Testimony: Life as an Adjunct

The following is an autobiographical narrative of a hard-working San Diego adjunct, Corinna Guenther. It is an excerpt from an email she posted in a thread that includes discussion between adjuncts and tenureds about how our union can represent the interests of both constituencies.

Our stories are our most powerful force for change. Corinna’s story is a powerful testimony.

My story is probably typical, so I will keep it brief: Teaching seven classes (and holding office hours) at various campuses– even when combined with my husband’s full time income– is barely cutting it for our family. Every semester I bite my nails to the nubs hoping that classes will be added at the last minute. We have no savings, so even just one semester with only three classes puts us back in debt and missing payments on things like student loans, car payments, legal fees, and medical bills, using our credit cards with the hopes of catching up on them next semester, when maybe more classes open up.

So, needless to say: The quality of life for me and my family would certainly improve if I could get a full time position: the idea of the same take home pay but only teach 5 classes at the same campus (instead of 7 classes at how ever many campuses all over the county) and have the time and compensation to participate in committees and clubs and campus life! It seems like a dream come true for me. I’d love to work on committees- not because I ‘have to’ as a full time faculty– but because I want to contribute to the campus and the student experience. I WANT TO be a part of the vibrant campus community, and I fully anticipated that as part of my career when I decided to become a teacher- I really believe I have something valuable to contribute!
Its just impossible for me right now given my schedule of classes, prep time, and driving time– not to mention arranging child care and trying to take care of my own health. And over the past several years, after applying for several full time positions, and never once getting a second interview, I have realized that the likelihood of gaining the full time position I believed I would have by now is very, very, very, slim, so now I feel the only chance for me is pay equity and job security. With my interdisciplinary master’s degree and 9 years of teaching experience, and all kinds of diverse faculty development and enrichment, I am fully qualified, but just not viewed as legitimate competition for applicants with PhDs. It is demoralizing to size up the competition for full time positions in my field.

Still, I consider myself a teacher first. It is my passion and my identity, and I will not give it up unless there is no other option. Adjuncts like me give a lot of our time and a lot of our soul with little or no compensation for those extra hours because we love what we do and we love our students and we love the process of learning and we believe in the value of education. I dont want to speak for everyone, but I assume that most of us want to be a bigger part of the union and the campus community! Its just really really hard to do on our pay and with so much uncertainty about our future employment.

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