Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The perils of being an Adjunct Professor!

"Higher education is probably one of the only sectors of the national workplace where one regularly finds two people with similar credentials, working side by side at comparable jobs, and experiencing such extreme pay gaps."

Lucky me!  This is the story of my life.  The work is just as difficult -- maybe even more so, since adjuncts tend to go above and beyond the call of duty (job security being nil).  And still, the pay is ridiculous.  The national average pay for adjunct professors is $3,000/class.  Crazy!  So, if I taught 4 classes a semester for 2 semesters/year I'd earn a whopping $24,000/year.  Yet, this being a "full load" for tenured professors, they would make $117,000/year (national average) and they'd get health care, sick days, vacation pay, sabbaticals and pension!  To make things worse, I chose a subject (writing) where the weekly grading load is by far the greatest.  This makes teaching 4 classes of writing a great deal more time consuming than, say 4 classes of history or anthropology.  I not only have to prep classroom lectures, but if I have 25 writing students in a class, each writing 5 page essays every 2 weeks, I'm grading 50 essays a week.  Grading a 5 page essay "well" takes me 30 minutes, easy.  So, in addition to 12 hours of lectures each week and 4-6 office hours, I have 25 hours of grading.  Add in another 8-10 hours of prepping for lectures and you have well over a 50 hour work week.   Even in graduate school though, I couldn't survive on $24,000/year.  So one semester, I famously taught 8 classes.  Yes:  8!  I don't think I slept more than 5-6 hours a night for 4 months and even then I could've been making a vast amount more money as a secretary.

Sorry for the rant, but as I sit considering future employment and ways to contribute cash to our hard hit recession household, the realities of my employment possibilities are once again hitting home.  10 years of graduate school and degrees from UCLA and USC have netted me the future detailed above.  Available tenure-track professor positions were practically unheard of when I was in graduate school and I knew plenty of highly qualified and impressively CV'd, fellow English grad students at USC who ended up taking temporary community college jobs in absolute hell holes in the middle of Nowhere, Texas or Podunk, Oklahoma for under $30,000/year just to get work.   Now though, having been out of academia for nearly 10 years raising and homeschooling my own kids, I have no chance of getting anything close to a tenure-track professorship.  Sure, I'm teaching at a homeschool Learning Center (and believe me, the prep for that is often more intense than for my old writing courses - though thankfully the class sizes are smaller), but that would mean nothing to search committees, were I silly enough to apply for full-time work at even a community college.  Oh, they'd snap me up in a minute if I were willing to work for the $3,000/class slave wages detailed above.  I could line up another "8 class semester" full of adjunct writing courses in a flash.   But,  frankly, that's not possible with kids and even when my kids are older I can't imagine doing that to myself again.  I'd rather take my fancy schmancy degrees, from my fancy schmancy universities and go brew coffee at Starbucks -- barista pay would be close to the same, I'd work many dozen fewer hours per week and maybe even get a discount on coffee.   How sad is that?


  1. I share in your adjunct pain. Hope the perfect situation comes your way. You are wonderful.

  2. Aw.. Thanks Teri! I'm working on it. Today, I considered auctioning myself off as a writing tutor on ebay :) --just a momentary burst of insanity. Maybe next month though...

  3. I understand totally. I get by on minimal SS ~ adjuncts and formerly single parents sans child support don't get much chance to stash 401K. I could adjunct, get high speed adjunct on line, but stress aggravates breathing problems. I need to be able to crash at will. Besides, I'd rather eke by and be free. My retirement hobby is digital ankle biting: social media for New Faculty Majority. Even if I don't make the difference I'd like to, I intend to have fun trying now that I don't have to worry about losing a sorry job or not being rehired.