STUMP » Articles » My Fellow Adjuncts! You Have Only Your Chains to Lose! » 8 January 2015, 20:10

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

My Fellow Adjuncts! You Have Only Your Chains to Lose!  


8 January 2015, 20:10

It’s between semesters, which is, I guess, why we’re seeing stuff like this:

wave of union organizing at college campuses across California and the nation in recent months is being fueled by part-time faculty who are increasingly discontented over working conditions and a lack of job security.

At nearly a dozen private colleges in California, adjunct professors are holding first-time contract negotiations or are campaigning to win the right to do so. Those instructors complain of working semester to semester without knowing whether they will be kept on, lacking health benefits and in some cases having to commute among several campuses to make a living.

While union activists say they look forward to better working terms and a greater voice in how campuses are governed, many college administrators say they are worried that such union contracts could mean less flexibility in academic hiring and higher tuition costs.

Oh, boo hoo.

Maybe they could make the tenured profs teach more? Just a thought.

Let’s see what one of the adjuncts has to say:

Andrea Bowers, who has taught one or two courses a semester at Otis for the last five years, said she typically is paid $3,000 for each class in public arts practice and other fine arts subjects plus $1,000 to mentor students’ studio work. She also juggles a professional art career and teaching assignments elsewhere.

“A living wage is really crucial,” she said. “It’s no surprise that the SEIU is simultaneously organizing McDonald’s workers and part-time college teachers.”

I see there has been other unionization pushes by the SEIU as well.

You know what would help my fellow adjuncts more than having a union?

Having options.

Now, I am an adjunct, but I’m doing it more as a hobby than as a living. I have a day job. I was looking at doing something due to my adjuncting (which may yet happen) that would mean I actually lost money in adjuncting. Not merely opportunity cost, which I’m already “paying”, but that I would actually have more money by not doing the job. (and boy, do I have a pension story that fits with that one… but that’s for a future post.)

I’m a member of the union… I think… it’s not clear to me that the AAUP is a ‘union’ — in any case, this seems to be the contract that the AAUP has acted for “me” as a bargaining agent for. Let’s see what it says about adjuncts:

For Adjunct Faculty, minimum remuneration shall be at the following rates:

Effective August 13, 2010 – $1461 per credit

WHAT?! No raise since 2010?!

I just checked how much I got paid last semester, and I see it matched the minimum.


Oh wait, I totally decided to do this for “fun”. I have odd concepts of fun. Such as writing blog posts.

Anyway, if I thought the position didn’t pay enough, I have the option NOT TO DO IT and to DO SOMETHING MORE REMUNERATIVE.

I could also try negotiation, but given that I’m sure they pay all the adjuncts the same, and pretty much all the actuarial science adjunct faculty get paid more in their non-part-time jobs, there’s not much leverage. The guys you see listed there who are “permanent” faculty who do not have PhDs — this is their “retirement” gig. Doesn’t pay as much as their prior actuarial jobs, but “fun”. They had already had long professional careers. We have plenty of money (no, but seriously, give me more money.)

But the point is that even liberal arts teachers have options other than working in academia. Because you have decided your “career” is going to be academia, and you have no chance getting a permanent position, stuff like this happens:

I’ve just started my fourth year as a non-tenure-tracker, and I’ve done some dirty things to feed my teaching habit: sold plasma, gone entire days without eating, came damn close to getting my car repossessed, borrowed money from parents and friends, pawned possessions, sold my entire collection of music and films. At one point, my apartment was a Thoreauvian nightmare of hyper-simplicity as my furniture vanished into the Craigslist void. Have you ever watched Jeopardy in a lawn chair? I don’t recommend it.

My teaching habit is expensive and it’s cost me everything. One of these days I’m going to kick it. One of these days …

Dude. DUDE. You want to teach? You can do it for free on YouTube. Just get it out of your system, okay?

I wrote an article reviewing the book Fire Your Boss (warning: this link will download a PDF – complain to the webmaster, not me) where I pulled out the following wisdom:

Chapter 7: It’s the Money

Ah, the Jerry Maguire-ism “Show Me the Money” that makes people say “What a mercenary book!”

But why not go for a job that gives you the most money possible, for a reasonable workload? They are not saying that people should try to become investment bankers (especially not in this economic climate [article was published January 2009]), but that one should ignore things such as amenities, opportunities for advancement, inflated title or status, as many of these are just ways for employers to pay less for you.

As Paul Graham, a noted programming expert, wrote on prestigious jobs:

“If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious.”

This is the point. A bunch of people think it sounds more tony to say they are faculty at some academic institution rather than go work in marketing for some =shudder= corporation.

Well, you are being suckered into thinking there’s any sort of cachet at all. You should work for money. Period. Having an eye out for opportunity is going to pay you more than joining a union. Part-time teaching is not a full-time career.

Slate, of course, anticipated my argument a couple years ago:

One question that comes up a lot in discussions about higher education’s overreliance on adjunct professors is why adjuncts don’t just find other jobs. As I wrote in my profile of Margaret Mary Vojtko, adjuncts typically make a couple thousand dollars per course, receive no retirement or health benefits, and can lose their job at the end of any semester for any reason. With working conditions that bad, why does anyone stick around?

Let’s leave aside the fact that this question deflects responsibility for exploitative working conditions onto the people who are exploited, rather than the people doing the exploiting. Let’s also set aside the fact that many adjuncts, like Vojtko, love teaching college-level courses and find great personal fulfillment in their work. Finally, let’s ignore unemployment rates and the fact that, whether or not you’re an academic, it’s currently quite difficult to find a job [AS AN ACADEMIC]. As members of Duquesne’s adjunct union explained to me when I was reporting my article, there are systemic reasons that it’s harder for adjuncts to find new employment—within academia, or outside of it—than your average worker.

Many adjuncts stay in the academy in the hopes of one day getting a tenure-track position. [OMG THEY’RE SUCKERS]


What about adjuncts who want to find a job outside of academia? The academic hiring cycle makes this difficult. Adjuncts find out their course assignments a few weeks before the start of each semester, and once they accept they’re locked in for the semester. [IF THEY WANT TO STAY IN ACADEMIA!!!]

Ussia added that abandoning a class mid-semester is “a serious professional taboo” for adjuncts. [AGAIN, IF YOU STAY!]

I added a few comments in there.

I adjuncted before actuarying, btw. I just didn’t sign on for the next semester while I went on my business job search. Adjuncting was not a long-term option, and it seemed a good time to get out.

There’s a huge world of all sorts of jobs, such as marketing (as mentioned earlier). Yes, you have to start out at entry-level, most likely. No, the masters degree won’t really give you a leg up over people with years more experience in the business world. But you just may find you get more money. And there are other perks as well.

Imagine, no more ridiculous teaching evaluations from students. Working only with adults. Not having students loathing your guts (okay, that works only for those who teach required math courses.)

Just think about it. That’s all I’m saying.

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