Letters to the Editor

A 'Freeway Flyer' Rethinks Life as an Adjunct

March 27, 2011

To the Editor:

I am an adjunct college instructor, or "freeway flyer." Until recently, I was teaching English composition and basic English Skills at three community colleges in Southern California: the Menifee branch of Mt. San Jacinto College, in Riverside County; Palomar College, in San Diego County; and Saddleback College, in Orange County. I traveled between 300 and 400 miles a week and averaged five courses between the three schools. I must maintain at least two courses at any one of the schools and one each at the others in order to survive economically. I have no reasonable assurance of classes from one semester to the next; assignments are contingent on enrollment. I have no health insurance, no mileage allowance nor gasoline compensation, and no tax deduction for commuting. I put in three hours on the computer, either at the schools or at home, for every hour I spend in the classroom.

Since 2006 I have worked at six different community colleges in the above- mentioned counties, as well as in Los Angeles County, and I have applied for full-time positions repeatedly at each one. I've also applied at a dozen other colleges all over California, and at a dozen additional colleges nationwide. Prospects for full-time or tenure-track positions for adjunct professors are slim to none, because of the loophole that allows state-funded schools to use adjunct instructors for with courses that were mandated to be taught by full- timers. When a tenured instructor retires or dies, community colleges are more likely to hire three adjunct instructors to fill the class sections, rather than one tenure-track instructor.

As budget cuts in California have affected all community colleges, I have had my courses cut to three, at two different schools, —Palomar and Saddleback. My income has been reduced by two-thirds and my prospects are dimmer than they were previously. I must seriously consider getting out of education altogether. At my age, I cannot envision going back to school to obtain more qualifications with which I will still be underemployed.

Periodically, I hear an ad on public radio in which the American Federation of Teachers pledges "affordable higher education for all segments of the population." Curiously, there is no mention of making higher education affordable for instructors with master's degrees and experience in the workplace. I wonder why community colleges cannot be mandated to hire instructors who live within a 50-mile radius, rather than have faculty members travel exorbitant distances to make a living. Wouldn't that be the definition of a community college?

Wouldn't that definition indeed include "all segments of the population"—not only the customers, but the workers as well? I wonder why there is no law mandating that an instructor who teaches a full load of classes be entitled to the same benefits and wages as a tenured faculty member. Why, indeed, are tenured faculty members at such a premium? I also wonder why there is no job security whatsoever for adjunct instructors, who can be dropped at any time for no reason other than the ubiquitous "budget cuts."

Education has become a low priority in the nation. Because I chose to get a degree that was tailor-made for teaching at community colleges, I am a casualty of these skewed priorities—and that's an understatement of the frustration and despair I feel at being relegated to second-class citizenship for engaging in a profession for which respect seems to be diminishing, along with practical returns.

John DeGennaro
Encinitas, Calif.