The Lonely Life of an Adjunct Professor

The Lonely Life of an Adjunct Professor February 7, 2013

Last semester, I taught a class at a local seminary. The class met on Thursday nights. After the first week of class, I received a one-line email from the dean, asking me how everything was going. And a month after the class, I received another email asking how everything went. Other than that, I didn’t hear from anyone on the faculty. I didn’t meet anyone on the faculty; I wasn’t even greeted by anyone. I did receive emails from the support staff with attendance sheets and asking for grades, but that was it.

Last summer, I sent a query to another seminary for which I’d taught online courses for three years. Would they be needing me this year? Nope. Budgets are tight.

And this semester, I’m teaching at a state university. So far it’s great fun. But last week when I was walking toward the classroom, the professor who teaches in the room before me turned off the lights and locked the door — he had no idea I was there as a professor. A grad student let me in the room so that I could teach.

I’ve chosen the life of the adjunct professor, so I’m not crying in my beer here. I have deliberately avoided the life of a regular faculty member because I hate hate hate the politics of the academy, I hate committee work, and I don’t really want a job with that much commitment required. I’d rather be a freelance theologian, with all of the freedom and pressure that entails.

Nevertheless, I am not unaffected by the loneliness of the adjunct role. I do wish that there was camaraderie with other faculty. My qualifications are just as good as theirs, even if I don’t get health insurance and a parking pass from the institution.

More and more, colleges, universities, and grad schools are using adjunct faculty — they’re doing it to save money. And I think that more and more academics will choose the path I’ve chosen, to be independent from the publish-or-perish environment of institutional life. It’d be great if the schools that use us adjuncts could think seriously about how to weave us into the fabric of their faculty.

Meanwhile, some adjunct professors are telling their students not to call them “Professor” as a protest against their working conditions.

I know that a lot of seminary and college professors and administrators read this blog. What are your thoughts about us adjuncts?

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