How Adjunct Professors Pay the Bills

Adjunct Recycling cans

Over at the Adjunct Project, a pretty good discussion is developing today. A reader wrote in to ask how other adjuncts supplement their income, considering an adjunct professor’s salary generally isn’t enough to put food on the table.

The adjunct collective has been coming up with ideas. Some are satirical, like selling grades or stealing.

Other adjuncts offered advice like getting a real estate license or moonlighting as a banquet server. And, speaking of moonlighting, did you catch Rob Jenkins’s post this week at The Chronicle of Higher Education wherein he lamented the need to ask his dean if it was okay to moonlight as a tenured professor?

Jenkins piece focuses mainly on teaching at another university part-time, as opposed to picking up other low wage jobs like many adjuncts. Several commenters encouraged Chronicle readers to consider how adjuncts fit into this whole discussion, as well. For example, every class picked up by a tenured professor is one class taken away from an adjunct professor, which is probably why a Twitter respondent was prompted to challenge the Adjunct Project question itself:

And then there are the responses that truly drive home the seriousness of this discussion. A few people have mentioned their dependence on government assistance like food stamps.

A comment left by missoularedhead explains that she collected cans [for recycling] and had to ask her mom for grocery money. Keep in mind this is a professional with a PhD.

Missoularedhead’s comment indicates that she has since given up the adjunct life, as do some of the other comments. Can you blame them?

Reading comments like that makes me wonder why anyone continues to work as an adjunct professor. Sheesh. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart. Adjuncts understand the meaning of grit. Of working hard for a cause they believe in. Of sacrificing for the greater good.

Based on the twenty or so comments at time of publication, it looks like this could turn into a pretty interesting discussion full of heartbreaking personal stories and advice for those who are willing to stick it out and continue teaching despite the financial difficulties. Definitely one to keep an eye on over the next few days.

What about you? Are you an adjunct (or any contingent employee) struggling to make ends meet? How do you do it? How do you balance a job you’re passionate about with an income that doesn’t always cut it?

Leave your story in the comments or tweet me @josh_boldt.

No Job Security for Adjunct Professors

Job Security

It’s June again. And I’m waiting to find out if I have a job in August. This fall will ostensibly be my fourth year as a college professor. If I’m offered my job again, that is. Living as an adjunct means living with uncertainty. Job security is an illusion in most professions, but it seems to be even more illusory in higher education. Like most adjuncts, I’m employed for 10-month stretches, after which I just have to wait and see if I will be rehired.

I never know what to tell my students who always ask what I’ll be teaching next year. They want to recommend me to friends and some even want me to teach their advanced writing and literature classes. What should I say? Should I tell them I’ll be unemployed in May? Should I tell them I’ll find out what/if I’m teaching when my name shows up in the schedule book? Should I tell them that the adjunct life means no job security regardless of how many years I’ve been doing it?

It’s a tough position to be in. On one hand, I understand why schools do it. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it. Especially when it comes to courses like freshman composition, where enrollment fluctuates right up until the last days of add/drop. My department can’t possibly plan for last minute shifts in student schedules, so they need to maintain some level of flexibility. I get it.

That being said, it seems like some of us who have been around for a few years and who are doing good work could probably get some kind of reasonable assurance about our future employment. After all, we know there’ll be dozens of sections. Somebody will have to teach them. I mean, I have no reason to believe that I won’t be offered classes in the fall, but I also have no reason to believe that I will be.

I guess I should be glad that I get a 10-month contract. Most adjuncts don’t even get that level of job security. The Adjunct Project reveals that about 95% of adjuncts teach with no more than four months of job security–one semester at a time. Could you imagine if you were laid off EVERY four months and had to reapply for your job? It sounds completely absurd when you put it that way.

Why do adjuncts do it? Why do we keep coming back despite this total lack of job security? I wish I had a good answer to that question. The college teaching profession seems to be getting worse and worse every year. I wonder if someday it’ll get so bad that professors like this one will decide it’s not worth it? What will happen then? I guess when the supply of willing teachers drops off, demand will grow. If so, salaries will increase and maybe some level of job security will be added to the package.

It’d be nice if this would happen, but I’m not holding my breath. I like teaching, but I’m looking for a new career path. I know I’m worth more. I know I have more to offer. I’ll miss the students, but it’s just something I have to do.

