Are you an adjunct instructor or lecturer? Plus memories. . .

World's most famous former adjunct

Don’t neglect to take the survey on contingent academic labor this month sponsored by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce.  Here’s the blog post on it, and here’s a direct link to the survey.

I know people think that tenured regular faculty like Historiann were somehow born in tenured faculty positions or leaped immediately into our jobs upon receiving our Ph.D.s, but believe me–most of us have done our time as adjuncts or non-tenure track lecturers.  Even in the relatively good years of the history job market in the later 1990s and very early 2000s, most of us did our time in these positions before winning a tenure track appointment somewhere. 

That said, I think adjuncting has become a way of life in ways that it just wasn’t fifteen or even ten years ago.  For example:  I applied as an A.B.D. to a number of jobs in the fall of 1994, and didn’t get anything but one interview at the American Historical Association’s annual meeting.  My graduate funding was ending the following spring even though I wasn’t probably going to be done with my dissertation. Fratguy and I were in Boston for his residency, so if worse came to worst, we could live on the $27,000 he was making if I found some kind of part-time job.  So, that year was kind of a see-what-happens attempt at the job market.  When I came up blank for academic jobs, I got a part-time job in a local frame shop running the dry-mount machine, and put out some applications for adjunct lecturing while also writing my dissertation.

Come late April of 1995, I got a phone call from the man who ran the search for the one job for which I had interviewed back in January at the AHA.  He said, “Historiann, the candidate who accepted our job offer won a fellowship and he’s going to take it.  Would you like to teach as a lecturer for the year here while he’s on leave?”  I said, “Oh boy, would I!” and made plans to move to Washington, D.C. for the year.  It was a great gig–they paid me what they had offered the man who got the tenure-track job, plus health care benefits and contributions to my TIAA-CREF fund. 

When that job ended, I spent one semester finishing my dissertation and then I was offered a full-time one-semester gig at a Boston-area small college that paid even better–almost as much as I had made that entire year in Washington, D.C., plus health benefits.  At that point, I had been offered my first tenure-track job so Fratguy and I were making plans to move to Ohio later that year.  A happy ending!  (Or so I thought . . . but that’s a story I’ve told here before.)  I know a number of people of my generation from grad school who have similar stories–some people adjuncted, but most of us worked in non-tenure track jobs that were reasonably well compensated and which undoubtedly helped us get teaching experience that was important for our eventual move into tenure track jobs. 

In short, although I spent time in non tenure-track teaching positions, they were full-time and I was paid and received benefits comparable to the tenure track faculty.  Those positions were seen as stepping-stones for people of my generation of Ph.D.s.  Now–fifteen years later–the search chair who called and offered me the one-year gig would instead go to a bank of applications for adjunct positions to see if he could fill the scheduled courses, or he would call the Graduate Studies Chairs at local Ph.D.-granting institutions to see if they knew of anyone who could teach the courses.  The five courses I taught that year would be covered on a per-course basis, not by hiring a salaried and benefits-eligible faculty member.

So, take the survey.  I’m eager to hear what you all report about the contingent faculty experience. Now, here’s your free laugh of the day: “Memoreeeee!”

0 thoughts on “Are you an adjunct instructor or lecturer? Plus memories. . .

  1. I also did a bit of the “visiting around” kind of gigwork that you describe, Historiann. And there’s a huge amount of difference between being treated like a “visitor,” and being viewed as–to use one of the more goofball academic pieces of “org.speak” I’ve heard– “reg. comp.” (Registration complement: persons hired when the registrar-borg knows how many fannies he’s flying to Florida next Friday, or next semester, and authorizes the DCEO (chair) to assemble the “lines” (the actual faculty permanently on staff) to vote somebody in off of the adjunct list. Where “complement” is manager-speak for “total number of individual persons on the payroll of a given unit”). Why go through all that definitional crapola when you can just say “reg. comp.” and everyone knows you mean temporaries?

    One of the creepier diagnostic signs of the creeping corruption of the academic trades is seeing actual scholars reflexively using bureaucratic terminologies born in what a student of mine once called the “wingtip-wing of the academy.” Do we really want to be saying things like “if we do this or that, the provost will hopefully give us another line…” (when everything coming from over there is a “line” anyway?)


  2. Thanks for the link to the Coalition on Academic Workforce survey. I filled it out, and shared it with my non-TT/contingent/adjunct/reg.comp (?) colleagues and friends.


  3. I filled out mine on the first go-round a few weeks ago, Historiann. It’s good to try to raise awareness of these issues, although (as you know), my own belief is that tenured and tenure-track folk absolutely need to make common cause with adjuncts, part-timers, and (especially) full-time non-tenure-track staff.

    For you tenure-track folks out there–acknowledge and admit that these other workers are being exploited (worked harder, paid less, etc) in order to maintain the privileges of the tenure-based system, and recognize that tenure-track folks can actively fight the two-tiered faculty system, actively choose to exploit the lower tier, or (as they usually do in my experience) pretend to the blissful ignorance of the privileged class and do nothing.

    But if you feel lucky to have a tenure-track job, then you can’t really pretend that those on the adjunct track deserve their second-tier fates.


  4. Here was my path:

    Nine months of NADA between finishing and the first job. . .

    A one-semester job as a sabbatical replacement, followed by. . .

    A three-year non-tenure track Assistant Professor post, followed by. . .

    Three years on one-year lecturer contracts at the same University, followed by. . .

    My current tenure track job.

    I am guessing this experience over the last decade or so was common. Beyond that fact that I DID eventually land a tenure-track job, given that I am in one of the toughest fields to get hired.


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