No One “Deserves” to Be An Adjunct

Considering highly frustrated adjunct instructors, I will often hear even from some of the more “woke” full-time faculty, comments like, “it’s no wonder he/she is an adjunct,” or that “so and so deserves to be an adjunct.”

This needs to stop.

Sure, there may be adjuncts who, in applying for full-time jobs, either present themselves poorly or simply are weak in comparison to other prospective candidates, but no one “deserves” to be an adjunct.

When people ask me, in terms of my job, what I like to be called, I answer in two parts:

  • If you’re asking me to define how I’m regarded by the institutions I teach at, the state and federal governments that fund or define my working conditions, the tenure track faculty and administrators I work with, and even the unions that represent me—I am an adjunct.
  • I otherwise choose to define myself as a community college professor or faculty member. It is, after all, my task to “profess,” and in fact, my students make and see no distinction between me and my full-time contracted faculty colleagues. Yes, I am aware that the term “professor” is a term to define a faculty member of the highest rank, but it is largely an internal academic distinction.

In the academic world outside of the Full-time Tenure Track Faculty, a variety of semi-stratified terms to describe instructors is bandied about, from adjunct, to part-time, to contingent, to associate, to Non-tenure track, to visiting professor, to lecturer, and so on…

The term “adjunct” largely seems to occupy the lesser strata of these terms in that an adjunct is generally distinguished as one who is “supplemental” to the larger academic mission of the institution, and as such is…

  • Temporary, or only to be used as needed
  • Limited in knowledge or expertise(academic or institutional)
  • Of lesser value, and thus deserving fewer resources, lesser academic freedom and pay.

So it should be pretty clear, I don’t like the term “adjunct,” but if I need to remind faculty of how I am regarded, I refer to myself as such.

That said:

  • No one deserves to be hired and fired on a term-by-term basis for unending consecutive terms. When, as in the California Community College System, close to 70% of faculty are “adjunct,” and by this hiring practice, are consigned to, in some cases, up to four to five decades of subsequent term “rehiring,” such adjuncts are in fact permanent workers and should be given the job security guarantees that reflect this.
  • No one deserves to be forced to teach in multiple institutions or districts to cobble together a livable wage, when the arbitrary caps on part-time work at particular institutions prevents an adjunct from taking on more work at one institution which the Dean and department chair would be happy to grant him or her. Necessary non-instructional academic time should not consist of uncompensated multi-hour off-campus travel from one site to the next.
  • No One deserves, particularly when he/she needs and has the same job qualifications as his/her full-time colleagues, to be thought of as lesser in knowledge, or lacking in the capacity to understand an institution’s culture or mission. Perhaps another way to put it is to say that all Higher Ed educators deserve a right to participate in departmental matters, and in shared governance, i.e. academic senate, and to be paid for it.
  • No One deserves to be denied the basic tools to complete the same job as his/her full-time colleague, like an office space to prep, grade, and consult with students and fellow faculty.
  • No One deserves to be denied the capacity in a Higher Ed setting to conduct classes as he/she sees fit on the basis or whether they are a full-time tenure track faculty or not. When being evaluated on their teaching, both full-time and adjunct should be evaluated by the same standards.
  • No One deserves, taking into account seniority and qualification, to be paid less for doing the same instructional or professional work.

To say that any Higher Ed instructor “deserves” any of the above is to not see them as a person, let alone as a colleague.

But, if an argument that one should recognize the basic humanity of one’s fellow colleagues can’t convince you, consider this: You’ll be hard pressed to find any public Higher Ed. institution’s mission statement that declares or even implies any student deserves to get a lesser education because his/her instructor was impacted by the arbitrary title of “adjunct,”especially when that institution aspires to the notion of equity.

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct

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2 thoughts on “No One “Deserves” to Be An Adjunct

  1. The tradition of “ranking” employees is a human resources ploy. Full professor, assistant professor, lecturers, adjunct: titles that play a psychological trick on employees. This is how we are managed. We are played against one another, especially since the process of adjunctification is so advanced. We have two tiers, clearly distinguished as class differences, at least in community colleges. Most people “buy” into it without question. We all buy tenure tickets; those that win the tenure lottery can’t hardly resist the lure of feeling special. Most are offended by the lottery metaphor. Rank carries the imprimatur of “success.” The truth is it is the delusion that divides us.

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