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Adjuncting for Dummies: The Novel

About a month ago, Hank Reichman posted on Become a Part-Time Professor: Live and Teach Anywhere You Like by Lesa Hammond. At the end, Reichman suggested that Hammond might want to find out a little more about the real situations of adjuncts and suggested a study she might want to take a look at.

Today, Hammond responded. She left a comment stating:

I realize that there is an adjunct problem in higher education. I have read the various reports that have been written regarding the adjunct faculty situation. In part, I am attempting to help rectify the situation by bringing more adjuncts into the pipeline who are seeking only part-time jobs. Much of the problem today is that colleges and universities are hiring adjunct faculty who desire full-time tenured positions; many of whom do not have the scholarship to attain a tenured position, but can fill-in for less academically demanding courses. Because these part-time faculty are availability, they are asked to take on additional classes. When they are teaching the same number of classes, or in some cases more classes, as full-time core faculty they recognize the disparity.

Hiring all of these contingent faculty as tenured-faculty is neither a realistic nor sustainable model. The book is not written for people who are actively seeking full-time employment in higher education. It is specifically targeted to expats who want to supplement their income overseas, to retirees who like the idea of staying abreast of their field and giving back, and to professionals who can enhance their credentials by adding a university teaching position to their resume. The added benefit of this adjunct population is that they bring real world experience to the classroom.

What interests me about this response is that it posits a fictional universe of parameters and possibilities far removed from the realities of contemporary colleges and universities. That shouldn’t surprise me: Her book (which I downloaded) does much the same thing. Still, I am fascinated by fiction and have made a career of exploring its genesis so have listed a few of the fictions in her comment:

First of all, “bringing more adjuncts into the pipeline” is not going to “rectify the situation.” The problem isn’t that we don’t have enough adjuncts (or don’t have enough who want to work just part-time) but that universities have chosen to address a financial squeeze by limiting their full-time teaching staffs. This has forced many who would have been full-time a generation ago into precarious contingent positions. Many of them are every bit as qualified as scholars as their full-time colleagues. The situation is not a given, as Hammond seems to assume, but reflects a choice by administrations, one that has the added benefit (for administrations) of reducing faculty influence within the institution.

Second, there’s nothing unsustainable or unrealistic about converting adjunct lines to full-time ones. Doing so, in fact, would enhance the education we are offering for it would increase the number of faculty fully involved on their campuses. There are plenty of other ways to contain costs than by squeezing faculty. Hammond is buying into a myth created by top administrators who value themselves much more than they do their faculties or students.

Third, Hammond carries the assumption (also untrue) that anyone can teach. What a nice thing! I’m an expat living on American Social Security in a land where life is cheap, by American standards! Why don’t I teach a bit, as well? In her book, Hammond has a check-list of “what it takes” to be an adjunct. Nary a word is said about teaching experience or ability.

Fourth, Hammond seems to buy into the old “ivory tower” myth, assuming that we professors have no “real world” experience and that our classrooms exist in a realm far removed from quotidian life. She contradicts that, a bit, in the book itself but, when working with fiction, consistency is not necessity.

I am not sure what the real purpose is of Hammond’s project. There is little need to add to the adjunct pool anywhere and doing so only feeds into policies that have more than decimated our faculties already. Teaching, even part-time, is no activity for the dilettante, or for someone looking to add a little prestige to their existence. It is hard work, even online (another myth Hammond promotes: Teaching is easy), and the adjunct generally ends up spending many more hours working than are ever compensated. Whatever her goal, though, I hope it is as elusive as her presentation is fictional. People should not be fooled into thinking that teaching as an adjunct is anything other than hard labor. Making them think so is a disservice to them and, more to the point, to their potential students.

About Aaron Barlow

English faculty, New York City College of Technology (CUNY) and Faculty Editor, "Academe."

9 comments on “Adjuncting for Dummies: The Novel

  1. sethkahn
    July 5, 2014

    And fifth is the assertion that adjuncts can teach “less academically demanding courses,” like, y’know, ENG 101. Which shows she doesn’t know the first thing about teaching in college, where it’s 100% clear to anybody paying attention that teaching gen-ed lower-division courses is much, much harder than teaching small courses much more likely to be populated by self-selected students who are already committed to the field. Foolishness.

