While reading my friend and colleague’s blog post “Why Buy the Cow? An Open Letter to the Full-Time Faculty of American Colleges and Universities”, I felt compelled to respond. I just don’t know how to respond. This open letter is not really meant for me; I know the adjunct situation. I already understand the borrowed hours, the lack of sleep. This open letter is meant for those who do not know, the full-time faculty member who assumes that we have “a pretty good gig.” If I also worked full-time elsewhere and could assess my students via multiple-choice exams, I suppose I would have a “pretty good gig.” But, like my aforementioned colleague, I teach composition. Assessment happens with essays. A Scan-tron cannot grade those.
I am always working. Last night, while at a hockey game, I was responding to student emails. I logged on to Blackboard to check on my online courses. I cheered when we scored. I chanted, “Ref, you suck!” I looked up an article on Lena Dunham’s Vogue photo-shoot for a future class discussion.
That’s not to say that my full-time faculty counterpart (I’m not sure I like that word) does not do the same thing. I am sure many of them do. It’s part of the job. I get paid $25,000 a year, gross (no benefits, except for optional 401A). My counterpart? Around $60,000 a year, plus benefits. Granted, full-time faculty have many obligations: committee work, scholarly work, and classroom work. Adjuncts technically only have the classroom obligation, but, adjuncts like my aforementioned colleague (let’s call her Emily from now on, as that is her name) and me, voluntarily participate in scholarly endeavors outside of our required classroom work.
Does that make us fools? Or does that make us professors?
I’m beginning to wonder if the concepts aren’t mutually exclusive.
Emily mentioned the dread of the follow-up questions after we are asked, “What do you do?” and we answer, “I’m a college professor.” There are always follow-up questions. “Oh, where?” When I list two colleges and explain that they are both part-time gigs, I can see the disappointment. Their faces say, “Oh, she’s not really a professor.” Sometimes I believe it.
My husband refers to my situation as “shiny jet syndrome.” My husband is a licensed commercial pilot, though he no longer flies professionally. The pilot is also over-worked and under-paid until he is able to move up the ranks (which takes forever). But, saying you’re a pilot and knowing that, one day (AKA, never), you will fly the future-equivalent of the Concorde, has prestige, even though the bank account does not reflect this prestige. I have “shiny jet syndrome”: I say I’m a college professor because I like the sound. I like what that means to others. I don’t like the truth of my situation (over-worked and under-paid), but I also don’t like the fact that I do this willingly. This was not a career I was forced into; I chose it, knowing the full consequences of that decision.
So, if I chose this career, with full knowledge of what it meant, why am I complaining?
I don’t know. I don’t know.