On Wednesday February 25th, adjunct faculty across the United States walked out of their classrooms, and hosted teach-ins, lectures, film screenings and rallies, to protest the employment conditions faced by adjunct and all contingent faculty members of colleges and universities. I am adjunct faculty; and encouraged by what I learned in my own participation in the protest, I would like to share my experiences with you in this blog.
While many Universities last week held massive protests and walkouts on campus, I realized when planning my own protest that if I walked out, I would probably be standing outside on the lawn with very few other protesters. There are plenty of adjunct faculty on my campus—75% to be exact, the national average for all college and university campuses— but I know very few of my adjunct peers and we have no organized voice at the school. Weighing my options (admittedly last minute), I found a great power point presentation on the National Adjunct Walkout Day Facebook page prepared by a Texas adjunct professor, Dr. Jenny Smith, and made available for use by all through Slideshare. Instead of walking out, I taught-in; and I was surprised by how little my students knew about this issue, though I was incredibly heartened by their responses.
“How many of you have heard of an adjunct or know what an adjunct faculty member is,” I asked my first class, explaining to them that we would not be having a regular class that day and that their participation in what followed was optional. I think one person had heard this title before and knew what I was talking about. While they had heard of tenure and knew professors must have employment ranks, most of my students had never heard of this particular brand of part time faculty.
Adjunct faculty members are part time professors, typically intended to remain part time. Paid between one quarter and one half of the pay of their full time peers, they are often denied benefits, denied a vote in the faculty senate and yet, make up the majority of faculty on most campuses nationwide. According to Dr. Smith’s research, the average yearly income of an adjunct with a Ph.D. who teaches 15 contact hours a is $22,500 a year, compared to their full time colleagues who earn on average $84,000 ($60,000 at community colleges) a year for an equivalent class load. And adjuncts typically work at more than one institution to achieve this equivalent load. Unable to participate in many committees, meetings or advising, or else invited to participate without compensation, adjuncts tend to be underpaid, overworked and offered little to no job security.
Watching the power point and explaining the particulars of adjunct life up to my students, I did something I do not often do with them: I let them ask me questions about my personal life.
“I hope this is okay to ask, but do you [Dr. Frykenberg] ever get upset about this?”
Yes, it depresses me sometimes, particularly when I am worried about paying my bills. I get sad and angry.
“What do you do during the summer time?”
I am lucky; I’ve been able to get summer school classes—my department is very supportive of adjunct faculty. When I can’t get a class, I try to find other work. I also have another part time job that helps to supplement my income during the summers; and I have a partner—I’m not sure I could do this job without my partner.
“No offense, but why would you want to be an adjunct? Did you know about adjuncts before you started graduate school?”
No offense taken. I love what I do—I have always wanted to teach. And keep in mind the question on the power point: what if all adjuncts decided it wasn’t worth it anymore? Where would that leave our students? …Actually, no: I didn’t realize this when I started school. Then, we [grad students] started to get this sense that being an adjunct was just “putting in your dues” before you got a full time job. But now the majority of all jobs available are adjunct or contingent positions.
In my pedagogical practice, I deliberately try to prevent my students from feeling that they need to “take care of me.” While appropriate vulnerability and mutuality is important in the educational process, I feel it violates the student’s safety and trust to disclose too much or to (wittingly or not) try to make students responsible for my emotions. Students are simply too vulnerable to teachers already: to our opinions, our power and our passion. However, on this one day, I let me guard down a little bit for the sake of protest, and my students responded better than I had hoped. Many were outraged by adjunct wages and living conditions, and horrified that they had not known about the injustice so many of their professors were facing. I felt cared about, particularly in discovering (yet again) that they cared deeply for what they had not previously known.
And critically, my students connected this systemic injustice to their own lives and families—they made interrelational connections so important to consciousness raising and liberative pedagogy.
- “Is this like, a few years back, when teachers were given all the pink slips and could expect to be given a pink slip at any time?”
- “My mother is a teacher [and this is her experience]…”
- “At my job…”
- “Most of the professors I worked with at _X_ school were gone by the time I left.”
- “How can we find out how our tuition money is being spent?”
- “How can we help?”
Students in both of my classes on Wednesday wanted to know how they could help. I offered some suggestions. They offered suggestions. They thanked me for my willingness to share this protest with them; and I felt strengthened by the support, as well as the support of all the other protesters last Wednesday, the international groups showing solidarity or protesting themselves, and full-time allies who also taught-in at my school.
National Adjunct Walkout Day and my participation in it gave me a little more hope, and a lot more to think about when I am despairing.
Did you participate in the National Adjunct Walkout Day?
If so, what did you do?
What do you think students can do to help?
 The school in which I work actually has a great track record of hiring its adjuncts into full time positions as they become available. However, I have found this situation rather unique, not typical of most colleges and universities.
 The medium income is slightly higher according to Payscale.com, at $31, 773. However, the website does not list contact hours, so does not specify how many classes a professors must teach a year to earn this income. Dr. Smith notes that legally, schools are not allowed to employ adjuncts for more than a certain number of classes a semester (with changing their rank).
Sara Frykenberg, Ph.D.: Graduate of the women studies in religion program at Claremont Graduate University, Sara’s research considers the way in which process feminist theo/alogies reveal a kind transitory violence present in the liminal space between abusive paradigms and new non-abusive creations: a counter-necessary violence. In addition to her feminist, theo/alogical and pedagogical pursuits, Sara is also an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy literature, and a level one Kundalini yoga teacher.