February
1st 2010
Adjuncting: for fun and profit?

Posted under: American history, jobs, weirdness

Sock it to me!

You’re a busy professional looking to diversify your skill set and to secure another income stream.  (Or, that’s probably how you’d describe yourself in jargony self-important business resume language.)  So, “[i]n this time of job insecurity, the question may have occurred to you: Should you consider part-time teaching as a way to improve your finances and expand your career opportunities?“  After all, “[t]he need for part-time professors, known as adjuncts, is high right now. Education is one of the few areas of the economy that has been expanding, partly because so many of the unemployed are returning to school.”

Well, why not?  You’ve got something to offer.  “[b]ecoming a teacher can be rigorous and time-consuming,” but really–anyone can do it, especially if you’re aiming for post-secondary ed, where we’ll let anyone teach!   ”[A]t the college level, part-time teaching is a realistic option for some professionals. Postsecondary schools are often willing to be flexible about academic credentials in return for real-world expertise.”  But, “[y]ou may not want to pursue teaching part time, however, if your motivation is mainly financial. The pay for adjunct professors is usually low, and the work can be challenging. Still, the nonmonetary rewards that come with teaching can be substantial.” 

Since the job is so fun and rewarding, and anyone can do it, you won’t mind the low pay now, will you?  Think about the children!  Plus, anyone can do it.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to mix up a Harvey Wallbanger and warm up the TV set–Laugh-in is on tonight.  In my mind it’s 1971, which is apparently when The New York Times wrote this article.  According to the paper of record, we don’t live in a world or teach in universities where adjuncts faculty are the majority or near-majority of faculty already.  And there’s always room for more!

This article captures all of the contradictory beliefs about education that we were discussing in the previous thread:  1) There’s no special training required–anyone can do it, 2) For money!, 3) Except, most of us do it for love.  So there’s no need to pay teachers or professors well, since they have so much fun on the job, and since–well, anyone can do it, right?  (H/t to reader Shaz for sending this on.)

29 Comments »

29 Responses to “Adjuncting: for fun and profit?”

  1. Janice on 01 Feb 2010 at 7:35 am #

    This reminds me when we were doing a search for a one-year LTA. Admittedly it was on short notice, but of the handful of applications we received, one had only a B.A. in A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT DISCIPLINE. But that applicant said that they loved sharing knowledge with others so they were sure they could do a great job.

    Yeah, sure. We were relieved that there were actual, you know!, historians who applied for the job and hired a kick-ass historian for the year. But this attitude that anyone can adjunct or do a year as a professor is surprisingly widespread. After all, what does it really take to be a professor anyway?

  2. Dame Eleanor Hull on 01 Feb 2010 at 8:12 am #

    I read the original article yesterday & snorted a couple of times myself. The problem is that there is a huge difference between what’s required to teach a class in what you might call a “trade discipline” at a community college and what you need to teach in “evergreen fields,” even at the same CC, let alone at the university level. One of my brothers doesn’t even have a BA, but I think he has taught a course in his special area of construction, where he is an acknowledged expert. Business hotshots might be able to pick up a course or two at LRU, but to get a regular TT job they’d need a PhD or similar on top of significant business experience. Articles like this blur the important distinctions between fields and requirements. Do the journalists not realize what the distinctions are? Or do they assume “everybody knows” that you can’t teach college with an English B.A.? You know what you do when you assume.

  3. Indyanna on 01 Feb 2010 at 8:58 am #

    If you follow any journalistic writing about academic affairs you’ll see the same relatively simplistic reportage. Find out which discipline is meeting where this week and check that city’s paper and they will have sent someone over to report on job crises, arcane session topics, professorial fashion and anthropology, whatever. Hey, the reporters went to college. When I went to college I didn’t have any idea about the people who stepped out from behind the door and held forth either, and without years of cultist training never would have. Never heard of course loads, knew nothing, really, about tenure, nothing, really, about anything that would be considered essential trade knowledge now. That stuff will never be of real interest to the proverbial “educated general audience” for which the mainstream media reports. It’s in the trade rags, like the _Chronicle_. The big news from my dept. this morning is that one of my colleagues’
    _Chronicle_’s went missing late last week while something was being photocopied from it (by a work study student, hopefully not by an adjunct). This is apparently going to stop most action in the shop until the crisis is over, one way or another.

