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Southern Fried Adjunct



by Malachius Malachi (Texas)

I graduated with a Master of Fine Arts, which is the terminal degree in my field in 2007 and I have been an adjunct at two Houston, Texas community colleges for almost five years. I learned in grad school, as a TA, that I really loved teaching, and I was told as an undergrad that it was the only way to make a living that would allow me to make art as well; in fact it would require me to make art.

I have applied for 27 jobs in the last six weeks.

In grad school they told us we would have to adjunct in order to get experience in our field so that we could get hired full time, and pay our dues. In fact, there is a great list of achievements that should be met in order to get a full time position in art: make art, make great art, be an regional artist, be a national artist, be an international artist, get a residency, or six or twenty, apply to shows, never mind that the fees to get into these juried exhibitions are $25, $35, $50, simply to be considered, then the venue wants a commission on any sales of your work from the show, get into a famous art magazine, go door to door with said artwork in order to get a gallery to represent you, sell, sell, sell your art work.

I have applied for 27 jobs in the last six weeks.

I am only teaching three classes this semester, so after taxes and retirement (one of my colleges actually contributes to my retirement fund!) I am bringing home about $900.00 every two weeks, I drive 50 miles a day to go to work and back again, I have no insurance, and I am a single parental unit. I have (1) teenage offspring who constantly wants to eat, stay warm or cool and have fun with friends and purchase school supplies, household necessities, like styling gel and new shoes, jeans, hoodies, gauges, drivers ed, video games, music, ad infinitum. I have 200+ hours of college education, three diplomas to hang on my wall, and I barely scrape by. Every one of my relatives thinks I am crazy; many are teachers too, in the public school system and they don’t understand why I don’t simply get a teaching certificate and get a job, as one ‘friend’ put it; carefully editing out of their memories all of the layoffs, here in Texas, of public school teachers, and the fact that I already owe the equivalent of a house (the one I used to dream of owning when I got that ‘great’ full time job) in student loans, that I can’t afford to repay, and would only have to borrow more to go back to school again.

I have applied for 27 jobs in the last six weeks.

When I appealed my unemployment decision for the second time, only in Texas do you have to appeal again even though you won the first time (new rules I was told), I was reamed out by a little officious man over the phone for only applying for positions in higher education. I asked him to tell me what else I was qualified for? He was shocked that I was qualified to teach at the college level but not in the public school system, again conveniently forgetting all those layoffs perpetrated by his employer, the state of Texas, and woefully ignorant of the quandary of adjuncts, as so many are. I have many times applied for jobs outside of academia; however I don’t get interviews for those jobs.

I have applied for 27 jobs in the last six weeks.

I am hard pressed to tell you which institution I prefer to work for, though I have applied for full time positions at both of them, I was not asked to interview. One of them has great departmental staff, the full time faculty are wonderful, but the school treats us like shit. The other has so so faculty, some are great others are very quick to make sure we know our place, however the worst part is the secretarial staff treating us like dirt, one sanctimonious woman told me to just be grateful I had a job. I have even been told to my face that the department could not invest that sort of support in an adjunct. Why? I do the same work as a full time faculty member when it comes to students, in fact I do twice the work as I have two jobs, yet I get paid less than half of a full-timers salary. I don’t sit on committees or participate in governance simply because I am not allowed to. Hurt me, give me a full time job with a decent salary and make me do all the work, only it will be less, because I will get paid for EVERYTHING I do instead of only my face time with students. Where is my pay for grading, for lecture preparation, for creating tests, for corresponding with students outside of face time, where is my pay for coming in early just so I can freaking park without having to walk for twenty minutes to get to classes. I have been asked by both institutions about my artistic practices, why, when they cannot invest in my professional development, but can require it for continued employment.

I have applied for 27 jobs in the last six weeks.

In a reply to someone else’s post a few weeks ago I said that institutions who hire adjuncts should be required to fill open positions from their ranks, which would be simple justice, if we are good enough to employ and teach we are good enough to hire full time. $6500 per class is reasonable, that would go a long way towards making what I do sustainable, and that would shut me up. Until then, I will not stop talking about the injustice that adjuncts face.

