Submitted by syntaxfactory on March 26, 2015 - 10:56am
What I didn’t know at the time—and what I wouldn’t figure out for the better part of the next decade—was that Harvey was an adjunct. He didn’t tell us, and I didn’t know to ask. As an undergraduate, I never heard the term.
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.
The first National Adjunct Walkout Day was held late last month, reportedly prompted by a proposal from an anonymous adjunct instructor at San Jose State. Some teachers went on one-day strikes; others talked to their classes about what the walkout was meant to demonstrate. Around the same time, the magazine Pacific Standard published an essay called “Are Adjunct Professors the New Fast-Food Workers?” It generated so many responses that they have just followed it up with a special issue devoted to the topic. The uptick in adjunct advocacy can be traced in part to the 2013 death of Margaret Mary Vojtko, who taught for twenty-five years at Duquesne; Vojtko’s full story is a complicated one, but her death highlighted how little universities are providing for the kind of teachers they increasingly depend on.