Adjuncts Have Lives Too

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The hipster professor

The hipster professor

Here at Bwog, we love our underpaid, hardworking (sometimes) adjunct professors. We sent Adjunct Appreciator Joe Milholland to investigate what goes on in the life of an adjunct.

Get deep enough into any field of undergraduate study, and you’ll get a class taught by an adjunct—a professor who’s only teaching part-time. While students appreciate their adjuncts and vice versa, adjuncts are often seen as being maltreated in academia. Adjuncts receive low salaries and their positions are precarious. However, many adjuncts aren’t just under-employed academics, they’re just more focused on their research or a profession outside academia. Here are the views of some adjuncts on the tricky parts of their job:

Balancing Adjunct Work and Other Pursuits

Roy Licklider, Adjunct Professor of Political Science – Licklider’s full-time job is Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University. He’s taking a year of leave from this job and considering retirement. He’s currently an adjunct professor at Columbia, balancing this role with researching civil wars and how they end.”You never have enough time to do research,” he says, “It will eat your life.” The seminar he’s teaching, however, deals with the subject of his research. “Most of my research comes out of my teaching. Questions have come up there that I can’t answer or that are just interesting, or I came up with a question and I can’t find any literature on it…They feed back and forth.”

Pamela Jerome, Adjunct Associate Professor of Architecture, Planning and Preservation in the Historic Preservation Department – Jerome has been teaching as an adjunct since 1995, and she heads a preservation group as a partner in an architecture and engineering firm. One of Jerome’s tasks in the group is reviewing new buildings. “When they design new construction, we peer review their interior envelope…I found that about 30 percent of our work is on contemporary buildings where we’re doing forensic investigation because they failed.” She’s also traveled to Yemen and Saudia Arabia to advise the governments there.

Jerome has mixed views about being an adjunct. “In a way, adjunct faculty have the best of both worlds,” she says. “They get to be an academic but be a practitioner as well. There’s no stress that you have to actually become a tenured professor…The negative side is you don’t get any benefits. And I’m talking about insurance, health insurance, and you’re paid very little.” Jerome also says that she learns a lot from her students:”they do in-depth research in areas, and I’m supervising them because I’m interested in the areas they’re researching.” However, balancing adjunct work with a job at an architectural firm is tough. “I never sleep,” Jerome says.

Trouble in Academia

Licklider – “This is a time when public universities are having more trouble than private ones… It’s very clear when you move from one to the other where the money is and where it isn’t.” While he’s been in a fortunate position, he says, typically, “Adjuncts get taken advantage of… As a rule, these people are seriously exploited.”

Jerome – “Academia is very competitive. And when you get a school of the caliber of Columbia, it’s going to be even more competitive.” Jerome is able to take semester sabbaticals, but she is employed by the semester. “In order to be a successful adjunct, you actually have to be a good teacher.”

Nancy Workman, Adjunct Professor of Literature Humanities – “It’s not like I’m isolated from other people doing the same job that I do. We’re all teaching the same material and so it’s in that respect very different from being a hired gun who teaches one course of my own, all by myself. I have sixty peers. I’ve been on the exam committee, I have a chance to weigh in on the great reading list.”
“I’ve taught in the Core continuously since 1999…It’s always worked out that I’ve taught a full year, every year…It’s, like, palpable that they’re doing something that makes perfect sense, which is trying to staff the Core with faculty members and graduate students, so there’s no security,  there never was, but now there’s not even really predictability, and I understand why it makes sense to do that.” She continues, “I haven’t heard any horror stories among the people I work with. The trend in other universities is to go more and more and more with adjuncts, I think Columbia’s really going the other way, from what I know.”

Getting an Office

Licklider – Licklider does not have an office when he works at Columbia. “What they said was, if you’ll tell us when you want to have office hours, we’ll make one available for you.” However, the lack of an office isn’t a big obstacle for Licklider; he can do a lot of work from home.

Jerome – Jerome has no office at Columbia, and, to meet with students, she uses either her classroom after class or the office she owns.

Workman – “There’s enough office space in the Slavic Department for me to share an office with somebody.”

Daniel Sheehan, Adjunct Professor in the Urban Studies Department – Sheehan had an office when he worked at Columbia last year. “I didn’t use it much though,” he said in an email. “I met with students in the computer labs as we needed computers to get the job done.”

Cute but confusing via Shutterstock

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    Adjuncts know a heack of a lot more

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