Are Adjunct Professors the New Sex Workers of Today?

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Teaching is a noble profession and almost any teacher who views their work as such will tell you that they “touch the future” by their work. Adjunct “professors”, however, do teach and do touch the future, but at a great cost to themselves and their self-esteem.

When was the last time anyone made an adjunct professor either an assistant or associate professor in real life? You can probably count them on one hand. BTW, “adjunct” is shorthand for “we’ll give you a teaching job but without any benefits and at the lowest pay possible” and then add on “and you’ll get the leftover courses at the worst locations possible.” In other words, adjuncts are treated like disposable people much like the sex workers who stand on the street corners trying to get “dates.” Adjuncts try to get “courses,” like sex workers, they have no security, can be dismissed at any time and have little in the way of resources.

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Graduation rates, according to some opinions, are lower for students taught by adjuncts, but is that the adjunct’s fault or the school’s failure? Good questions. Suppose you want information on who’s teaching courses at that school, here’s an article you might want to read.

The general consensus is that adjuncts are treated poorly and given the scraps of the courses that are left. Most of the time, adjuncts teach at more than one college because many colleges put caps on how many courses an adjunct can teach at their institution. Is this because full-time faculty don’t want adjuncts taking away their light? Could be.

Some people rose to be chairs of departments because no one else wanted it and that doesn’t mean a “chair” is necessarily the best qualified person on staff. I’ve heard of at least one case where that person does nothing but read from her book when she teaches a class. Personal insights about the topic? Nah. Recommended readings to nurture intellectual curiosity? Nah, this person couldn’t pass an introductory course in her subject if she had to.

How many college courses are taught by adjuncts? It’s an interesting question and the answer will surely surprise, no shock you, because most people think college courses are taught by regular faculty. Send your kids off to college and you believe they’ll have access to someone with student inspiration oozing out of their pores and, of course, they will all believe in that in loco parentis thing.

One article indicated that adjuncts, or as some prefer to call them, “contingent faculty” or NTTF (non-tenured track faculty) teach more than half the classes at

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college and universities. If you think this is one way to keep costs down while raising tuition, you’re right. Adjuncts have tried to form unions, but how many working girls do you suppose would ever try that? Well, just like adjuncts they can’t unionize because they’ll get no work. So, adjuncts have to keep quiet, be good little girls and boys and just keep on taking whatever scraps are tossed to them like so many hungry street dogs.

Students should have an opportunity to discuss the course, their questions about it or their progress with the professor, right? How is that possible when these “professors” do not get paid for office hours (which they are supposed to have), have no offices and often end up their day at 10 o’clock at night? Students and NTTF suffer in this model.

Walking out to a dark parking lot alone isn’t attractive and yet students want you to stay after class to talk to them. They should have that opportunity, but the system isn’t built that way if an adjunct wants to survive. Often the adjunct has to get home to prepare for another job or work at another school online. Three part-time jobs, then? Yeah, that’s about the norm.

What is the average salary of an adjunct? Difficult to say because of the many jobs they have to juggle, but at too many schools a three-credit course meetings twice a week at night (day courses go to full-time faculty) will pay $1,500 or maybe $2,000 a semester if it’s in a health-related profession. Remember, that’s three hours in a classroom but plenty of hours on your own time reading papers, marking tests and preparing lesson plans — all unpaid hours.

Worse yet, colleges will ask adjuncts to teach courses outside their area of expertise, just because they can’t get anyone for the course and they have students registered for it. No lesson plan prepared, the textbook is given perhaps a day before class is to meet and you are thrown into the arena like so many in the Christians-and-lions flicks. Of course, support staff don’t work nights, so you don’t even have access to anyone who can run off materials. Mail may be picked up in a room left open and empty or in a folder in an open cabinet. Lovely.

If you want to teach, get a good day job and plan to teach nights and weekends as “pin-money” for yourself. The sacrifice can be worth it, and the rewards of knowing you made a difference are wonderful, but not if you’re doing it to support yourself totally on this form of work. I’d say you might almost see this as charity work because the wages you earn are so poor.

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Dr. Farrell is a psychologist, WebMD consultant, SAG/AFTRA member, author, interested in film, writing & health. Website:

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