EducationHigher EducationUncategorized

Charity Work: My Life as an Adjunct Part I

Every semester I give my students the opportunity to ask one question of me. I tell them they can ask me anything that is not too terribly personal but I welcome questions giving them career advice, off topic subjects that we cannot cover in class, or just general what classes do you think I should take inquiries. Every semester at least one student asks a variant on the following question:

“Why don’t you want to teach full time?”

Now I usually smile and chuckle a bit and then say that I would love to do you know anyone hiring? What my students are extremely ignorant of is the fact that most of the professors that teach their classes are adjunct faculty. Faculty who are being paid very, very, poorly and have no benefits in anyway.  Faculty who are sometimes hired to act as talking heads to keep a warm body in the classroom.

I know that this topic has been written about before on SoD and I know that recently the subject was written about in the New York Times.  James Hoff who was interviewed in the aforementioned New York Times article wrote a response to their piece in the Guardian, Are adjunct professors the Fast-Food workers of academia?, and in turn I would like to write a response to some of his points, as well as, give you a glimpse into my teaching career. I can only speak to my experiences and it may be different elsewhere, but I think it is important to understand that this is not a singular problem.

To make a living wage, perchance to dream.

In Hoff’s article in the Guardian he states that “paying adjuncts less creates a hierarchy within academia.” I agree with him on this point.  I can tell you that I make on average if I am lucky between $20,000.0 and $24,000.0 a year. In order to do that I must teach at several different schools that are not at all close to one another. In my most lucrative semester I was able to work three schools at once and teach five courses between the three. This means that even though I am making a part time wage (which when I break it down it makes more sense to work at a fast food chain) I am doing the work of a full time professor. So essentially to make a working poor living I have to have three jobs at once none of which carries any benefits.

Now I know there are plenty of people out there that work multiple jobs to make a living and they work hard at what they do and I am not belittling them in anyway.  I am just trying to make the point that at one school a full time faculty will teach these same five courses and make almost three times what I make in a semester.  I am not sure why I am not able to create the same revenue as someone who teaches exactly the same number of courses in one semester.  Who created the formula that decides it is okay to pay adjuncts these very low wages? It is almost as if these low wages say that adjuncts are paid less because they are lesser teachers. It is as if they are not as qualified?  How that is the case is beyond me since I know a large number of adjuncts who have been teaching the same courses over ten years.

Also, it is expected that I perform the same duties as a full time professor and do all the prep for the courses including lectures, homework, exams, quizzes, and grading.  That is fine but I also have to find the time to help students with problems during office hours, which I do not get paid for and I do not have an office with which to use. Oh yes and before you tell me that the closet in the corner that is labeled adjunct office is my office remember that tiny space is shared with probably twenty people at any given time. I have had to meet students at coffee shops, book stores, restaurants, and libraries on my own time to give them the help they need.  It is not that I do not want to help them, I very much do.  I just would like the resources that go along with it.

Job Security

Hoff mentions that we have “no job security and that we are subject to sudden termination at the whims of department chairs and administrators.” For me this is partially true. At a couple of the schools I teach at we do have some job security. Both of these schools have unions for their adjuncts which appears to look like some job security. However, the effectiveness of these unions is questionable. At one of these schools the adjuncts have a separate union from the full time faculty and even though the adjuncts make up the majority of the employed instructors the bargaining power of the union is not great. I believe this may be because the full time union and the adjunct union do not work together toward common goals. In my opinion, it seems that the full time faculty regard the adjuncts as possible threats. One example of this is when the adjunct union asked if the full time union would double up on a few of the full time faculty who had their own private offices to open up some office spaces for adjunct faculty. The full time union flatly refused.  They claimed it was their right not to allow the school to let adjuncts use up their precious space and resources because they were full time employees.  That is a small example but there is a lot of butting heads between the two unions.

At another school I teach at the union is one encompassing union for both full and adjunct faculty members.  Since adjuncts make up the majority of the teaching staff the full time employees have figured out how to not give them the bargaining power by giving them only half a vote/half a say on any matter that is important.  You know like wages.  Adjunct faculty only have half a vote/half a say when they are trying to bargain their own meager wages.  Adjuncts teach most of the classes yet we cannot have a full vote on issues that are important to those classes?!?  Okay. I am not sure how that makes sense.

The other schools I teach at have no union and absolutely zero job security.  Any semester a school can just decide they want to hire someone else for a position that someone may have been teaching for years.  I have seen people who are perfectly good teachers lose jobs because someones friend needed a teaching job for a semester.  No explanations or notice were given to the teacher who lost their job they just weren’t given an assignment the next semester. This leaves that adjunct wondering what they did wrong and without another class somewhere else to make up the difference in the loss of wages.

I think I will leave you with this small tidbit for the time being.  I have so much more to say but I realized this post was going to be extremely long so I thought I would break it up into a few posts. So the saga will continue at some point after I have a few drinks.

 Featured image Unemployed men queued outside a depression soup kitchen opened in Chicago by Al Capone, Author Unknown.

Previous post

Spotlight on adjuncts, scientific controversies legislation in Virgina, Texas textbook panels, and more

Next post

Pop Quiz: Thoughtless Cruelty



JoDee is an adjunct faculty instructor of astronomy and physics at various colleges around her hometown in the midwest. When she is not trying to get her cat, Pixel, off of her laptop she is observing variable stars and researching black holes.


  1. February 10, 2014 at 3:40 pm —

    So, as you were working towards your degrees,did you see this problem coming? Hopefully as more potential grad students or Ph.D. students see that they’re likely headed for adjunct hell, they’d decide that it’s a bad road and hop off – right? I’ve been trying to warn every friend I have that even talks about going into academia – but they often don’t listen.

    • February 10, 2014 at 5:26 pm —

      Nope I had no idea that this was going to be a problem. In fact I was pretty sure I would work as an adjunct for a little bit and “pay my dues” until a full time job became available. As it is the colleges would prefer to keep hiring more adjuncts as classes open then hire one or two more full time instructors. So if you can imagine if a job does open up then the sharks start circling. However, I never tell anyone who is headed for a higher degree to stop just don’t rely on a teaching job find a different niche.

Leave a reply