    • Aaron Barlow
      July 5, 2014

      Oh, yes. I shouldn’t have left that out.

    • Lesa Hammond
      July 5, 2014

      Aside from your insult. I actually agree with your statement that lower level courses are be more difficult.to teach because of the student preparation. However, the point in the book about those courses is that they do not necessarily require a PhD to teach them.

      • Aaron Barlow
        July 5, 2014

        The point many of us in academia would make is that it takes more knowledge and experience to teach lower-level courses well than it does more advanced ones. I know, this is not the common perception or how administrations operate in regard to classes; it is simply a truth learned through the doing. By encouraging the inexperienced to try their hand, you are merely playing into other hands, those of administrators trying to find cheaper ways of meeting demands.

  2. HBrowning
    July 5, 2014

    A real novel about, among other things, adjuncting….

  3. Lesa Hammond
    July 5, 2014

    The fiction is in your article, which attributes claims to the ebook “Become a Part-time Professor” that are never made. Your first fiction is that there are already enough people in the pipeline who want to work part-time. If that were the case, there wouldn’t be hundreds of part-time faculty positions posted weekly. Moreover, I have worked as an adjunct and I never said that teaching is easy or that anyone can do it. In fact, I state the requirements and time constraints. I did indicate that working online is less time consuming, primarily because it does not require a commute and can be accomplished asynchronously. One truth is that many adjuncts working today did not have higher education teaching experience when they started. Again, the purpose of the book is to provide information to a niche audience who only want to teach part-time and may bring some valuable work experience to the classroom. This niche may not even be familiar with the term “adjunct,” hence the title of the book.

    • Aaron Barlow
      July 5, 2014

      Your claim that there wouldn’t be job ads if there weren’t jobs going begging is rather naive. In a situation of contingent employment, there is high “churn.” That is, people move from job to job quite frequently. For that reason alone, you will always see ads for part-time faculty.

      By showing people teaching from easy chairs at home, you certainly do imply that teaching is easy and that anyone can do it. Also, it is not true that new adjuncts have little teaching experience. Most, as graduate students, taught. Certainly, those with doctorates have taught.

      You don’t pitch your book toward a niche, but generally. Also, from your comment, you still seem to think that, in order to be an adjunct, one need not have college or university teaching experience. After all, anyone who has taught at the college level knows the term “adjunct.” Only people who have never taught would not know it.

      What’s most painful about your book, and what causes many of us to react negatively, is that what you present seems to be a very cavalier attitude toward something that is, for many, a very difficult situation. The life of an adjunct, even one fitting your “niche,” is not easy. The work is extremely poorly paid and the respect due is rarely given. You make it seem like something anyone can do; you make something exhausting seem simple.

    • Dean RCB
      July 6, 2014

      The problem here is equity, which you do not touch on in your book or reply. It doesn’t matter if someone wants to teach full time or part time; it also doesn’t matter at all in this particular context whether the market favors or avoids a contingent faculty. We can argue studies and trends until we are blue in the face. What I find particularly troubling is how you create (essentially an extended) brochure that attempts to capitalize on suffering. How dare you? Honestly, in all my years of attempting to mend this broken system, I have never once encountered such shameful mischaracterizations of what it means to be an adjunct. Your “tell” is your refusal to discuss equity. Unless I missed that subject heading, you know, the one where you tell the would-be adjunct how s/he will not receive equal pay for equal work as the full timer or where you discuss the regularity of lies and disinformation about new contracts, new courses, and (gasp) full time job budget line items used to lure at-will workers deeper down the dank rabbit hole of crippling debt, fatigue, and misuse of time, energy, and talent. Again, how dare you?

  4. Pingback: Eighty Years Ago Today San Francisco Workers Fought Police and Began a Successful General Strike: What it Might Mean for Us Today | The Academe Blog

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This entry was posted on July 5, 2014 by in compensation, contingent faculty appointments, faculty, tenure, working conditions.
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