Thursday, December 06, 2007

Stuck in Adjunct Hell

A long-suffering correspondent writes:

I'm an adjunct . . . everywhere. Note that I am sending this from the
Ringling College of Something Specific, where I have been teaching a 67
percent load for six years. I am also teaching for a local community
college that has several branches. The CC pays literally half what
Ringling does, and I am not treated nearly as well in a general-person
kind of way. Furthermore, the CC has to abide by certain state
regulations, which translates into significantly more work for me at
far less pay. My boss at the CC has made it abundantly clear to me
that I am his favorite choice. And why wouldn't I be? I am really,
really good at my job, the students like me, some of them fear me, I'm
very qualified, experienced, I always say yes and in the past I have
done some really Herculean favors for the school overall. Two years
ago, I was about fifteen minutes' pregnant and discovered I was to
fill in for a full-timer on sabbatical (at adjunct pay!), which meant
driving between three campuses in one day, teaching out of three
textbooks in one week, AND they changed the textbooks on me without
telling me, so I had to do entirely new prep from scratch in the midst
of all this joy, too. I did it, and I did it well, but I loathed it
the entire time. The only reason I continue to work there is because
they offer summer classes and Ringling doesn't, and we need the summer
money just to keep from being homeless. I could go on, but I gather
you are familiar with the plight of adjuncts generally.

Right now I am slated to teach one class there next term, from 7 to 10
at night about 30 miles south of where I live, and it will mean a) I
will get home at nearly 11, and can't see my husband, bathe the baby,
etc. and b) the other college had to rearrange my schedule in a very
inconvenient way to accommodate it. Now Happy Boss wants me to teach
another course (not a section, another course) on another night from 7
to 10. I so desperately want to say no that it's keeping me up at
night, seriously. But I'm afraid if I do, I won't be offered summer
teaching. He has shopped this class to every other adjunct he has, and
they've all refused it, so if I say no it's going to be cancelled, oy
the guilt. I have to give him an answer this week, and I don't want to
be rash. I should also add I'm in school (trying to make a better
future so I never have to do this again.) Furthermore, this semester I
had the delight of teaching a seriously disturbed student and I am
worried about my physical safety on campus late at night next term.
I've had a security detail assigned to my classroom, hooray.

What to do? I know this was overly long - I just wanted to illustrate
the egregiousness of how they treat me, and how I stupidly keep saying
yes in spite of it. I'm like . . . a really dumb girlfriend!

Wow. No sticky issues here!

I don't know your Happy Boss, so I can't say this with any finality, but I can guess both why he likes you and why things won't improve unless you make them.

You're solving his problems for him. He's grateful, and relieved, and he has learned to turn to you when he has a problem class. He probably does respect your ability, which is precisely why he's happy that you keep saying yes. He's getting quality and flexibility on the cheap. From his perspective, what's not to like?

And why, exactly, do you expect that to change?

He may sincerely mean it when he says he'd love to hire you full-time. Or he may not. Even if he does mean it, it may not matter. He may not get a line to fill for many years, and when he finally does, he'll have to do an open search, at which point his opinion will be one of many, and you'll be up against candidates you aren't up against now.

As I interpret it, you have two goals you're trying to attain:

  1. Non-starvation in the short term.

  2. A full-time job in the long term.

These are both worthy goals, but your chase of goal 1 is short-circuiting your prospects for goal 2.

More adjuncting at the same place won't improve your chances of a full-time position anywhere. At best, it will keep you fed. But there are other ways of keeping yourself fed. And those other ways might leave you more time to make yourself a more attractive candidate for full-time positions.

Good, hardworking people sometimes believe a little too strongly in the 'virtue will be rewarded' theory. It could be, but colleges don't hire to reward virtue; they hire to meet needs. If they don't need you, your dazzling endurance and heroic selflessness and general wonderfulness are simply irrelevant. That's not nice, but it's true.

(True example: my cc didn't hire anybody in my scholarly discipline for 35 years. I refuse to believe it was for lack of qualified people.)

With childcare, financial stresses, and the hassles of working at two colleges, it sounds like you haven't had the chance to step back and think about the long term. It's time to do that. Whatever you do, you need to break out of your rut.

My recommendation – and wise and worldly readers, if you have better ideas, don't be shy – is to turn down these classes, and take some idiotic (and definitely non-academic) job in the meantime if you have to to eat. Get some distance on your situation. After a couple of months, when your brain starts to snap back to its original shape, ask yourself again what you actually want. It may be that tenure-track job; if it is, then start organizing the short term around improving your chances of that. Or you may discover that, while you like teaching and you're good at it, stepping away isn't the end of the world. There are other rewarding and valid – and often more lucrative – ways to make a living.

Either way, it's not selfish to take a time out and step back. It's self-preservation. You're allowed.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers – your thoughts?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.