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Five classes per semester is considered a full load for full-time faculty, but the difference in pay is significant.

“I work five classes, and I’m making barely $40,000, probably more like $35,000. A full-timer teaches five classes and they’re making $65,000 a year,” he says. “We have the same responsibilities except for whatever work their committees are doing, which isn’t that much more. We have the same credentials. We have the same obligations in terms of what we do with our students.”

Another perk for full-time faculty members is that they have the option of getting paid through the summer. Adjunct professors do not. And because of the minimal number of summer courses available, many, like Rall, must find work elsewhere or apply for unemployment to get through the summer months as well as the winter breaks.

“Technically, I’ve been here ten years and they’ve laid me off 20 times,” Rall says. “They call it something else, but the State of California recognizes it as being laid off.”

Fortunately for Rall, who provides the sole income for his family (he has three children and his wife stays home to school them), adjunct professors at Mesa College who carry a 50 percent load for three consecutive semesters are eligible for health insurance, which they can keep through their stints on unemployment.

“We’re, like, the envy of California because we have health insurance,” he admits. “Because of our union.”

This is the first year Rall has taught so few classes. For the past four, he taught seven per semester: three at Mesa, two at Grossmont, and two online for the University of Phoenix. He took on the load not only for the money, he explains, but to prove his worth and his willingness in the hopes it would help him secure a full-time position. This, while applying for jobs “in every English department up and down the California state” and volunteering approximately five hours a week (outside of teaching) to develop and coordinate a writing-outreach project for high school and college students across the county.

“My health was suffering,” he says, “and I’m, like, What am I doing to myself? Is it worth all this to believe that there’s some position for me, when in all actuality it’s a lottery? If you look at my record and what I was doing, I should be standing out.”

To prove his point, he leans back in his chair and tells me about the Adjunct Appreciation ceremony Mesa College administration held at the beginning of the 2013 fall semester. The event, held in the gym, consisted of presenting contingent faculty members with certificates of appreciation.

“There was one guy who had been here for, like, 40 years, and all he got was a paper certificate,” Rall says, appalled. “You couldn’t get him a frame? You couldn’t buy him a lunch? It was kind of a morale breaker for adjunct because most everybody wants a position, but they kept calling out people who had been here for 10 years, 20 years, and the new people were, like, ‘I don’t want to be here for 30 years as a part-timer.’”

According to a national survey done by Hart Research Associations on behalf of the American Federation of Teachers in 2009, more than 40 percent of part-time/adjunct faculty (not including graduate employees) have been on their campuses eleven years or more; 32 percent have been on the job six to ten years; and only one in four has been on the job five years or under.

Although he uses a different terminology, Rall agrees with Jenny that adjunct faculty can be divided into two camps: the gung-ho (as he was until about three years ago) and those that want to change the system (as he does now).

The gung ho, he says, tend to be newer, believe that if they work hard, step up, and prove themselves worthy, they’ll get that elusive full-time position. And then there are those like him who work hard for years to no avail and finally decide something has to change. “[The newbies] think that all of us who are not gung ho are not good adjunct, like we’re not good teachers because we didn’t get the job. And it’s, like, no, we’re good teachers. We just didn’t get the job because there is no job.”

“You’re never going to win.”

Based on my next conversation with Jenny, I’d say she fits the bill for what Rall considers “gung-ho.” And she also falls in with the one in four who have been teaching five years or under.

“I really, really love my job, and there are some unfair aspects of it, but for me, I still feel really lucky that I have classes,” she says. “I just try to focus on the positive and focus on my students and the great job that I have. I don’t have to lift heavy boxes at Starbucks. I get to go to a class and talk to wonderful students about writing and reading and critical thinking.”

Besides her positive attitude, Jenny claims she’s the first to jump on any volunteer opportunity, go to all professional developments, and get involved in the department in any way she can. But she also admits that she’s motivated somewhat by fear.

“Honestly, I have so many classes that I don’t know what to do with. But I’m scared to turn them down because I feel like this semester if I turn down a class, next semester they won’t give it to me. For that reason, I take whatever I can. I never say ‘no,’” she says. “I just pray and I work my butt off to eventually one day get a full-time faculty position. I have a whatever-it-takes attitude until I [do].”

At the same time, she attends union meetings and shows up to make phone calls or march in the streets when the union requests it. She knows there are problems of unfairness in her work. And she knows that in teaching eight classes, she’s making what a full-time faculty member makes teaching four or five. It’s not naiveté that keeps her from being a hard-core political activist adjunct.

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Comments

cccprof Dec. 20, 2013 @ 9:55 p.m.

I hope that more adjuncts will comment on this article.

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AdjunctFaculty Dec. 22, 2013 @ 8:55 a.m.

To be frank, the vast majority of full-time professors could care less about the plight of part-time professors; administrators, even less.

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dwbat Dec. 22, 2013 @ 9:15 a.m.

You mean: couldn't care less (not "could care less").

