“Exciting opportunity! I mapped out some dates for writing workshops this upcoming spring semester. Please let me know if you would like to volunteer as a presenter.” I don’t blame the writing-center coordinator who sent me this optimistic message. He’s just doing his job, trying to provide learning opportunities for the students who come his way. But reading his full email left me feeling as if a Nigerian prince were offering me a chance to make big money.
Service is an important part of academic life—those outside-of-the-classroom committee appointments and mentoring sessions help keep a college running. Some of the debates about the personnel shift toward more part-timers have focused on the increased service burden placed on a shrinking number of tenure-track faculty members. That’s a real concern.
As an adjunct, however, I have to be careful about what work I do free. We all have to manage our time and try to balance the demands on our schedules, of course. I used to feel guilty about saying no, worried that I was not showing enough dedication to my institution. But I have realized that no one is going to stand up for me unless I do so myself. I could work full-time hours for part-time pay, presenting workshops and counseling students and serving on committees. None of that would do me much good. It might improve my chances of getting a tenure-track appointment, but only slightly.
If adjuncts work more and more without charge, we make it easier for colleges to exploit us and other faculty members. There’s no downside for the colleges. While I want my students to be successful, that doesn’t mean I have to let myself be taken advantage of. I hope the writing center is able to offer presentations to improve student writing. I won’t be leading one though, unless I’m paid for my time.