Monday, September 7, 2009


Since it's Labor Day and I have a day off, I might as well write about what it's like to work for a living.

I'm loath to complain about having a job, actually currently two jobs, especially since I have several friends and blog buddies who are unemployed or seriously underemployed right now. But being adjunct faculty is ugly set of syllables describing a miserable work situation.

Adjunct means different things at different places, but it's almost always a good news, bad news situation, except when it's just a bad news situation.

Example #1: One of the perks of teaching is a lot of time off compared to non-academic jobs. The good news is that I get eight to nine weeks off every year. The bad news is that these are weeks off without pay in chunks of three weeks at a time, so there's no way to get a part time gig to cover it.

Example #2: The California legislature recently changed the rules covering adjuncts teaching at state funded community colleges. The good news is that an adjunct faculty member can now teach 10 hours a week for a single community college district instead of 8.3 hours a week. For me, the bad news is that the two community colleges that have hired me most recently are both in the same district, so I can only get 10 hours a week from both Laney and Berkeley Community combined.

Example #3: If you work enough hours at Peralta as an adjunct, you are eligible for health insurance, but it isn't free. The district pays half and you pay the rest. If I don't have enough work at other places, there are times when I haven't been able to afford it.

Example #4: This one is pretty much just bad news. Though I teach during every month of the year, the Peralta district has decided to pay me only ten times during the year. My landlord has the quirky habit of expecting the rent from me twelve times a year, but the school district doesn't like to pry into the personal lives of the employees, and how I make the rent at the beginning of July and September are details they would rather not go into.

Example #5: More bad news. You are hunting for work from semester to semester. When there are serious cutbacks, tenured and tenure track faculty get the pick and the adjunct pool is left to fight for the scraps.

Example #6: I'm glad to have work at Mills College, a private institution in Oakland that still has an all-female undergraduate student body. Mills charges the students a lot more than a public university, but there are a lot of ways in which it's worth the extra cash. Mills has very few adjunct professors, which means more full-time faculty who are on campus more than I am able to be. Class sizes are smaller, so again students can expect more personal attention. The grounds are very nice and the facilities are up-to-date. Departments have department secretaries, which is a great help. The administrative load on the people who become department chairs at community colleges is a serious pain in the tail with little or no help.

At Mills, I have an office and a desk I can call my own with a computer on it. These are luxuries that I don't have at most of the other schools where I work.

I'm adjunct because I teach a math class in the biology department, statistics for the nursing students. Mills pays me every two weeks while I'm working there, which I appreciate. The only bad news for me at Mills is that they only need to have the stats for nursing students once a year, so I only teach there in the fall.

Example #7: Here's the place I don't work at any more, the place that fired me without telling me because I needed to take one of their five week terms off. They pay worse than any other place I've worked as teacher. There were no benefits at all for teachers, though they did give benefits to the staff that got the students to plunk their money down.

Forgive me for thinking of those people as overhead, but they are. They were treated much better than the real workers.

As bad as I was getting paid, they paid people like me in the general education courses more than they paid the people teaching the real core courses of animation or recording studio methods. The equipment used was good, but the classrooms for teaching math or English or history could be complete crap. One term because of construction, the first class session met in a hallway without seats or desks for the students.

I took the work because I needed the money and I was clearly qualified, but it's the kind of job you take because you are adjunct.

In summation, being adjunct sucks.

Happy Labor Day. The workers control the means of production, for all the damn good that does them.


namastenancy said...

That sucks - and math is such a necessary, valuable skill! I remember when I was getting my BA in history back in the 80's and thinking about getting a Master's degree. The teaching prospects were as bad then as now and the part-time teachers were as badly treated as you are so I decided not to continue even though I desperately wanted to. It just wasn't worth it. I wish our country really valued teachers and education but it's clear that not much has changed in 25+ years.
We need to have real leadership in the labor unions and that includes teacher's unions as well - but I'm not holding my breath.

Fran said...

I have so many friends who are adjuncts and the situations are all pretty much as you describe. My one friend - one, count 'em one, ended up with a great full time gig and is almost tenured at this point.

However, the trail of blood, sweat and tears that led to that is long.

I feel for you. Thanks for sharing your story today.

Anonymous said...

My daughter is an adjunct professor at our local community college and basically works when enrollment is high. She got two classes last semester, they haven't called her for the Fall. But her full time job is at the local newspaper covering two of our cities here in Brevard County. She loves to teach, got the bug as a Peace Corps volunteer in Zimbabwe. It must be hard on professors who have to be adjunct to make a living. I know she wouldn't be able to support herself on just that one job at the Community College.

Matty Boy said...

Nancy: Unions have helped to make the situation tolerable. The increase to 10 hours per school district and the partial heath benefits are due to the union. Without the union, the job would be like the work I had at the third school, which was wage slavery.

Fran: I've been trying to get that tenure track position, but so far no luck. It can be disheartening.

Z&M: At the beginning of the year, I was forced to support myself on one gig at a community college. Another thing the unions fought for was that adjuncts get paid unemployment during the three week breaks, though usually that means getting paid for two out of three weeks. When I went back to work, I reported my earnings to the EDD, and they kept sending me checks for about a month and a half because I was considered underemployed. That was a first for me, getting paid unemployment while working.

Karen Zipdrive said...

It's a racket, I tell ya.
I know a lot of adjuncts who share your tales of woe.
If a kid is paying full tuition to take courses taught by an adjunct, then the adjunct should receive the same salary and benefits as any other professor.

CDP said...

I've had adjunct faculty instructors for five of the eight classes I've taken so far, and they've all been excellent. I hope you'll get the tenure track position you deserve soon.