A well-known secret in higher education is that full-time tenure-track positions are dwindling. Many of the seats that we have filled with full-time faculty will not be re-filled when they are vacated in the next 20 years. What universities will need to do is hire more part-time faculty to fill that void. Currently, 38% of the teaching labor force in higher education is made of part-time professors. From the AAUP:
The growth of part-time faculty has often come at the cost of stable employment for those who seek full-time careers. Institutions which assign a significant percentage of instruction to faculty members in whom they make a minimal professional investment undercut their own commitment to quality. Academic programs and a tenure system are not stable when institutions rely heavily on non-tenure-track faculty who receive few, if any, opportunities for professional advancement, whose performance may not be regularly reviewed or rewarded, and who may be shut out of the governing structures of the departments and institutions that appoint them.
If you want to be an adjunct teacher at a university or college, make sure that you are prepared to understand what is involved. These are positions not designed to provide a full-time wage or anything in the way of benefits. Here are practical reasons not to avoid becoming a “full-time” adjunct or part-time professor.
You Are Expendable
Part-time faculty are cheap. Because of rank, the wages per credit-hour taught can be less. The institution does not need to pay out fringe benefits like health insurance or retirement matching. And because most adjunct work is based on course contracts, teachers don’t really have to be fired – they are simply not awarded a new contract. In other words: Do not expect stable employment; you are expendable.
You will get the lovely moniker of “second tier faculty” which is a nice pat on the back for all those hours you spend with students. You may find yourself isolated from the institution and connected mainly through email and learning management systems such as Blackboard or Canvass.
Welcome to flexible production of labor.
You Are Cheap
I can’t imagine doing adjunct work to make a living. I would have to pull about 50 credit hours a year to pull that off at $1,000 a credit hour. If we take that and subtract about $1,500 per month for private insurance and taxes that leaves me with $32,000 as a net wage or let’s say $2,600 for rent, gas, utilities, and in my case child support. Then I have to eat and I have no retirement or savings. I also have some loans I need to pay off. Forget car payments. My car had better be indestructible.
All of this financial stress is for taking on at least twice the teaching load as a full-time, salaried member of the faculty.
It Can Kill You
This goes beyond the huge healthcare expenses that you will incur beyond your $900 premium if you are single without dependents. The amount of stress is astounding and stress kills.
What I just figured above, and I think it’s about right, is about a 40 hour work week if you spend 10 hours a week per course to be just over the poverty level in a town like Pittsburgh. This is the ideal. The reality is that adjunct work is contract based and there is no guarantee of any stable income source that will get you that many credit hours per year. You have to work between more than one institution where if you aren’t online, you will need even more transportation costs and higher auto insurance premiums among other things. Forget vacations too. That is 10 hours per week, every week, for 52 weeks out of the year.
This was the case for one woman’s situation in Pittsburgh. a 25 year teacher, Margaret Mary lost her below poverty wage job as an adjunct with Duquesne University. With no unionization and no security, there is no protection for labor:
While adjuncts at Duquesne overwhelmingly voted to join the United Steelworkers union a year ago, Duquesne has fought unionization, claiming that it should have a religious exemption. Duquesne has claimed that the unionization of adjuncts like Margaret Mary would somehow interfere with its mission to inculcate Catholic values among its students.
This would be news to Georgetown University — one of only two Catholic universities to make U.S. News & World Report’s list of top 25 universities — which just recognized its adjunct professors’ union, citing the Catholic Church’s social justice teachings, which favor labor unions.
The system is not set up for part-time faculty to be anywhere close to full-time faculty. However, this will increasingly become the primary teaching labor force in higher education among all institution types in the next 20 years.
Unless you have a job that will give you benefits, vacations, a retirement plan, and some security in your life, use that graduate degree to teach part-time as a part-time gig for fun, the experience, and another source of income. Until the system shakes out and labor has power, it looks bad to be a full-time, part-time college teacher.
The situation looks bad for education because it might just be that our part-time teachers are better teachers. But with the current labor practices as they are, stories like Margaret Mary’s and this will be more commonplace:
This, too, is part of the adjunct lifestyle: even though I have theoretically landed work at two schools for this fall, I never stop looking. I never am set. None of the jobs that I have are guaranteed to be there next year, and one of them is so far only for this coming fall. I still hope and still peruse the sites for permanent jobs in my area of specialty. Heck, I don’t even care if they’re tenure-track, but just permanent. Something that I can plan my life around more than a nine-month academic year at a time!