Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Weekend Thirsty. Share Yer Adjuncting Misery.

Greybeards, Supervisors, Adminflakes, Gradflakes, Students – they all cause us misery! It's even worse when you're an adjunct, a visiting prof or any prof without tenure. What’s the worst thing that’s ever been done to you?

Here’s my own tale of woe to start us off: Back in the day, in my final year of my PhD, I was in dire financial straits and so visiting at a Midwestern teaching school one state over from the school I was enrolled in. My agreed class load was 3 classes of Intro to Hamsterology per semester, repeated both semesters, and I was told there'd be 30 students in each class. Semester 1 went well and I even made progress on my dissertation.

At the end of the semester, the Campus Bookstore emailed me- “hey DK, we’re just checking on what book you wanted for your Intro to Hamsterology classes for Semester 2 because 300 books are a lot of books and we don’t want to get the order wrong”.” After much investigation, I found out that at a department meeting, the ProfFlakes had decided that since I had done such a good job with my Semester 1 students, they would consolidate all 10 30-person Intro to Hamsterology classes into 3 large classes of 100 each – all to be taught by me, for no extra pay and with no administrative assistance with grading etc. Not that anyone had actually bothered to tell me this. One younger professor told me he had said in the meeting “DK will never finish her PhD if we do this to her” and the Greybeards had replied “It doesn’t matter because DK is not one of OUR PhD students”. [

I survived but it was a long hard semester]. Now it's YOUR turn.

Q: What the worst thing that's ever been done to you?


  1. I wasn't even an adjunct. I was tenure-track, but HALF TIME, and paid a pittance. So even as I had to adjunct all around to make a living, this institution constantly threw extra work at me, extra classes and committees and so on, claiming it was part of seeing whether I was worthy of full time, so I was working about 75% time for them. One of these taskies was to give a lecture to the entire college explaining my field and justifying its existence -- which I did, in a really smart, lively, non-ideological lecture of 45 minutes. This second job talk was, mind you, AFTER I had been hired and been there a couple of years. Having to do this particular tap-dance was so insulting, and such a waste of my precious research and class prep time. And the following year I was informed that they would not consider making me full time until after the tenure (which I was surely not going to get, because my contract included a clause that they could dismiss me if they found my field no longer relevant). Thank god at that point I had a year-long fellowship offer and a full-time, R1 job offer in hand, and I could flip them the proverbial birdie and leave.

    1. I don't think I've ever heard of half-time tenure-track. Is that common in your field?

    2. No. It's only for wives. And mine came with no spouse to support me.

  2. That sounds like a nightmare, Dream-Killer. In my state university system, if they tried that, the union would be on them so quickly it would make their heads spin. If you didn't need to money so badly (which is, of course, what they count on), it would have been nice to refuse to sign the contract a few days before the start of the semester, and leave them running around trying to find someone to teach a 300-person course.

    I must admit, I always feel somewhat left out in these tales of adjunct woe, because I've been treated really well (knock wood) at both schools where I've worked as contingent faculty. Apart from the more generalized woe of not having secure employment, and not being paid very much, I've been very happy at both places.

    I'm not complaining, of course, and I'm certainly not trying to downplay the awful experiences of others. I've heard more depressing stories than I care to remember. But I've been lucky enough to avoid all of that.

    Where I am now, I am treated like a colleague and, in just about every non-monetary way, an equal by all of the tenured and tenure-track faculty in my department. If I want to go to department meetings, I am welcome there, and encouraged to participate; if I don't attend (and I usually don't), everyone is fine with that, too. I share an office with other adjuncts and TAs, but it's a time-share basis, with only one person in the office at a time, and I have exclusive access to it during the times that I need to be on campus. There's no bullshit about access to the copy machine or other resources; I have my own code and quota of copies, just like everyone else. They respect my teaching, too. I've never felt pressured to pass students in order to keep up retention or graduation rates, and every time I've punished a plagiarizer, I've had the full support of the department chair.

    This sort of thing is, I think, largely a function of the individuals who make up the department. They are all kind and considerate people, and the department as a whole gets on very well. I recognize that this is somewhat unusual, and even on my own campus I hear stories of the dysfunction in other departments, and the effects that can have on the adjunct experience.