    Everybody complains about the adjunct-thing, but nobody is going to “unilaterally disarm,” either, it turns out.

  4. ej on 01 Feb 2010 at 9:22 am #

    Maybe community colleges are still hiring adjuncts, but most of the 4-year universities I know of are slashing them from budgets right now, increasing class sizes or adding to the loads of their t/t faculty. So I’m not sure where all this opportunity exists…

  5. Historiann on 01 Feb 2010 at 9:24 am #

    “If you follow any journalistic writing about academic affairs you’ll see the same relatively simplistic reportage. Find out which discipline is meeting where this week and check that city’s paper and they will have sent someone over to report on job crises, arcane session topics, professorial fashion and anthropology, whatever.”

    There is a groundhog day-like feeling to all of this, isn’t there? And it makes me suspicious of the generic conventions that must dictate that stories about other things (government, other industries, entertainment, etc.) I wonder: do we ever get to read any real news? Or is pretty much everything in modern newspapers just narratives that purport to report something new but which are just occasions to tell us the same pleasing old, familiar tales?

    When I read 18th C newspapers, their generic conventions and the narratives to which they are attached are so clear. In English-language newspapers, for example: The Spanish are not to be trusted, the French are evil, insidious plotters, Germans are blockheads, and all free women are either shrewish wives or stupid virgins. I wonder how clear our “news” narratives will appear to historians in the future?

  6. As if being an adjunct wasn’t hard enough already. « More or Less Bunk on 01 Feb 2010 at 9:38 am #

    [...] (where I found this link) applies the proper amount of sarcasm, so I’ll opt for historical perspective. This is one of my favorite quote from my [...]

  7. Notorious Ph.D. on 01 Feb 2010 at 9:41 am #

    After reading that article, I understand why our search committees routinely get applications from semi-retired businessmen who have been lifelong history buffs, and so want to teach.

    But what I really want to know is: where are those grad classes that pay adjuncts $10-12K each?

  8. John S. on 01 Feb 2010 at 11:52 am #

    @Notorious–my god, you’re right! Where are these $12K grad classes? Heck, I will apply to teach for those!

    The other little nugget I enjoyed there was that grading, office hours, and other class prep can take up to “10 hours or so.” Now, I know my teaching, after several years, still needs work. But am I the only one who spends more than 10 hours a week on things like office hours, grading, reviewing reading I’ve assigned for classes, and tweaking lectures? (I’m leaving out grad seminar prep, which can really take a long time, depending on the week.) Because I would totally love the teaching job that requires 3 hours of work in the classroom and 10 hours outside the classroom. I could even stand to teach a couple of those!

  9. Historiann on 01 Feb 2010 at 11:58 am #

    John S.: you’re spending too much time on your teaching if you’re spending 10 hours outside of class for every 3 cr. class! (I’m not sure if you mean 10 a week, or 10 for each class.) Unless you’re writing new lectures and assigning new books every week, that is.

  10. Katherine on 01 Feb 2010 at 3:04 pm #

    A surgeon and a historian walked into a bar. “I’m sure glad I ran into you historian,” said the surgeon. “I’m getting ready to retire and I’m going to write a history of surgery when I retire, I’d like some pointers on how to write history.” “I’m glad I ran into you too said the historian, you see I’m also planning on retiring, and I thought I’d take up surgery in my retirement.”

  11. FrauTech on 01 Feb 2010 at 3:08 pm #

    This is interesting. They should make it clear it would very much depend on your degree/specialty/experience and the institution at which you’d want to teach at.

