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That Which We Call an Adjunct…

Re-posted from my blog, Copy & Paste:


Words are my life.

As a writing professor, I recognize perhaps more than most the power of language. I often dwell on my word choices for long enough to make most people crazy, but I do it because I know how powerful words can be. The perfect word can manipulate connotation so much so that it shifts the tone of an entire piece.

This power of language has been bouncing around the contingent labor blogs lately and it’s caught my attention. The basic argument is that we non-tenure track faculty members have historically allowed our names to be chosen for us. We have relinquished our agency and surrendered our power to choose our own name. As a result, we’ve ended up with titles like “adjunct,” “contingent,” “casual,” or one my personal favorites, “precarios.” It doesn’t take a linguist to recognize that all those names are titles of inferiority. By accepting those titles, we are internalizing the oppression and perpetuating the perception that we are, in fact, less important than our full-time colleagues. Therefore, I propose (as others have) that we reappropriate our faculty status by renaming ourselves in a way that distinguishes us from full-time faculty, but yet does not relegate us to some kind of inferior status by connotation.

I have to admit I’m actually a little bit obsessive about selecting names. I think it might come from my five years of experience in retail management during which I was charged with designing marketing and merchandising strategies that perfectly targeted the consumer mind. Beyond that, a chapter of my master’s thesis was devoted to postmodern branding and the role of the “brand” in the construction of the postwar American conscious. Anyway, the point is branding and advertising happen to be personal projects of mine, so naturally I’ve become really interested in the latest wave of discussion that is seeking to “re-brand” the persona of adjunct faculty.

The new name must be one that, first and foremost, lifts the inferior label from the adjunct profession. We are no longer “a thing added to something else as a supplementary rather than an essential part.” We are the majority now and it’s time we have a name that reflects it. So no more precarious job titles. As long as we are referred to in this manner, we will continue to be thought of as such.

Second, I think we do still need a name that distinguishes us from full-time faculty. “Non-tenure track” is too broad and doesn’t really explain the levels inherent even within that classification. The name needs to be entirely different and new, and it needs to be reserved for us alone.

Finally, we need a name that is forward-thinking and suggests the future of our profession. It needs to be a name that sticks and it needs to redefine our role on college campuses. I want it to push administration and others to see us in a new light, one that carries a little more permanence than we currently have.

After much thought, the name I’ve come up with is: Annual Professor.

This title satisfies all three of the requirements I outlined above. It lifts the connotation of inferiority. It distinguishes us from full-time faculty. It carries a degree of permanence adjuncts have never before had. It implies a position that is renewed each year, rather than each semester. Because of this, it puts users of the word in the mindset that this job is much more sustainable and enduring than that of the semesterly adjunct. In fact, I believe it will push administrators towards the idea that adjuncts should be given annual contracts, which would, of course, be a big step in the right direction. Annuals should have contracts that last the entire school year. Makes sense, right?

Some other things I like about this new title are:

  • easy transition from adjunct—both begin with “A” and both have six letters.
  • shortened usage: Annuals
  • highly-tweetable

Like I said, I have given this serious thought—way more than I should have probably. I’m really liking this title, but I want to hear what my colleagues think. What do you say? Has anyone thought about this? Other suggestions? The bottom line is we have got to stop internalizing this aura of inferiority. Changing our name is a good place to start.

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25 thoughts on “That Which We Call an Adjunct…

  1. Isn’t this a bit like re-naming janitors “sanitary technicians” or bell boys “baggage service engineers”?

    I think one could just as well argue that we need a lowly name to reflect our lowly status. We should fight for promotion, not a name that reflects promotion without granting it.

    • Thanks for your comment, but I disagree. We have to change the mentality before we can make any major gains. As long as people think of us as unnecessary extras, we will continue to be treated that way. Beyond that, when we refer to ourselves according to the language of our oppressors, we internalize that oppression. Consider also that this re-naming is just the first step in a long process.

      • What ever the changed name, I know from experience that it has made a HUGE difference for “secretary” to Administrative Assistant.– So, yes a change is necessary

    • I agree with adjunctslave… “Annual Professor” still seems somehow… temporary. And some who are not ranked or do not consider themselves “professors” might have a problem with the last half of that. Excellent prompt to get the dialogue flowing, though, Josh.

      Consider these:

      “Free Agents” or “Free Agent Faculty,” (shortened “agents, or agent faculty, implying that we reserve the right to pick and choose our assignments.)
      “Independent Faculty,” (shortened “Independents” or “INdeps”, implying same.)
      “Collegiate Facilitation Specialists”, or “CFS Faculty”, or just “CFS”.
      “Knowledge Impartation Practitioners” – “KIPs”
      “Exclusive Faculty Professionals” – “EFP’s”…
      …or any derivitave thereof [...not to recede into acronyms here, but the catchier the title, the easier for everyone in higher ed to adapt to.]

      Just a few additional thoughts…

      • Let me rephrase… I don’t AGREE with adjunctslave: I agree with Josh. It’s the title “Annual” that I disagree with, because it still implies temporary-ness. I think the focus should be on the professionalism and qualification, not the hiring status.

      • One thing I want to point out is that we are all professors. Those who do not consider themselves professors are most likely victims of institutional abuse and have accepted the lesser status conferred upon them. If we teach a college class, we deserve the title of professor.
        My usage of Annual Professor is an attempt to compromise. We need to choose a title that we can realistically expect administration to embrace. It doesn’t necessarily have to mean that the prof only teaches for one year–just that the cycle of employment is a year. Contracts might go for 3 or 5 years. Annual is a reference to the employment cycle.
        I do like this idea of the Free Agent. What if we called ourselves Freelance Professors?