    Also, as a lower-tier state university, our campus is heavily teaching-oriented, with a significant number of first-generation college students, and everyone - even tenured faculty - is in a similar boat when it comes to teaching loads and the everyday challenges provided by unprepared students. That situation can, with the right people, lend itself to collegial solidarity.

    Anyway, sorry for fouling up the misery thread with my sunny tale. I'm still looking forward to some vicarious thrills from other people's tales of woe.

  3. Isn't anybody formatting this morning? This post is a mess and even worse than Bubba's last night.

    The title wasn't put in the title bar. It's just in the body of the post. And there are no paragraph breaks. It's just a mass of text on my page. It might be the greatest post ever, but I'll be damned if I'm going to put on reading specs in order to see it.

    1. sorry PP. The mods didn't get to my post in terms of formatting or adding a photo - they might be too swamped with stuff. I went back and tried to format it better. Hope that works for you.

    2. Why was there no breathtaking sunrise today? Where was the beautiful sunset? Why did someone not serve me up some beautiful aurora borealis today? Why is the world inflicting this pain on me? If it's going to be like this again tomorrow, then you can be damned sure I won't get out of bed.

    3. That's easy, Bubba: because there's so little solar activity. Have a look yourself:

    4. We're sorry for the delay in checking formatting items. We've moved the post toward the top of the page.


  4. Adjuncting at Large Midwestern City College, I naively thought my ideas would be listened to. I designed an urban literature course (down to the readings, studying lit from major cities around the world). Sent it to the chair, heard nothing. Tried again a few weeks later: nothing.

    One night, as I am waiting for the elevator, I spy a course announcement flyer with my course listed. Only I am not teaching it--the chair is. As I got on the elevator with a tenured colleague, I made a passing remark about the course, and my colleague said "oh, yes, I taught one similar to it at X College, and [Evil Bitch Chair] asked for my syllabus." So EBC stole my idea, and borrowed a syllabus, and passed it off as her own.

    That was the last semester for me at LMCC. $1485/course worked out to about $75 a week after taxes.

  5. Jeez, where to start with this one? Two particularly nasty events during my sojourn as an Accursed Visiting Assistant Professor were the times the humorless, blob of a bumpkin serving as department Chair called me into his office, read my anonymous end-of-term student evaluations to me, yelled at me for each bad one, and ignored each good one. And this in a physics department, where faculty are supposed to understand statistics!

    The worst part of being an Accursed Visiting Assistant Professor wasn't any particular event, though: it was that gnawing feeling at the pit of the stomach of chronic anxiety. Of course, the best they could ever offer me was a one-year extension of my contract to prolong the agony. I am glad I got myself a better job.

  6. As a grad student my original adviser decided that he disliked me. He stopped speaking to me outside of class, made hateful remarks to me in front of other professors, tried to assign books for me to report on that were unavailable, and finally, announced that he was going to ask the chair that I be removed from the department. Keep in mind that I had a 3.8 GPA and had a reputation as a good teacher. I am not sure why this prof developed such a hatred for me.

    I ran to another professor that I liked and asked for his help. He went to bat for me and became my adviser. And yes, I finished.

    My original adviser ended up moving to one of the Ivy's from our big state school, abandoning his grad students and (so I was told) his wife and kids marrying a much younger woman at his new school.

    I was tempted to send him a copy of my first book with FUCK YOU written on the title page. I didn't want to waste a good book tho. I did dedicate the book to my wife and my 2d adviser.

  7. I took a sabbatical replacement job all the way across the country for one year while I was ABD. They promised I could do my research there. Once I arrived, they would not approve my research. They said, literally, "We said what we had to in order to get you here." Yeah, I was pissed, and will always remember the name of the woman who did this.

  8. I got an email TWO DAYS before the semester started letting me know that they had to take my class away (1/3 of my meager income) and give it to a full-timer whose class had been canceled due to low enrollment. REALLY? You couldn't give me a little warning that this was possible so I could pick up something else somewhere else and not officially make less than my monthly bills? I had been teaching there for 6 years at that point and there were at least 4 other adjuncts with less seniority teaching the same class, including one at the same time as the canceled class.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.