Here’s a contribution to the adjunct debate from the Chronicle of Higher Education by an adjunct who has more or less been forced out of the field for financial and logistical reasons. Read it if you feel so inclined, but there’s a quiz afterwards.
And here’s your quiz–multiple choice, with the option of a short answer in the combox. Which of the following is, morally speaking, the fitting and appropriate response to this essay?
(A) Gratification that one more deluded, incompetent, and unqualified adjunct is leaving the field. (Jason Brennan: “This person took my advice. She got another job that pays better, rather than trying to pursue a job for which she lacks the minimal qualifications. Good for her.”)
(B) Mortification at how badly adjuncts are treated by the field, and head-shaking regret at how bad things are out there for deserving people.
The case for (A) focuses on in the fact that the author holds an M.Ed degree (rather than an MA or a PhD), wants to teach at the college level, but can’t find a full-time job. The argument suggests that all college-level teaching requires that the would-be instructor possess a terminal degree, presumably a Ph.D. or at least an Ed.D. Since the author lacks both, her complaints should summarily be dismissed as whining. She should be happy to have left the field, and we should be glad that she’s gone.
The case for (B) presupposes that the article accurately recounts the author’s experiences as an adjunct, and assumes ex hypothesi that she is a good teacher. The presumption is justified by the fact that people in the author’s predicament do exist; even if the author herself turns out to be misrepresenting her experiences, what she says can stand in for those whose experiences are correctly described by her essay.
Assuming all that, the case for (B) focuses on the fact that she’s ill-paid and ill-treated. It’s not clear that anyone in particular is to blame for her being ill-paid, but it’s lamentable that she is, and (B) laments that. It is clear that particular individuals are to blame for her being ill-treated, which is what motivates the “mortification” to which (B) alludes.
As you’ve probably guessed, I regard (B) as the correct answer. Like this author, I’ve taught at community colleges (Mercer, Middlesex, and Western Monmouth Community Colleges, all in central Jersey). I’ve also worked closely, for more than a decade, with writing instructors who have credentials comparable to hers. I don’t see any legitimate pedagogical or academic reasons against hiring an exceptional (or just plain motivated and competent) person with an M.Ed on a full-time basis to teach intro-level literature courses, or to teach English composition on a full-time basis (if that’s done within the English Department). Granted, the author says she doesn’t like teaching English composition, but I’m a full-timer and there are classes in our curriculum that I don’t like teaching, either (Intro Philosophy, Philosophy of Education). You can’t always get the schedule you want. If English composition is all there was, English composition would have to do.
Faculty positions aside, I also don’t see any good reason against hiring an M.Ed to teach on a full-time basis as a tutor (or some equivalent) in a college or university Writing Center. Once hired, of course, I assume she’d get a full-time salary and benefits package. People tend to forget what a thankless job it is to teach writing at that level–and how crucially necessary. Thankless: It’s like teaching ESL, but to native English speakers. Necessary: it’s like teaching ESL, but to native English speakers. It’s also a job that most faculty regard as beneath them, even as they freak out about their students’ illiteracy and wonder why the idiots can’t write. “Go to the Writing Center!” mutters the harried Associate Professor at the hapless illiterate in his office, longing to get back to that paper he’s writing for Phil Review. Yeah, I get it, superstar. Just pray that someone is there. And while you’re at it, pray that someone put a line in the budget to pay whoever’s there.
The truth is, the average faculty member neither knows where the Writing Center is, nor knows who staffs it–nor cares. The Writing Center is, to paraphrase Mike Rowe, a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it. Somehow it seems to come as a surprise to the “real faculty” that those someones ought also to get paid. Granted, maybe the money isn’t there to hire such people where the author lives or has sought work. In that case, our author is back at square 1: she’s got to find other employment. Option (B) acknowledges that possibility–without treating it as something to celebrate.
If you think the right answer is (A), I’d love to hear why. But if your academic career consists of going from one R1 school to another, and you’ve never taught at a community college, and you’ve never taught students at a lower-tier institution, and you’ve never done sustained work with M.Ed’s in a Writing Center, then I’m not sure why anyone who’s spent the last decade doing that (as I have) should take your advice at face value. But I’m always open to persuasion.
Are ya happy? Are ya satisfied? How long can ya stand the heat?