I know people think that tenured regular faculty like Historiann were somehow born in tenured faculty positions or leaped immediately into our jobs upon receiving our Ph.D.s, but believe me–most of us have done our time as adjuncts or non-tenure track lecturers. Even in the relatively good years of the history job market in the later 1990s and very early 2000s, most of us did our time in these positions before winning a tenure track appointment somewhere.
That said, I think adjuncting has become a way of life in ways that it just wasn’t fifteen or even ten years ago. For example: I applied as an A.B.D. to a number of jobs in the fall of 1994, and didn’t get anything but one interview at the American Historical Association’s annual meeting. My graduate funding was ending the following spring even though I wasn’t probably going to be done with my dissertation. Fratguy and I were in Boston for his residency, so if worse came to worst, we could live on the $27,000 he was making if I found some kind of part-time job. So, that year was kind of a see-what-happens attempt at the job market. When I came up blank for academic jobs, I got a part-time job in a local frame shop running the dry-mount machine, and put out some applications for adjunct lecturing while also writing my dissertation.
Come late April of 1995, I got a phone call from the man who ran the search for the one job for which I had interviewed back in January at the AHA. He said, “Historiann, the candidate who accepted our job offer won a fellowship and he’s going to take it. Would you like to teach as a lecturer for the year here while he’s on leave?” I said, “Oh boy, would I!” and made plans to move to Washington, D.C. for the year. It was a great gig–they paid me what they had offered the man who got the tenure-track job, plus health care benefits and contributions to my TIAA-CREF fund.
When that job ended, I spent one semester finishing my dissertation and then I was offered a full-time one-semester gig at a Boston-area small college that paid even better–almost as much as I had made that entire year in Washington, D.C., plus health benefits. At that point, I had been offered my first tenure-track job so Fratguy and I were making plans to move to Ohio later that year. A happy ending! (Or so I thought . . . but that’s a story I’ve told here before.) I know a number of people of my generation from grad school who have similar stories–some people adjuncted, but most of us worked in non-tenure track jobs that were reasonably well compensated and which undoubtedly helped us get teaching experience that was important for our eventual move into tenure track jobs.
In short, although I spent time in non tenure-track teaching positions, they were full-time and I was paid and received benefits comparable to the tenure track faculty. Those positions were seen as stepping-stones for people of my generation of Ph.D.s. Now–fifteen years later–the search chair who called and offered me the one-year gig would instead go to a bank of applications for adjunct positions to see if he could fill the scheduled courses, or he would call the Graduate Studies Chairs at local Ph.D.-granting institutions to see if they knew of anyone who could teach the courses. The five courses I taught that year would be covered on a per-course basis, not by hiring a salaried and benefits-eligible faculty member.
So, take the survey. I’m eager to hear what you all report about the contingent faculty experience. Now, here’s your free laugh of the day: “Memoreeeee!”
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