Why Financial Transparency is Good For Everyone

Financial Transparency

Turns out we were ahead of the curve when adjunct professors across the country added salary data to a Google Doc in an effort to promote financial transparency in the higher education workplace. The Adjunct Project was at the forefront of a new trend toward financial transparency that’s now spreading to the corporate world.

Tech startup company, Buffer, has also adopted the position that financial transparency is the best way to do business. According to co-founder Joel Gascoigne, Buffer “sees no reason not to share everything.” So it’s that easy? Do it because there’s no reason not to?

Yep, it’s that easy.

It doesn’t take an HR professional to know that paying people different rates to do the same job is going to make people mad. And you know what makes people even madder? Finding out through the grapevine amidst swirling rumors that they make less than the guy next door who does the same job. That’s a recipe that will ruin the culture of a workplace in no time.

So why have we done this for so many years? Why has it been taboo to discuss salary data with co-workers? Mainly because those at the top have taught us that it’s taboo in order to avoid those very conflicts that result from employees learning about pay discrepancies via the rumor mill. Keeping quiet about pay doesn’t help the workers at all. This is one of those cases where Antonio Gramsci would point out that we’re adopting the values of the ruling class to our own detriment. Financial transparency is good for workers because it keeps the administration honest.

But, as Gascoigne realizes, financial transparency is also good for the business as a whole. No more “cloak and dagger” attempts by employees to undermine each other. No more destructive gossip about salary structure. No more nasty negotiations during the hiring process. The information is all available. “This is what we pay someone who has your skills and experience. Period.” Now doesn’t that sound nice?

Financial Transparency in Higher Education

Higher education could learn from Buffer’s philosophy. Practically every person in a given department earns a different salary–even those who do the exact same job. What a nightmare. No wonder departmental politics can get so nasty. And think about the heated negotiations during the hiring process. Life could be so much easier for everyone if colleges adopted a policy of financial transparency.

The key is setting a base pay that’s actually fair. Buffer recognized that everyone in the company needed to be at a minimum threshold in order for this to work. Salaries had to be “normalized” before the internal salary wiki was published. But once everyone was making a fair salary, it was all worth it.

It’s this salary normalization step that we are trying to expose with the Adjunct Project. Universities want to suppress adjunct professor salary data because the pay is almost always shameful. It’s the kind of information that poisons a company culture and causes everyone to fight and resent their jobs. Especially when you consider that salaried professors earn three to ten times as much as adjunct professors who teach the same classes. That’s a problem.

With the Adjunct Project we’ll continue to promote financial transparency in higher education. If colleges would see the light, as Buffer has, and normalize salaries they’ll be on the path to creating a thriving and innovative culture, as well. Financial transparency is the future of successful businesses. Adjuncts realized it a year and a half ago. Now we’re just waiting for our employers to catch up and get with the program.

Dear Adjuncts: If You Don’t Like it, Change it.

Adjuncts Change

Sometimes I wonder if adjunct professors aren’t just banging their heads against a brick wall. This past year, the adjunct labor battle has been covered at least cursorily by almost every major news outlet in the country, but will anything actually change?

My fellow writer at Order of Education, Josh Boldt, has been heavily involved in this adjunct labor movement. I don’t mean to be too critical of his work, but I just wonder if it will ever amount to anything. The Adjunct Project that he started last year has certainly grown into something, so there’s that. The Chronicle of Higher Education co-opted the website and developed it into a real platform for adjuncts (though I find it interesting that they are already referring to it as “The’s Chronicle’s Adjunct Project” in some articles and communications).

The question, though, is will Boldt’s work and the work of all his adjunct colleagues ever actually amount to anything? Will it change the system? Call me crazy, but I doubt it.

My experience as an interested observer of the adjunct movement has led me to believe that most adjuncts are pretty comfortable in their roles as subjugated pawns in the higher education labor market. I don’t think most of them would even know what to do with a system that empowered them. I might even argue that they prefer this marginalizing relationship so they can continue to cry foul. What they really want is a reason to continue shouting in the quad about how the sky is falling and how unfair it all is.

Oh, crap. Was that mean? I think that might have been mean.

