Critical Readability

My critical readings of the best and worst of online media

Archive for the tag “adjunct”

Meet your new professor: Transient, poorly paid – In Plain Sight


Meet your new professor: Transient, poorly paid – In Plain Sight.

This is a pretty good article, but it fails to address some really major points.

Most people probably don’t know what it means when I say I am contingent faculty, or that 3 out of 4 faculty in this country are contingent faculty. People think professors are paid well and guaranteed stability (tenure), and those that aren’t tenure-track (contingent) are on an annual renewable contract like the rest of the business world. This is a much better analogy: Walmart hires a wide variety of workers, from CEOs and other skill/knowledge-based jobs that pay well to temporary unskilled seasonal labor at Christmas or other holidays that pay a fraction of what permanent laborers make. Corporate jobs are the academic equivalent of tenure-track jobs, contingent faculty are the academic equivalent of temp labor hired at Christmas to stock shelves for half the salary of the permanent shelf stocking laborer (albeit we’re highly skilled and educated and drowning in student loan debt). Typically speaking, when Christmas passes, Walmart’s temp laborers are “not rehired” (they’re not fired, mind you, just not rehired).

Now imagine if Walmart decided to try to trick the system by dividing the calendar into 4 3-month holiday seasons so they could only hire temp labor for half the salary. Upside? Much cheaper pay, you don’t have to pay for benefits, and you don’t have to pay unemployment taxes. Downside? You have to re-train new employees every three months. But, what if you kept rehiring the same temp labor at the end of their contract? Now they work the same number of hours as permanent laborers, have the skills of permanent labor, but you spend half the money, don’t have to give them benefits, you never have to give them a raise (even for increased COL), you do not need a reason to “not rehire” them, and you don’t have to pay unemployment taxes. Now imagine Walmart starts only hiring permanent temporary labor – imagine that there are no jobs as a permanent (full or part time) shelf stocking laborer available, so 3 out of 4 are permanent temporary laborers. This is what it means to be contingent faculty – we’re permanent temporary labor.

Not only do most university contingent faculty get paid in the poverty range (literally), many are on food stamps and very few of us (myself included) would be eligible for unemployment. I had more work stability when I worked at K-Mart in college, and they actually gave me raises when I performed well. If Walmart actually did this, it would be labor exploitation. When academia does it, it’s running a university like a business. It’s white-collar labor exploitation, and the only reason it still exists is because they can get away with it because the public has no idea it’s happening.


The Least Stressful Jobs Of 2013 – Forbes

“University professors have a lot less stress than most of us. Update: Well maybe not, see ADDENDUM below.” via The Least Stressful Jobs Of 2013 – Forbes. Dear Ms. Adams, let me tell you why I (an adjunct professor) am stressed:

1. I have $75,000 worth of student debt

2. In a good year, I make $30,000.

3. Any one of my classes can be canceled at the last minute.

4. I get paid by the class.  That means I could make $10,000 next year, or maybe 0.

5. I am on a limited term contract which states I should have no expectation for continued employment.

6. No reason is needed to not rehire me.

7. If I give a student a C for cheating on an exam, or talk about some politically unpopular topic (say, evolution or women’s rights),  the student can complain and I can be “not rehired.” And the students know it.

8. I usually find out at the last possible minute if I will have a job next month

9. I am 30 years old and only recently acquired health, dental, and eye benefits. Most adjuncts are not so lucky

10. I am 30 years old and only recently acquired retirement benefits.  Most adjuncts are not so lucky

11. I have sent out dozens of applications for permanent jobs (tenure-track) and my biggest accomplishment to date was learning that I am on an active wait list for a job that had over 600 applicants

12. Did I mention that I teach 300-500 students a semester? That I work 60-80 hours a week? And that summers and breaks are for me to get caught up on everything I didn’t get done while teaching 500 students?  Did I mention my colleague teaches 1200 students?

13. Did I mention that somehow I have to find time to research and write articles and books merely so that someday I may not have such a financially precarious life?  That in order to get an entry level tenure-track job in my field today I have to have my first book published, a task that 10 years ago was reserved for determining tenure (i.e. “senior” status).

14. Ms. Adams, since you clearly spent no time researching your news article, let me tell you that writing an academic article is nothing like your poor journalism.

15. Stress is sending out dozens and dozens of grant applications, fellowship applications, articles, etc., waiting 5 months, and then learning that constant rejection is part of the game

16. And that the game means one more year of underemployment because the reviewers took too damn long to get back to you on that article and now you’ve missed the (literally) 5 months of the year in which it is possible to apply for a tenure-track job

17. Stress is acquiring $2000 worth of credit card debt to attend the academic conference that is really a job interview in disguise

Yes, I realize we’re not fire fighters or nurses and we don’t work in sweatshops or factories.  But we create the knowledge the rest of the world needs to function, even if the world fails to properly utilize the knowledge we create. Even if that student fails to pay attention in her liberal arts classes and then goes on to write one of the most poorly researched articles on

Alumni Donations?


I understand that in the grand scheme of things giving money to my former universities will ideally provide younger students with the same opportunities that I had. I also understand the urge to give money, especially to my undergraduate department.

But right now, nothing makes me more irate Read more…

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. Read more…

The End of Identity?

“Perhaps the reality is that Singapore cannot build both a national identity and a global city identity. The national identity served us well in our formative years, but the global city identity will carry us forward. We are actually in the midst of a transition from the former to the latter. A global city identity is much more fluid, less rooted, than a national identity.” Read the full article here: The End of Identity?.