    For instance, looks like my local community college will hire instructors with only a bachelor’s degree. However, that’s not the minimum they are looking for. So the question is, if you have BA in say, Communications, and want to teach a communications class at a community college, how many other people are you competing against who are perfectly capable of teaching the class? On the other hand, if you have a BA in German History and are also fluent in speaking German and have experience tutoring German, you might be a lot more likely to get a part-time German teaching gig.

    But I’ve looked up the part-time teaching rates: it’s something like $2000-$2500 PER SEMESTER. So that’s probably 4-5 hours of actual teaching a week, plus however many hours preparing/grading whatever, and you’re going to net $2000. So I think the people who have the special skills who could actually land a job like this in the evenings probably don’t need to because it’d be much easier to get a 2nd job paying more for a lot less time (say, if you were that German speaker, translating etc, or a technical professional could get in on tech writing, etc).

    I’ve actually considered getting my PhD at some point and taking a shot at the adjunct model around some vague retirement date. I don’t know how unrealistic this is. Assuming I wouldn’t NEED money to survive (we’ll assume I’ve saved enough for a comfortable retirement) it’s still uncertain how difficult it would be to get a post-doc job or adjunct teaching job even in my field which doesn’t seem as over-populated as other fields. So who knows. The idea sits in the back of my brain as sort of a second career thought.

  12. Susan on 01 Feb 2010 at 4:00 pm #

    Well, I did once do a gig where I was paid $10,000 for one course. But it was at a prestigious Ivy with lots of money (I know, that’s redundant, but some are richer than others). Since that institution, at that time, paid junior people teaching a 2-2 load about $50,000, and I was hired because they hadn’t yet replaced a retiring very senior historian, I was a cheap date.

    And I’m not sure whether I dread surgery by the retired historian, or the history by the retired surgeon….

  13. Digger on 01 Feb 2010 at 4:01 pm #

    I’m adjuncting my particular class at the moment because there isn’t a line item available for a while to hire someone TT. Which is cool for me, because with an MA, I couldn’t even apply for the TT, and I enjoy the class. The pay, though… she sucks. Let me just say there was recently an increase, from $1,800 per semester. You don’t adjunct for the money, that’s for sure. Except perhaps those $10k gigs Notorious has heard about… I will bribe you with cookies if you’ll share!

  14. Historiann on 01 Feb 2010 at 5:12 pm #

    Heh. I thought that some of my adjunct readers would enjoy this article. (And by “enjoy,” I mean “tear up in frustration,” I suppose.)

    FrauTech–your first point is exactly right. I’m not saying that anyone who wants to teach at a CC must have a Ph.D.–obviously, that’s probably of dubious value to people who know how to install solar panels and do energy audits, and who can instruct others in how to do these things. It’s more the “hey, kids: just rent a barn and put on a show!” tone of the article.

    As they say on Scooby Doo: “It’s so crazy, it just might work!” Thus, the applications to Notorious’s department from the buffs. . .

  15. FrauTech on 01 Feb 2010 at 6:06 pm #

    Certainly Historiann I didn’t mean to imply that YOU had glossed over that point. Just that the article had. And yes, I agree with you, I think there’s an opportunity for people teaching a specific, uncommon skill. A foreign language, a very particular computer program (I don’t mean of the office suite variety), or say, fixing an engine and completing the accreditations necessary to become a mechanic.

    I’m assuming anything in the sciences/math they’d require at least an MS unless they were really low on people. But I’ll bet a LOT of the instructors have PhDs. Maybe they are poorly paid university assistant professors on the TT who read the article and figured out how they could earn a little extra money on the side! Or to go with the Underpants Gnomes’ notion of logic, paraphrased:

    Step 1: Teach
    Step 2: ???
    Step 3: Profit

    Getting in at any of the universities near me would for sure require a PhD. The only exception I can think of is my Russian professor who had an MA “only” and the woman who ran our discussion section, who might not have even had a degree whatsoever for all I know. So I guess the same adage applies; the more unique your skill, the more likely this method can work for you.

