LTE: Life As An Adjunct

I’d like to clear up a few issues raised, if only to for the sake of perpetuating misperceptions about the realities of the adjunct life.

First off, as someone who has been an adjunct since I began teaching at Emerson College in 2004, where I was working on my MFA, adjunct professors are generally not hired for “manpower shortages.” We are hired by colleges and universities because we are, in short, a “steal”; we are cheap, well-skilled labor. When I was hired, for example, I had a book deal in the works, and an MFA, and was told that “a few years back, I’d have been offered a full-time spot, but the field has changed.”

Obviously, having to pay fewer tenure-track salaries helps schools financially, and there is an enormous pool of highly-qualified adjuncts nationwide—especially in this economy—who want to teach, and need to pay their bills.

This is not to say that we don’t want to be in the classroom regardless of our stature. We do. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t.
While $6,000 per year may very well be the average at BC across the board, The Heights underestimates how difficult it is to live without benefits, job security, and wavering around the poverty line, while working long hours. Trust me, when I was in my fourth year as an adjunct at BC, able to look back at all the excellent students I’d had the pleasure of teaching, and satisfactory classes I’d taught, but unable to go to the doctor when I hit my head playing soccer, it felt like something was egregiously wrong with the situation. Ask any adjunct how long they spend per week, all tallied, in terms of grading, planning and teaching. Then do the math. It’s an hourly wage that’s laughable, and that’s why we need to teach at numerous institutions at one time. Even the highest-paying schools are getting quite the value.

It’s a valid point that some adjuncts become stretched between schools and other gigs. You’re forgetting an additional aspect, though—in order to shoot for those tenured or full-time positions in the stars, we are compelled (and urged) to publish. We also need to find a job in the summer, and possibly in December / January. We also need to figure out a way to pay medical bills, and deal with the stress of not knowing which classes we’ll teach each semester, and how many. So while The Heights’ point rightfully sides with the student experience, the editorial is missing the cause of the problem, and instead fixating on the ramifications.

How about creating more full-time positions, and hiring adjuncts into those positions? The proposed solution of eradicating adjunct positions would put myself and many of my colleagues at schools across Boston out into the street. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t seem to have a Jesuit ring to it.

I speak for myself, and my friends and colleagues, when I say that we put our students first. We travel from school to school, and if we miss office hours, we find creative ways to meet with students at each and every school, while keeping up with lesson plans and constant emails, and grading late into the night. Many of us are artists on the side: I write fiction, and have friends who are poets, graphic artists, and musicians. We live this life because we love teaching, and look forward to the eager students waiting for us in our classrooms every semester. We enjoy the honor of being able to help educate college students; if we didn’t, we’d have left for the security of a high school teaching job, or the equivalent.

In my seven years, I’ve taught at Emerson, Mt. Ida, MCPHS, BC, FSU, and others, and received high student evaluations across the board. Each semester, I devote countless hours to my students—as every instructor should. In the summers, I paint houses, or landscape, and write for magazines, in order to barely get by.

We all have a right to our opinions, of course. But the next time you walk into an adjunct-taught class, you might take a second to see the world of academia from your instructor’s well-traveled (and possibly worn-down) shoes.

Brian Sousa
Instructor of writing
Author, freelance writer
BC adjunct professor, 2006-2013
BC ’01

About The Heights 278 Articles
The Heights is the independent student newspaper of Boston College.

1 Comment

  1. Deans love to dangle a carrot. Say no and you’ll be banished (the last to get classes or none). It is implied that if an adjunct says no, he is inflexible and difficult to work with, etc., and forget about FT work. In the 1960’s adjuncts made up less than 5% of college departments; today, nationally, adjuncts make up 70%. If colleges just paid adjuncts for the time they worked and not just “in class’ time, adjuncts would earn a living wage. Like 4 classes as a FT = 40 hours a week, but 2 classes for an adjunct = 6 hours a week. Why IS that?
    At many colleges where I worked, a FT, with a 4/4 teaching load might earn a $50-$65,000 starting salary, where as an adjunct, teaching (essentially half a load) would earn $10,000 a year (for 2/2 load), no insurance, no retirement, no job security.

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