I am now in my second year as a contingent, adjunct instructor. For those not familiar with this terminology, it means that I am paid per class and have no guarantee of renewal in the following semester. Nationwide, adjuncts are responsible for a super-majority of college and university instruction. At my university, about 30% of faculty are adjuncts, but we deliver courses that confer about half of the credits earned by our students. I teach about twice as many classes as a tenure-stream faculty member in my department, and for less than half the pay. In other industries, short-term contracted professionals are paid upwards of double their long-term counterparts, but in higher education, we are paid (and too frequently treated) like deskilled temporary workers.
Most everything about my labor condition works against optimal teaching, but I make considerable efforts to ensure my classes exceed the standard of excellence my students deserve. I am a “second-tier” faculty member in all senses of the term—except that my courses are just as expertly devised and passionately delivered, and my student evaluations regularly place me at or above the median scores for the department, college, and university.
My contract begins and ends within the time-frame of a semester. Even though I have no job security and I am not paid for service work, I spend time advising and mentoring students from past classes. I do this because I deeply appreciate the opportunity to learn with my students, some of whom have inspired crucial adaptations to my courses, my approach to teaching them, and my research. I look forward to the job stability and workload that a tenure-stream position provides to better accommodate ongoing mentorship, particularly helping facilitate undergraduate and graduate research.
My research profoundly influences my teaching, and vice versa. As an adjunct, I do not receive institutionally- or grant- funded course releases to conduct my research. As a contingent employee, I do not qualify for most grants. Perhaps ironically, I have refereed several proposals for grants and grant-funded publications, in another example of unpaid service work that I perform. Because of my commitment to my profession and my students, and despite not being compensated in any way for my research activity, I maintain a highly active research agenda, publishing about three times a year and presenting at international conferences.
Every term, I teach at least one course that I have never taught before. When tenure-stream faculty members are developing a new course or improving an existing course, they often receive course-releases, meaning they are paid the same while teaching one fewer course that term. Most schools rely on contingent, adjunct workers to fill-in for these professors, and often by assigning those adjuncts to teach classes they have never taught before.
Usually, adjuncts do not know for certain that they will teach a course until a short period before the start of the term. Like most adjuncts, I devote considerable time to course development, often spending dozens of hours before a contract is finalized. In one case, I developed a new class that was listed late and then never offered because it did not reach an enrollment threshold.
I recognize that stating the above violates several institutionalized norms. Adjuncts are expected to convey appreciation for our positions and to never speak ill of our labor conditions, for to do so would reflect on the relatively powerful actors who facilitate our exploitation, not only limited to upper-level administrators and trustees. I am certain that our silence and insufficient challenge to adjunctification is hurting our students, and ultimately the institution of higher education. It is because I care about them that I break these taboos by writing these things.