  16. Historiann on 01 Feb 2010 at 7:46 pm #

    Ha! Yes, the Underpants Gnomes theory of economic development. Love it!

  17. Indyanna on 01 Feb 2010 at 10:02 pm #

    Oh My God, I didn’t get paid $10,000 for teaching a grad course at a prestigious Ivy, even though I parachuted in in the second week when the Big Guy went down with a semester-threatening medical event! Not even pro-rated to the twelve weeks I was there. I think I would have paid THEM for that opportunity, although I couldn’t have paid THAT much. I guess I should have started reading this blog back then. Oh well, they were the best students I ever had, I can say that much.

    John S: You surely read a certain advisor of ours’s biopic introductory essay to a collection, wherein he recounts how a certain undergraduate advisor of his tried to forewarn him that routine academic duties would eat up many a day, week, year, as the time went by. The specific prep time does go down, but then other things eat their way into the total 80-hour week.

    To answere Historiann’s question, I think I’m going to apply for a $10K adjuncting job at the Columbia U. J-School, and see what’s going on in that field, anyway.

  18. Tony Grafton on 02 Feb 2010 at 5:32 am #

    That article made me gibber too. The Times is amazingly clueless about higher education. They gave a buyout to their most experienced reporter in the field, which probably doesn’t help. But their coverage really isn’t good. For all its faults, I miss Lingua Franca.

  19. Knitting Clio on 02 Feb 2010 at 5:53 am #

    Our collective bargaining agreement stipulates that adjuncts must have a master’s degree at minimum. Right now the only ones we can hire are part-time and one-year appointments as there is a hiring freeze for tenure track faculty. Even when we can do T-T searches, some departments in the school of business, as well as nursing and education, have trouble recruiting applicants because our salaries are significantly lower than what these applicants can earn in business, nursing, or the public schools (teachers and administrators in CT are paid very well).

    This article appears to be aimed at recently downsized professionals. While real world experience certainly shouldn’t make up for lack of advanced degree there are some fields where this might make sense.

  20. Historiann on 02 Feb 2010 at 6:36 am #

    Indyanna: ha! Indeed. Let us know what you hear from Columbia, and what their rates are for adjuncting grad classes. Maybe we should all volunteer our expert services as public intellectuals for reviewing books, movies, and writing op-eds. Why should newspapers pay someone a living wage to do that, when we can do it for them?

    I, too, miss Lingua Franca. It came out when I was in grad school, and was a tremendous introduction to the guild. By comparison, blogs just don’t cut it. I’d love to peddle in more gossip and name-dropping, but I’m stranded out in the provinces. . .

    KC–re: those downsized professionals. Here’s a retraining/retooling program that I’d support: a program for people with B.A.s/B.S.s and several years of work experience to do an accelerated teaching degree and license, and then put them in front of an elementary or secondary school classroom. I wonder if that wouldn’t help the schools and teachers get more respect from the taxpayers, who find it so fashionable to diss and dismiss them. (But then, that kind of a program would take real work and real re-training, not dilletantism.)

  21. Cattyinqueens on 02 Feb 2010 at 8:07 am #

    Did y’all see that at the bottom of the article there were the “related articles” links, and one of them was for a 2007 article that was about the problems Universities were in for because they were relying too much on adjunct labor? Pretty funny, in a sad way of course.

