An Adjunct’s farewell



To my students at Assumption College:

I have thoroughly enjoyed working with you, but to answer the question many of you have asked: No, I will not be teaching at Assumption College again next year. Although I did receive an offer to return, the conditions that led me to decline that offer are most likely unfamiliar to many of you and your families. This letter aims to remedy that.

I am an adjunct (part-time) instructor. As such, I receive drastically less pay than full-time faculty members, and I receive zero benefits. Assumption College pays me $3,500 per course, which is more than many other institutions pay. But “more,” in this case, is still not even close to “good.” According to my own conservative calculations, I devote roughly 220 hours to every course I teach – including construction, delivery, administration, and evaluation – which means that my compensation equates to $15.91 per hour (less at other colleges). At Assumption, the department for which I teach typically has very few courses available for adjuncts (at other institutions, the number of adjunct-taught courses is often far higher), so I have never taught more than two courses per semester there. (With special administrative approval, I once taught four courses at another college in one semester.)

Because I earn so little, I must seek adjunct employment at more than one institution. This semester, for example, I taught at three different colleges. This is not atypical for many adjuncts. In central and eastern Massachusetts, securing adjunct work at multiple institutions is far easier to do, however, than in most other regions, given the number of colleges and universities here. But teaching more courses is incredibly taxing and time consuming.

In the past year, for example, I have taught 14 college courses for various institutions (equating to far more than 40 hours per week), and my total income barely touched $30,000, with zero benefits. By comparison, full-time instructors at various institutions typically teach eight to 10 courses per year, with starting salaries in the $50,000-$60,000 range or much higher, depending on the institution.

I know all too well, however, that I am one of the “lucky” ones. My personal situation (with a working spouse, and with access to more regional opportunities) is far different than that of many adjuncts. It is estimated that 25 percent of adjunct instructors nationwide receive some sort of public assistance. The issue of adjunct working conditions has achieved “hot-button” status in recent years, but little meaningful change has occurred. Two years ago, at another institution where I teach, the trustees responded to adjunct complaints by bumping the pay up roughly $200, to $2,900 per course, and my academic dean mailed me a miniature duffel bag with the school’s name on it. This is what passed as a morale boost!

Some part timers have joined adjunct faculty movements nationwide, conducting marches and launching protests such as boycotting teaching for a day. I personally have not attached myself to such movements, as their motives and methods strike me as oddly miscalculated and misguided. But I fully acknowledge that I am one of the lucky adjuncts, which is also why I feel compelled to make this principled stand in a public manner, in solidarity with those who cannot.

So why would a person do such work for pay that is frankly insulting? I truly believe that most of us do it because of our love for our academic disciplines and for teaching itself. Some adjuncts have retired from other jobs and seek only part-time work. Others, like me, started teaching as adjuncts in the hope that it would be a path toward a full-time position. In fact, I have been a finalist for a full-time faculty position on several occasions, so I’ve come very close (again, I’m lucky).

But the humiliation is too much at this point, and I’ve decided that I’m not going to do it anymore. Plenty of full-time faculty members agree. Department chairs are typically responsible for hiring new adjunct instructors, and on nearly every occasion in which I have been hired, the chair has awkwardly delivered the bad news regarding pay in similar fashion. To paraphrase: “The pay is abysmal. I’m almost embarrassed to tell you what it is.” My humorous deflective response has always been, “Well, let’s just keep that between us, so I won’t have to endure embarrassment as I wait in line with my colleagues for the copy machine.”

But it’s not funny anymore. Truly, it never was. Administrations, not department chairs, are responsible for making decisions about the pay of adjunct instructors. And for most, it’s not a priority. Surely, though, the marketing brochures you received from colleges and universities did not highlight their cost-cutting methods in staffing classrooms. They’re strangely quiet on this growing issue, which suggests a lack of pride in their own policies.

I already miss being in the classroom. And I always will. It’s what I need to do. But I need to find an alternative that doesn’t degrade my expertise and passion on a daily basis. For now, I’ll be teaching only online courses. Without having to worry about a 45-minute commute and gas money, my meager profit margin is looking brighter already.

Author Bio: David J. McCowin has taught survey, advanced, and graduate courses in history, religion, and interdisciplinary studies as an adjunct at seven colleges since 2000.