My Letter of Resignation from Kent State: The Adjunct Situation Part 2

Dear Administrators at Kent State University,

It is with sadness that I write to say that I will not be teaching for Kent State next fall.

When I returned to Ohio in the summer of 2011, I so looked forward to coming and teaching at home, and my year at Kent was wonderful in many ways. I liked the writing curriculum, and I loved my College Writing II students, several of whom have stayed in touch in the intervening year. In fact, I deeply love students and teaching anywhere. Recently reading Mark Edmundson’s advice to college freshman (“Who Are You and What Are You Doing Here?”), I was most struck by this sentence: “Education is about finding what form of work for you is close to being play,” and though I would say that the play of teaching is exhausting, I think I found my form of work in 1972, when I began my career, or even before, when I lined the neighborhood children up and assigned reports to them.
Some aspects of adjuncting can be discomfiting, as I learned when I was an adjunct at Cleveland State in the early 1980s, but being a tenure-track and tenured professor at The University of Findlay involved big swaths of discomfiture, too. However, none of that prepared me for the discomfiture of the salary at K.S.U. in this decade. I honestly did not pay much attention to the salary when I interviewed here—my bad, I know, as the kids say—I so wanted so to continue teaching as long as I could.

But then it hit me mid-fall semester. I was making less than $8000 a year for half-time work—or if you prefer, 40%-time work (figuring 80% teaching and 20% administrivia a full load for those who teach 8 courses a year). When I left my adjunct position at Cleveland State in 1984, I was making $10,000. Even if I could teach two sections of composition in 16 hours, which a dean suggested I do by not correcting papers, that’s not much over $7 an hour. Now, I spend way over 16 hours a week when I teach two sections of writing. I prep a lot, attend professional events, keep up with the latest technology, publish a fair amount, and spend eons responding to student work, but let’s ignore them and stick to 16 hours a week work for two sections of writing: it is still less than minimum wage.
So I took the past year off to think about it. I miss teaching more than I ever thought I would. However, I am not willing to be abused by Kent State University.  I trained too hard, worked too long, and received enough recognition for my effort to now be disrespected this way by the institution and by some full-time faculty who assume their part-time colleagues are less qualified than they, though I have many publications, fellowships from the Fulbright Association, NEH, Yaddo, and the Ohio Arts Council, national and local teaching awards and reams of positive student evaluations and colleague observations. 

I have worked decades on the issue of the over-use and underpayment of adjuncts, who constitute 43-67% of KSU’s teaching faculty (depending on whether we count courses or faculty), so I am saddened to have seen nothing being done on the issue at Kent State. Here in Ohio and elsewhere, other universities have managed better models of employment in the area of Composition, for one, and I would highly suggest KSU faculty and administrators educate themselves about these other models. Meanwhile, I am not willing to work under such a sorry lack of leadership. 
I have seen no one here, including the union, doing much about it. Today’s Inside Higher Education has pointed that fact out on a national level:
Why have so few outside these ranks [ of adjuncts] taken up this cause? While non-tenure-            track faculty have been vocal in advocating for change, virtually no institutional, foundation, 
or policy leaders have acknowledged the hard realities of these conditions or expressed concern. In fact, in private, a few postsecondary leaders will note that they feel bad and think the model is morally bankrupt. In public, though, they often show no leadership, nor do they voice their objections to a model that surely cannot be sustained -- nor should it be.
In researching what has been done at KSU faculty meetings on the issue, I would say this statement seems particularly true of the KSU faculty.
I will say that I understand the difficulty of making inroads into the problem. My partner, who is also an academic, has worked on this issue in every situation he has been a part of, since his grad school days in 1982, and it is very difficult, even dangerous work. I also have been involved in the issue since my grad school days and as an officer in our local AAUP when I was a tenured faculty member. I believe that objection must come from the leadership of the faculty and not the sharecroppers, to use University of Cincinnati English faculty member Catherine Wagner’s term for adjunct staff. [Note to blog readers: I should note that Wagner has been a sharecropper before she landed her tenure track job, and she is not being disrespectful but accurate. You can read her terrific blog on sharecropper faculty here.]