    It is a surprise to me that my institution has titled adjuncts, assistant and associate. As a junior person, I was assigned to observe an adjunct one semester, only to be later informed that I was not allowed because he was “associate adjunct” and required an observer of a commensurate rank. I was relieved of course–the adjunct was indeed an experienced teacher, and though I was too in terms of number of courses taught, he was probably 20 years older than me, and I felt pretty anxious about generational differences and also about how my t-t status was going to color anything I said in my report. Anyway, I guess the “Associate Adjunct” is tenured in a way too–he gets appointed that after meeting a certain number of semesters, gets a pay raise (minor, as things go of course), relative job security, and better health benefits. I’m glad my school does this, but of course it’s problematic because it institutionalizes these two tiers and makes it harder for adjuncts to organize and ask for more than what they get now. The union and the university will probably both argue that they get more than most adjuncts.

    Re: Lingua Franca, wasn’t there a “bad” one and a “good” one?

  22. Indyanna on 02 Feb 2010 at 10:22 am #

    Somebody was telling me on Friday night that one of the things NYU did in the aftermath of the failed graduate student strike/unionization attempt a few years back was to classify ALL g.s. teaching-assistant money as “adjunct” labor, which has the effect of completely defeating any future efforts to make graduate teaching a collective bargaining issue. It also apparently has very real impacts on the availability of teaching money support for dissertation projects in the later stages. I may not have (doubtless didn’t) completely get the gist of this circumstance, which came in the course of a short conversation, but it seems pretty daemonic to me.

  23. Comrade PhysioProf on 02 Feb 2010 at 4:08 pm #

    Did this article discuss the fact that increasing the practice of adjuncting also drives down salaries of real faculty?

  24. Knitting Clio on 02 Feb 2010 at 5:49 pm #

    We have what’s called an Accelerated Route to Certification for public school certification. It’s very hard to get into, though, for good reason. Even then, the attrition rate for teachers who go through that program is significantly higher than those who go through standard teacher training programs.

  25. candybeez on 05 Feb 2010 at 7:11 am #

    I haven’t had time to read over all the comments…but thought I’d toss in my own anyway. I am secondary school teacher, who began my career with two degrees, undergrad. and grad. I love learning and kept going to grad. school, picking up hours until my husband suggested that I should be heading toward some kind of goal. I agreed, was accepted into a program; it took nine years to finish my doctorate with the idea that maybe now I could find something beyond high school. That was six years ago. I tried my darnedest to get something, anything, in any kind of nearby post-secondary setting. Maybe I’m in denial but I have finally decided that it’s not about me; I’m in the wrong place, wrong time. I do think that “location, etc.” plays a big part in these situations. If you live in an area where there are lots of people finishing grad. school and looking for local positions in higher ed. you are probably doomed. I have no regrets about earning my doctorate; I think I am a better teacher now. And my students seem to get a kick out of calling me “doctor,” although many want to know if I am a medical doctor. In fact, it was a student who insisted that the administration change my name plate from Ms. to Dr. Anyway, I am now ready to retire after thirty years of teaching in a secondary school and have let go of my dreams of joining a college faculty. In fact, I contemplate doing some work with Literacy Volunteers of America…this way I can continue my life as an educator, but without all the stresses of teaching…at least, right now that’s what the grass over the fence looks like from here. We’ll see.

  26. Career Adjunct on 05 Feb 2010 at 7:16 am #

    “Did this article discuss the fact that increasing the practice of adjuncting also drives down salaries of real faculty?”

    Comrade PhysioProf: I’m as “real” as you are. I have a Ph.D. and have been teaching for over ten years now. As an adjunct, I’ll teach anywhere from 5 to 7 classes/sections in a given semester — often it’s several sections of the same thing, so preps can be doubled or even tripled up. And then in the Summers I can afford to teach just two or three. Given what I’m used to teaching, two or three is a snap. I also teach upper-level classes, (yes, as an adjunct) but in certain respects those are indeed easier to teach than, say, comp. And some years I get lucky and get a one or two year full-time gig, but even in those years I don’t give up the adjunct gigs — more is more in my universe. In one two year stretch I got really lucky and had two full-time gigs, and ironically ended up teaching less and making far, far more than I do during the strictly adjunct years.

