November 19, 2008

The Adjunct Jumble

Posted in teaching revelations tagged , , , , at 4:22 am by profart

Ah, the joys of being an adjunct. Pond scum of the academic world. A hired gun. Being an adjunct means you have no job security whatsoever. You have little choice of when or what you teach. You are pawn in the game of budget numbers, the cheapest form of labor. Do you get bang for their buck? 

When a full-time faculty has a class cancelled for low enrollment, they still get paid. I don’t. 

Sometimes getting classes is like playing Button Button Who’s Got the Button? You agree to teach some classes, then they come back and say no, those classes aren’t happening, teach these instead. Oops, you’re teaching too many classes, you’re only allowed so many classes. So classes don’t get taught, because they’ve already filled up on the cheap labor. 

You try to tell people how many and what classes you normally teach, and they ignore you. It can take another year (sometimes two!) to get your classes back, and in the meantime, kids who need your classes can’t take them, and you don’t get paid, because they assign you classes that people don’t sign up for. 

The best excuse for a good jerking around? “Budget.” Hello. I’m an adjunct who teaches online. I cost $2000. I teach 30 students. At $250 per credit, that’s $22,500 I bring in for you, thank you very much. In fact, if I have three students in my class, I turn a profit for you. Run the damn class. 

At one point I was promised five classes for next semester. Then it was discovered I was only allowed to teach 4, because I am an adjunct (not sure why; I still don’t do the advising and other campus work a full-timer is expected to do, so its not like they’d have to assume I’m working full-time hours). Then one of the live classes got cancelled, for “budget” before registration even began (how much cheaper do you want a class taught? And remember, a section brings in $22,500!) Now I have one class that so far has only seven students in it; want to bet they cancel it? It’s an online section, so I would still be bringing in $5250 for the school, less my $2K. $3250 clear, and they talk about budget. WTF? 

How much does it cost to run an online class outside of the cost of a professor, once you are offering an online program? You’re already running the computers and paying for the software and licensing. There is no cost for space (such as heat, maintenance, cleaning, security). OK, the registrar needs her bit, and the cashier, and the administrators. But for a single class, with the infrastructure already in place, how much does that really cost? Think it all costs more than the teacher’s salary? How about two or three times that? If it does, perhaps that speaks to the pitiful amount you are paying the teacher. 

The real problem is that, in the name of budget, so many schools are turning to adjuncting to fill podiums. The position of adjunct was intended to bring in special guest teachers, or provide journeyman-level teaching experiences for young scholars. Adjuncting wasn’t intended to provide permanent teachers, year after year. If you are going to use adjuncts as your permanent staff, perhaps it would be a good idea to treat those adjuncts as permanent contract staff, instead of just tossing them around and seeing which ones are more desperate loyal.

In order to make half as much as a full-time faculty member, I have to cobble together twice as many classes from a variety of different campuses. It doesn’t happen. Instead, I have full teaching loads, but spread out over several institutions so none have to actually pay me a real salary (even when they are all through a single system, such as the state school system). Benefits? Don’t make me laugh. 

I love to teach. However, I may have to give it up, so I can eat.

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