Refusing the Adjunct Route

Refusing the Adjunct Route

I’m unemployed, but I won’t be applying for any adjunct positions in English.

I have worked as an adjunct before, but I will do my best not work as an adjunct again because working as an adjunct will contribute to the destruction of my chosen profession.

Right now, colleges are eliminating full-time positions, especially in fine arts and humanities, because they can get cheap adjunct labor.  There is no reason to hire a full-time professor for $50 or $60K plus benefits when they can get eight adjuncts to take the place of that professor for less than $20K a year and they can skip the benefits.  It’s a great bargain!

With all the savings on humanities professors, the colleges can afford to pay more and more money to their professors in law, business, and science–and they can afford to give their administrators more and more benefits, pay, and perks.

Meanwhile, humanities adjuncts starve to death, default on our loans, and go into bankruptcy.

Unfortunately, while the world has been moving forward, English Departments have not moved.  Humanities Departments have stagnated.  Arts programs  have staled.  Many of us have stood at the sidelines screaming “Innovate or be left behind!!” but they would not listen.  Baby Boomers, who have tenure and mean to keep it until the bitter end, have stood fast on tradition.  They have demanded their students continue to write formal essays with pens on paper.  They have insisted that they don’t need eBooks or flipped lessons, or even email.  They steadfastly refused to change.

Now, many of those programs are obsolete.  They don’t bring in grants or research funding, they don’t contribute to student recruitment or retention.  They don’t even provide the skill-set that modern students require.  They are the bitter dregs left over from the 2oth century–and many of the established faculty prefer it that way.  No wonder the administrations of the colleges have decided to leave Humanities behind.

The lowly composition course, intro to literature, American History, Art History, and Music History classes are what remains of great programs with great promise–and those ailing skeletal positions are being filled by adjuncts.  We are told that “No one wants to major in English any more,” and journalists, who probably learned their craft in college composition, ask outright, “Why do we have English Majors?”  In reaction to shrinking budgets, many of the English Departments are closing their doors, limiting their programs, and slimming down–relying more and more on adjuncts.

Those of us who majored in English or history or art or music knew we weren’t signing on for a life of luxury, but we assumed, when we got our Ph.D.s, that we would at least be able to make a living doing what we love:  teaching students, researching, and creating.  I spent 20 years doing just that–but while I was building my vita, I was also building my skill set.

Today, English is much more than writing–it is integrated communications, technology, social networking, gamification, and integrated hybrid/online/and face to face learning management and course design.  The lines between journalism and communication and English are blurred.  Digital Media is something I do, and I do it well.  History isn’t just the study of dead people doing stuff–it is also using big data for predictive analysis of future trends, providing research for global temperature studies, digitizing historical maps, and analyzing political movements.  Art is science redefined as data becomes understandable through visualizations, infographics, and stunning graphics.  We see art in video games, movies, and in and on every object we could imagine.  It has become a complete integration in our lives. Music is psychology and business and technology all wrapped into a tune–and its popularity and spread has never been greater.

So, perhaps the death of humanities has been announced too soon.  As I sit here, I wonder who will teach the students the skills they need to succeed in this new entrepreneurial world of technology without the humanities.  I wonder where advertising and business will get their content and their digital storytelling.  I wonder who will write the background music for their next big technology conference, and I muse about who will keep track of all that is happening so that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every five years.

But even as many of those in Humanities are grasping the brass ring of innovation in Digital Media, pulling in grants, research funds, and renown–we are thrown into the street. The professors who were accountable to the college, who the students could count on for referrals and advice, and mentorship are being let go and replaced by part-timers who are underpaid and who owe no allegiance to the college.  Who could blame them for doing as little as possible–when most are paid less than $2,000 to teach a class for 15 weeks (In case you are keeping track, that averages out to about $134 a week for a class that includes three hours of teaching and seven hours of prep each week.  That means they are making about $13 an hour with a Ph.D.).

So, I will do my best to keep from taking one of those jobs.  Not only is it an insult to me, and my talent, education, and experience, but if I take an adjunct position now because there are no full-time jobs–I will only exacerbate the situation.

