I Quit Teaching and Why: The Adjunct Situation Part 1

My first year home again, I taught part time, and I planned to teach part time here for several years. However, I have had to quit, and I hate that I have had to.

I have taught since 1972, still have a lot of love and energy for students and learning, and my previous 10 years as an adjunct in Massachusetts were good, and previous to that, my 18 years tenured at The University of Findlay were, great, too. When I returned to Northeast Ohio, I interviewed with Cleveland State, Kent, and Akron, and though Akron seemed perhaps the best fit pedagogically, the curriculum required many more days on campus, so it was prohibitive in commuting and parking costs.

I chose Kent Stark, with some warm feelings for teaching at home. I didn't think too much about salary, though I recognized it was abysmal, less than I was making when I left adjuncting in Northeast Ohio in 1984. I loved the students who reminded me of all my Perry High '68 classmates, 45 years previously, who went to Kent Stark, waiting till the last minute to do everything, there by duress or lackadaisical but not disinterested attitudes to education. But my students were in a much worse economy than most of my friends faced in 1968. I read up on the history of Kent Stark and Kent State to work the material into my College Writing  II Course, "Writing About College Student Culture."

 A first year at any new institution has a learning curve, but having done a LOT of teaching, I was fairly well-prepared and rate it a very good year, from an educational point of view (mine and and my students'.) One of my students got a version her last essay for my class accepted for publication in The Chronicle of Higher Education and others produced publishable work and everyone produced one excellent piece of writing. Final presentations were wonderful with the students speaking with power points on what they had learned about Kent State and its students in their weeks of research. Many of those former students shout out to me now and wave across parking lots. I don't allow students to friend me on Facebook until the semester is over, but I have lots of Kent Stark facebook friends now.

Byy the end of the year, however, the salary issue was really hitting home. On the one hand, I would be willing to teach for free. On the other, it just isn't right. I told my chair that I was taking a year off for a sabbatical, but I was actually trying to step back to think about it all. Then, I didn't think about it. I missed teaching so very much and wanted to return. And then, at the end of the year, just as I received a letter from my chair asking for my schedule preferences, I saw online the photos of the New York McDonald's workers striking over wages that were as much or more than I make at Kent.

Now I don't mind McDonald's workers making more than me. A friend always says we should be willing to pay more for work we don't want to do, and I don't want to work at McDonald's..However, the idea that McDonald's workers were striking, while acadmia is doing nothing over the "Adjunct State of Affairs" was too much for me to bear.

And by nothing, I don't mean that the adjuncts were doing nothing. Here in Northeast Ohio, they held  demonstrations in the month of April over new changes to adjunct hiring practices that will make it even worse for adjuncts. And in New York and Massachusetts, similar demonstrations were going on. What I mean is that the full-time faculty and unions and professional organizations have done next to nothing over the "Adjunct State of Affairs."

And what is the "Adjunct State of Affairs"? Statistics are very hard to get, but some estimate that 70% of the college courses are taught by adjunct. (One source I have found says that 65% of Kent's courses are taught by adjuncts.) In most cases, adjuncts receive no benefits and their salaries are teeny. At Kent State Stark, I made less than $8000 a year for teaching four courses. A full-time load on that campus would be eight courses. So if I had taught a full-time load, I would have been making less than $16,000 a year and no benefits. Meanwhile, full-time Assistant Professors at Kent State make over $60,000 a year and benefits.

Tomorrow, I will publish the letter of resignation I sent to Kent State, and then after that, to discuss why this state of affairs is bad not only for adjuncts but for institutions, full-time faculty, and most of all, for the students. Meanwhile, I cannot tell you how much I miss teaching. But I am not going to step back into the harness of indentured servitude that is "The Adjunct State of Affairs" in most of the college education system of Ohio.


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  2. Sad that you can't return to what you love, and the students who love you doing that. But it is totally understandable.

  3. Even in schools with faculty unions, full-time tenured faculty don't work nearly hard enough to ensure that everyone who teaches receives a living wage and basic benefits. We construct rationales that justify our own privilege, ignoring that our benefits derive in part from others' underpaid labor. And then we lament the paucity of full-time academic jobs for the students we advise. All the time, we're watching the demise of academe as we know it.

