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Confessions of an Angry Adjunct


Confessions of an Angry Adjunct

Michelle Boncek Evory

With President Obama’s new community college initiative, which foresees the potential to offer 9 million students free tuition for two years, it surprises me that no one is talking about who is going to teach students and how they are going to be paid.


Having taught in both public and private secondary schools for 20 years with an expensive A.B. and M.A.T. in English, my daughter was having difficulty passing math at our local community college, so I braved up and took algebra with her to help. She dropped out, again. I completed the course with an A and then I again took the GRE since I felt capable in my “weak” area. I was accepted in all three of the graduate schools to which I applied, even at my alma-mater. So I took a leave of absence from my public school job, put my house up for sale and traveled 1,000 miles to my alma mater to be an adjunct and study for my Ph.D.–with the promise to return to my high school for at least two years after completing the degree or face the payback of my sabbatical. Good thing. I was stymied at every turn in landing a tenure-track job. Luckily, I returned to my public school system before it was completely taken over by the t-party and their seizure of curriculum control from state and federal government. My pay grade was minimally raised for my Ph.D. And I was assigned the best students in the school district. I built a new house on land I bought years ago. Today, here in Limbaugh/ Bush land, the schools have been nearly wrecked by the “reformists,” but I retired safely five years ago. I supplemented my income with adjunct teaching jobs in local colleges but the students were not nearly so bright nor so motivated as my public school kids–or those at my alma mater. So I’m living the good life in my “new” home, adding my student debt to my mortgage so it’s at least deductible. I’ll be paying for it for twenty more years (if I survive that long). Adjunct professorships have nothing but airy “prestige” to recommend them. The teaching profession was taken up by two of my children against my advice; one continues to plug away at it; the other started his own painting business. My youngest became an engineer and is quite happy with his choice, so far. Adjuncts don’t stand a chance. My advice: get out now. And it’s a rare school district that has not been fully taken over by t-partier fundamentalists.


$ 3,000.00 is what they paid per class FIFTEEN YEARS AGO! They need to PAY!

They also use 3rd party companies to “pay” substitutes $12.50 per hour (You could have as many as 35 kids- figure the hourly per kid…) just like they did FIFTEEN YEARS AGO.

CAP the corporate profits and return it to LABOR where the people who earned it will be PAID!
PAY the people who do the work. Fairly. No, actually, OVERpay them… they deserve it after the political attacks they have been subjected to. The stock market investors are stealing from the people with the current obsession on growth for profit!


Thank you for sharing your very real experience. There are many of us with similar stories and you have illustrated the pain nicely. Hopes and change did not come with Obama though, either, as his Race To The Top simply escalated No Child Left Behind and more… Democrats did not defend our unions and union leadership (NEA) did not defend their membership! Exit education? Many teachers have after enduring years of real stress.


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I keep hearing all these complaints about how higher education costs are far outstripping inflation, and they are. This article makes it clear that it’s not faculty pay driving this surge. It must be the greed of the administrators, and the graft involved passing construction contracts to their buddies

Others are encouraged to add other reasons for the inflation to that list …


I live in a state where one of the flagship universities has a nationally ranked basketball team. There is never any problem finding alums to cough up big bucks for new training facilities or to update arenas/stadiums. But suggest that there needs to be a fund to raise professors’ salaries so that our median is equal to neighboring states, so we can retain the best educational talent? Crickets. I’m pretty sure our basketball coach makes more than the college president.

I think at least part of the problem is that colleges have forgotten what their mission actually is. Another part is that students are seduced by the wrong thing-spiffy dorms or apartment complexes and amenities that have nothing to do with actual education. Then to compete, the other colleges have to offer them as well and the whole thing escalates.


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This is a highly ambivalent article. There are a lot of insights and it takes courage to write about personal experience and admit failure.

Then again, how deeply ingrained is this “meritocratic” notion about it being shameful to hang out with the lesser crowd. Even when she joins their ranks - instead of reconsidering and finding out “hey, those are people too, just like me, and not necessarily any less smart, wise, or educated than the professoriat”, now she looks down on them/herself for taking it lying down. As if the professors aren’t taking the privatization and commercialization of science lying down.

I agree with the other comments, sure, organize and fight back. But let’s not forget to “dismantle Massa’s house” we shall have to dismantle the little Massa in our own heads first. Sure there may be positive aspects to “meritocracy”, but that’s how the Neoliberals are using the notion to co-opt people and make them invested in their competitive science-as-marketplace of intellectual property and human capital - see Mirowski’s Science Mart (2011).

The high-ranked caste of scholars/scientists may have more tools and resources to more effectively do science, but it is increasingly commercialized, neutered science. Also they are spending an increasing amount of time writing grant application and need to run ever faster just to make the next ranking. In the final analysis, the system does not necessarily treat its designated winners any better than its designated losers, in particular when it comes to letting them keep their sanity, let alone leave room for spiritual development.

We need to address our own elitism if we ever want to get organized - look at all the adjuncts and “precarious knowledge workers”, look at how a diverse bunch they are, and then ask yourself whether the groomed batch of scientists in the “centers of excellence”, at least half of them dressed in exactly the same clothes, are really the ones to emulate. And how we can attain a more humane concept of “failure”. Jeff Schmidt’s Disciplined Minds has a couple of great pointers and personal stories in this regard.


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No reflection and no conscience… utter stupidity.


well… If you look at Greece, Syriza essentially came out of the Universities… as did Podemos in Spain… don’t write us academic geeks off just yet :wink:


What stops Adjuncts from organizing?


State budget cuts. In Michigan, Snyder has re-arranged education money for corporate welfare, thus depriving our children (and the people who actually work in education) of necessary dollars.
And these not very conservative R’s are taxing the people they always target- the citizens, for gas, pensions, roads, internet… major liars.


Hey Michelle: We started an adjunct union at Kalamazoo Valley CC back in 2012. Your second to last paragraph professes no knowledge of it or our sister adjunct unions, the Professional Instructors Organization (PIO) or the Teaching Assistants Union (TAU) at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. So I have to wonder, where do you teach and why aren’t you channeling your anger into constructive action with one of our three adjunct unions?


Well, here’s a bit of hope. I’ve taught at a business school, Bentley University, as an adjunct for 15 years (and there are other adjuncts who’ve had that status for 20+). Two years ago—after years in which the word “union” was barely whispered, for fear of being fired—with a nudge from SEIU organizers, we ran our first adjunct union campaign. Thanks to the GOP-driven gov’t shutdown, our vote was messed up and we lost by 2 votes. But we tried again this year and won a real mandate, 108-42. So now begins the negotiation phase for a new contract. Most importantly, this has all been part of a grand strategy called Adjunct Action in which adjuncts from all over the Boston metro area are running union campaigns to outflank the destructive profiteering greed of area colleges—and it’s working. Tufts University, UMASS-Boston and Lowell, Boston University and many more have now seen successful campaigns, and we’re starting to make people realize that if we don’t teach, the work of the school simply doesn’t get done. In a phrase, the schools’ greed has over-extended their reliance on adjunct labor and now we hold the leverage. So, DON’T GIVE UP—GET ORGANIZED!!!