The Adjunct Situation as Emotional Abuse

In a previous post called “Why Am I Still an Adjunct,” I wrote about why I still teach despite the low pay and low regard. I came to the conclusion that it’s because I love teaching.

But maybe that’s a problem too.

On a blog called The Homeless Adjunct, I recently read a post called “When Labor Abuse Becomes Emotional Abuse.” Posted in December 2010, the post claims that the relationship between many adjuncts and their institutions are abusive — kind of like an abusive marriage. “Much like an emotionally abusive marriage,” the blogger wrote, the relationship between adjuncts and institutions “causes certain specific kinds of trauma.”

It’s a compelling argument, and one that seems to ring true, especially in light of the comments I’ve read on this blog. “The arguments used by the university and the media often imply that, if the adjunct educator was any good, s/he would have found a full-time job by now,” the blogger wrote. “Another frequent argument is ‘You knew what you were getting into.’ In other words, all of this is your own fault. These are also classic excuses of the abuser. (The ‘Look what you made me do’ argument.).”

And in regard to my own post, the one where I say I still adjunct because I love teaching, the Homeless Adjunct made a relevant point: “What is one of the most classic reasons a person stays in an abusive relationship? They claim that they are staying for the children.”

The Homeless Adjunct concluded that the best way to end an abusive relationship was to get out of it — to construct an exit strategy. While that may be the case for my own well-being, it’s not a solution for adjuncts as whole. And that’s a key difference between an abusive marriage and the abusive relationship between adjuncts and institutions. The action of one adjunct will not change the system, unless there’s some sort of massive walkout (which I don’t think is a viable option). Unlike a marriage, there’s a system of abuse here that affects more than just a few people.

I suspect a solution to academe’s overreliance on adjuncts will have to do with offering more full-time spots (on the tenure track, or not), giving those spots to people who have demonstrated their devotion (current adjuncts) to teaching and to the institution, and, consequently, accepting fewer students. Perhaps smarter people than me can come up with some better solutions.

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