I have applied for 27 jobs in the last six weeks.


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19 thoughts on “Southern Fried Adjunct

  1. Although I am sad to read your story, it sounds like so many of our stories… But, one wonderful thing I did notice is that you are from Texas. In Houston, but at least in the same state! I have been scouring Josh’s site to see my fellow Texans, and I have been looking at the folk who sign my petition, and rarely do I see Texas. And why, I ask? I don’t know many adjuncts in my own school; I think they do that purposely. They do give us an office for I don’t know how many, but again, they keep shifting it, and they make it so uncomfortable that we do not use it. (I see my students in my classroom, or we email back and forth…) And so I do not know too many of my peers. But the few I know, I have tried to broach the subject, I have asked them to sign the petition, I have told them about Josh’s adjunct project. And one adjunct actually told me she would rather not. She did not want to make any waves. In the meantime, she’s hustling between two schools, scraping by (our school is one of the lowest paying ones I see), and yet she won’t sign. And so I wonder: why?

    When I told my school I had too many students in class (writing composition), instead of breaking the class and making another one, or distributing students across classes, they just took two of my classes away. So why did she say she would rather not sign? Why does she not want to make any waves? Fear.

    We are so afraid of losing what little we do have that we do not speak out. And since they know that, we presently have over 70% of professors in higher education on adjunct pay. Some institutions try to do right by us. Most don’t. AND none give us equity.

    So I am with you. I started my petition. I bug everyone and all on Facebook, on my email, everywhere I can until they are sick of me. I don’t care. I was passed over completely for a full time job at my institution the following semester (this one!) because of the questions I raised: I guess I am considered a trouble maker. But someone has to make a stand. We need to stop being afraid. We need to face our fears. We need to say this is enough! The semester before I had also applied for a full time position (since community college attendance is on the rise, they have had to hire more profs). They made me believe that I had a real shot at the position. They kept me coming back, interviewing me several times by large committees (you know what these interviews are like!). In the end, they hired someone outside the school, not an adjunct who had been with them for years.

    You are absolutely right. There is no justice. And we need to fight, to claim our right.

    • Alas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and NM to the west are even thinner on the ground than Texas. It’s the fear and waiting for more numbers before speaking. Hearing from you, Ana, made me so happy (and yes I RT your petition link and so have others… time for a post about small steps because everybody can do something. I remember adjuncts and staff too at UNM Valencia seeking me out when/ where no one could see them talking to me to tell me how much they admired my courage for speaking out.

  2. Not just the post but also a colleague who might be interested in collaboration. I’m into coordinating / cross linking / networking all this as much as we can, not just the stories but also when areas (interest, discipline, geography, etc) connect.

  3. I am the “Debra” both Vanessa and Josh have
    referenced in the comments above. I would love to talk with you about art as adjunct activism, and about my documentary, ‘Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed. In America.
    We have begun forming national networks,
    my own and that of The New Faculty Majority,
    Josh Boldt’s project to gather adjunct working conditions and salary details across the country. Raising awareness, and preferably, raising a little hell while we’re at it, is imperative
    to reclaiming our profession and a sustainable, respectable work life. Please get in touch with me! Junctrebellion@gmail.com

  4. I cried when I read your post. 4 schools ,60 miles a day, 6 classes, 2/3 pay ,no benefits ,no permanency. Same shit different state

  5. I am so glad that you all have responded to my post! Thanks so much, we are all in the same boat, and we need to speak up for ourselves, and each other, especially those people who are so afraid that they cannot even sign a petition, even one that allows us to remain anonymous.

    I really needed to post my story, it was cathartic, while I have sort of made peace with my situation, writing this post dredged up a lot of ugly feelings again.

    Jane, in the spring of last year I worked on four different campuses teaching six classes, I know exactly what you feel. Ironically right now with only three I wish I had six, even though I was exhausted all the time and constantly playing catch up, I knew we could eat and put money in savings.

