Image: Mabel Vernon speaking at a suffrage rally -- May, 1916 (via Library of Congress)
While the pay gap and the prestige gap between full-time and part-time faculty are well-documented, there often exists a communication gap between the two populations as well. What if — instead of those quick passing hellos in the hallway — part-time faculty were instead given license to speak directly into the hearts and minds of their full-time counterparts? Just what is it that part-timers would most want full-timers to learn, to realize, and to understand?
Calling Us Part-Timers Is Problematic
For most of us, adjuncting is far from a “part-time” job. Many adjunct faculty teach at multiple institutions, often averaging between five and seven courses a semester. When the actual hours spent in the classroom are added to the additional hours spent preparing for class and grading assignments, that adds up to at least 40 hours a week. Many of us also have second jobs in professional fields related to the courses we teach. But rest assured: Very few of us view teaching as something we do “in addition” to a career in some other profession. This is where the term “adjunct” also becomes problematic: It makes our teaching sound like a supplement, an appendage, something off to the side. Whether we are in the classroom for four hours a week or 40, teaching is a serious, primary vocation. Part-time faculty are as invested in innovation, best practices, and professional development as our full-time colleagues.
Adjunct Does Not Equal Apathy
The nature of adjunct work results in our spending hours away from each institution of which we are a critical part. That time away can be misconstrued — we are sometimes viewed as disconnected from the department and the work at hand. But the truth is, we are intensely invested in what we do, so much so that we endure the challenges of juggling multiple schedules, all for the reward of helping students find success. While the juggling means we cannot always participate in department and campus activities, it does not mean we are disinterested. Many of us thrive on finding ways to contribute our time and talent. Department and committee heads sometimes worry — appropriately — about asking us to participate in activities for which we are not paid. But many of us would nonetheless welcome being informed of departmental or committee meetings, and invited to voluntarily attend. The simple act of extending the invitation fosters a culture of camaraderie and respect. As long as the option to attend truly is voluntary, why not invite us and let us make the choice?
We Long For Your Intellectual and Pedagogical Freedoms
Even with supportive and progressive chairs and deans, adjuncts often operate under more restrictions in the classroom than full-timers face. Frequently we have to choose readings from an approved list and follow a “suggested” syllabus. That leaves less room for creativity and makes innovation more difficult. And ironically, the limits imposed on innovation can make finding a full-time position harder. One of the most common application materials that search committees request is copies of current classroom assignments. Ours may or may not be reflective of how we would choose to teach, and it feels terrible to be judged on skewed evidence.
We Long for an Office of Our Own
We are envious of the space you have on campus to do your work. It may seem silly. However, in a very palpable way, we want to be able to put all of our binders, textbooks, folders, and office supplies in our own space. It is incredibly difficult to stay organized with work materials scattered throughout our homes and cars. Like you, we want a quiet haven where we can plan class time effectively and grade in peace. And we want a space where we can advise our students, without saying, “Meet me outside of Starbucks,” or “We have five minutes before the next class comes in.” We want the sense of permanence and security that an office connotes. Like Virginia Woolf, we want rooms of our own.
We Are Not Lesser Versions Of Graduate Assistants
Graduate T.A.s typically teach a class or two, and only at one campus. They may have courses or seminars to help them learn how to teach and support them throughout the process. That support — however generous or minimal it may be — does not exist for most adjuncts. And yet somehow, graduate assistants — many of them still untested by the vagaries of a cruel job market — are sometimes treated with more respect and comradeship than the adjuncts whose ranks these students may soon be joining. No matter how bad the job market gets, graduate assistants are offered hope: They have yet to succeed but they have not yet “failed” to achieve a career in academia. It is frustrating when full-time faculty seem unwilling to consider adjuncts as fellow academics, but rely on us to instruct and mentor the undergraduates upon which the whole pyramid stands.
We Are Proud Of Our Hustle
Some days adjuncting feels like it shares something with the ethos of the real-estate business in Glengarry Glen Ross. You don’t have to work in real estate to understand the wisdom — and the pressure — of the ABC’s: Always Be Closing. Instead of hustling deals, we adjuncts are hustling sections. When we’re not preparing for class, grading, or traveling, we’re talking with colleagues about which departments are looking to “fill some holes,” or which ones might have faculty out on leave. We’re checking in with our associate dean or department chair, making sure that we are visible, present, but never too demanding or annoying (the kiss of death). We’re trying to scrape up enough money and energy to put together that latest conference presentation (because you never know who you’ll meet there) and that latest revision of our CV and job materials (because you never know what magic might finally tip the scale). We are trying to stay positive, no matter how tired we are or how dire our economic conditions. It would help to hear more full-timers acknowledge our hustle, and maybe even say they admire and respect it.
We Are Proud Of Our Versatility
The experience we have gained from teaching at multiple campuses and working second jobs in industry should be seen as an asset, not a liability. Full-timers should be excited to find out how other institutions and industries do things. People laboring in the trenches at several institutions can speak to why something that works at one place might (or might not) work at another. We see different students, facilities, textbooks, and technologies on a daily basis, and all of that forces us to become comfortable with quick adaptations. In a world with fluctuating enrollments, budgets, and institutional goals, our ability to adapt is not just valuable, it’s essential..
We Want You To Acknowledge Our Commonalities
The divide between full-time and part-time faculty is that much more puzzling and ironic when we consider that many, if not most, full-time faculty have had prior experience adjuncting. If a majority, or even a sizeable minority, of full-timers also slogged through the endless mandatory textbook lists, the unreliable copiers, and the bleak adjunct centers, then why not make eye contact with us? Why not reach out to us?
All of this leaves a sense of “us vs. them.” But we would argue that part-timers and full-timers need to recognize and honor each other and work together in the interests of students. In other words, we need to build on the things we have in common. We can do that by sharing best teaching practices, great assignment ideas, and other teaching tools that will help us help our students. And don’t forget that many part-timers are researchers and scholars as well as teachers. Ask us to work with you on curriculum documents, conference presentations, and articles — just as we worked with a full-time faculty member on this one.
In the end, we are willing — and hungry — to pursue creative collaboration with our full-time colleagues. Remember, we are stronger and more effective as faculty, period, if we emphasize what we have in common rather than focusing on how others see us as different.