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Illustration by Richard Ewing

Several weeks ago, I approached my friend Jenny (not her real name) for information on how to get hooked up with a teaching position at one of the local community colleges. Jenny currently works at five different schools — three community colleges, one private university, and one online university. My guess was that if anyone could point me in the right direction, it would be her.

I always figured I’d end up in academia. While in graduate school, I taught a semester of undergraduate creative writing, but then after a few years in elementary-school classrooms, I gave up on the idea of teaching. Still, I keep it in my back pocket as a go-to if I absolutely have to do it again.

I approached Jenny not because things have gotten dire, but that the scramble from one freelance writing job to another is beginning to take its toll. I figure why not take it easy for a while, supplement my income with a consistent, guaranteed paycheck and balance out the uncertainty of the freelance life. And, yes, after years of living hand-to-mouth, I have lofty dreams of tweed, sabbaticals, retirement plans, and picking up the check while drinking beer with graduate students.

But, halfway through our conversation, after we’ve covered whom to contact, what to do with my résumé, and which schools not to bother with, Jenny knocks my professorial fantasy on its ass.

“It’s really political,” she says. “There’s an atmosphere where we don’t feel safe to talk [publicly] because we’re afraid our opinions and our thoughts can work against us. We’re constantly in this fear that this could hurt me from getting classes assigned next semester or my comments could hurt me when I’m trying to apply for a position.”

Apparently, this is the point when I become way too interested and change my posture from that of friend to reporter, because she stops speaking briefly to request anonymity.

“You can share that I’m not coming across as a rebel or a troublemaker,” she says, “but this is just how I see things and how I’ve experienced things so far.”

She goes on to explain that it’s not just the department chairs or hiring committees she’s afraid of upsetting; it’s also her fellow faculty members. Adjunct (or part-time, or “contingent”) faculty, she says, can be separated into two basic groups: the brown-nosers/optimists and the cynics/activists. Most of them want the same thing, a tenured or full-time position. But those positions are hard to come by, and the two groups are often at odds.

“I also don’t want to seem like I’m against my fellow colleagues who are in the struggle with me,” she says, “just because I see the positive.”

“We didn’t get the job because there is no job.”

One thing that came up in my conversation with Jenny was a website started by some of her colleagues. The site is called AdjunctCrisis.com, and though at the time I began my research it was not yet live, when I Googled the term “adjunct crisis,” I got 4,700,000 hits. Most of those links connected to articles and references written in the past two years.

When AdjunctCrisis.com does go live, the first post is by John Rall, an instructor who writes about how he was barred from advising a student group at Mesa College.

Professor John Rall says he’s “trying to swallow the tough pill that I’ll probably be in my 70s still in a part-time position.”

“Through my dean I learned that the administration does not want adjunct faculty to be advisors because they do not want to have to compensate them for the time they serve the students,” he writes. “Adjunct instructors cannot have more than a 67% load, and adding time as an advisor is not permitted. I also learned through my dean that the school has had cases where an adjunct gained over 67% and it led to the full time hiring of that adjunct on technical contract grounds. The administration learned their lesson and closed the loophole that allowed adjunct faculty to gain full-time employment.... I offered to be an advisor as a volunteer, but the school is highly skeptical of such altruism and does not want to take a chance.”

A week after my first conversation with Jenny, Professor Rall shows me around the adjunct office in the Mesa College English Department. The office consists of five tight cubicles, officially shared by the department’s 85 adjunct faculty members, though not all of them use it, and the attached 36-square-foot “conference room,” where we settle in at a small circular table. The 73% of part-time faculty members in this department is just above the 70% average for community colleges, according to the American Federation of Teachers.

When Rall began teaching here in 2004, he envisioned himself no more than a couple of years away from an esteemed professorship with an office and parking spot. With three degrees under his belt (bachelors’ in philosophy and anthropology, and a master’s in comparative literature), and a combined 13 years of teaching at the high school and college levels, he considered himself a prime candidate for a tenured position.

“I got here thinking I was going to eventually move right into a full-time position after a couple of years,” he says. “Now I’m mostly just trying to swallow the tough pill that I’ll probably be in my 70s still in a part-time position with a poor retirement plan because I’m an adjunct,” he says.


Adjunct Professor John Rall

John Rall talks about the opportunities and challenges of being a non-tenured, "adjunct" professor of English in San Diego community college systems.

John Rall talks about the opportunities and challenges of being a non-tenured, "adjunct" professor of English in San Diego community college systems.

To clarify, “adjunct” officially means “part-time,” an appropriate definition, given that California’s education code currently caps adjunct course loads at 67 percent of full-time (per school). In my mind, however, the term “freelance” paints a more accurate picture, as many “part-time” professors, like Rall and Jenny, create full-time schedules across multiple campuses, often equaling more hours than tenured (or full-time) professors.

This semester, Rall is teaching five classes: three at Mesa, and two at Cuyamaca. Although less than what he was doing before, it’s still full-time work.

“On a week when I don’t have essays, I’m probably doing six-hour days, four to five days a week,” he says. “As soon as the essays come in, I’m probably doing nine-hour days and weekends. I’m adding probably about 20 hours a week during those weeks, and it comes every other week throughout the semester.”

