Realizations About My Life as an Adjunct

From The Adjunct Project:

I think I’ve figured it out. Over the past year or so, I’ve come to some important realizations about the ways adjuncts are treated and about how we fit into the university system.

When I began teaching at my current school, I was disregarded. Ignored. My attempts at greetings and small talk went unacknowledged, but now I see that I’m not supposed to talk to tenured faculty. I can talk to other adjuncts and I can talk to the department secretary, but I am to seek no acknowledgement from those who hold a higher rank than me. So I have stopped acting as if I’m an academic colleague, because they clearly do not think that I am. In every facet of my work as an adjunct, I am meant to be invisible, to tuck away in the shadows of the department. I’m beginning to realize that most of the university just wants to pretend we don’t exist.

I think I know now what is expected of me. To get in and out of campus as quickly as possible, to have little interaction with anyone–including students–and to be disengaged from the university, just as it is from me. This mutual disengagement is perpetuated by adjuncts zipping in and out of multiple schools to make a living, thus ensuring that adjuncts have little time or energy to participate in university life. After all, the less adjuncts are engaged, the less the university needs to regard our presence.

What do I get as an adjunct? I wonder how best to answer this question. For me, part of the justification for remaining an adjunct is to “save face,” to not veer from a long, arduous obstacle course of educational feats to get the title of “Dr.”, and to remain steadfast on my road to tenure. I have worked so hard to get here, jumped through so many hoops to achieve the status of professor, but it turns out that I have no status within the very system that educated me. The only place my degree and my title mean anything is outside of the university when I tell people what I do and happen to leave out that word, adjunct.

Another reason I’m still doing this job is because it’s what I was trained to do–researching, writing, teaching. But the more teaching I take on, the further behind I slip in the tenure race. This realization has pushed me to take a self-imposed, semi-sabbatical teaching load of one class per semester this coming year, so I can attempt to publish myself off this adjunct merry-go-round.

It is such a relief for me to have worked out the underlying features of the adjunct’s role in the university. It helps to know where I stand. But it doesn’t take away the bad taste that lingers in my mouth when I say I’m an adjunct professor. That’s why when I read about the burgeoning national movement to unionize adjuncts, I wanted to get on that train. I hoped it would stop at my university so I could stay in academia and gain some modicum of respect.

Well, I got my wish. The adjunct union has arrived in my metropolitan area, and when organizers asked me last year to join a small group of adjuncts who were meeting with top university administrators, I knew it was my time to step up and play a serious role in creating change. Despite warnings from my family and friends, I offered myself to the union’s service.

Read the full story here.