Critical Readability

My critical readings of the best and worst of online media

What Adjuncts are Saying

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Sarah Kendzior’s controversial article in Al Jazeer “The Closing of American Academia” has resulted in significant conversation surrounding the ethical, pedagogical, and practical consequences of a professoriate in which 2/3rds are contingent faculty.

On August 30th, Dr. Kendzior published a blog explaining that since the publication of her original article, “I have received hundreds of emails on this article. They came from adjuncts who feel exploited and abused. They came from graduate students terrified about their future. They came from parents – parents of undergraduates shocked by how their children’s professors are treated, and parents of adjuncts grateful that their plight was addressed. They came from tenured faculty, prominent intellectuals among them, who spoke of corruption within their own disciplines. They came from people outside higher education who see parallels in their own professions – in law, journalism, policy, and other fields that rely on unpaid or underpaid labor” (Crisis in the Academy).

I was thinking about her statement this morning while reading the advice forums on The Chronicle of Higher Education. I generally only venture into this online space when feeling desperate for a new job. Recently, I have become aware of a small number of faculty positions that bridge the gap between exploitative adjunct/contingent faculty positions and tenure-track positions. At my institution, we call these “instructional assistant professorships.” They are fully benefited and pay a respectable wage, lower but in the same general ballpark as research oriented assistant professors (compared to say, adjuncts). My thought process this morning was “there have to be more of these out there” and then “maybe the Chronicle forums can tell me where to find them.” Instead I found a series of very disheartening and demoralizing comments about the realities of being non-tenure track. As I mentioned in my original blog post on contingent faculty, while some of us provide high quality education despite the limitations we are given, more common are the tactics discussed below. I’m posting two here so that the parents of undergraduate students who contacted Dr. Kendzior can see additional examples of how the exploitation of contingent faculty very directly influences their children’s education.

1. Original Poster explains that her/his pay has been cut because the administration is no longer willing to pay a stipend for required office hour time. Read full thread here.

  • Most common response, this one posted by Reenero6 (Distinguished Member) “I agree with Vox here in that you were lucky to get such a stipend. I have no mailbox, no voicemail, and was told to meet with students in the hall if needed, and to try to be discreet–you know, FERPA and all.”
  • Response by OldAdjunct (Distinguished Member):  I say find a way to quit mid-semester.  Ideally as a group.
  • Response by Alleyoxenfree (Distinguished Member):  “Shorten all your classes by 10-15 minutes, offer the last period as “office hour” time and talk to them one at a time in the classroom (unless there is a group that wants to book the time). Save 5 minutes from each class for answering an email or two at night. When students ask why you’re not available, tell them the college will no longer pay for office hours but you want to be available as best you can to “teach” students one-on-one. In other words, do what you can to abide by your contract while not providing work for free. Good luck with the jobhunt.

2. Original Poster: Lost Benefits, Salary I have a notice of appointment from the Dean’s office detailing exactly what courses I will be responsible for, what I will be paid, and what benefits I will receive (yay health insurance!).  I’ve had it for months. Now, as I begin to teach my courses for the semester, they are saying that I will be paid substantially less (about 2/3 of what I am promised in the notice of appointment) and lose my benefits.  My duties have not changed, but the Dean’s office argues that those duties should take less time than they stated in their original notice, and therefore that my part-time appointment is a lower percentage of full time than they had indicated.”

  • Response by FlyingBison (New Member): If I’m interpreting your situation correctly, it sounds like they reduced your appointment (% of FTE).  If you are an adjunct or part-time lecturer, without any contract or collective bargaining agreement in place, then you are likely considered an at-will employee without any recourse.
  • Response by TuxthePenguin (Senior Member): It is impossible for anyone to know based on the information you’ve given, but having something in writing doesn’t make it a contract at a certain salary […] There’s no way I would consider filing a lawsuit”
  • Response by OP: “That’s the thing that gets me.  If nothing else, I could leave it, given how they’ve changed the terms at the last minute.  Or I could do a s***ty job out of spite.  They’re willing to risk the educational quality of hundreds of students over what is (relative to the money I bring in by teaching said hundreds of students) an absolutely paltry sum.  Of course in reality I’m not willing to risk that educational quality for them at all, so I lose by caring and the higher ups win by being a bunch of soulless s***bags. Such is life, eh?”

Interested in reading more? Read the Chronicle forum for non-tenure track faculty or check out this report by Inside Higher Education: “Who is Professor ‘Staff’ And how can this person teach so many classes?” 

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3 thoughts on “What Adjuncts are Saying

  1. I was driven to an anxiety attack and had to quit due to very subtle coercion executed by clerks in the office who kept only favorites. These clerks had powerful influence over the Chairperson and the administrators. Favoritism is another evil within the adjuncting world. Without a concrete contract, we are at the mercy of even those without college degrees.

  2. Great point! I agree completely and have heard many similar stories. Fortunately, I have never had to deal with this kind of thing before. My department will do whatever they can to help the adjuncts, but unfortunately there is little they can do. I admire your bravery in quitting – those of us who keep allowing ourselves to be exploited only perpetuate the problem.

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