From The Adjunct Project:
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” – Oscar Wilde
Adjuncts are contractors. We are assigned classes on an as-needed basis, given a contract to teach those classes, and then we are allowed to move on, having done our job. Most adjuncts choose to return to their college, hoping that we will be given classes again, in much the same way that day laborers might hang out at Home Depot in the hopes that someone in a pickup truck will come by and offer them a chance to make a few dollars. Adjuncts are contingent workers: workers who work but who do not have jobs.
I’m typing this on an old desktop on a rickety second-hand IKEA table that threatens to collapse every time my two-year-old daughter brushes past it, which is frequently when she is not being kept busy by her mother. She’s teething right now, which means we enjoy the pleasure of her company at most hours of the day and night. I am only able to tap this essay out in peace because she went down for what is probably only a brief rest before more wailing and gnashing of teeth ensues. She only goes down when absolutely exhausted. Her mother and I approach sleep in much the same way these days.
I am an adjunct with an advanced degree, and I teach for a living, but I do not make a living wage. Instead, I rely on friends, family, government assistance, the kindness of strangers, and various other forms of begging, borrowing, and stealing in order to get by. Due to the precarious nature of my job, if you could even call what I have a job in the traditional sense of the word, I feel less like the stereotypically comfortable and tweed blazer-garbed professor and more like, at the risk of misappropriating a term, a hustler. Every day, to quote the poet Rick Ross, I am hustling.
Precarity is one of those words that sounds fictional – indeed, even as I write this, spellcheck underlines the word. However, though the creators of Microsoft Word may not understand the term, precarity is a word that should be in everyone’s mental dictionary. I live a precarious life, and I am willing to bet that many of those who read this essay do as well.
I do not own the house that I live in. I rent it, and I cannot always afford the rent due to my inconsistent pay schedule. Indeed, I had the threat of eviction looming over me until recently, thanks to never having quite enough money in the bank to absorb the shock of any financial miscalculation on the part of myself, my landlord, or my bank. I hustled my way out of that one, coming to a temporary arrangement with my landlord.
I have a job, but I do not have one. I am an adjunct, a contingent worker, and though I have an advanced degree, I feel more kinship with those friends, relatives, and strangers who have “some college,” “high school graduate,” or even “G.E.D.” listed on their resumes. I empathize with their struggles, having left high school in the tenth grade with the conviction that the school, with its 50% dropout rate, had nothing to offer me, and though I went on to college, I never felt entirely at ease there, either. I was fortunate enough to have English professors who saw something in my writing that allowed me to excel in spite of my growing disdain for the petty politics and power struggles that, it seemed, pervaded every aspect of life. I’ve always been slow to react to abuses of authority, intuiting much that I could not quite prove, but which stood in stark relief with the passage of time.