An office. Health insurance. Teaching full time in one place, with the possibility of tenure. Yep, I been offered, and have accepted, a full time gig. But going from adjunct to full time is fraught with emotions. First, there’s the happiness of getting the job I’ve wanted for a very long time. But there’s a lot of guilt going on in my head, too. The guilt of being one of the very lucky, very small minority, of adjuncts who get a full time job in academia in their field.
Don’t get me wrong. The idea of having an office, of being able to go to the doctor, of getting health insurance for my kid, and having a salary that allows me to save for the future, is a very good thing. I’m over the moon with my new job, happy that the school and I seem to be such a great match, and looking forward to meeting and growing with my students from year to year, forming lasting connections with my colleagues, and having at least some sort of input on the things that make academia happen. (Moving from two different places is entirely a different matter…it’s rather like trying to knit while someone unravels the work from the other end).
Oh, the guilt. The feeling that my being lucky means that someone else isn’t. When the number of academic jobs with security of any sort is plummeting, it’s hard not to feel for people who remain in my former place. In the 1960s, three quarters of the faculty in US academies were tenured or tenure track…that figure is roughly reversed today…only a quarter have any security. Even full time faculty are often adjuncts, who might have a full time job for this quarter, this semester, this year, or even a couple of years. The MLA and the AHA are both concerned with this reversal, as is the AAUP. The increased use of adjunct faculty, most of whom have little job security, access to benefits of any sort, and who are paid an average of $2700 per course, is academia’s not so secret secret. And of course, it doesn’t help that the economy collapsed in 2008, only exacerbating the decline in state support for higher education. Nor does the political rhetoric regarding unions, teachers, or education in general help matters. Education used to thought of as a public good, but that’s changed. It’s now a private thing, and why, the rhetoric goes, should anyone else pay for it? I am immersed in these conversations. I believe in the work being done by the SEIU in DC to unionize the metro area’s colleges and universities, if for no other reason than to make sure being an adjunct in higher education doesn’t mean poverty. I believe that the work of the New Faculty Majority to get these issues concerning adjuncts (contingent faculty, lecturers, whatever you call them) out there and to continue having conversations about them, and making administrators uncomfortable with their knowledge, is a good thing. I think schools cutting back on adjunct hours to make sure they don’t work enough to qualify under the ACA (aka Obamacare) rules regarding employment and health insurance is reprehensible. Don’t get me wrong…I understand the financial pressures, but there’s also simply being human, too. And given that the ACA makes it possible to create multi-state pools, why not join with other colleges to create a huge pool of faculty, thus lowering costs for everyone? I mean, there are ways to do this, folks.
To my fellow (former) colleagues in the contingency trenches, know this: I will continue to advocate for you. I believe that you deserve better, and I will support you in whatever way I can.
To my fellow (new, TT) colleagues: remember that there are those who aren’t as lucky as we are, and make sure you advocate for their inclusion in whatever ways you can.