Letters to the Editor

What Do Adjuncts Want? Respect and Support

April 22, 2012

To the Editor:

Perry Glasser is right: no teaching career was promised to Joshua A. Boldt ("Who's to Blame? The Adjunct?" The Chronicle, April 1). But Mr. Glasser's approach is rather disappointing.

"The fact that 70 percent of all sections are being taught by underpaid adjuncts may be a shame and is undoubtedly exploitive, but it is no secret," he writes. But what Mr. Boldt's Adjunct Project attempts to reveal is the depth and variation of that exploitation. Changing exploitative conditions starts with quantifying what the conditions are.

"Had he performed due diligence on the marketability of a master's degree in English, he'd have learned there's a glut in the market," Mr. Glasser says. Translation: It's the adjunct's own fault. Putting the responsibility solely on the adjuncts—well, that's easy, isn't it? It's blaming the unemployed or underemployed, not the structure that encourages and facilitates the situation. That way the colleges who hire adjuncts aren't the problem, and full-time faculty members who get to avoid teaching those pesky "lower level" courses aren't the problem. (How many composition classes is Professor Glasser teaching this semester as a tenured faculty member at Salem State University? Zero, according to the university's Web site.) No, it's clearly the adjuncts. How's that different from blaming illegal immigrants for working in the U.S. illegally, rather than blaming the companies that hire them?

Professor Glasser is right that "nothing about a teaching career was promised" to Mr. Boldt. But as adjuncts are now the majority of instructors, why is Mr. Glasser so threatened by the idea of solidarity? After all, isn't that what has solidified his benefits, his tenure, his stability of employment? Why does he feel it's appropriate to bash adjuncts doing the same?

Adjuncts don't jump into teaching with any sense of entitlement or demand (nor is what we're claiming now an "entitlement"). We find our ways into it, often unexpectedly: sometimes for supplemental income, sometimes because opportunities arise, and sometimes because we fall in love with teaching as a result of TA'ing in grad school. Regardless, most of us aren't necessarily looking for full-time tenured positions like Mr. Glasser's.

But we would like a few reasonable things that many don't see as horribly extreme.

We would like respect and support from our institutions. We'd like respect from the full-time faculty members, since we're doing the jobs they won't, but also because we're often working just as hard, if not harder. I've regularly taught five to seven courses a semester on top of publishing articles and working other jobs. All the while, I've received regular disdain from faculty members (though not all faculty members) at Mr. Glasser's university (yes, I taught at Salem State as an adjunct).

We would also like more and better support—in terms of payment, stability, and benefits—from our institutions. I'd like payment that represents the work I do in a way that doesn't have me comparing my per-hour pay to that of someone getting paid less than minimum wage. And if I'm an adjunct at a college for three-plus years, I think some sense of stability should be afforded me. That I don't know if I will be rehired from semester to semester is insulting and reflects poorly on a college supposedly so invested in its students.

Also, if I've taught at a college for three-plus years, I should be afforded some benefits, such as discounted education—so maybe I can get a degree for a field that is less exploitative.

Lance Eaton
Peabody, Mass.