The Adjunct Supply

Hear, hear for Claire Potter:

Why won’t anyone say the obvious: no one should work as an adjunct. If people refused this labor and did something else with their Ph.D.s — which, according to studies done by professional associations is more than viable — institutions would be forced to adjust their hiring practices.

The rest of the article is also good. I believe the bizillion and one Spanish 101 and so on courses should be taught by people with MAs. But if PhDs are applying, you can’t discard them and only keep the MAs. There is no acceptable legal justification for doing that. Nobody is going to give tenure for this kind of teaching because that would be fully deranged. So maybe the only solution is for people to heed Claire Potter’s advice. 

Of course, I only mean people with PhDs who detest adjunct jobs. Those who find them convenient for personal, familial, or other reasons, they might work just great. For many folks, not being responsible for anything else in life than teaching French 101 for 4 hours 3 times a week might be liberating and fun. Why should anybody stand in their way?


30 thoughts on “The Adjunct Supply”

  1. I agree that adjunct faculty positions may be suitable for some people. I include myself, as a retiree who is currently teaching as an adjunct. But at most universities the pay is much too low.


  2. Adjunct positions are part-time positions. Yes, adjunct pay is too low, but it’s really not a good idea to try to make a living off the pay offered by several adjunct/part-time jobs, w/o benefits.

    As a currently tenured professor, I know I’m privileged and lucky. Many very recent Ph.D.’s are more qualified than I am for my current position. However, when I went on the job market, I knew there was a chance I might not get a job. I was teaching high school full time (which I hated), but I knew that if I didn’t get a job, I would have to continue teaching high school or find a better job outside of academia. It would have never occurred to me try to scrape together a living by doing adjunct work.

    I thought the article by Potter was good. I think the problem is money/funding/university budgets. I don’t know of many faculty who would prefer to hire adjuncts instead of a full-time, tenure-track professor. The problem is the university administration says there’s not enough money in the budget to hire a new, tenure-track professor, and the funding that the university receives from the state is not sufficient to make new tenure-track hires. But for some reason, tenured and tenure-track professors and people like Rosemary Feal of the MLA are constantly blamed for the adjunct crisis.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I honestly don’t understand how anybody could justify hiring a tenure-track person to teach nothing but101 courses in perpetuity. We recently hired an adjunct to teach 4 sections of Spanish 101. I can’t imagine any budget in the world providing for tenure for this kind of work. The whole concept of tenure loses all meaning in this context.


      1. Why did you hire a part-time person and not make it a full-time lectureship with benefits? Why do you have them teaching only 101 and not throughout the basic curriculum (102, 201, maybe the occasional other 200 level course)? This doesn’t seem good in any way.


        1. Because we already have people to teach 201, etc courses. We need only a person to teach 101. Everything else is covered.

          It’s a unionized full-time job with benefits.


          1. Well this is one of my problems with the talk about the adjunct crisis. Unionized FT with benefits is very different from the per-course, no-benefit situation. I still think it’s best, if this person is permanent or long-term, to integrate them into the program more, but I’m not there so what do I know?

            I am wondering if the adjunct crisis is mostly in disciplines other than mine. Maybe I don’t get out enough but I don’t know many Spanish departments that could even get the kind of adjunct who suffers. The profile is unemployed PhD who becomes a freeway flyer teaching basic courses. I know these people exist in great numbers in English, and I realize they can exist in Spanish in urban areas where a lot of PhDs are produced, but where I am, for example, PhDs are not produced or even many MAs. Those MAs who are produced, get FT jobs, either here or in community colleges or in fancy high schools. You couldn’t find one to adjunct, much less get a PhD to move here and adjunct–you’d have to offer them a much better deal. My impression is that in Spanish, people who have PhDs do get FT jobs of some kind, and when they don’t get, say, a college or university job they do something else, so that if they adjunct it isn’t for long or it is by choice.

