In these troubled economic times, more academic departments turn to untenured teaching options as a way to meet staffing needs. Many R1 investigators are finding it harder and harder to capture grants, which means fewer indirect monies for departments. Adjuncts, visiting professors, and lecturers (oh my!) are increasingly called upon to take the load off. It ain't hard to see why. Today, I'm going to deal with just adjuncting, or the practice of paying someone to teach "by the class".
If your primary academic mission is not teaching, then it makes little sense to have your profs devote hours per week to teaching Intro Psych or Gen Bio when they could be writing multimillion dollar research grants. And since funds are low for everyone, new tenure track hires are even more painful; thousands of dollars go into a search, hundreds of thousands go into a startup package for your typical assistant professor labspace. If you have the option to staff your classes with cheap, temporary labor, why wouldn't you?
To be fair, there are clear benefits to adjuncting for both the institution and the wayward adjunct. These include-
- Minimal application process/expenditures- You can often get a job simply by emailing a department chair and asking "hey, you need any courses covered?"
- Defined hours- The adjunct is there to cover a course, period. No departmental meetings or other bullshit time sinks.
- Money- Adjuncts don't make great pay, but it is nice when you need a little extra money in a short amount of time. You can work as much as is available. The Uni benefits from not having to spend as much on searches and bennies.
- Entertainment- Admit it, you like teaching. Why not dabble, and get paid for it?
- Full time transition- at least at community colleges, if you've been a successful adjunct for a while, you may have a leg up if a TT spot opens.
- Sharpen your skillz- never taught before? Here's a chance to get some teaching under your belt.
- Shitty hours- you're almost guaranteed to get night shift. Hope you weren't planning on seeing your family.
- Worst courses- you get stuck with the ones nobody wants to teach. That Human Bio for nonmajors section where only 50% of the students show up on a given day, don't know the difference between fats and proteins, and don't care? Yours.
- Shitty money and no benefits- "you can live on it, but it tastes like shit". A year ago, I worked 15 credit hours in one semester. I made less money than the nearby State Mega U (SMU) assistant professor teaching 9, and I had to travel between 3 different institutions to do it (located 60 miles apart). I also received no health insurance, retirement, vision, dental, or anything else. There are no raises or merit-based increases. This is typical.
- Drastic differences in workload/salary- SMU courses may pay upwards of 7 or 8 grand for 3-4 credit hours, if you can land them. There will be a line. Community colleges and SLACs may pay about $1000 per credit hour. The lower the prestige, the lower the salary. That Cornfield Community College satellite campus class may only net you $2200 for a semester, and then you have to drive an hour to get there.
- You may not know the material- chances are, the class is only tangentially in your field of expertise.
- Communal everything- phones, desks, offices, printer, copier, etc. Unless you're very very lucky, you have to keep everything in your car.
- Pecking order- Adjuncts that have been around the longest get the pick of the better courses, or priority for courses if any are offered.
- Zero job security- You have absolutely no idea if you will be needed next semester. Hell, your class might get canceled 2 days before the semester starts if enrollment is low.