Adjuncting is A-ok!

When I go to professional meetings and tell colleagues what it is that I do for a living, I sort of get an impression from some of them that they rather feel sorry for me. I did at one point have a traditional academic job, and now I am apparently “reduced” to adjuncting online.  I also hear academic colleagues of mine who are underemployed, or unemployed talk about adjuncting with disdain as they are looking for what they call a “real” job. I have to admit, I take a bit of offense at this. I work hard, and my bank account certainly is real, so go ahead and judge away.

The sad fact is, however, in the hierarchy of the academic world, being an adjunct just does not hold the same sort of gravitas or legitimacy. It is not a traditional “academic” path, and it is certainly not where you go if you want the privileges and perks of the ivory tower. And if you have an ego, making a living this way is really not the best way to get it stroked. In many ways, being an adjunct completely sucks. I am not treated with the same sort of respect as most of my academic colleagues at the institutions for which I teach.  At some of them, only full-time staff are allowed to contribute news of their research to campus publications.  Only recently has one of my schools allowed for adjunct staff to have any representation on the faculty organization. Furthermore, at some schools adjuncts are subject to more teaching scrutiny than their full-time peers.  This is clearly ridiculous. Just because one is an adjunct does not mean that they are in any way less qualified than their full-time peers. Everyone should know in this day and age, that for the most part getting an academic position is a matter of being in the right place at the right time, or having friends higher up the departmental foodchain. It is certainly not any kind of marker of quality or potential. Also, I get no sabbaticals, I do not get any kind of travel grants, only one of my schools has a provision for insurance for adjuncts, and only one school recognizes my research and development record with an academic ranking system.   I have to teach a very high courseload in order to continue living in the style to which I have become accustomed, and I can only do that because I’m teaching online.

But I don’t want a tenure-track position. Honestly, even when I started my life as an academic I have never wanted to be a classroom professor. It’s not that I’m not good at it, I am, it’s just that I honestly prefer research, and I prefer the environment of a research institute.  That’s just my personality. There are lots of other reasons though that I am not interested in that sort of work. First off, I really think that the whole procedure of tenure is corrupt, or certainly can be. I know of people who have been denied for all sorts of reasons, and when you think of all of the years spent blindly scrambling your way through a system only to be told that your time was wasted, I think it’s horrible. It’s not objective, and frequently candidates don’t even know what bar they are aiming at.  But once you get the position, the workload is completely ridiculous. Not only do you have to teach, get grants, and progress your own research, but you have all sorts of committees you have to sit on, projects to initiate, and things to supervise. In my view, the pay just doesn’t match the headache. I know people who have been tenured for years, and they still struggle to make ends meet because academic pay is just really crappy.  Additionally, once you are tenured somewhere you better hope that you like where you’re living, because you’re probably not going anywhere else for the next 20 years.   The idea of moving to the middle of nowhere, for a less than inspiring salary and a really high workload is just not appealing to me.

Honestly, I am happy to be an adjunct by choice. I really, really do not like committee meetings (been there done that), and frankly, I don’t care that I’m not supervising Master’s or Doctorate level work.  I have plenty of ways to make my mark, and my academic circumstances have not barred me from either publishing or receiving grants. I hate the office politics of academia, and I also don’t like the egos and the backbiting that you find in most academic departments. Frankly, academia is just really not that collegial, certainly not in the Humanities, where everybody thinks they are the next superstar, and nobody seems to have any perspective on their own importance. I’m also not sorry that I’m having to deal with faculty hiring procedures either. Since my return to the States in 2001 I have applied for two tenure-track positions, one of which was pulled because the department went under, and I don’t see myself applying for another one anytime soon.  I’m not saying never, because there are some projects that really do appeal to me that would be best served within an institutional environment, if I see an opportunity to foster those, I will certainly take it. So until then, I get paid to teach, nothing else. I have very few administrative duties or obligations, and I have my freedom, which is something I value greatly. This wasn’t luck, my career was entirely by design, and by not being afraid to buck the system. And to my tenured friends who feel sorry for me, I will be crying over my misfortune while teaching from a ski lodge in Tahoe, or poolside at a resort in Costa Rica.

5 Responses to “Adjuncting is A-ok!”

  1. veleda Says:

    “The idea of moving to the middle of nowhere, for a less than inspiring salary and a really high workload is just not appealing to me.”

    This is why I decided to not to go the academia route.

  2. VP Says:

    Hi Amy, I’m so glad you found my blog and left me a comment. I’m just now starting to read your blog and will catch up on all your postings in the nex few days!! Please feel free to email me

  3. Sabrina Diz Says:

    Hi Amy,

    You’ll actually be my Prof. for HUMN coming up this summer and I decided to check out your page.

    Just wanted to empathize because when I tell people that I’m an “online student” they kind of look at me the same way I’m picturing they look at you when you say you’re an adjunct online prof.

    However, we work HARD. I know my Professors work hard because it’s actually the first time in my life (I’ve gone to three other brick-and-mortar colleges, including F.I.U, because I, too, enjoy living in different places) that I’ve gotten the in-depth feedback and attention that encourages me to continue. And I’ve never worked so hard in my life for that high GPA!

    Thanks for the blog, and I’m looking forward to your class this summer…even if we’re both communicating from beachside 😉


  4. Amy Says:

    Hey Sabrina, I look forward to really teaching beachside when the improve computer screens for outdoor use! Then we are in!

  5. Jay Says:

    I just got my first adjunct job while finishing my PhD. I got one class teaching eastern religion, then had another online class offered to me for the same course. I have to drive quite a while to get there, but I love to teach. I think this might get me through the rest of grad school, since at my institution one is cut down far more than they are propped up. But I was rather taken aback at how disorganized the college where my new job is at was with their adjuncts. And the pay is rather ridiculous compared to a tenured or tenure track faculty member of even the newest sort. But I’ll take it as a foot in the door and a step in the right direction!

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