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An Adjunct World
September 4, 2009 - 12:30am


Today’s news brought word of adjunct teachers in higher education being “hidden” by their employers in order to improve U.S. News & World Report rankings.

Suddenly I started seeing adjuncts all around: Adjuncts in dreary group offices, talking about who got which courses; adjuncts pretending to lament those who didn’t make it back; adjuncts cautiously wondering why no one got hire letters until after the start of the semester. In the copy room two adjuncts spoke of not wanting to serve on the adjunct advisory committee—what could they advise on? one said—but it might be a good career move, said the other. The first bared her fangs.

Distance-learning adjuncts recently let go haunted the hallways, whispering their hopes for work in brick-and-mortar buildings. Adjuncts disguised as part-time assistant administrators heard them and shut their doors softly.

At lunch I thought I saw an adjunct serving Spicy Tofu at The Rice Bowl in the food court. He saw me and ran from the front line, flew past the wok chefs in their mortarboards, and crashed through several upright crates of ambition, making a big mess. The janitors passed with their slop buckets full of dissertations.

On the way back to my office I ran an errand to the campus admin building and saw the Provost sweeping a couple of adjuncts under the rug. His broom was an adjunct. So was the coat rack and the raincoat hanging on it. He smiled sweetly at me, and the adjunct heads mounted on the wall whistled “Bread and Roses.”

Out on the quad in the cool sunshine, adjuncts were collectively bargaining—to audit each other’s classes, already filled to the windows with future adjuncts.

And though I’ve worked full-time as a college teacher for more than a decade, it suddenly hit me: I’m an adjunct! Oh, it’s plain as the nose on my face. Why didn’t someone tell me?

I reeled from campus and began to see adjuncts everywhere I looked. The copy shop workers in town were adjunct to their desired employment, as was the wild-animal catcher, who usually poured concrete for the city. The Wal-Marts on the edges of town were staffed by adjuncts—“Welcome!” they cried—while other adjuncts roamed the communal garden plot in the park, asking if anyone had any extra vegetables. The ones who’d made peace with the lifestyle waved from their stoops with bottles in bags at their feet.

America, I saw at a glance, was full of people on the fringes of self-determination; the world tilted heavily toward winter with its load of adjunct people only making do; but the rankings looked good, the rankings looked very good.


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