Thank you to everyone who submitted your essays and images to Adjunct Riot! I'm working on getting everything compiled and press ready.
There once was a time when teaching, especially teaching at the college and university level, was an honored profession. Now, it has become part of what is known as the “gig economy.” The Online Dictionary defines gig economy as “a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs.” Uber has become the emblem of this type of labor, so much so that a new word: “Uberization” has emerged to describe the fragmenting of industries and professions into part time freelance work. It is now a word that frequently pops up in articles and essays about the current state of higher education.
Aaron Hanlon, in his article “The University is a Ticking Time Bomb” published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, describes the current adjunct - heavy teaching situation in colleges and universities. He estimates that nationwide, nearly 75 percent of faculty are contingent. Hanlon further argues that this is a failing, corrosive system that will have consequences beyond the academy: “ A purportedly world-leading American higher-education system that nevertheless relies on faculty members with no claim to stable employment, health insurance, retirement benefits, or even their own office is simply unsustainable. Even a society that doesn’t care about the feelings of adjunct professors, nor about their quality of life or health, should recognize that a system operating as if it has no future is not a good thing. Not for universities, not for the economy, and not for civic life.”
Another of the Chronicle's most widely read pieces is Herb Childress' “This is How You Kill A Profession.” So widely read and commented upon was it that they published a survey of adjunct respondents, who, like Childress, shared their personal stories of adjunct gig economy life. A constant theme is a love of teaching and the stubborn dream of an academic career, coupled with dedication to students and their success. Another constant though, is waking out of that dream. As one adjunct put it: “The most important thing to do is forget individual sob stories (like my own) and focus on the big picture, answer the big question: Are college faculty like any other service profession, and fair game for Uberization, or is it a different category that should be protected?”
As adjuncts, we have the same academic qualifications as full - time faculty, can and do teach the same classes with equal dedication and skill, but at a vast discount. I will leave it to the reader to do the math, if they so choose, on the breadth of this pay gap. The department where I teach pays $3000 per class for contingent teaching. We are lucky to get four or five classes a year, including summer semesters. A full - time tenure track first year professor in the same department starts at between $66.000 and $70,000 per year, with the opportunity for an additional $20,000 in grant money for their own research. Full-time tenured professor salaries are in the $80,000 to $120,000 + range. Their class load is 2/3, with summers off. If they take on additional departmental responsibilities, they get a course drop with no pay decrease. Additionally, they have retirement benefits and healthcare.
The tenured class has argued that we, the adjuncts, don't have to attend faculty meetings, do additional service work, or serve on committees, as they do. We also don't have to have paid leave, retirement or health care. We are not compelled to take a paid sabbatical for an entire year to develop our own research. We are not burdened with having to apply for tens of thousands of dollars in Faculty Development grant monies, in fact we have no institutional support at all. This is what an education system with no future looks like.
Thank you to all participants in this project who are telling their stories, either through text, images, or both. I am proud to know many of you personally. Know that I hold each of you in highest regard. You haven't just gone the extra mile, you have climbed the extra mountain. I wish all of us the best, God knows we deserve better.
Amy J. Fleming