I’ve been seeing more and more reports in which the academic elite in-group (tenured) advise those in the out-group (adjuncts) to stay out there and thrive. They want us to remain adjuncts. Really?
At my college alone, if I were a full time tenured professor, I would be making at least three times what I make with bodacious benefits. As contingent faculty, with a Ph.D., I am allowed no medical benefits. In fact, the college sent all adjuncts a letter earlier this semester advising us to get ourselves to the healthcare.gov website and look for some health insurance there. Given my income level, I find that I am eligible for Medicaid. Only Medicaid. My kids over 18 who live at home to save money while they are in college are eligible for Medicaid only. My minor child is eligible for the marginally better IEHP, a county health care plan for those under 18 years of age.
Is this what my colleagues who are tenured mean by stay in academia, adjuncting, and thrive?
Full time faculty who compile these reports not only have stellar medical insurance (with a choice of plans) and earn substantially more than their colleagues, the adjuncts, they also have vacation time, and have the choice of taking summer work for adjunct pay or taking pay for taking the summer off. Finally, at my college, the stipend for a Ph.D. for full timers is between 2 and 3 times more than that for an adjunct. And pensions? Same.
I’m not bitter, but I remain incredulous. And sometimes worried.
I am as good a teacher as my full time colleagues. It’s true. This isn’t arrogance; it’s just how it is. I have occasionally heard that “there are reasons” an adjunct remains an adjunct for over ten years, even with a Ph.D. When this is said it’s usually said with a supercilious tone that indicates “you know, those adjuncts just couldn’t make the grade, like I can.” Really?
When I (thought I) was sitting pretty — married, being a secondary income and working toward a rather later-in-life Ph.D., doing research on my farm — I felt as if my part time status was not a job deficiency. After all, I enjoyed the teaching, I was called on to design courses at the college, and I had extra time to pursue field archaeology, time to work on my dissertation, and time to build the farm learning center at Rainshadow Farm. All it took was viral myocarditis to end my employment as a field archaeologist (This is another topic — the sad state of commercial archaeology in the USA and its future). And then came the coup de grâce, my ex walking away as he moved into his finely designed new midlife. So here I am. Why am I still an adjunct after all these years with a PhD? Because I had planned to work as a part time prof somewhere while running the farm and learning center. I had planned to develop my own nonprofit and continue teaching part time. When plans were laid, the going looked good. So please, the next time someone prepares to ask an adjunct “why are you still doing this after all these years?” I wish they’d just stifle it. The reasons are multiple and none of the reasons are necessarily “s/he doesn’t measure up.”
One evening, a group of three full timers were leaving for the day, as an adjunct colleague and I were preparing for our night classes at the copy machine. I will not discuss the relative merits of their teaching, although I could, given students often tell all, at least from their points of view. It might not be a pretty picture and it would be mean-hearted to name them and their qualifications. One of the full timers stuck his head around the corner of the office block and opined, “Oh just a couple of adjuncts stinkin’ up the place.” A joke between colleagues? Hardly. In fact, the teacher who made that statement is in the same discipline as my adjunct colleague. My colleague silently steamed. He never said a word. Me, I had to. All I said was “Teacher’s Name, you know that’s exactly what we we’re here for.” It still amazes me — the ignorance, the mean-heartedness, the utter lack of concern for the people who work alongside them, supposedly laboring together to set in motion the education of the same group of college students. While this was only one incident, I know that it is repeated in many forms across academia.
She maintains that 80% of us will be non-tenure track in another ten years.
If she’s right and this is an academic steamroller, we’d better decide what to do about the lack of equity in that’s systemic in higher education.