I Just Don't Want to Die an Adjunct

From Nathan C. Oliver blog:

He texted me for a ride the week before last. After seven years as an adjunct history instructor, he had an interview scheduled for a full-time position, and no way to get there. In much the same way that being an adjunct is sort of like having a job and sort of like not having one, he sort of had a car and sort of did not. Unable to make the payments on his Yaris, he had long since surrendered the title to his father, who had pressed the vehicle into service as the family car. As it happened, his younger sister had a job interview on the same day that he did, so he reached out to me, his friend for over a decade, ever since we were undergrads.

After he agreed to cover gas and meals, I made the trip, a four-hour drive that seemed far shorter on the turnaround, with my friend of over a decade matching me rant for rant as we railed at the capriciousness of the system that had deemed us worthy of teaching in its schools yet unworthy of being paid a living wage for the privilege. To the rest of the world, we may have been nothing more than two poorly-dressed and road-weary men, notable only for possessing grossly unmarketable degrees in the humanities, but for those few hours, we regained some semblance of the fire that had once made the realization of our dreams seem like little more than a triviality, and a decent job that paid a decent salary, merely an afterthought.

But time has a way of grounding us all, and though we shared innumerable fantasies regarding the overthrow of contingent labor in higher education, much more of our time was spent on preparing for the interview ahead: a seven-minute teaching presentation and a round of eight or so questions that would determine whether or not my friend, an adjunct with seven years of classroom experience, would be passed along to a second interview with the college president, who would make the final decision. In this regard, I was luckier than my friend, having made it to round two a couple of times, while he never had. Then again, job interviews are neither horseshoes nor hand grenades: proximity to success is only another flavor of failure, one far more bitter than it is sweet. Both of us remain in the same boat; it becomes leakier year by year.

My friend confessed to me that this would be the last year he would adjunct, if he did not get the full-time position. He taught because he loved it, but he was tired, and though he was only in his early thirties, his body could not take much more of the struggle. Diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, once considered a form of muscular dystrophy, he had been warned from an early age that his life would be both shorter and more painful than most, but he had always treated the grim pronouncements of his physicians with a measure of skepticism. After all, he was still alive, still ambulatory, years after most doctors had predicted he would be either in a wheelchair or in the ground.

He had the interview, and it went as these things often do, in my experience. He felt confident that his teaching presentation went well – how could it not have, with seven years in the classroom behind him? – and that his responses to the interviewers’ questions were thoughtful and delivered with aplomb. Before leaving, he was instructed to wait by his phone, a remark that he returned to again and again over the following few days, inferring from it, as he had, that a call was forthcoming. Like all of us, I suppose, my friend was quick to seize on any tell on the part of an interviewer, no matter how miniscule; once, he had even received a hug, a tiny gesture that couldn’t help but loom large in the mind of someone for whom a callback would be literally a life-changing event.

Read the full story here.