Stories from the Adjunct Project
Today I’ve been reading the stories that adjunct university teachers have posted both on the Adjunct Project’s blog and in the “Other Notes” section of the spreadsheet. I have been heartened to discover that some schools do in fact treat adjunct instructors relatively well. Many adjuncts feel that they have fair representation among the permanent faculty and administration at their schools, if not through shared governance then through sympathetic treatment by the same. Some adjuncts receive benefits such as professional development and tuition remission for continuing education. Some adjuncts are well represented by unions. Many express satisfaction that they’re doing good, valuable work.
But all is not well.1 Low pay is only chief among many complaints about working conditions as an adjunct instructor. Adjuncts frequently feel isolated from their colleagues. They rarely have chances for advancement, paid leave, job security—even the meager salaries they’re contracted to earn can be docked by unforgiving policies or capricious supervisors. One English instructor in Ohio expresses the frustrations of the job this way:
Very small, closet-like adjunct office shared by more than a dozen adjuncts, so I don’t use it. The computers are old, and inefficient, so I’d rather go home to do my prep-work. I pay into the state retirement fund, which is the only benefit. Sick days count against us…. We are actually paid an hourly wage, like McDonald’s employees, except that we cannot get benefits unless we are hired in full-time. On the flip side, the course work is good, the students are great and job is meaningful. I just wish I made enough to pay the monthly minimum due for my student loans. I don’t even take home half of what I owe each month.
The conflict between doing work that is valuable and necessary and feeling unappreciated and exploited is a common theme running through many of the adjuncts’ stories. Are their complaints as foundational and ancient as those of the 99%? I would say yes. You can judge for yourself: What follows is a sample of just some of the stories that can be found at the Adjunct Project.2
I am a single mother and am doing my doctoral research on single mother students. I drive 100 miles each way to one of my adjunct jobs twice a week. I applied for 64 jobs last summer. One of the employers that I applied to, and interviewed with, told me that I was too “academic” for work outside of a university.
In just my “school” within the university we have two Deans, one Associate Dean; and multiple Assistant Deans, Administrative Managers, Directors, and “Specialists.” In fact we have 119 administrative personnel, 9 full time faculty, and hundreds of adjuncts. This for 2,163 students at a tuition of $28,160.00. Is it any wonder why they can only “afford” to pay $1,700.00 per three hour class to their adjuncts?
Adjuncts are paid in four-month installments each semester, which means, for instance, that although they begin work on August 15, they are not paid until September 30; and though they begin work on January 12, they are not paid until February 28. Considering that most adjuncts do not get summer pay, and considering how little they are paid, waiting the extra two weeks for their pay is a real hardship.
—Adjunct in Arkansas
No office space, no place to sit down between classes, not even a refrigerator to stash your miserable little brown-bag lunch. However, departmental chair at my school has been extremely supportive and colleges make real efforts to make adjuncts feel as though they are actual “employees” … everything short of paying a living wage.
—Adjunct in Arizona
No access to an office, phone, computer or supplies of any kind though I did have access to a copy machine. No contact with any other teachers or faculty. I was totally on my own. They expected me to be available to teach in the next term, but had no qualms about canceling a course on me leaving me high and dry—which they did.
—Adjunct in Florida
Our sick days are deducted from our pay. There is no way to increase our pay over time. May not teach more than three courses per semester but almost no one gets more than two. Very short notice prior to contract. Not included in faculty events. We can let the dentistry students work on us for a nominal fee and three months wait.
—Adjunct in Florida
I worked as an adjunct and full-time…. As a full-timer I saw how the adjuncts were overworked and seldom rewarded. Worst the full time staff would have a large holiday potluck, a feast, while the adjuncts would get a couple of bags of chips a few doors down (about 6-8 adjuncts shared a large office). I would sneak leftover food down to them. Adjunct faculty are quite often treated as second class citizens, despite 75% of the faculty being adjunct at this large community college.
—Adjunct in Illinois
We have not had a raise in five years , and even then it was $25.00. A year ago Christmas a bonus was given to ALL who worked there—$500.00—except adjuncts. I went to the President and he said they never even took us into consideration. Meantime, faculty recieved a 1% raise and others a 2% this year. NOTHING to the adjuncts! … There are over 61 adjuncts in the English department alone, teaching BASIC courses, mostly writing which means many, many papers to correct. I averaged out what I make per hour based on classroom time, paper correction time (not even student one-on-one), and it came out to approximtely $5.70 an hour.
—Adjunct in Kentucky
We start teaching at the beginning of August; we don’t get paid until September 30. We get paid on the last day of school in December (usually the 12th); we don’t get paid again until the last day of February…. We are told if we cannot make ends meet, we may borrow against our paychecks for the interim in which we’re required to work. One of my fellow adjuncts did this; she borrowed against her February paycheck in early January. She was required not only to make a payment in February, but one in January as well. Yes, that’s correct—she owed money for money she borrowed in January, against a paycheck owed to her for work she did in January, and the school wouldn’t even wait until she got paid before dunning her for their money back, even though the terms of the loan stipulated she didn’t owe a cent until March 31. Two payments were deducted from the check she did receive. The money was straightened out in May. That means that from January through March 31, she had to live on nothing.
—Adjunct in Kentucky
The adjuncts in our department recently acquired an office—that’s right—one office. It is one small space that is shared among all 26 faculty members! That this is a step up reveals a good deal about actual conditions.
—Anonymous Adjunct in Massachusetts
Having some classes cancelled (or given to someone else) within a few weeks of the semester starting is not uncommon.
—Adjunct in Missouri
Adjuncts share an office with outdated computers. The classes are writing-intensive and require a lot of feedback to students. I do all my prep and grading at home via Blackboard. I had an unpaid maternity leave of 6 months, but could not qualify for unemployment either. I had to go on public assistance, and I still qualify for WIC and Medicaid for my daughter.
—Anonymous Adjunct in Ohio
I do the same work as a full time faculty member when it comes to students, in fact I do twice the work as I have two jobs, yet I get paid less than half of a full-timers salary. I don’t sit on committees or participate in governance simply because I am not allowed to. Hurt me, give me a full time job with a decent salary and make me do all the work, only it will be less, because I will get paid for EVERYTHING I do instead of only my face time with students. Where is my pay for grading, for lecture preparation, for creating tests, for corresponding with students outside of face time, where is my pay for coming in early just so I can freaking park without having to walk for twenty minutes to get to classes.
1 I haven’t even tried to tally adjuncts’ favorable/unfavorable ratings about their schools. It wouldn’t be that difficult, I think, but one would have to be cautious about false positives. Someone who is struggling to pay her way in this world on an adjunct’s salary will be more frustrated by course caps, fly-by-night contracts, and low salaries than someone teaching part-time for extra cash and intellectual stimulation. That the necessity of the job varies so widely seems to me a major problem in trying to study the job itself.
2 Stories with links are from the Adjunct Project’s blog; all others can be found in the spreadsheet.