It seems that almost daily there is another report in the higher education news about the horrid working conditions of the adjunct professor. We hear of poor pay, no benefits, and no job security. Today's post was from the Atlantic, reporting that this is the "Worst Time of Year to be an Adjunct". I expected to hear something new in the story, or something I could relate to, but no, it is the same story. Frankly, I think the one or two weeks before new classes start are the worst, as adjuncts are rarely given contracts early – such that they are scrambling to put courses together at the last minute (at least this has been my experience).
Every time I read the articles, I find myself asking – who are these people? How can they be so smart to get a PhD and yet have so little business sense? Why would they sign lousy or exploitive contract? And why are they expecting job security? That isn't what they were offered. How is that incredibly intelligent people do not appreciate the nature of the type of work they are accepting?
I am aspiring to be an adjunct. I like the freedom that goes along with contract work. I like that I can teach a couple of courses (or more), and also take on higher paying contract work to supplement my income. The teaching inspires me, but I also know that it doesn't pay the bills – I have other work that does that. I like the freedom from politics and pressure that come with being a contract employee. I know that I can walk away from a bad-gig when the term is over. Like any contract, I sign a teaching contract, I commit to completing it (I did see a post encouraging adjuncts to walk away mid-semester if a better offer appeared – to me that is not only demonstrating poor characters/work ethic, it is also burning a bridge which you will regret one day).
I wish as an adjunct I had a more options in what I get to teach, and certainly wish I had more notice so I could better prepare, but oh well. If I want the freedom that comes with contract work, I need to take the uncertainty that comes with it too. At one of the conferences I attended this summer, I met an successful adjunct. She, like me, teaches online. She can teach from anywhere. She has developed processes that allow her to teach many classes at the same time. Regardless of the number of students she has, she makes real connections with her students, and they recognize her with top scores and nominations for teaching awards. She has figured out a system that works for her, and allows her to make a 6-digit salary as an adjunct. She is an inspiration to me, and helped me see that I can do this!
I guess my message is that not all adjuncts are helpless victims of a corrupt system. Most of us are highly intelligent people. I, personally, will not allow a college or university to exploit me. If the terms of the contract are not to my liking – if there is no benefit for me, or if the compensation is not in alignment with the requirements – then I will say no. I will not tolerate being taken advantage of. I do wonder, however, if more people would say no to bad contracts, then we might have better contracts – at the moment supply and demand is not on our side.