    So Comrade, tell me how I’m not a real faculty member? Well, okay, “member” may be stretching things given that I rarely even know the others who are employed, be they full or part time. But that’s cool because most academics are elitist assholes like you who say things like “adjuncting also drives down salaries of real faculty.”

    At this point, it’s become pure self-interest for me. I don’t care a lick if I’m driving your precious salary down. At least I can pay my rent, my bills, and I get to lay back (relatively) during the Summer. But dig it, Comrade A-hole, when I have a non-comp. course I do preps, I read new material to stay current with the field, and conduct classes just like a real professor. That’s right, Comrade, a REAL professor.

  27. Adjunct-turned-Hobo on 08 Feb 2010 at 5:40 pm #

    Career Adjunct,

    When your school decides, out of the blue, to not rehire you one semester, then you’ll realize that, while you do the work of one, you simply are not “real faculty.”

    When you are suddenly given a pre-prepared syllabus and told not to deviate from it, you’ll realize you are not “real faculty.”

    When you find yourself without a single section and a dwindling bank account because you’ve gone a summer (or fall or spring) without work, then you’ll realize you are not “real faculty.”

    When you suddenly realize that the institutions you have worked for have taken advantage of you by hiring you at bargain rates for most of your career, then you’ll realize you are not “real faculty.”

    Oh, and when you finally wise up and realize that the overwhelming majority of the readers and commenters on this blog are only anti-adjunct in the sense that they believe most of those worthy and qualified colleagues working as adjuncts under what amounts to wage slavery should have access to tenure, academic freedom, and dignified employment, then, perhaps, you’ll finally realize that your former and current employers do not consider you (and probably have NEVER considered any adjunct) to be “real faculty.”

  28. Chris on 10 Feb 2010 at 8:14 am #

    Adjunct-turned-Hobo,

    I took CA to be saying that what s/he describes is the new model of being a “real” professor. I tend to agree. And I also took some umbrage at the previous poster’s phrasing, “real professor.”

    The risks you outline, however, are very real, though there are ways to work this new system to at least achieve a bit of a leveling of the playing field. To the risk of being laid-off at the end of any given semester, what I and many of my cohort do is intentionally over-book each semester. During the scheduling period each Feb/March I send out my vita to every school I can think of, and so by May I have usually been offered close to ten or eleven sections/classes. Then, as we get into early August, I simply call the chairs of the schools to which I’m going to say no and apologetically say ‘so sorry, but I’m unable to teach these classes due to schedule conflicts, but perhaps you can use me next year’. And they’re always understanding, and then they always say ‘yes, feel free to re-apply for next year’, and I do.

    Obviously, that’s not exactly the most ethical approach, but hey, you do what you gotta’ do.

    As for the pre-fab syllabus, if it’s a comp class, I don’t care. In fact, I prefer getting a pre-fab because then a) I don’t have to spend the extra effort of designing a syllabus; and b) if the syllabus sucks, it’s on them not me. That said, I’ve never been given a pre-fab syllabus for an upper level class, and I admit that would rub me the wrong way, but I also doubt it’s going to happen because who will have the expertise to design a pre-packaged syll. on, say, African-American lit. or Modernist poetry, etc.?

    I would love, to use your words, have access to tenure, academic freedom, and dignified employment, but it’s pretty clear to me that that’s never going to be in the cards. And honestly, all things being equal, I’ve never had any issues with academic freedom. Dignity, though, is a more difficult one. What exactly is dignified employment? Tenured employment is in many ways privileged, at least in that the tenured have utter job security, but is it dignified? To hear many of the tenured talk about it, with all of the service expectations, advising, paper work, etc., etc., I’m not sure even they would use the word dignity.

  29. Reading List 4 March 2010 Edition | Tea Bird on 03 Mar 2010 at 11:12 pm #

    [...] Ann Little’s Adjuncting: for fun and profit? nevertheless finds plenty of adjunct baloney in the media: Since the job is so fun and rewarding, [...]

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