    Debra, I will be sending you an email shortly.

  6. I applied for 64 jobs last summer. I am a single mother and am doing my doctoral research on single mother students. I drive 100 miles each way to one of my adjunct jobs twice a week. I applied for 64 jobs last summer. One of the employers that I applied to, and interviewed with, told me that I was too “academic” for work outside of a university.

    Apparently having college teaching on your resume makes people’s testicles shrivel up into their body cavities (excuse the vivid imagery) and they can’t imagine that you are also able to answer phones and send faxes.

    I applied for 64 jobs last summer. I got 2 interviews.

    • I never include my part-time teaching experience on my resume when I apply for a full-time non-academic job. I never even discuss the subject that I teach when I am outside of the university. I lead a compartmentalized life.

  7. I “love” teaching and I have been a part-time lecturer since 1984.

    In order to continue to do this and to not be dependent on my part-time teaching job, I have always concurrently worked full-time at various non-academic positions. I have “loved” these jobs as well.

    For me, everything has turned out just fine. In addition, my students gain from my non-academic experience.

  8. Eliot,

    Here’s the rub. What do I put on my resume when I’ve only been teaching part-time / piece mealing to “full time” since I graduated in 1997, with the exception of a sales position at a local boutique for a few years? I shouldn’t mention my teaching? I shouldn’t mention my degrees? Then what have I been doing all these years?

    Prior to my nearly two decades in academia, I was in the nonacademic workforce (retail management, hotel motel, entertainment) but those jobs were held years ago and all of the businesses are closed now, ironically. So I put on my resume, “in another life, eons ago, I held such and such position making a joke of a wage and decided to go to college because I believed that an education would change my life?” But since I’ve earned my degrees, I’ve done nothing?

    Now I have too much education. Now employers cannot or will not translate all of the skills it takes to create a course, manage and assess a group of diverse individuals while remaining as professional as possible in an oppressive work environment.

    Please do not interpret my response to you as an attack. Yet, it seems to me that you are not considering the truth behind so many of our stories and are only using your own experience as a reference point. Your perspective reminds me of a retiree in our department who is now in the adjunct pool who tells me there is nothing wrong with the way adjuncts are treated. In her eyes, all is well. She retires with benefits and then is placed at the top of the adjunct pool because of her “senority,” even though administration insists we are “unranked” semester to semester new employees. Life is good for every retiree in our department who joins the pool. They still have the key to the clubhouse.

    I can’t compartmentalize my life. Teaching has been my life.

    • Have you considered applying for a job in a public school? Several of the part-timers that I know have well-paying jobs as high school teachers and they also teach part-time at the university in the evening and over the summer.

      Resumes need not have dates, e.g., five years experience instead of 01/1990 – 01/1995. Nothing need be disclosed on a resume which does not pertain to the job that one is applying for. Have you consulted a professional resume writer?

  9. Firstly, I do not want to teach high school. And in the state of Texas, I would have to go back to school to be certified to teach. My Masters degree in English (with an emphasis in Rhetoric and Composition) allows me to teach up to sophomore literature at a college level.

    I wish I had a dollar for everytime a well meaning person made this suggestion to me; I might be able to fill my car up with gas a few times.

    I have a feeling I can write my own resume. If not, then maybe my degrees should be rescinded. The point is I want to continue teaching composition at a college level. It is where I belong. It is why I am fighting for better treatment.

    Thanks for your response.

    • The other point many of us may be forgetting, at least here in Texas, is that they not only require a high school teaching certificate (which I have, btw, but it doesn’t do much good!), but that high school teachers are being laid off because of budget cuts, and so there is not much hiring going on. In the meantime, stadiums get built, sports programs expand, but academics and the arts lose out… Truthseeker speaks the truth!