Look, I fully agree with the adjunct activists–people like Boldt and groups like New Faculty Majority–who argue that the adjunct role is exploitative and wrong. There’s really no question about it. Paying a college professor $20,000 a year to teach a full course load is despicable. Just because someone accepts the insults and attacks of an abuser doesn’t make the abuser right.

I’m simply asking the question: Why in God’s name do adjuncts who are treated this way continue to accept this abuse? It’s crazy. It makes me suspicious that maybe they aren’t as uncomfortable as they pretend to be.

Adjuncts Can Change Their Own Situations

Many of these adjuncts have been doing this job for decades and complaining about it the whole time. What a life.

For example, I’ve been a subscriber to the adjunct listserv known as adj-l for a good while now. This listserv has been around for years and years. Do you think they’ve made any progress? My impression is that these same people have been discussing the same problems over and over again for God knows how long. It’s pretty hard to feel sorry for them.

Why don’t these adjuncts DO SOMETHING?

I’m not necessarily suggesting that they walk out or riot in the streets or even strike, though all those things might work. All I’m saying is if you hate your job, freaking quit. If you don’t like your situation, change it. Stop talking about it and DO IT. Whether that means marching on the administration building, striking, walking out, or just finding another job. Just please do something, or else get comfortable and try to enjoy yourself.

by Hazel M.,
Contributing Writer

See Also: You Must Create the Change That You Want to See

MLA 2013 Convention and the Year of the Adjunct

MLA Boston 2013

Did you feel it?

During the first weekend of 2013, Boston pulsed to the beat of the adjunct. At the MLA 2013 Convention, you couldn’t turn around without hearing about contingent faculty issues in one form or another.

It all began on Thursday evening when the convention kicked off with the historic, first-ever all-adjunct presidential forum. Outgoing MLA President Michael Bérubé presided over a panel that consisted of New Faculty Majority Executive Director Maria Maisto; Beth Landers, a French professor at the University of Missouri; and Bob Samuels, president of the California AFT University Council and a lecturer at UCLA. What an honor it was for me to speak in the company of these great leaders and teachers.

I had the privilege of opening the forum and beginning what will become one of the most important weekends in history for adjunct justice.

The massive ballroom contained the largest audience I’ve ever addressed, and I confess to being a little nervous. I knew, though, that I had to record the audio of my speech, even if it would be one more thing to worry about. After all, most of the people interested in hearing it couldn’t afford to fly to Boston and attend the conference.

The audio worked out pretty well. Better than I thought it would, in fact. I had my recorder right next to the pages, so you will hear them as they turn, but other than that, everything is pretty clear. In the first minute or so, you’ll hear Bérubé introducing us and then I start at about the 1:20 mark. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. Hope you agree. You’ll see the audio player at the end of the post or you can listen here now.

More on Adjuncts From MLA 2013

But my speech was just one of many during this MLA 2013 weekend. Maisto, Landers, and Samuels all gave excellent presentations, as well. Several panels also featured discussions and papers on adjunct labor. Then there was, of course, Bérubé’s presidential address, a rousing call to action and passionate defense of the humanities and those who teach them–all those who teach them, including and especially those who do it for next to nothing.

As soon as he finished speaking, the place erupted. Maria Maisto and I stood up and the rest of the ballroom followed. The speech was well-worthy of the standing O, as was Michael Bérubé for all the work he has done for adjuncts and for the future of university faculty. Audio of Bérubé’s address should be available soon on the MLA website.

As if all this wasn’t enough, The Chronicle of Higher Education and I released the new version of the Adjunct Project to much excitement and buzz. Editor Liz McMillen and I fielded questions and listened to stories during a reception on Saturday, while two marketing professionals from The Chronicle deftly conducted demonstrations of the new site. It was more than I ever could have imagined last February when we adjuncts built our spreadsheet. We’ve come a long way and our level of public exposure continues to grow.

Read more about the weekend and MLA 2013 from William Pannapacker in The End of MLAlienation and What if the Adjuncts Shrugged?

Also, more on the Adjunct Project at Adjunct Project Reveals Wide Range in Pay and MLA Sessions Keep the Focus on Adjuncts.

Were any of you at the conference or following it on Twitter? What were your high points?

My MLA 2013 Presidential Forum Speech:

MLA 2013 Speech