8 Comments

Ethical Quandries In Becoming an Adjunct Prof.

from CC License holder at Flickr, Robert the Noid. Note: search "Professor" in Flickr, pictures of men come up. Seacrh "female professor," and you get tarantulas and Harry Potter stuff.

from CC License holder at Flickr, Robert the Noid. Note: search “Professor” in Flickr, pictures of men come up. Seacrh “female professor,” and you get tarantulas and Harry Potter stuff.

I will not be insinuating any wrongdoing or accusing Universities of being slave masters in this post. I will not be bitching about adjunct wages. I am interacting with my reality, forgetting for a moment that things for adjuncts are in real need of intervention.

Adjunct wages are an improvement over my current wages. Especially during the Spring semester. The second-best (or maybe third or fourth or fifth) money I’ve ever made. But it also means I get to do what I love to do, which is talk, read, and write all day long about reading and writing, which makes small money seem like a big deal.

Here are some important pieces of my reality: my student loans are currently in deferment as I finish up my MFA, and I have the privilege of a domestic partnership with a person who is relatively well-employed, so we can (sort of) afford for me to make $20,000/year. Or less. I am also comfortable with working multiple jobs in order to serve my life as a writer, mother, and reader (in that order).

It is my ardent wish to someday be paid a living wage for talking, reading, and writing all day about reading and writing.  To not have to do anything else.

But none of this is why I sat down to write this post.

This week, I had a massive disappointment.

About a month and a half ago, I accepted an offer to teach one section of a literature course scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at Tiny-Private-University a bit east of here. I got to develop my own syllabus, which was fun, and I get to teach The Book That Changed My Life.

About two weeks ago, I was hired as a part-time lecturer (fancy speak for adjunct) at Large-State-University a bit west of here.

While each university is 1.25 max hours from my house, they are three hours from each other.

I went to an interview, and exchanged a half dozen or more emails with Chair and Assistant at Large-State-University, one of which suggested that someone would be in touch with me soon “about [my] availability.”

A week passed during which time Tiny-Private-University (which pays only a bit more than half what the Large-State-University pays per section) offered me a second section of the same course, later in the day MWF, which I also accepted. Large-State-Univeresity only promised me one section (but insinuated that there would likely be 2).

When my burning need to have a plan for classes and a life that was to start a week from Monday overcame my ability to patiently wait for communique from Large-State-University, I reached out to Assistant to find out about the training sessions, and to give her my availability, now Tuesday/Thursday. Which was answered with “But, but, all first-semester teachers have a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule!”

Which was the first I’d heard of it.

“Didn’t anybody tell you? I can’t believe you didn’t know!”

How could I know? I reviewed all the correspondence. It was not in the job posting. It was not in the offer letter. It didn’t come up in the interview. It was not anywhere. Why would I assume it?

Which meant I had to decide: probably less money at Tiny-Private-University, a job I had accepted first, developed a syllabus for, and ordered books for the book store; OR, Large-State-University which is sexier AND pays more, but I had nothing in hand and would be obliged to drive there every day for the week before the semester began for training sessions.

I wanted to choose Large-State-University because money. Adjuncts do this all the time: better offer elsewhere, go there. Since these offers are almost always made at the last minute, this is not a thing adjuncts should have to worry about, or feel bad about doing.

But after some time and reflection and weeping (for a lost plan, a lost semester of getting paid mainly to read and write and talk about reading and writing), and after making a mental pros-cons list, I decided that the university to which I felt ethically obliged, Tiny-Private-University, is probably a better professional choice, too.

Here are the primary reasons: Tiny-Private-University has a smaller faculty + student body, which means more entrenchment in the culture, more support, and smaller classes. Developing a Western Euro Lit syllabus that spans the Renaissance through Early Modern looks way, way better on the CV of a trained creative writer than teaching a staff syllabus at a bigger school, even if more money looks better in my bank account. And hell, what’s one more semester of 7-day work weeks?

What do you think? Did I make the right choice? Should I have assumed that I would be required to teach MWF? Is this a normal procedure? In my experience + knowledge, it isn’t. Though my experience and knowledge of adjuncting is admittedly limited. Is it even reasonable for any university to require people to whom they’re not offering a living wage to teach on a particular schedule?

I welcome your thoughts.

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8 comments on “Ethical Quandries In Becoming an Adjunct Prof.

  1. I don’t know any of the answers about “should I have known” but I think it’s piss-poor communication on their part that it’s not in the job posting or the offer letter. They are the asses for assuming you could read their minds.

    I don’t KNOW the answer for “did I make the right choice” either but my gut tells me yes. :)

    xox

  2. It’s funny. I am the person that hires folks just like you in my department (although we are committed to hiring people full time 4/4 so they will have insurance). My sense is that you’ve made a good choice. If you don’t have a bottom line money wise, go where you feel you’ll be treated well and will have a variety of classes to teach so you don’t burn out. As to your questions, it’s pretty common that the last classes assigned will be at the least desirable times, and I can see some schools requiring adjuncts to have a certain schedule. If you say no, I don’t want that schedule, they’ll move down the list. Of course you should have been expected to know that. But in a big, busy department, especially one that’s stretched thin, people forget things. They also forget what they already know but others don’t know. Colleges and departments are like small towns. You get so used to things, you forget that not everyone knows those things.

    Don’t burn your bridges with Large State University. You might prefer it and dislike the Private College at some later point for reasons that you can’t even imagine at this point. If I had *almost* hired someone and then things didn’t work out at the last minute, I’d definitely think about hiring them again.

    But remember: the most important thing is making sure you still get your own writing done. Good luck.

  3. Note: of course you *shouldn’t* have been expected to know that! Sorry,

    • Hi Cathy!

      Thanks so much for this. I did all I could to preserve the positive relationship & experience (it was positive on the whole) with Large-State-University. I expressed sincere regret that I couldn’t accept their offer, and was pleasant, polite, and earnest in all of our communication. I intentionally mentioned next semester/year, and was affirmed that it might work out then, if sadly not now.

      I waffle on the weekly about applying to their PhD program–they offer dual title in English and Women’s Studies. It’s the only remotely commutable PhD in anything I care to study (or the very thing) available where I am presently situated geographically. And as you know, one cannot relocate a family for the sole promise of Humanities grad school money. :-) So there were myriad reasons to preserve the relationship. And the possibility of applying to their PhD was another one of the reasons the choice was so hard in the first place.

      But yesterday, on my visit to Tiny-Private-University, I had a sense of calm and comfort and that I had made the right choice. The culture there is fabulous, English is housed w/ all the other humanities, and everyone, everyone was friendly. The chair, who personally took me on the tour, was a fount of information + seemed genuinely pleased to have me aboard, and was told me at least 80 times that I should contact him if I have any questions.

      All this to say, I think you’re right. And thanks a lot for the insight.

      Cheers!

  4. Hi April, I agree with the above. Knowing you just a little, I know you will be a wow at ‘Tiny.’ Plus it gives you a solid basis for professional career moves later on. Rock on!

  5. Communication, people! Sheeeeeeesh! I think you made a wise choice, April. I’m surrounded by MFA friends who are adjuncts, first year and otherwise. I have never heard of this MWF “rule.” Write on, you. And read and talk and teach.

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