunct. Are you paid proportionally to full-time, tenure-track faculty? Do you get benefits? Is there a union? What kind of job security is offered?

At my job, yes; we're paid proportionally -- a new change, brought on by the union. I didn't get to do any negotiating over what "step" I was brought in on, which bothered me, but then again I didn't really get to do any negotiating about that on my tenure-track job either (and I did try). We are represented by a union, which I can and will join. We get benefits -- part-timers can choose between three different pension options and I think there were health care options mentioned, too (which I declined because we have health care through my husband's job). The department chair and the division dean struck me, in the interview, as genuinely collegial and respectful. The hiring process was kind of rushed, as they are, and unnecessarily bureaucratic, as is generally the case at state institutions, and there were definitely questions (like, "how much are you offering me to teach this course?") that they didn't have the answer to, which was frustrating. But they were responsive to my questions and helped me find out the answers, they both repeatedly urged me to please come to them with any questions or complaints, the chair went out of his way to give me and another adjunct a tour of the campus so we'd know where things like the copy center and president's office were, and he was pretty generous about being willing to sub for me himself so that I could go to the DNC. All in all, I am satisfied with this job for now. And the best part of not being on the t-t is that guess what? If and when you decide you're not satisfied with your work, you can try to change things, or you can just leave. Without a two-or-three year job search.

Ultimately, it's your life. Your career. Your job. Not mine, and not Marc Bousquet's. If you want a c-c job, and you do not want to work full-time, and you can find a part-time cc job on terms you like--which you should certainly be able to do -- then don't feel guilty. Be proud of yourself: you're an experienced and skilled professor who actively enjoys teaching, and is taking charge of doing it on your terms. More power to you.

(And I bet Marc Bousquet would mostly agree with me.)

Have a question on your career? E-mail Mama PhD.

 

 

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