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

I hope that more adjuncts will comment on this article.


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.


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

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


dwbat June 9, 2018 @ 11:44 a.m.

Well, that's just an opinion on the subject. I don't agree with it. It's not a grammatical "ruling" as you infer.


danfogel June 10, 2018 @ 7:15 a.m.

So let me see if I understand correctly. Your above reply is directed toward someone who responded to you about a comment in which, while playing the role of schoolmarm, you attempted to correct a third person on the "correct" usage of "could care less" vs. "couldn't care less". Not an atypical response on your part. Except in this case, your current comment is directed towards a comment made 4 1/2 years ago, by someone who seems to have joined the Reader simply to respond to your initial response and from whom we have not heard from since. Three question come to mind. First, how long did it take you to find the previous exchange from Dec. 2014? Second, how bored did you have to be to even contemplate looking for it? And finally, WHY???!!!. BTW, both a Harvard University linguist and an Oxford University etymologist, among many others, agree that the usage of either is fine in that the intent of each is clearly the same, sarcasm, and many dictionaries recognize “could care less” as an American colloquialism. BTW Part II, my 3 questions above were rhetorical. I don't expect, nor do I want a response. To use the American colloquialism, I could really care less.

Just my opinion.

Opinions vary.


dwbat June 10, 2018 @ 8:29 a.m.

Dan, I've been writing for the Reader since 2010.


danfogel June 10, 2018 @ 9:33 a.m.

Well alrighty then. But as I see it, the length of time that you have been writing for the reader has no relevance at all to my comment, no part of which questioned, mused about or even waxed philosophically about the length of time that you have been contributing, as a writer, to the Reader.


dwbat June 10, 2018 @ 11:19 a.m.

You missed the point. The "seems to have joined the Reader simply to respond" is totally inaccurate. I both write for the Reader, and also make comments like other contributors ;-) I will continue to do so.


danfogel June 10, 2018 @ 2:09 p.m.

Actually, it is you who seems to have missed the point. The "seems to have joined the Reader simply to respond" is completely accurate. Try reading my comment again. What I wrote, in a reply to your comment posted yesterday, was "your current comment is directed towards a comment made 4 1/2 years ago, by someone who seems to have joined the Reader simply to respond to your initial response and from whom we have not heard from since." Put more simply for you, you replied yesterday, 6/9/2018, to a comment made on 12/24/2013, by someone who joined the Reader on that day, responded to a comment that you made at that time, and has never been heard from again. What about that don't you get? The "seems to have joined the Reader simply to respond" is clearly a reference to the other person who posted the comment you replied to yesterday, and not to you.


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.


SportsFan0000 March 8, 2016 @ 9:57 a.m.

So you admit the private sector is ripping off many employees and stealing/diminishing your meager pensions ?!

Why blame public employees for the bad deal you are getting in the private sector?!

Work to change and reform the private sector pension situation.


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.


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.


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


SportsFan0000 March 8, 2016 @ 10:02 a.m.

Re Read the article. It is administrative policy at these colleges to cut corners and hire 65%-75% Adjuncts and not to hire fulltime faculty.

It is a disservice to the colleges, the students and society to hire that many Adjuncts. I can see 10%-15% Adjuncts maximum. But schools hiring 65%-75% Adjuncts are scamming the system


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."


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.


SportsFan0000 March 8, 2016 @ 9:49 a.m.

America's "race to the bottom" continues. If you cannot pay quality teachers a decent fulltime salary for their work then it is not surprising the US is falling behind dozens of other countries in educating its populace.

America's boomtimes were created when teachers were employed and paid full time wages and benefits.

California's community colleges, State Colleges and Universities used to be free to students. Teachers used to be paid for full time work.

The system has been turned upside down and does not benefit the teachers or the students anymore.


oskidoll March 10, 2016 @ 12:35 p.m.

It is important to understand that for the community college model to work, the college must maintain staffing flexibility to respond to enrollment surges and declines, as well as erratic state funding. Remember that community colleges are to serve anyone who has the 'ability to benefit'. It is a complicated matter. Each California community college has a 'cap' or enrollment maximum (called FTES) which is not unlike the ADA compensation for K-12. The FTES dictates how many students each college may serve, based on a full-time equivalency formula. There is also a minimum 'cap' below which the college is penalized financially if not enough FTES is 'earned'.
Full-time tenured faculty are employed as the 'core' teaching academy. Part-time faculty balance the ebb and flow and help the college serve students who show up at the beginning of each semester. (Remember that four-year colleges largely know how many students they will be serving each year far ahead of time and do not have to face the unknown of how many 'butts in seats' there will be on opening day.) The picture is further complicated for community colleges because full-time faculty often have contracts that provide them with first dibs on any extra teaching opportunities to bolster their bottom lines...this is called 'overload' and many community college faculty unions have been quite adept at making it possible for their full timers to earn well in excess of $100,000, and even more than what some top administrators make in a given year. Some even receive 'release time' for service on the Academic Senate or union leadership but choose to take that bonus on top of still teaching a full load. Every class so taught by full-time faculty deprives part-timer of the opportunity.
The State of California has not provided the funding for colleges to maintain the 75% to 25% ratio of full to part-time staffing that was legislated some years ago.


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