I must first divulge my own experiences as an adjunct. I enjoyed my position as a non-major, adjunct biology instructor for 6 semesters at my university. I taught large, stadium-style lectures for classes of 100 to over 300 students each semester. I enjoyed working with these students, even though there were a lot of them, as they worked through the general education requirements of their degree plan. I spent three contact hours a week – either two classes of an hour and a half every Tue/Thur, or three classes of one hour every Mon/Wed/Fri – lecturing, using classroom technology, answering questions, helping the students find videos of concepts they didn’t understand, helping students with campus problems, or just counseling students on problems I could help with, be it personal or academic. Outside of class, I had to order textbooks, sit on review committees, collaborate with other lecture professors, do grades, answer emails (and with 300 students, that’s a TON of email) and make copies. I earned less than $1000 per credit hour for the course. After taxes, for one semester, I would see $399 deposited once a month, five times, into my direct deposit bank account. Take home for one semester of work - $2000.
Now here is where I differ from the adjuncts that are often described in the depressing stories you hear about these people with advanced degrees living on welfare and food stamps – I have a full time job. I work at the university already, as a Biology lab Coordinator. 40 hours a week, I work with teaching assistants, supervise 640 lab students a semester, order supplies, write curriculum, do learning management software for the course, and keep a bustling Biology lab exciting and fun. In between writing curriculum and being a single mom who just earned a doctorate, I love to teach a class or two. Most of the classes that are offered to adjuncts are the general education, lower level courses in the 100 or 200 range. I taught the lowest level of Biology course there is offered at this university – the one taught to general education, non-majors students. I know people who adjunct who teach the freshman English classes, the non-major History courses, even Physics! I also have my name and resume in the pool at six other universities/colleges for these types of adjunct positions. I think adjuncting is fun! It allows me to do something I find enjoyable – teaching. But, there’s been no adjunct teaching positions available in my department for the last three semesters, because of grant fluctuations and course load changes for professors. Thank god for my full time job.
Adjuncting was NEVER meant to be a full time job. That is the exact reason adjuncts, who are “professional adjuncts,” are in the position they are today. Adjuncting is a part time type of position, meant for people who are professionals in other full time jobs, who essentially “pick up a shift” here or there. They are like substitutes, who are called to fill in when a full time, tenure tract faculty gets a huge grant and the department needs someone to fill in. The people who wish adjuncting was a full time profession are sadly mistaken, and I believe will continue to suffer if they keep trying to push to make adjuncting a full time job with benefits and security. Just as I feel the minimum wage employee at Walmart or McDonalds is futile in fighting for this type of job to support them and their families (these fast food jobs were meant for teenagers who needed part time work, not for someone needing to support a family) – I feel the plight of the adjunct is useless. Someone who has the basic skills to man the fryer, stock the shelves, or teach the most basic of college courses will continue to earn part time employee pay, for low-level, part-time created jobs. Adjuncting is not a career, adjuncting is the burger flipping of higher education.
And as long as “professional adjuncts” are offering themselves on the altar of higher education in hordes, the market for them is not going to change. Only when ALL adjuncts decide to pursue other job opportunities, that are full time, with benefits, and security, and no one wants those adjunct positions anymore, will higher ed pay more for them. Supply and demand. The brutal truth of education as a business.