Hi readers! Sorry this post took a while to finish- I’m currently teaching a summer class while planning for next semester, including proportioning time to work on PhD applications, which includes time to write, study, and do campus research. I would love to talk about which campuses I’m researching and what strategies I’m picking up, but the biggest reason why that is not my most pertinent concern is because I currently work as an adjunct professor, which means planning out my semester is not something I can do with leisure. This planning requires a ton of scrutiny, making sure I can afford the time to study and prep, and the costs since applications are not cheap living on an adjunct’s salary. It’s a job that is difficult to do without questioning whether you are in the right field or not.
For those who don’t know what an adjunct professor is, Carmen Maria Machado’s piece in The New Yorker O Adjunct! My Adjunct! has a great description on what that job exactly is. She describes it as follows:
Adjuncts are generally hired on semester-to-semester contracts, given no health insurance or retirement benefits, no office, no professional development, and few university resources. Compensation per course—including not just classroom hours but grading, reading, responding to student e-mails, and office hours—varies, but the median
pay, according to a recent report, is twenty-seven hundred dollars. Many adjuncts teach at multiple universities, commuting between two or three schools in order to make ends meet, and are often unable to pursue their own academic or artistic work because of their schedules. In the past four decades, tenured and tenure-track positions have plummeted and adjunct instructor jobs have soared, second only in growth to administrators. Adjuncts have always had roles to play: filling in for a last-minute class, covering for a professor on sabbatical, providing outside expertise for a one-off, specialized course. But the position was not designed to provide nearly half of a school’s faculty or the majority of a person’s income. It’s estimated that adjuncts constitute more than forty per cent of all instructors at American colleges and universities.
There are teachers right now who are struggling, barely able to pay their bills, while working under a gigantic course load. This is not a plight of a select few-the number of universities and college campuses becoming dependent on adjuncts is growing, which doesn’t help alleviate the issue. Is it market forces creating this phenomenon, teachers taking these jobs and not addressing how it’s a problem, or these institutions operating as businesses abusing cheap labor? I don’t know. What I do know is that I, as a professor who works at said institutions while also teaching my students to think for themselves and to think critically, cannot separate being a professor and an advocate for working class people.
When you’re applying for PhD’s, you ask yourself a lot of important questions, particularly since you did not have the same concerns as when you started: Which programs speak directly to my studies? Can I move my family here? Working as an adjunct professor has made ask a new question: Will I perpetuate this system if I get a degree that will lift me from my position as an adjunct?
I know there are situations that can be much worse- not only do I get to teach students
to become vibrant young thinkers while discussing works and authors I love, but there are a ton other fields where I can work at that would take me away from what I love doing; I’m not refusing to acknowledge this. What I wish to bring attention to is the specific plight adjuncts have. Two years ago, there was an event generated by social media outlets called National Adjunct Walkout Day. This was a day designed to emphasize what adjunct workers deal with and the value they bring to college and university campuses. What this accomplished is still in question, but a signal of solidarity is certainly promising.
Earlier this semester, I assigned my students a research assignment that involved looking at how the essays they are reading in class are part of a bigger conversation, pertaining to issues such as police brutality, global warming, and other hot-button issues. One of my students read Barbara Hurd’s essay Fracking: A Fable, which discusses the ethical implications of extracting natural resources. He told me after writing this essay that he will no longer eat meat in order to curb his carbon footprint. Maybe we as professors need to do just that: embody the change we wish to see. We need to push for solidarity, support, and adequate representation when discussing these issues. This problem won’t be addressed until we who work under these conditions say something. If I wish to see this change as I move forward, I will have to with this consciousness; I must support my fellow adjuncts now, regardless of whether I move to another campus, and whether or not I stand to benefit from these changes.
I’m uploading this while waiting for the subway. I see the glow of the train, slowly but surely on its way, in hopes that it will take from this spot to another. Once I get to surface level, these words will be uploaded, and soon reach the public. My only hope is that they reach those who wish to join our solidarity.