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Adjunct Pay and Firing

December 12, 2008

My husband has recently been laid off.  It seems this is a constant pattern in the 10 years we have been married.  He has been laid off as an adjunct, with no warning, no benefits and not even a return phone call (See the WMU Adjunct Chris Towers to hear other stories) and now has been laid off as a consultant.  It seems that consultants and adjuncts have much in common that way:  it appears that adjuncts and consultants represent an unending pool of workers that are regularly invisible in the institution in which they work.

Consultant work usually pays better than adjunct work, so we have taken that leap more than once, but in a bad economy adjunct work is calling.  Why is it that we both would take an adjunct position even though we rail against this particular machine?  Simply because we have nothing else.

Teaching, in and of itself, is a great reward.  It’s always a live energy buzz on a college campus, but it’s also the fact that for a while, we thought the money was good.  Now, we will just take the money, and frankly, there are too many more out there like us.  When we went to grad school, all the administrators promised wonderful careers, quoted statistics about how we would make more money than the average schmuck who couldn’t do without the education.  We were smitten.  We believed that we would have good jobs if we put our time into our schooling.  We believed there were enough jobs out there, and we thought that the administrators surely wouldn’t lie about things like that.  Why would they?

Why indeed?  Administrators make money, or look successful, based on how many students are in their programs.  Administrators are judged mainly on enrollment.  It doesn’t matter how much they piss people off, whether they have obnoxious politics when it comes to student rights, or whether or not they are relatively competent in general running of a department.  They get their benefits on enrollment. And, what’s the cheapest way to increase enrollment without putting in a huge investment?  Grad students and/or adjuncts.  It’s destitution wages, with the promise of the big payout.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard about people working 10 years in a department certain that full-time is just around the corner.

I think all of this has come to a head for me when I realized my husband was laid off before Christmas bonuses could be paid, definitely making our Christmas that much tighter.  We are literally getting each other pictures.  But, it also a sad string in a long line of layoffs like this, and  adjuncts are the others particularly vulnerable at this time of year.  Winter semester is starting, and since the majority of enrollment numbers are calculated in the fall, why have the extra “help” around?

Maybe instead of pushing for tenure, we should be pushing for a year-long contract and benefit buy-in.  Too many good teachers are going without.  Well, and we joined that line a full month ago.

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