So, join me. Keep the humanities professional, and the jobs full-time by refusing to take an adjunct position.  Instead get jobs as writers, journalists, marketing professionals, and social media specialists.  If you have to, get a job doing something completely unrelated to the humanities, but keep writing and creating in your own space and on your own time.  This is the only way we will force the hand of the universities and, of course, increase our worth in the workplace so that we won’t be willing to come back for a paltry sum.

We need to stand together. We need to starve the colleges of their cheap labor. We need to succeed in other professions.  Then, and only then, will we save humanities.


6 thoughts on “Refusing the Adjunct Route

  1. I’ve been trying to get a full time job doing anything outside of education since January. Not a single interview. I’m told I’m over educated… And I’m afraid my age, 50, is probably not helping, although I look 35. I have a child. I’m a single parent. I have no help. I’ll lose my home…. I can’t pay my student loans. I refuse to go on good stamps & Medicaid. I have an AA, BFA and Master’s. Went back to school as a 38 yr old single mom “to make things better.” I thought I was doing the right thing, for the right reasons. I went into debt- invested in myself. I’m nowhere. I’m worse off now than I’ve ever been. I want to work. I’m smart, creative and have a rock solid work ethic. I’m drowning in debt. My daughter deserves food, clothing and a roof over her head. And some healthcare. Oh, although we qualify for Medicaid, we can’t get it, because Texas “opted out.” Isn’t that why the ACA was set in place? At least I won’t be fined for not having health insurance. Still… This is a mess.

  2. Though I agree with you on many points, I will disagree on one: *all* knowledge work is being part-timementalized, and as such, working as a journalist, a writer, a social media specialist — anything having to do with knowledge — will not pay what it once did.

    We must indeed come together and revolt against this crass new “corporatized university,” but if we want to keep doing what we love, we will need to do it on our own free time, getting paid nothing for it.

    As you said, get out while you still can. But the likelihood of 1 million knowledge workers — teachers — leaving their profession, will be hard to pull off. Especially if other knowledge fields are in the same boat…

    I have left and am writing about our need for adjunct justice: but how many of us can do that?

    In sol(idarity),

    Ana M. Fores Tamayo, Adjunct Justice
    Facebook Page:

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  4. Thank you and “Alice Umber” for insightful articles and revelations on the “dark underside” of the professorial world and the almost anathema treatment of adjunct professors.
    I am an outsider. I have a better picture now of how administrations take advantage of their non-tenured faculty. What “Alice Umber” and you have outlined as reality is pitiful – and who really suffers? The student. The student that has to put up with some instructor who may want to put their heart into the course, but cannot get the support they need in order to give nearly the best. .
    I applaud your attempt to start a movement and rally support in order to start a new understanding among college administrators (and tenured faculty) that “you cannot have your cake and eat it too.”
    It would be great if the movement would catch fire, and adjuncts would leave in droves from tenure granting institutions. And that would result in action, etc, to change.
    Thank you for correcting my view of “overpaid and underworked” professors; some of the ones who taught me may just have been what you have viably described. Now I know better.
    Adjuncts need to rise and go the other way! Let the tenure granting colleges see what it would be like to have increased workloads on the tenures and the increased dissatisfaction of the students on the kind of education they would receive.
    I need to see more on this.
    Proverbs 3, vs. 5 – 6

  5. I’m in a similar boat. I’m adjuncting at a new Uni this fall, and as I spend hours putting together my new course, I decided it’s just totally not worth it.

  6. Thank you for your article, Michelle. Well said!
    Like you, I am an unemployed PhD and holding out, refusing to enter the world of adjunct teaching. Been there, done that, and in spite of a great deal of pressure from friends and family, won’t do that again. (They mistakenly think that adjunct teaching is a pipeline to a full time faculty position. It is so hard to convince them otherwise.)
    Instead I do private tutoring (math) for high school students in the afternoon and early evening ($30 per hour where I am) and fill in the gaps with a minimum wage job.
    Similar to adjunct teaching, I have boatloads of experience (and certification) to offer to high schools, but alas, I’m overqualified and too expensive to consider. Friends and family suggest that I apply to be a substitute teacher — at, um, $55 per day, 7 am to 2 pm. No thank you. I’ll stick with the tutoring and minimum wage supplement.
    So frustrating as I pay out $230 a month for the student loans that financed my terminal degree. Sigh….

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