            I just got email from a new assistant professor in another institution here. They’ve been contingent before getting this tenure track job, but it was one-year, full-time positions in reputable places where they obviously were treated well enough so as to be able to publish and move ahead. In the past, I think this person would have gotten on the tenure track right off, they seem good, so yes life is harder now than it was when the market was better, but still note that they were FT all the time they were contingent, not pasting a career together piecemeal in bad places.

            So it is hard for me to tell. Also, I went to graduate school in a city. I didn’t move out to the sticks, and then not have the money to move away again. It seems that a lot of these people stuck adjuncting went somewhere to school where there is literally no other work, then got stuck adjuncting there and are too poor to move. This wouldn’t have happened to me because right in town I could have gotten some other kind of job that yes would have used my language, research and other skills. And I’d have done it, rather than starve.

            I mean, you learn in graduate school that if you don’t get a real academic job by 3 years out, you’re unlikely to get one, and it’s just bad luck not necessarily something about you, and you should think about making some kind of other move if things don’t jell.

            But then again I am perhaps too practical. My PhD isn’t in Spanish, it is in Comparative Literature, and the reason I made Spanish the main line was the job market: 1/ Spanish was and is not disappearing and 2/ there is so much else you can do with it. If I’d mainlined a language where work is shrinking, and that is less generally useful in US, and I’d put all my eggs in the academic basket and it hadn’t worked out, and I hadn’t been advised well, then I might be bitter, yes.


            1. When we advertised this adjunct job, we had some applicants with MAs but also many people with PhDs, some from very fancy schools, some from as far away as California or Arizona. They all swore they detest research and are eager to teach 101 in perpetuity.

              The job market last year was a disaster. But this year it’s so horrible that last year seems paradise.


              1. Where did you advertise? I must get this university to do it. They don’t put jobs in MLA/CHE unless tenure track.


              2. Both MLA and CHE. It’s different here because we were actually forced to advertise nationally. We preferred hiring locañly throughout the process because it’s cruel to get people to move so far for a 1-year shitty job like this. But some legal snafu prohibited us from doing just a local search.


              3. I, on the other hand, would love to do a national search. Then we would get someone, and then we could turn the position into something.


              4. You aren’t as close as we are to a big city, though, right? We have a large pick of graduates from Wash U, UMSL, Webster, etc. For you, of course, a national search makes sense.


              5. Tulane PhDs can always do better than an instructorship here; we can sometimes get some of the weaker of the MAs from LSU but that is about it. Houstonians don’t come since there is plenty of work there. This is for FTE, benefits, office, salary 75% of that of a tenure track person, few preparations, no research, no service, virtually guaranteed renewabilty for life, nobody telling you to modernize your language teaching, teach in Spanish, or anything like that, and raises whenever anyone gets any. It is unclear to me who or what we would get from a national search. 5 sections of basic Spanish is a grind, not exactly what I’d make a cross country move for (without moving expenses, either). Yet I want to try.


          2. Here, still, is my question about all of this. If there is a permanent need for lecturers to teach the lower levels, why not let them all vary their course loads a little more, and have a form of tenure/promotion for lecturers, based on professional development and even (for some) publication about teaching, study abroad policy, etc.? Have them as real members of the department? Why don’t people who teach this deserve tenure?


            1. “f there is a permanent need for lecturers to teach the lower levels, why not let them all vary their course loads a little more, and have a form of tenure/promotion for lecturers, based on professional development and even (for some) publication about teaching, study abroad policy, etc.?”

              The problem is that we don’t need people to teach lower levels. We need somebody to teach many sections of Spanish 101. That’s it, period. There is no variation within that. The whole point of tenure is to protect people who generate ideas and who might arrive in uncomfortable, new, yet unaccepted knowledge in the course of their research. There is no other justification for tenure, or at least not one I have heard of. Or do you mean something different when you mention tenure?


              1. I would say academic freedom is broader than that, and that shared governance is also important. I’d like everyone to really be on team. Under the old UC system, of course, tenure wasn’t called tenure for non-professors — there was something called “security of employment” for non-temporary, non-emergency hires. It had value because then people could have a role.

