In Defense of Adjuncts, Students and Writers: an Open Letter to AWP


Hi there, AWP,

We’ve known each other for awhile. We first met in 2009 in New York and it was love at first sight. You plied me with talks about writing craft, you offered table after table of literary magazines and small presses. I got the idea to start a lit mag review site and I met some amazing people. You have inspired me, AWP, in so many ways over the years.

But I want to talk to you about something. Because we’re friends. Because I trust you and, I hope, you trust me. (You did, afterall, help me fix the sign on my table when it kept falling down this year. That was awesome of you.) So I want to tell you: I think you’re failing writers in some big and important ways.

Here’s the thing, AWP. The percentage of teaching positions occupied by non-tenure track faculty has more than tripled in the past four decades. According to the Adjunct Project, “Two-thirds of the faculty standing in front of college classrooms each day aren’t full-time or permanent professors.” The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that “the shadowy world of would-be academia is filled with people cobbling together five or six such teaching gigs at once. That’s possible because some 70 percent of college courses offered are now taught by adjuncts—part-timers who are paid a pittance and have no job security.”

Yet, at this year’s conference in Seattle, the biggest AWP conference yet, you did not have a single panel dedicated to adjunct teaching. Nor were there any panels addressing this shift toward part-time faculty at colleges. Absent also were lectures, discussions or Q&A sessions addressing these changes in the academic climate.

Articles detailing the grueling working conditions of adjuncts abound. I’ve heard stories about professors with PhD’s sleeping in homeless shelters, of adjuncts teaching in rooms filled with cockroaches, of professors without health insurance, unable to afford heat in their homes, living on food stamps.

No doubt, AWP, you have heard these stories too. 

Nonetheless at your conference each year, we see panel after panel dedicated to “best practices” in creative writing pedagogy. How to teach comics in the classroom, how to “redesign your comp class,” new ideas for “challenging poetry students to think clearly…” As if it were just up to the individual teacher to make this all go smoothly. As if a well-run workshop has nothing to do with the economic realities faced by the person leading it.

You know what I think is great for creative writing pedagogy, AWP? Job security. Opportunities for promotion. Roach-free classrooms. Office space where teachers can meet with students. When professors do not need to worry about being able to afford lunch, or cobbling together a livable wage by teaching 35 classes, or whether student evaluations will be the difference between having a job next winter or not.

Read the full story here.