I left my adjunct job of eight
and a half years in May, 2000. It had been over long before that.
When I took the position in the winter of 1992 I was filling
in for an adjunct who had, after seven years, secured herself
a full-time position. I didn't want that. I had a five year old
at home and a burning desire to pursue my acting career. Anyway,
I'd been that route. In the late seventies, a year out of grad
school, I'd gotten a coveted tenure-track position with the University
of Texas at Austin's drama department. My three years there were
an important experience, but as gifted as I was academically,
I wasn't an academic at heart. I turned down another higher ranked
position at VMI, got my Actors' Equity card and packed my bags
for New York. I figured I could always teach again some day.
Montclair State (then College,
now University) was a ten minute walk from home. The job took
two mornings a week and demanded nothing else, no faculty meetings,
no obligations other than teaching two acting classes. As the
chair said apologetically, he couldn't very well ask me to do
more than the minimum, since the salary ($400 a credit hour)
was embarrassingly low. He assured me that the department was
extremely loyal to adjuncts (they were never fired) and pointed
to my predecessor's long, pardon the irony, tenure. I was just
happy to have something respectable to do that fit my son's schedule
and didn't demand too much. I thought I'd be there for two, three
But sometime into my third
year I started to realize that I was working in a dream world.
I had been lulled by the cordial faculty, the simplicity of the
demands, the freedom to juggle other teaching and acting work
and, above all, the respect and admiration of my students. They
didn't care if I was only an adjunct. They called me "Professor"
anyway. With the exception of the students and a couple of professors,
I was invisible. I thought it was my fault. If I could make myself
indispensable maybe I'd even have a shot at a full-time slot.
So I started to become more involved by showing up for those
non-required faculty meetings. I was meet with puzzled "Haven't
I seen you in the hallway? Did the department hire someone new?"
stares. No other adjuncts came to these meetings.
After a couple more years
the department began including me in "special projects"
and planning sessions for the B.A. theater program of which I
represented the entire acting division. They figured if I was
still around they could count on me. I was skilled, professional,
totally reliable and cheap. When the Chairperson of the department
and the head of the BFA acting division asked me to substitute
for her in her Acting IV class I was flattered. I had (and have)
great respect for her and could see that it was mutual. I was
in a rut teaching BA's and non-majors only, so this was a shot
in the arm. After all, wasn't this what I had trained for? Of
course, the job did not come with more pay, just more work, including
longer class hours, an extra load of papers and attendance at
hours of juries. Don't get me wrong-I enjoyed teaching
the class and my new duties. But the college was pulling a fast
one-professorial skills for adjunct salary.
The one time I asked for a
raise, I was politely but firmly turned down. It wasn't the department's
fault; the university was part of the New Jersey State system
and it had no respect for adjuncts. As far as the state was concerned
we were a cheap and easy solution to maintaining fiscal stability.
No raises, no benefits except for a meager pension and no status.
At an introductory departmental meeting (to which I was invited)
with the new President of the University, we took turns introducing
ourselves around the table. As soon as I said I was an adjunct,
she looked right through me. That was par for the course.
In 1996 I decided that I was
stagnating and with three part-time teaching jobs, I was stuck
in a non-career path. I applied everywhere, even schools I couldn't
geographically commit to. The Chair gave me a glowing resume.
In the two years, I spent sending out my credentials I got two
responses and no interviews. I was too old and had been off the
track too long. Adjuncting was not "keeping my hand in";
it was a gigantic detour.
By the time I left, I was
one of three "professors" in the BA division who handled
all BA theater majors and BA juries. I created and taught a special
workshop for junior theater majors. My relationship with the
department was at its peak. I had been there so long that I was
no longer angry. I accepted it for what it was. In exchange for
my patient, mature and professional attitude I got all the trappings
of a career and none of the perks. I was a permanent part-timer,
in residence longer than some full-timers. The one occasion that
I thought of applying for a tenure track position-after the adjunct
union made notification of openings mandatory-I held back. I
knew intuitively and from watching people come and go that MSU
was not inclined to hire adjuncts for full-time positions. If
you were willing to be categorized as non-tenured you were forever
labeled as such.
Ultimately what prompted me
to leave wasn't the money or the lack of status. The adjunct
union had increased my pay by 50% and I was as much a part of
the department as an adjunct could be. The truth was that after
years of dead-end work and no way back into the full-time college
teaching world, I was burnt out. I had outgrown my teaching roots.
In the end I left in the best possible way, not out of hurt or
disappointment but to embrace a new career as the head of a local
non-profit. When I walked into the Chair's office for my terminal
interview he knew before I spoke. "Well, we always knew
this day would come", he said. After a few heartfelt words
about how much I'd be missed, he proceeded to think out loud
about how to cover my fall classes. I was being replaced before
I was out the door. When I came home, my husband said, "So?"
He had expected them to offer me a job! I knew better. Once an
adjunct, always an adjunct. I cried. I missed the people and
had faced the illusion that I was irreplaceable. Since then I
haven't looked back, except to write this article.
I believe that the final question
for universities to address is not "What about the adjuncts?"
but "What about the students?" The repercussions for
them are serious. In an understaffed full-time faculty (MSU had
more adjuncts in the theatre department than full-timers) the
students have fewer people to go to for help and guidance. Though
I made myself available for extra coaching and career-life advice,
I was only on campus two half days a week. This is not an honest
bargain. The university promises full-time supervision and delivers
a patched together network of transient workers whose hearts
may be in the right place, but who are not given the means to
give students what they need-a stable faculty and on-going consistent
support in their chosen fields. My shadow career became their
shadow education. No wonder Internet U. is the wave of the future.