                At my current university, for instance, the idea of speaking Spanish in class is new and controversial. Without some form of backing, like tenure, it’s a real risk to do it. That’s an academic freedom issue: can I teach according to national standards, or not?

                Another reason a kind of tenure process for lecturers is good is that in many places, being hired (off the street, basically, and at the last minute) means you are always temporary, yet might remain for 30 or 40 years, without any vetting at hire and with no system of development.


                It is strange that you have so many more sections of 101 than of 102 — are there a lot of students who only take 101?


              2. The number of the 101 sections is entirely unpredictable. Nobody can guarantee the number will be comparable in 2 years, let alone in twenty. This is contingent labor precisely because such contingencies exist.


              3. As for teaching in Spanish, in my experience, the people who teach only language are always against. They prefer to get good student evals and make their own lives easier and teach in English. They won’t have to deal with these students when they are ready to graduate and can’t understand a simple sentence in Spanish.

                My literature students this semester laughed when I asked if their previous instructors spoke to them in Spanish in class. They find the idea preposterous. Of course, I’m now an evildoer because I refuse to speak English in a 300-level course. Obviously.


              4. Yes, well, therefore unionization. I’ve also just discovered that all of these Clinical professors and professors of Practice aren’t tenure track either. No tenure, no academic freedom, no shared governance, no academy, it is all so unfortunate.


  3. The current adjunct situation is very much like the H-1b visas, a reasonable allowance is made for a fairly narrow situation and opportunistic businesses quickly turn it into the cornerstone to keep from paying people and to support inflated upper level salaries.

    Never forget that 99% of private employers (and some public ones like universtieis) would enslave you if they could.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t share this low opinion of employers either private or public. I’m just not seeing this as an issue of exploitation. There are objective circumstances that require the hiring of many people who teach very basic things. How can anybody justify tenure for those who teach nothing but 101 courses and insist they want to do no research and service whatsoever?


  4. I agree about the lack of tenure, but no tenure doesn’t have to mean starvation wages and no job security whatsoever.
    Teaching 101 courses makes everything else possible at the uni those that can do it well deserve a lot more than current adjuncts get. It’s just administrative (less and less academics and more a career track of its own) greed.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I like her article but Seth Kahn, Marc Bosquet et al say people who are tenure track and tenured should quit to protest the adjunct crisis, not ask only the adjuncts to withhold their labor.

    I really don’t see why they think it’s tenured faculty or the MLA’s fault–we’ve all been desperately trying to keep our tenure stream lines and other FTEs. It’s a drag to work with adjuncts, they aren’t there stably. Loading up on them increases the service load for the rest of us drastically, wreaks havoc with curriculum, etc.

    In my field if you have a PhD you have other / better employment opportunities so we can’t hire adjuncts, there aren’t any available, we have to offer a better deal. So that suggests to me Potter is right: dearth of people willing to adjunct leads to better deals.


    1. Bosquet is a poseur. The real causes of the adjunct glut are never even mentioned by anybody. And the whole discussion ends up being dishonest. There is no higher ed today without an enormous amount of remediation. Somebody is needed to teach these beginner level courses. And it’s deranged to give tenure for this kind of teaching. That’s the real issue here.


      1. UC system has had a ‘Professor of Teaching’ position for a while now. They get paid less, but are expected to do mostly teaching (with some research and service related to pedagogical techniques, etc.). They also have tenure, a vote in the senate, and all other benefits given to regular tenure track professors.


        1. We are already a teaching institution, like the absolute majority of US colleges. And we are all already expected to do mostly teaching with a bit of research and a bit of service.

          I do all this research not because anybody expected me to. It’s a hobby on the side for me. 🙂


        2. Well, UC in the past had the position of lecturer with security of employment. That is: lecturers had their own kind of tenure system, but were judged on more teaching and professional development related criteria. They could have either the M.A. or the PhD and yes they had vote in Senate, benefits, etc.

          I like this better than this professor of teaching racket because this creates one more tier and a lot of the professors of teaching are people who are pushed into it — really they are worthy of research jobs, but have to take what is available.


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