Today is (Inter)National Adjunct Walkout Day and I am not walking out because I’ve already left the building.
I have spent the past 15 years of my professional career as an educator, researcher, and student. I have taught 7th grade through University level. And although I never went into teaching for the pay, I always believed I could make a living doing what I loved.
I recently had to leave teaching because as an adjunct I had no benefits, no office, no yearly contract, and no connections with the college I was teaching at. I taught my class and I went home. I couldn’t meet with students unless I was willing to meet in the one room where all the adjunct faculty congregated. I didn’t even know the other faculty who were teaching in my department. My contract changed at the end of the semester which would have decreased my annual salary of $14,000 for teaching 3 semester classes, to $10,000 for teaching 2. Because I don’t have a PhD (I have 2 master’s degrees), I have little hope of securing a full-time teaching position anywhere.
Adjuncts typically make between $20,000 and $25,000 for teaching a full teaching load (which in my experience is not sustainable) by teaching at multiple colleges. Because there are policies in place that restrict the number of classes adjuncts can teach (never enough for full time), adjuncts are often found teaching at several colleges and commuting long distances to do so. One semester, I taught 4 classes and commuted 3 hours a day on a city bus to one job. I was making okay money and had benefits, but teaching 4 classes was not something that I could do long term as my schedule involved teaching for most of the day and then spending evenings and nights grading, planning, and catching up on work. All for barely enough money to pay the bills.
I guess the problem I have with the whole system is the philosophy that adjuncts are seen as less valuable than full-time faculty, administrators, and university staff. In many cases, adjuncts will never be able to teach full time and will never have the benefits that full time faculty receive (like reduced faculty housing on campus that only full time faculty can apply for). In one place I taught, adjuncts made up nearly 75% of the teaching force but had no union, no benefits, and no personal office space (which means I carted all my documents, books, notes, & student papers for my classes to every class every time I taught and I met with students in the hallway for office hours).
Finally, adjuncts are usually the ones who teach lower-division classes. We interact with large numbers of first-year students. If the university really cared about student retention, they should also be very concerned about the plight of the adjunct as large adjunct turn overs affect the quality of the first-year student educational experience.
On this national adjunct walkout day, we should also remember those who left teaching not because they didn’t love it, but because they couldn’t survive economically by doing it. I hope that the future of adjuncts improves and I’m sorry I couldn’t stick around to fight the good fight; I’ve got a family to support and student loans to pay off.