I am the Adjunct Faculty Member Teaching Your Young

I just finished reading Catherine Stukel’s letter to the editor in The Chronicle, “Is That Whining Adjunct Someone We Want Teaching Our Young?” and outraged doesn’t even begin to cover what I’m feeling. I had to write a response to her letter. I have sent the letter to The Chronicle also, but as my guess is that they have been inundated with angry letters from adjuncts, I thought I would post it here. She could not be more off base as to what the adjunct movement is about and who these adjuncts are “whining” about their place in academia.

To the editor:

I am one of the whiny adjuncts Catherine Stukel spoke about in her August 25th letter to the editor. I am one of the adjuncts Ms. Stukel believes doesn’t understand compromise or hard life choices. I am one of the adjuncts Ms. Stukel believes contributes to a culture of entitlement with today’s youth. I am one of the adjuncts that Ms. Stukel says needs “to put on her big girl panties.”

Let me tell you a little about myself. I turned to teaching more after the financial crash cost me my full time design job because that was where the jobs were at the time. I taught as many as ten classes in a semester between several schools because I never knew what the next semester would bring. I did this while still working as a freelance graphic designer and advising when I had “extra” time. For a long time, 80-hour work weeks were normal life for me. I didn’t do this to prove how much I could successfully balance or for any kudos. I did it because I have bills to pay and more importantly because I like teaching and helping students. This cost me my personal life and sometimes my sanity. However, it was the smartest choice for my career and my financial well being at the time.

After the one college eliminated its design program and the other college drastically cut advising hours so they didn’t have to pay additional benefits, I made the hard but practical choice to return to working as a graphic designer full time while still teaching at night. I would note that even with my experience and diverse skill set that jobs are not that easy to come by outside academia especially when you have teaching commitments to honor until the end of the semester. I miss being with students more and they give me guilt trips for not being there to advise any more. Again, I made the hard choice to do what was best for me financially, not what made me happy.

This current semester I will be working a full time design job, teaching two classes, and finishing a master’s degree in a new area of study. I will also be fitting in some freelance design as my schedule allows, conducting professional development sessions on campus for other faculty, and presenting at a conference. Again, I don’t want praise for my schedule. I’m just stating my reality. I am one of the lucky ones who have managed to make a decent living, but it cost me in other ways.

I have a good relationship with the full time faculty in my department. I happily work with them and assist as needed in the department. I do not begrudge them their full time status. I step up whenever possible even if it is a text message at midnight or later asking if I can cover their 8 am class in the morning. When the full time faculty did not want to advise when advising was moved to a central location on campus, I happily stepped up to help ensure our students were getting good advice on taking the right classes to complete their degree on time. I happily took the classes the full time faculty did not want to teach and I agreed to teach online when others did not want to. I don’t ask for praise or kudos for these activities. I clearly benefit personally from them. I just want the respect I deserve for playing my role in the department.

I’m lucky to teach a college that pays its adjuncts well. Benefits are available but the cost is often prohibitive to adjuncts. I feel appreciated for the most part, but I know that is unique to my department and my co-workers. However, I’m well aware that writing this could get me in hot water as I do not have the protection of tenure to allow me to speak my mind with worry of retribution.

I know I am just one voice among many who also make the same hard decisions and compromises. I know am also not alone as an adjunct that loves to teach and loves their students. I know I am not alone in being grateful for the opportunities I do have in academia. I know I am not alone in wanting the respect I deserve. That’s not whining. That’s not complaining. That’s not being entitled. That’s standing up for your rights and asking for respect. I think that is a great lesson to teach students.

I don’t complain or whine about my life. It took a lot for me to even write this. I own my choices. I own the compromises and sacrifices I’ve made and the affects they’ve had on my life. I don’t believe I’m entitled to anything beyond respect based on performance. I am the person Ms. Stukel says should not be a role model for the next generation.