• Just Visiting

    A blog by John Warner, author of the story collection Tough Day for the Army, and a novel, The Funny Man, on teaching, writing and never knowing when you're going to be asked to leave.


From Visiting to Adjunct

A change in job status means a shift in point of view.

August 14, 2016

Next week I will be starting a new position as an adjunct instructor at College of Charleston

I hoped that I would instead be starting a new job on the tenure track here at CofC, but as this previous post details, I was unsuccessful in that pursuit. I’ve been visiting faculty for four years, neither fish nor fowl in the world of academia, a full-time presence, but in a job that must be renewed yearly, and will not change, ever.

My primary motivations for pursuing the tenure track job were the chance to diversify my teaching and to enmesh myself more deeply into an institution whose mission I’ve come to believe in, whose students I know how to reach.

I wanted to dig in, sink my roots deeper.

Instead, I will be pulling back, teaching one course, an introductory fiction writing class two days a week. I don’t even know what I’m being paid; far less than I’m worth for sure, and for sure much less than the per course wage under my previous visiting appointment.

I have been cataloging the things I used to do that I will no longer be doing:

I will not go to the department retreat, or any of the department meetings during the semester.

I will not read the emails about changes to the major or minor or department bylaws or anything else generally addressing the operations of the department or college.

I will not attend departmental events like readings by visiting writers or presentations of faculty research.

I will not be supervising independent studies or capstone projects. I will not accept students over the course limit. I will not counsel students informally about choices in major or course.

I will not attend workshops on improving assessment practices or changing approaches to instruction.

I will not use College of Charleston in my bio on anything I publish.

This list is mostly a reminder to protect me from myself. In theory, I didn’t need to be doing any of the above list for my visiting appointment, but my desire to belong, to be a part of the team outstripped my good sense.

My adjunct position is an exemplar of how the position should be used, a local person with some expertise that comes in handy to fill a limited need. My responsibilities start and end with the students enrolled in my course. They will get my full attention. The contract between me and the institution is clear and clean. I am something supplemental, auxiliary, not the thing itself. The thing needs me to show up and teach one course, and this I will do well.

In many ways these limits do not sit comfortably. I like teams and a sense of a larger mission. I’ve often aligned myself with institutions or organizations whose work I believe in, and have willingly sacrificed my well-being for those institutions, for the sake of the work.

That list should feel like freedom, but instead I see loss.

But my experience as a visitor at four different institutions over the last 15 years has made clear that the ideals that I’ve been sacrificing myself for - freedom of inquiry, the exploration of human potential, providing opportunity to others – exist far more in theory than in reality in our system of higher education.

These ideals as to the purpose and potential of education are mainly in my head. I have been working for a fantasy.

It has been easy to maintain this fantasy when so many others I am working alongside harbor it as well, making their own sacrifices in the name of the ideals we claim as most precious.

But this is a delusion. The institutional framework of higher education has little care for the things I find most meaningful, that are most important. I can pursue them in my classroom, and as adjunct, this is all that matters.

I longed for the chance to try to bring reality closer to that ideal as a full-fledged member of the team, but this is apparently not my destiny. I suppose time will tell if I dodged a bullet in not getting what I figured for my dream job.

The start of the semester usually brings that combination of excitement and trepidation so many instructors know well, the sense that something big and involving is starting, a mountain to be climbed.

That feeling is gone. Teaching will be a relatively small portion of my workload. It will have to be since I have to try to make up for the lost income. My life suddenly has more possibilities in front of it, more room to explore, to say yes to new things.

I didn’t want any of that, though. I wanted to teach, to mentor, to learn.

Maybe I need to change the title of the blog to “Just Adjuncting.” It doesn’t have the same ring, though, and as of yet, I don’t know what “Just Adjuncting” means.

I guess I’m about to find out.



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