Adjuncts: ‘We’re constantly in fear’

Adjunct professors live in fear. Low pay comes with zero job security.

An adjunct at a California community college reported two employees having sex in his classroom. He thinks one retaliated with a false accusation, causing him to be fired in mid-semester for not being a “good fit.”

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  1. You linked in a draft version.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    My wife was an adjunct in a foreign language program. Most adjuncts had high school teaching experience. They knew how to teach.
    The tenured types tended to do their ego thing. The problem for the tenured types was that adjuncts’ classes filled early because it was known that passing an adjunct’s class meant you were equipped for the next level, a result not guaranteed with the tenured types.
    The adjuncts were a threat to the full-timers.

  3. From the linked San Diego Reader article:

    “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.

    Well, yes. And this is what it is like for the undergraduates taking humanities courses at a number of these schools: agree with your teacher, or your GPA suffers. I feel bad for these adjuncts, but were they not paying attention as undergrads? And did they think this would go away when they moved to the front of the classroom?

  4. And from the communitycollegespotlight post: “I work five classes, and I’m making barely $40,000, probably more like $35,000.”


    This is probably close to the starting salary for a California public school teacher (see here: And those folks get benefits. This is the market’s way of telling you that you are in the wrong job(*) unless you really love it … in which case you are willing to be “underpaid” to do what you want.


    (*) I realize that right now it is *VERY* difficult to get these K-12 public school teacher jobs. But if the pay is important, then this is what these adjuncts should be aiming for.

  5. Mark, I was thinking the same thing. Why on earth would anyone be an adjunct prof instead of a high school teacher, once they realized they weren’t going to get tenure?

    • I agree. I’ve long wondered why this is.

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        I am not a teacher but I would suggest looking for the answer to your question in the matter of classroom control and proportion of buttheads (in class, I mean).

    • Deirdre Mundy says:

      Traditionally, the adjunct jobs weren’t for failed academics. They were for working professionals who taught a class or two on the side for the extra income or for a change of pace.

      The problem is that these people are trying to make a career out of something that was designed as a part-time gig.

      Also, why do the people with a Master’s think they’ll get tenure in a market where herds of unemployed PhDs roam the landscape? It seems like they have pretty unrealistic career expectations.

      • It’s also a good way for science people to keep a toe in the water if they choose to take time off with their kids. Teaching 1-2 classes/semester was perfect when mine were little – being scheduled nights/weekends, when spouse was home, made it an even better fit. A lot of full timers at the CC where I taught started out as part-timers many years before – they added more classes as their kids got older.

        As for why they’d rather adjunct…at least at the CC where I taught, classroom management was not an issue. You could fail students who didn’t pass, and drop students who didn’t attend. We were part of a pre-nursing program, so they didn’t want us to pass people who didn’t know the material – if we had to fail 1/2 of the class, so be it.


    Apparently, adjuncts now comprise the majority of college instructors. This is not a good thing:

    “Ehrenberg and other researchers have found that when other factors are held constant, the increased use of adjuncts at four-year institutions is associated with lower freshman persistence and graduation rates. The same pattern has been found at two-year institutions, and higher rates of adjunct employment at such colleges have been linked to lower transfer rates to four-year institutions and lower completion rates for associate degrees.”

    Why would it make any sense to choose a profession with a full-time income of $21,000, when you might become a high school teacher? The average national teacher starting salary is $35,000, thus almost twice as large–and teachers receive benefits, and some employment protections. (

    Teacher salaries increase with time served, and with completion of further degrees.

  7. Why would someone be an adjunct rather than teach at the high school? For one thing, the adjunct doesn’t have to suffer through teacher certification.

    Many of my fellow adjuncts in my department (math) have spouses who are the primary breadwinner or are themselves retired, so the adjunct salary is supplemental.

    For others, though, I suspect being an adjunct is the best we can do for the time being. Would I rather have a full-time paycheck? Of course. But half a loaf is better than none ~

    • “For one thing, the adjunct doesn’t have to suffer through teacher certification.”

      Right. They have to suffer through job uncertainty and crap pay, but by god, they don’t have to spend a year getting a credential!

      And yeah, it sure seems like all the people in this article have spouses making the *real* money.

      But that’s okay, because crap money as an adjunct is better than the ego draining horror of being a teacher rather than a professor.

      In short, cranberry and Mark, it’s an ego thing and adjuncts are pretty amazingly stupid.

      Just as well, really. More work for teachers.

      • Deirdre Mundy says:

        Heck, it’s not even like the choice is “support my family as an adjunct” or “teach high school.”

        You can always ‘sell out’ and take an unglamorous but good-paying job in the corporate world: corporate trainer, marketing, copy writing, glorified administrative assistant…

        That’s what a lot of the failed academics I know do……

      • “…it’s an ego thing and adjuncts are pretty amazingly stupid.”

        Speak for yourself with that broad paintbrush. You really think I work as an adjunct just so I can walk around with my chest puffed out in pride? That’s pretty sick. I do it because it’s a job that’s available, and it’s something that I am capable of.

        Perhaps Cal thinks that teacher certification is a worthwhile pursuit, but I can’t see the value of taking a bunch of faddish crap ed classes that are meaningless at best and not conducive to actual instruction at worst, and I certainly can’t justify paying for the “privilege.”

        As for finding “a good-paying job in the corporate world” – well, easier said than done. In my state (Illinois), the official unemployment rate is around 10% while the true unemployment rate is at least double that, so it’s not like there’s a whole raft of jobs just sitting out there waiting for me to come along. Whenever these “good-paying corporate jobs” are advertised (on Linked In, for example), there are at least a hundred people or more that apply. Fat chance of getting that “good-paying job.”

        So, even though Cal thinks I’m just in it for the ego stroke, the reality is that with the odds I’ve indicated above, an adjunct job is better than nothing, and means that I actually am able to feed my kids.

  8. My friends that are adjuncts are adjuncts to keep their skills sharp. The high schools here have cancelled their advanced courses – AP Physics, AP Chem, AP Music Theory, etc. and reassigned the teachers to gen ed full inclusion babysitting.
    Friends that no longer teach at the high school have opened their own music studios or tutoring businesses and make far more money, while still having their retirement bennies (nothing to sneeze at in NY State where most will be just under $100K for salary in retirement).
    Other friends are on the mom track and keeping a hand in so they can return to science/engineering in a few years.