    Paul Beauvais

  4. I think what is wrong with our colleges and universities is a reflection of where our country is headed. Not paying enough money or attention to those who are allowing you to get rich, is a system doomed to failure. After 20 years as an adjunct, five trying to do it "full-time," I am out. They wore me out, used me up and the only ones who care are the students. Thank you for writing this and I look forward to the next installment.

  5. I feel your pain, Diane. Luckily for me, I decided to quit only two years in as an adjunct. By my fourth semester, I had 100 students split in two sections. At YSU, the rate for part-time faculty is $2,400 per 3 credit course. Once I added up travel time, class time, email time (good grief did I get a ton of emails!!), and grading time... the hourly wage was abysmal! As a part-time faculty member, you don't get the perks of having a TA or GA to help you grade. I used to spend my entire weekend grading tests and papers - eventually I had to stoop to using scantron sheets for part of my exams. This, of course, was only one of TWO jobs I needed to pay bills. I also taught 40+ private lessons at my own business to keep afloat. It was a difficult decision, because I *LOVED* classroom teaching, but I decided to give it up and go into teaching private lessons full time instead. It's more fun, I get my weekends back, and believe it or not... it's more lucrative. Maybe one day I'd consider going back to the classroom, but not until they give part-time faculty decent wages. Until then, I'm much happier being a piano teacher.

  6. Bear witness... that is central to "we are worth more"...the slogan as well as a piece by the same name that I came across whice processing a recent set of Joe Berry's COCAL Updates.

    "Witnessing, with its religious overtones, is not intended as an immediately practical action. It’s first about individuals summoning the courage to put themselves forward to make a public claim that they are one of thousands (millions nationally) who are being treated unjustly. In this case, it means taking the risk that they may be fired or otherwise disciplined for leaving work and going into the streets to proclaim 'We are worth more.'

    Witnessing is meant to make us think about justice as the witnesses simultaneously inspire and shame us with the courage of their individual actions."

    I'm seeing more and more witnessing...and those witnessing not be intimidated by sneering admin, fearful TT or other comment trolls

  7. Vanessa,

    Yes, I once studied and wrote about the literature of witness ("Testimonio") in Latin American literture,which I love. It was very prevalent in the writing workshops that were conducted in Nicaragua after the revolution. Often the statements have come in the aftermath, which I guess that is what mine is in that I am not longer being treated unjustly since I made the choice to walk out.

    And while I did not think of it as witnessing, my writing this week is rooted in that idea. I have been surprised at how many non-academics (high school friends, a mother in the dentist waiting room) are not at all aware of the issue-- which is to say, the exact pathetic pay being made by people at KSU, or are aware of the issue and not at all sure if anything can be done.

    I'm not sure that anything can be done. But I would like to see a lot more talkin' about it.

  8. Keep up the good work!!! At my institution we have much better pay for NTT faculty than you do at yours. This is 100% attributable to the sterling work of the faculty union. Nevertheless, we are still second-class citizens in terms of the respect we receive from our tenured colleagues (with some important exceptions) and from the administration.

  9. I too left teaching, but not of my own free will, but because they saw I was making too much trouble and they feared I would "infect" others. You see, while teaching, at terrible pay too ($1800/course, no benefits), I started a petition for Adjunct Justice: http://signon.org/sign/better-pay-for-adjuncts.fb1?source=c.fb&r_by=426534. My college wanted me to teach --as they needed good teachers-- but they did not like the fact I had no fear of them. The year before they had reprimanded me by taking half my course load away and thought I had learned my lesson, but when I again began to question their decision-making, they got rid of me altogether, two days into the semester. And as adjuncts who have no security, worse than the abysmal compensation we receive, is the fact that we have no recourses, I have found out.

    I have gone all the way to the State Attorney General of Texas, only to be turned down because I am a private citizen and the college represents a state agency. So as private citizens in right-to-work at-will states, we have no one but ourselves to count on. Until we come to the decision you have come to --to publicize our leaving, and WHY-- and make it public so the world begins to hear our account, we will get no where. The world needs to hear our testament. The world needs to know.

    So thank you for this. I applaud you.

    Ana M. Fores Tamayo
    Adjunct Justice
    Petition: http://signon.org/sign/better-pay-for-adjuncts.fb1?source=c.fb&r_by=426534
    Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/AdjunctJustice