Until then, much as it pains me, I will not be teaching at Kent State University. In leaving, I want to send many thanks to [names deleted to protect the innocent] assistance to me—terrific colleagues all.


  1. Many of my friends and I have been terminated from teaching and administrative positions at Owens Community College. Those who remain behind are being forced to accept reassignments and pay cuts.

    While it would have been nice--and in their long-range self-interest--for the full-time faculty to have vigorously protested the gutting of education at Owens, that didn't happen. They all have health insurance, tenure, and a decent salary.

    No, if anyone is going to stand up for adjuncts, it has to be the adjuncts themselves. At Owens, more than 80% of classes are taught by adjuncts. Concerted action by adjuncts could cause the college to grind to a halt. The power lies in collective action--but our adjuncts were too isolated from each other, fearful of reprisals, and just resigned to the increasing awfulness of the situation to do anything about it.

    Yes, under Ohio law as I understand it, colleges are not required to negotiate with or recognize unions of part-time employees. Well, unions were not made by people following the law. They were made by people who stood up to both the law and management.

    I hope that some day that happens here--and at Kent.

    1. Honestly, what I think should happen is that adjuncts nationwide should strike mid-semester next fall and that full-time faculty should go out and stand with them.


  2. I find this very interesting and appreciate the quality of your passion and writing Diane.

    I teach at Ohio University Eastern, where I am paid better--I don't understand why the pay is not uniform?--and I don't have parking fees. I am back in this career after a long hiatus, and pay doesn't seem to have kept pace with inflation--and I never heard of parking fees in the 1980s. That would be the first thing to get rid of, imho, as they constitute a kickback.

    Most of the adjuncts around here are retired profs with pensions or high school teachers with MAs picking up an extra course or two ... they are not interested in activism. I need my adjunct work, but am a rarity--and I am still a second income. Heaven forfend if I had to live on my eight classes a year.

    I am thinking of how Weight Watchers leaders recently protested as a group about pay and when a mass exodus of leaders seemed likely, the company paid attention. However, I don't expect real change until there are no tenure tracks left and more people really are trying to live on this pay. Just out of curiosity--and I admire your track record!- --why did you leave your tenured job?

  3. Diane,

    I left my tenure track because of the two-career shuffle that my husband and I had danced to for 18 years. We are both academics, and each of us had had much better job offers than we had at that institution but never together. At one point, we thought that we could be "modern" like several of our friends and have a commuter marriage, but it was hell. We like each other a lot and have always spent a lot of time together.

    We decided early on that our marriage was not about my career or his career but our life. And in 2000, we figured that a position that he had been offered would leave us in a much better retirement situation, so we did that for 12 years. The college where I did adjunct work during those years was decent.

    No regrets. I love my life. I have continued to be engaged with family and former students, to write, publish, and up until now, teach.

    I do resent people who are picking up courses just to augment their salaries. A friend recently told me her husband's adjunct salary isn't an issue because he is "just earning his money to play golf." To me, my university work whether adjunct or tenured has been a calling. It involves being a professional, attending meetings, doing professional work (service and publication). At the point it is considered pin money rather than professional money...what we get are pin setters.


  4. Adjuncts were meant to be a temp back fill for a sudden influx of folks returning to college on the GI bill. At that time, universities ONLY had FT professors. Fast forward many colleges and universities are taught by 70-80% adjuncts.

    The structure is what is wrong with this scheme. Adjuncts are lured in as grad students when minimum wage to teach seems fine! Then they are tempted by the promise of FT, tenure track work, like a carrot dangling in front of them. The reality at least from what I saw was that FT positions RARELY are filled from the adjunct pool and the longer you remain in the pool, the less desirable you are. So you get trapped into this artificial economy and either take on an unmanageable class load or live in your car.
    I do not have an issue with FT tenure track professors earning more than adjuncts (they do a lot of committee work and curriculum planning and they are a perm. part of the department). Where I DO take issue is that the ratio of FT to Adjunct is so wide. At schools where adjuncts earn $6,000 a year for teaching 2 classes a semester, FT teachers earn $60-70,000 to teach 4. Adjuncts are NOT paid 1/3 or 1/2. They are paid 1/10th.