On The End of My Adjunct Teaching Career

Over the last eleven years, from January 2003 until December 2013, I taught 22 consecutive semesters and two summer sessions of philosophy classes. I have taught an estimated 2,500 university students over the course of 93.5 classes at 7 universities (Fordham University, William Paterson University, St. John’s University, Fairfield University, Hofstra University, Hunter College City University of New York, City College City University of New York), spread across 9 campuses, 4 bodies of land, and 3 states. I have taught Introduction to Ethics, Moral Philosophy, Contemporary Issues in Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, Ancient Philosophy, Ancient and Medieval Philosophy, Modern Philosophy to the Present, Business Ethics, Philosophy of Human Nature, and Introduction to Philosophy. In one semester I taught 9 sections of philosophy at 5 universities (spread across three states) to set a personal record.

I have had semesters where I have woken at 4:30am to commute from my Manhattan apartment to Connecticut, only to commute four hours at midday to either Long Island or New Jersey for an evening class, and not arrive home until as late as 11:30pm. I have worked 6 day weeks. And in the spring of 2013, ran a 7 day a week schedule after I added to my 8 university classes 4 self-run online, interactive classes held through video conferencing. I have done all of this teaching while either researching and writing a doctoral dissertation and/or churning out thousands of philosophical words a month on this blog. For all these efforts, I have been paid between merely $2,500-$4,200 per section of Philosophy, with no health insurance or retirement benefits or any other such alternate forms of compensation (while each class I taught generated $35,000-$105,000 in revenue to the universities).

And I’m done now. I’m moving on to the next phase of my life. This past semester was my last one teaching at a brick and mortar university as an adjunct professor.

Although since I was seventeen years old, my sole career objective had always been to be a professor at a university and though I have truly cherished the incredible opportunity to be one for every one of the last eleven years, I am remarkably, almost eerily (and maybe deludedly), at peace about leaving adjunct teaching. I have taught so many hours on end and worked with a deeply fulfilling career’s worth of bright university students that I feel satisfied that I have truly lived out the dream and have no anxieties that I have missed out on anything great that is involved in being a college professor.

And, since at least the spring of 2009, after the collapse of the economy ruined the philosophical job market, I have known that it all could be over any semester and have been resolved to appreciate each semester like it very well might be my last. And in the last two years, I had started practicing in my mind a new phrase I would say to people some day, “I used to teach college.” I even started fantasizing about being someone else. Someone who did something besides what I have always done. Someone who no longer had an unbroken string of semesters in school stretching all the way back to kindergarten. Someone whose job involved different expectations and responsibilities, and developed new skills or found whole new outlets for realizing and growing in my already honed abilities.

And in the last year, I have also enjoyed the rush of becoming an entrepreneur and seeing what it was like to start my own business when I took on students outside the university system. I liked taking more control of my own fate. I am incredibly proud to have had so many intelligent people pay to study with me out of their belief in what I had to offer and with no compulsion or institutional rewards for doing so. I was bowled over and grateful in just my first year to have so many people who based on my writing were willing to come learn with me for its own sake. I couldn’t believe that in just the first year they could become a significant portion of my income. And I passionately wanted to do this full time now.

Throughout my postdoctorate years I have taken the professionally imprudent route of writing primarily for the public instead of for academic philosophy presses. It made sense to take the next step in exploring the possibilities for doing philosophy beyond the academy walls and make a full time business out of engaging with people who just wanted to learn philosophy or apply it to their lives from the comfort of their homes and away from the institutionalization of the university.

And another component of my peace with this transition was my increasing passion for philosophical counseling. In 2012 I was certified by the American Philosophical Practitioners Association to be a philosophical counselor and my growing experience with the clients and with writing philosophical advice columns has made me extremely excited about the prospect of focusing time and energies into making it a significant part of how I make my income also. I simply love helping people work rationally through their struggles in life.

And the final factor that put me most at ease with the prospect of leaving the university classroom was the epiphany, reflecting on the deeply gratifying, growing success of Camels With Hammers the last four years, that I didn’t need to be a university professor in order to be a philosopher. Not only could I still be a philosophical teacher and a philosophical counselor online thanks to the audience my blogging garnered me, but even if those careers wind up not panning out, I can always write philosophy. And, thanks to the internet and the liberties afforded by being a blogger in full editorial control of my content and presentation, I can write about what I am really passionate about and connect with audiences that can do something meaningful with it. And leaving the grueling commuting and grading demands of my adjunct teaching jobs frees me up to do personal research and start growing as a scholar again, to start writing books, journal articles, and freelance articles, and to develop a podcast.

While the cachet of the title of “professor” would be nice, I can be a philosopher without it. I have my academic training, my hard earned credentials, and a blog that, on its own merits, has earned a respectable sized and growing audience situated within a movement that gives my work a context and a motivation. The platforms and privileges that universities provide are special and humbling, but I regularly reach more people with a single blog post than I did in my thousands of hours in classrooms. My plan is that my online classes can keep the deeply personal and irreplaceable power of face to face, interactive, dialectical teaching a part of my life for many years to come. But even if that can’t happen, I know I can always teach through writing.

I am not leaving adjunct teaching because I didn’t love the work. I was always grateful for it and felt privileged to have one of the greatest possible jobs a human being can be allotted. The chairpeople I worked for directly were always lovely and supportive. I will fondly remember Kathleen Wallace, Eric Steinhart, John Davenport, Paul Gaffney, Ray Grontkowski, Joseph Koterski, Bill Jaworski, Dennis Keegan, Steve Bayne, Laura Keating, Ira Singer, Pete Mandik, Barbara Andrew, and Lou Marinoff. That is a whole lot of very supportive department chairs to have been lucky enough to work for. And I am very grateful for all the efforts and understanding of the secretaries who have bailed me out of countless paperwork jams over the years and run off so many tests for me when I was frazzled and juggling multiple universities at the same time. I have so much appreciation for what Margaret Donovan, Charlene Wallace, Joanne Herlihy, Kathy Brown, Michele Stetz, Suzie Appenzeller, Candy Sturm, Maria Terzulli, and Bertha Zeigler-Pickens do. I would be an anxious wreck if I had their jobs.

I don’t regret the path I have chosen. I don’t think I have wasted the last 11 years of my life; not even the last three and a half after I received my PhD, spent doing adjunct teaching and spinning my wheels professionally and working long hours for insulting pay and no job security or health insurance. I also realize that by continuing to allow universities to take advantage of my labor at a discounted rate, I was helping to perpetuate a pernicious system that was harming my peers and me.

But, contrary to what I read people say about adjuncts, I was not suffering from a sunk cost fallacy. I was not oblivious. I was not deluded. I was doing meaningful work that had intrinsic value and intrinsic rewards. What I had the opportunity to do day in and day out in those classrooms was extraordinarily special. Day and night my job was to help cultivate, sharpen, and train people’s minds and characters so that they could be more educated, autonomous, well-rounded, critical, ethical, compassionate, and philosophically capable thinkers. That was worth it for its own sake. That was something that I thrived through doing. And it was work that connected me to hundreds and hundreds of inspiring young people who treated me with the utmost respect and thought their hardest with me. I have loved them and been loved by them so much I can hardly stand it.

Those are, as far as I am concerned, regardless of whatever comes next for me, years spectacularly well spent, which will have a legacy for decades to come even though I will be scarcely aware of almost all of it.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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