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    National Adjunct Walkout Day (and Why It Matters to You)

    Today, February 25, is National Adjunct Walkout Day. The majority of college teachers in America today are not full-time instructors with salaries, benefits, or job security, but allegedly "part time" adjunct faculty members paid a few thousand dollars per course. Today, across our country, those adjunct faculty members will be walking out of their classes and holding events to raise awareness.

    I support them, and so should you. It is in everyone's best interest.
    I have written before that placing so much of colleges' teaching load on adjuncts damages students' education. It makes teachers overly dependent on student evaluations, so that nationwide standards inevitably get lowered. It keeps courses from working together in an effective sequence, because the teachers of each class are cut off from the rest of the program. And it leads to gross overwork, which burns adjuncts out, spreads their labor too thin, and demands less and less attention to each student. Most adjunct professors are gifted teachers. We throw their gifts away. The abusive work conditions they face damage the education students get. Working harder won't fix that. Overwork is part of the problem.

    And this is a systematic problem. It's not one or two colleges doing this, and one or two colleges can't stop doing it on their own. Adjunctification, the move to a majority-adjunct teaching force, has become systematic, and the decision-makers don't feel that they can afford to stop relying on it. If they did, their budgets would fall apart, and competing schools would gain advantages over them. This problem can only be stopped by pressure nationwide. The people who run universities believe that they can't afford to stop using adjuncts. They have to reach the point where they can't afford NOT to stop, where the price of adjunctification becomes too high. And that pressure can't just be applied to one or two schools. It has to be system-wide.
    This should matter to you if you're a student. Adjunctification, the switch to a majority-adjunct teaching force, is a way for colleges to spend your tuition on things other than your education. It matters if you're the parent of a student. It matters if you're one of the shrinking number of full-time tenure-unit faculty; the reliance on adjuncts also means fewer full-time professors. They too get overworked (because a smaller number have to share the work that adjuncts aren't allowed to do), and they too have their teaching effectiveness undermined. If all of the basic intro classes are taught by overworked teachers without the time or resources to be thorough, the students aren't going to come into more advanced classes with a thorough grasp of the basics. And then those advanced courses aren't what they should be, either. It's that simple. 

    And it matters to you if you live in America. The burden on America's adjunct professors damages our entire system of higher education. And a shakily-educated populace is not good for us: not economically, not globally, and not in terms of protecting our democracy. It makes us less prepared as workers, less competitive in international trade, and less informed as citizens. What's bad for adjunct teachers is bad for all teachers, for all students, and for all Americans. Please support National Adjunct Walkout Day.


    It matters to me because I was one of those adjuncts for several years Doc.

    In 1998 I quit teaching computer science at several of our local community colleges in Seattle. I'd been teaching for 5 years as an adjunct, and at times I was teaching at two different community colleges and at colleges on base. It was draining for that 15000.00 per year I made. 15 Grand, no bennies, and homework and class planning took up all of my free time. And i wanted my students to learn. I was lucky because I was married and my husband had a great job and we had health insurance. I worked my ass off, I cared about my students and about those classes. But I thought eventually it would lead to a full time job and when it did I would complete my PhD. But after 5 years it hit me, my dream of full time work was never going to happen. I was working all the time and getting nothing for it, two master's degrees literally got me nothing. No job security, nothing. As an adjunct you don't even get your own office to meet with your students. You get nothing, You are paid only to teach. So my dream of being a teacher at community college was over, I took a tech job, and began my foray into the wold of data and never looked back. 

    It is time that the state systems of higher ed quit relying on adjuncts to teach, it's time that states quit cheaping out on students, not only do educators deserve some sort of security in their jobs, but students deserve teachers who are not worrying about paying their rent and can fully concentrate on preparing for their classes. Will it happen anytime soon? I doubt it. Here in the US we don't value learning, teachers or teaching. 

    A link worth reading.

    Thank you.

    $15000 for teaching at three different schools. No benefits. And that's computer science.

    And that's computer science.

    There were many consequences for spending those 5 years teaching, in the end they become financial consequences big ones.  My husband always had retirement and max contributions to social security etc, I lost 5 years of that in my earliest years of professional work. Those are serious consequences.

    Tmac, I honestly had no idea it was this bad.  Incredible.  It must have been so hard for you to give up your dream, especially when you worked so hard to achieve it.  I hope this draws attention to the real world of the adjunct.  I wish I could say I thought it would bring the needed results.  This is not the best climate for fairness and equity. 