1

Joaquin_de_la_Mesa Dec. 23, 2013 @ 4:35 p.m.

Kenny the Facebooker hit the nail on the head. It's a question of the haves (full-time, tenured) wanting to keep what they've got (fat gov't salaries and pensions) at the expense of the have nots (adjuncts.) The aristocracy of academia (most of whom are state employees) want to keep the serf-like perpetual part-time professors down.

Remember when teaching was a calling, not a way to retire at 55 years old with a ridiculous pension funded by taxpayers who can't get the same types of pension in the private sector?

I think the whole college-for-everyone experiment has reached its natural death. It's degenerated into the situation described in this excellent story, into 300-student classes taught by graduate students, into college students who have no sense of the privilege of education, into MTV spring breaks, and a host of other problems. And what started this degeneration? Government involvement.

1

hmi Dec. 25, 2013 @ 5:28 a.m.

I did much better than just a piece of paper—after 10 years I got a toaster oven. There's a fable with a moral in there, somewhere.

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cccprof Dec. 25, 2013 @ 6:36 a.m.

Joaquin de la Mesa--in my opinion there is a misunderstanding going on with how funding works at the community colleges. Funding decisions are made by the administration and Governing Boards. At my college the presidential salary is close to 80 times what a part-time faculty member makes. Part-time salaries have stayed the same for years and years while administrative salaries have grown tremendously. Part-timers are afraid to say anything and have to depend on full-time faculty to advocate for them. In the meantime full-time faculty ranks have been thinned to the bare bones in recent years due to all the early retirements that administration offered to bring the costs of overall salaries down the exception being their own of course. In the meantime full-time faculty are serving on multiple committees and doing tenure evaluations, being club advisors, coaches, etc. Education of the future employees and voters of our society is not where we need the Wal-Mart model of doing things.

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johnrhenry Dec. 25, 2013 @ 10:40 a.m.

I taught my first class as an adjunct in 1974. Taught several others between then and 1982. 1982 to 2004 I taught 3-4 classes a year as an adjunct. Since 2005, I've taught 1 class a year plus some online classes.

I like being an adjunct. I get to meet interesting people, think about things in some depth with some discipline that I might not otherwise. The extra money is nice, but not that big a percentage of my total income.

I cannot imagine being a "full time" part time adjunct in the sense of trying to do it for my primary income. Frankly, it seems a bit sad to me. Sort of like people who try to make a living as extras in Hollywood because they get to be "in the movie business".

In my view, adjuncts should be people who have regular jobs in the fields they teach. Also retirees who worked in the field. They can augment professors who have a lot of theoretical knowledge with practical knowledge from hands-on experience.

When I was in grad school, my Labor Relations professor was a full time labor lawyer. My Market Research professor was a full time account executive with a national ad agency. My Compensation Management worked for a consulting firm big in this area.

Similar in many undergrad courses as well.

I learned a lot more useful stuff from these people than the professional professors I had.

This is what adjuncts should be used for. This is the only thing adjuncts should be used for. If I were a dean, I would never, under any circumstances, hire someone for whom adjunct teaching was their primary source of income.

John Henry

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chendri887 Dec. 27, 2013 @ 10:16 p.m.

Truly obnoxious. Administrators take all the money and create all the problems. They treat teachers like dirt and get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for what? I've seen this program so many times it's like the reruns of "I Love Lucy."

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formerfulltime Jan. 13, 2014 @ 2:08 p.m.

Where to begin? As long as part-timers are foolish enough to focus on what full-timers have, they will always miss the real culprits. Have you ever noticed that in articles on high paying careers, educational administrators are right up there? And that their numbers far exceed anything possibly useful? And that largely they get their positions by continuous brownnosing which becomes the rule for everyone? Full-timers have no career path outside of this construct. If you don't want to take part in this, you are considered a jerk. Part-timers probably suppress salaries for full-timers, but I can't give you statistics.. But it is hard to compete with someone who will give away the milk away for free. Part-timers normally start out with this idea of hang on and your worth will be recognized nonsense. Reality is that you are more likely to tick off someone rather than impress them. If you do a really good job with the students, some disgruntled individual will feel threatened. You are more likely to get hired from a distance. Full-timers are hired after a national search. Part-timers are geographically convenient. Neither side is necessarily better than the other. Competition means much higher qualifications to teach less qualified students. Overuse of student evaluations means everyone must pander to the lowest common denominator. Full-timers are just as subject to lousy schedules if they are not in the in group. No one cared about my family problems either, serious enough to result in the death of my only sibling. A special shout-out to San Diego county. The Midwest with palm trees. Little socialization outside of one's church group. Religiosity alive and well. Meanness seven days a week and mumbo jumbo on the Sabbath. Social Darwinism writ large.

And another to English teachers. Always at the forefront in unionization activities. Educated enough to sincerely understand discrimination. Haughty enough to look down their noses at colleagues who chose fields that were marketable outside of academia.

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