    • Hi Truthseeker,

      I get that all the time too–why don’t you just teach high school? This is what I want to tell people: Well, first of all if I’d wanted to teach high school I would have gotten a degree in secondary education and taught high school. Secondly, I am a single mom and have two little kids, I can’t afford to go back to school yet again (did grad school while my first was a baby). Who is going to pay the bills while I’m in school? Thirdly, I don’t want to teach high school, I like teaching college. Fourthly, don’t you know public schools have been laying people off in droves? Sigh. It’s exhausting.

      It’s so nice to hear that other people can relate to what I am going through. I taught at 4 different schools, put a whopping 24000 miles on my car and taught a total of 21 classes (only one of which was online) last year just so that I could make enough money to support myself and my two kids. I made a decent amount, but not enough to put any in savings. And I have no medical insurance. my kids are on Medicaid. When I get sick, which is often due to all the stress, I just suffer through it and pray nothing more serious comes along that would require medical treatment.

      I too have applied for all sorts of jobs and I never get interviews for anything but adjunct positions–well okay, I have had 2 phone interviews in three years of applying for jobs outside academia. I have only had 1 interview for a full-time teaching position and didn’t get it, supposedly due to budget cuts. So why do I keep doing this? Because it’s the only thing I can get. And, I do enjoy teaching. But most days I feel so discouraged and hopeless, like I will be doing this until the die I day, because I will never be able to afford to retire.

      Thanks for sharing your story, it made me feel less alone in the world. Oh, btw I’m in Texas too. Which part of Texas are you in?

  10. Zblue,

    I’m in South Texas waiting for the wildflowers to bloom.
    You are not alone. I am a single mother and have been doing this adjunct thing for the past 6 years at our local community college. I spent 6 as a “visiting instructor” at our local university prior to that, moonlighed at another degree completion program every spring semester, was in charge of Arts and Humanities tutors for another 6 years. Wow—666 scary–ok fresh out of grad school I did two years at the college I now serve, so I have come full circle, and I’ve changed the math.

    The stress of being an advocate is taking its toll on me. I have swallowed my fear and have been raising hell (oops, demon reference again: blame too many episodes of Ghost Adventures, my guilty pleasure) in a very diplomatic way here where the blue heron fly, but Hades envies the summers —ok enough bad, bad girl.

    Some activity and conversations are happening. Some kickback and cattiness too.
    This site and all the stories and voices strengthen me daily. I remember we are not alone. But I am ready for action and change.
    Be well; stay strong!

    p.s. My son and I are uninsured as well. But Uncle Sam gave me a nice earned income credit check this year as I swept down to povery level again after holding a term contract for two years at this college. 42,000.00 to 15,000.00 because of “budget cuts.”

    • I think the crux of this is the lack of health insurance. Eliot, are you one of the lucky ones with health benefits acquired through marriage or retirement from a union negotiated job?

      The fact of the matter is that the ONLY growing segment of our economy right now is higher education. Just look on any college campus around the country and see if you can avoid a construction site. Look at the growing tides of students attending colleges and the rising tuition rates. Look at the number of people flooding into the higher education “business” with publishing, web apps, and software. It’s incredible. There is enough data out there and my audience is informed enough that I don’t have to recount any of it, but it’s safe to assume that we all understand the economics of what is happening.

      And yet, even though we were the smart ones who actually forecasted a likely need for college instruction and jumped through the hoops to be trained to fill the needed jobs, there is a culture of corporatization that permeates even the most “sacred” of our institutions: the university. It’s downright scary.

      I also take issue, Eliot, with your perhaps well meaning “it has worked for me.” I’m guessing that you are not a teacher of the sciences, because those of us who have spent the past decades conducting and teaching critical thinking may be of the belief that anecdotal evidence rarely makes for good overarching understanding. And while all of the posters here are contributing personal stories, we do this with the understanding that we are not alone and our experiences only add to the larger body of data that grows each day.

      I’m a sociologist and when I show students the data that reveals that Black women with bachelors degrees earn about the same as White men with high school diplomas, I inevitably get the “what about Oprah?” comments. This always allows me to take a moment to explain outliers. It seems we have found one in you. Rock on!

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