    I was happy when I quit Mona, I'd grown kind of bitter, you know I realized I wasted 5 years of my life and gained nothing. 

    It also had suddenly becomes apparent to me that I had made a mistake financially by doing this, a big one, because for my first 5 years of working I basically lost 5 good early years bof my financial future, 1. adjuncts here were not eligible to contribute to the state retirement system, and 2. over the long term it shorted my own payments to social security just because I barely made anything. If I hadn't been married I would've probably qualified for food stamps, but probably not have had access to any kind of health insurance.  It isn't just the slap you in the face in the moment consequences but there were severe long term financial consequences to remaining an adjunct instructor at our local community colleges. 


    When I first saw this I wondered what you thought about it, Doc. We've turned the corner on education, it seems, and the act (and joy) of enlightening and educating is not nearly as important as the end result:  full classrooms and funding successes. 

    Everything is about somebody's idea of the bottom line--which should never happen in places of learning--and both the students and the adjuncts lose out because, again, it's all about the money.  So disgusting; so disheartening.  I really had no idea how overworked and poorly paid they are.  This should bring some much-needed attention, but it'll be interesting to see if anything at all changes.


    No. No one outside the system has any idea how bad it is, or how widespread the problem is.

    Thanks, Doc. I had no idea of the extent of this problem. Thanks for highlighting it in this fine article.

    We start our adjuncts at $2,400/class, and the raises from there are not large or frequent. Western NY is an affordable part of the country -- but the trade-off is that colleges aren't especially close together, so our adjuncts, if they're lucky enough to have work at two or three schools, log a lot of hours and gas mileage commuting.

    We do give benefits to adjuncts who teach two classes for us per semester, and the benefits are good (and most department chairs try their damnedest to make sure every adjunct has two classes). We also provide them with real offices with equipment and supplies, which is more than some institutions do -- some places don't even give adjuncts photocopying privileges. But it's embarrassing that those things are the mark of a <i>relatively good</i> adjunct gig these days.

    To spell out the ramifications of what Flavia's saying: at $2400 a course, you'd have to teach 10 college courses a year to make $24,000 before taxes.

    5 classes a semester is more than most colleges allow their full-time faculty to do, because quality would suffer. At lots of places, the load for full timers is 3 courses a semester; at very teaching centric institutes it's 4 a semester. (And there are places where the load is less than 3 courses a semester, because faculty are expected to get more research done.) 

    So just to make $24,000, and adjunct has to teach more than anyone agrees is really appropriate to teach. I've heard of adjunct professors teaching 6 courses at one time; you really can't give six classes the time they deserve. It would take a minimum of 60 hours a week to do even a mediocre, half-prepared job of it.

    And of course, no school would give you 5 classes at once. They don't let their own faculty do that. And if any school lets you teach more than 2 classes at a time at one place, they're admitting that you're not actually part-time. They can't afford to do that. So, like TMac, you'll have to string together jobs at at least three campuses during any given semester.

    Also, at some places, unlike Flavia's school, adjuncts don't get their own offices. So there's no private place to meet with students. If you're a student and you have to have that conference where you get told some tough truths about how your work is going ... Well your adjunct professor is going to have to tell you that in a public place. Good times! And if you need to tell your adjunct professor that you need an extension because of some horrifying personal circumstances, you might find yourself telling him that in the middle of the campus coffee house. 

     This article and the following comments at "Crooked Timber" might be of interest to those of us who find this post valuable or at least interesting even if it does not affect us directly. To be clear about my own sentiments I will quote, approximately, someone I cannot recall, " I would rather pay the price of education than to pay the price of ignorance."

    Is teaching undergraduates central to the mission…?


    There's a lot going on in that post and thread; more than I can address here. I should probably do a follow-up post on adjunct issues, which intersect with a lot of larger higher-ed questions.

    The adjunctification of the teaching force 1) gives away that there's a real level on which the decision makers DON'T care about teaching and 2) serves to increase the emphasis on research instead of teaching by tenure-line faculty members.

    The cause and effect are complicated, but cheap adjunct labor goes alongside a shrinking number of tenure-track jobs that combine teaching with research, so that it takes more and more research to get and keep those full-time middle-class jobs.



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