This article by Singaporean journalist Sudhir Thomas Vadeketh has me increasingly interested in learning more about the socio-political climate of Singapore – especially because I loved every minute I spent visiting Singapore last summer. As the academic job market remains bleak for PhDs, I have started looking for jobs internationally. Singapore is always on the top of my list.

I only spent two weeks in Singapore and I just barely began to pick up on how Singaporean culture, politics, and economics are structured. From the surface, Singapore appears to have everything I love: diversity, amazing public transportation, loving & friendly people, low-crime (no crime?), happening nightlife, great food, and lots and lots of people. Beautiful people with musics and traditions and languages from all over the globe.

I have to admit, however, that the first day we arrived in Singapore my husband and I were quite shocked. We walked around the posh Orchard Road neighborhood taking in the food, all of the languages, and shops from all over the globe. We also quickly noticed the prices and the fact that we were far too poor for Singapore. Two things struck me: 1. the fact that Singapore’s booming economy paints a stark contrast to our life in the U.S. since 2008; and 2. that this is what globalization is. I mean, this is really what globalization is.

Before visiting Singapore I thought I understood the complexities and nuances of globalization because I was familiar with the major academic theories and debates. I understood it from an ideological and academic perspective. But I had never truly experienced globalization before visiting Singapore. Cosmpolitanism, yes. Globalization in constant dialogue with nationalism, yes. But not globalization in the sense that the author here discusses – when a globalized identity effectively consumes  a national identity,  that (in reality) never really existed in the first place.

That first day I walked down Orchard Road and thought “this is amazing Indian food, fantastic Chinese opera, beautiful Malay clothing, the best of European designers, the worst of U.S. popular music. But where are the Singaporeans?”

If there is a national identity still at play, and the author says there is, I did not see it during my trip. Well, I should rephrase that statement. I saw national government propaganda and experienced the not-surprisingly highly nationalistic “National Day,” but I did not see nationalism in how the actual people engaged with each other and their foreign visitors.  Yes, I know – tourist, two weeks, etc… But even if I lived there for years, if I became one of the migrant workers Vadaketh discusses, I’m not sure I would see it even then.

Which brings me to my next point.

A few days ago I was talking with my academic colleagues about looking for jobs or research fellowships in Singapore. The first question I got was, “Could you really live there?” They were referring to, of course, the strict political control exerted by the government over the population. It was amazing to visit Singapore and not see any semblance of crime or poverty, but unsettling to know that it was likely still there, hidden from view. Like crime and poverty, social tensions are lurking in the background even though on the surface people appear to get along splendidly.

I’ve also started to realize that of all the jobs I found in Singapore are in technology, and was interested in what Vadeketh had to say about the low priority on art in Singapore’s meritocracy. My colleagues also brought up what it would mean to work in a country that does not share the same ideas about freedom of speech (and hence academic freedom) as in the U.S.

Which all leaves me wondering if I could actually live there. I’m not sure. But then again, my hunch is that Singapore will continue to grow and prosper economically. Maybe it is just election season getting to me, but I have less and less faith in our political system. Singapore’s education system, while lacking crucial aspects, does continue to garner attention while ours appears to be meeting its demise. And while social injustices undoubtedly exist, I was struck by the lack of hate and anger in Singapore, particularly when compared to our current socio-political climate in the U.S. While I’m not sure what the future will hold, I will keep my eyes and ears on Singapore in my job search, if only to learn more about what I find to be a truly fascinating culture and amazing city.

The closing of American academia – Opinion – Al Jazeera English

The last line of this article really struck a chord with me: “My father, the first person in his family to go to college, tries to tell me my degree has value. ‘Our family came here with nothing,’ he says of my great-grandparents, who fled Poland a century ago. ‘Do you know how incredible it is that you did this [earned a PhD], how proud they would be?’ And my heart broke a little when he said that, because his illusion is so touching – so revealing of the values of his generation, and so alien to the experience of mine.”

Reading this statement elicited a very similar response in me – my eyes teared up when reading about how proud this dad is of his daughter because it reminded me of how proud my parents are of me and my PhD. I also feel the same sadness that the author does – being raised by someone how lived the American Dream and told me my whole life that I could do anything if I just work hard enough. In reality, when 2/3s of college instructors are adjunct or contract, when education is being de-funded, when the educated class is being impoverished, and jobs are vanishing, there is no such thing as “if you just work hard enough you will be (financially) successful.” I think that’s something all of the approximately 1 million adjunct faculty can certainly attest to. Even the slackers among us are overworked, to say nothing of the overachievers.

And that’s saying nothing about the kind of education these students are going in debt to receive. In my most highly-enrolled semester, I got paid $25 per student for the entire semester. And I am one of the lucky ones – I do not get paid below the poverty line and I do receive benefits. Even teaching hundreds and hundreds of students, I refuse to not assign research papers or include written questions on my exams. There are those of us who have high standards, but more likely are the adjuncts who would never even think of assigning their classes of 100 or 200 or 600 students 10-15  pages of writing per student. Because they simply do not get paid enough. I don’t care what Romney says about class size not mattering, it is not possible to be the best teacher you can be to 600 students.


1. The next time you think professors get paid too much, remember that the high salaries of tenured faculty are drastically offset by the 2/3 of faculty barely making a livable wage (or well below, in most cases).

2. We must stop telling students that college education is a means to a job – my generation (and their generation) cannot be anything they want to be, even if they work really, really hard. Many will not find jobs in their fields. This is only multiplied by the decreasing quality of their education (despite the best efforts of those of us who really care) and their increasing debt.

Read the original article here: The closing of American academia – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.

Post Navigation