        • It depends on the culture. In Europe, someone teaching CC survey classes is not really a “professor”. “Lecturers” can have quite a bit of status (and employment stability). In the U.S. context, it is common usage to call all of us professors and I suppose we can insist on it if we are doing a lot of teaching. One of the schools I teach for does this anyway, considering anyone with a terminal degree with X units of teaching experience a “professor.” I have that label, but that doesn’t put me in the middle class.

          Is someone who moonlights teaching three or six credits per year of intro to business administration or western civ in the evenings at some CC a “professor”? As a formal matter, perhaps, but it strikes me as a bit odd. As a label that reflects their identity and labor, not really.

          Freelance works. I’ve used the term to describe myself. I won’t oppose any of this, I just don’t see this as a particularly important battleground.

  2. We’re all professors — absolutely. (The place I teach insists, in its teaching contracts and faculty profiles, on the title of “Adjunct Instructor.”) I propose the classic “Visiting Professor,” simple expanded in its indefiniteness of origin and duration.

  3. I sign off commuications and comments to students and the College as “Professor”. I have two titles: The College calls me “Adjunct-parttime”, the State of New York calls me “Lecturer – parttime”. Appointments run for a year – generally mine have been from the Fall at semester start to the end of August annually. As a union member (UUP), I’m in the dues checkoff game, and have some union benefits of use to me: life insurance, vision and dental. Some of the other benes are not useful to me. I have gotten raises and additional pay due to training or extra assignments beyond enrollment-based pay over the 10 years + I have been here. But, I am well aware that change is a constant in this industry, and there are absolutely no guarantees. Even a doctorate is not a sure thing for longevity (I don’t have one anyway). I do like Annual Professor (AP), and also Free Agent Facutly (FAF)

  4. I just posted at adj-l exhorting readers to click through to the post on Copy& Paste. Would have mentioned both but had not gotten that far down my inbox. Do you have a preference?

    • Thanks, Vanessa. Not really; I just figured I would add it to this blog, too, considering it has 200 followers. As long as the discussion is happening, I’m happy. :)

      • Makes sense – some find multiple threads confusing, could but goes with the territory and expands discussion, networks. Anyone can follow as many or a few as they choose. Choice and autonomy are good.

        Someone on adj-l came up with, “Teaching Professors, or maybe just Teaching Faculty and leave the part-time and other myths behind.” The designation, “Multi-Institutionalist Survivalist” is a hoot

        • Yeah, I saw that. Teaching Professors was actually one I considered, but I decided against it because it kind of implies that other professors don’t teach. I think it would be a hard sell with our full-time colleagues.

        • “The designation, “Multi-Institutionalist Survivalist” is a hoot”
          Second that motion……good one, if it fits.

  5. I like the idea of naming ourselves.

    However, anything with “professor” is an affectation. By using that title, we conceal the class structure in academe. Better to let them see how the institution actually works and their role in it.

    I’m thinking of the following terms:

    Disposable Faculty
    Single Serving Instructor

    I’m not suggesting this just because I’m cynical. I’m reminded of an (apocryphal) story about a hastily written Roman law requiring slaves to wear distinctive clothing.

    It was drafted to prevent slaves from passing as free people or citizens. However, once a few more sensible Senators read it, they realized that the slaves might recognize their numbers and decide to rebel.

    If the undergraduates, financial lifeblood of our institutions realized that most of their classes were taught by people with less status and permanence than ornamental shrubbery, they might ask questions of the administration that we could never do.

    • Penn Adjunct wrote: “If the undergraduates, financial lifeblood of our institutions realized that most of their classes were taught by people with less status and permanence than ornamental shrubbery, they might ask questions of the administration that we could never do.”

      That is a very important idea. At one of the schools I taught for, we were actually told not to discuss our pay with the students or they wouldn’t respect us. Ha! Maybe we could turn that around and play openly with it:

      “You’re paying $900 for this course? Well, even though I’m the person actually in contact with you teaching the class, I’m only seeing about 12% of that money and no, I’m not a professor, I am a temp with no benefits. You thought you were going to be taught by professors? Think again. And no, I don’t have time to go over that assignment with you a third time. I have to hurry to my real job. Where the rest of the money is? I don’t know. Maybe that new annex in the gymnasium swallowed it up. Maybe the guy who designed that scan-tron you’re going to fill out to rate me at the end of the course has the rest of the money. Maybe someone spent it on those ads that got you to come to this place. Gotta run.”

      That isn’t asking for pity, it is getting the students to realize what they’re actually paying for – something that will appeal to the customer mindset so many of them have these days.

      Chaning our title might work, but I am not sure what the chicken is and what the egg. At one school I teach for, we are throw-aways and called adjuncts. At the other school, pay is rotten, but otherwise we are treated very well. There, we wear the title “professor.” So things do go hand in hand. But I suspect the title reflects that institutional culture and did not cause it.

  6. I’m telling you all–we have to re-brand our image. As long as we are called by a lesser name, we will hold a lesser status. We absolutely have to change the way we are thought of on college campuses, and that begins with a new title. Managing our “brand” is probably the most important thing we can possibly do right now.
    Many of you are missing the point–it’s not that we will just change our names and then say, “Okay, we’ve arrived!” As many of you have pointed out, that would be lying to ourselves. Changing our title is all about shifting our image on campus, rather than claiming any kind of victory.
    We have been going about this the wrong way all along. We are trying to get people to take pity on us because we are exploited. In the business world, this will never ever happen.
    Instead, we need to start asserting ourselves as equals. We need to just take what is ours, rather than hoping someone else will give it to us because they feel sorry for us. We deserve to have a respectable title. Only when we are thought of as equals, will we be treated as such. The disparaging job titles have got to go.

  7. I am afraid that I also must disagree. While a change in name may make us feel better it will also and likewise allow the university or college to appear to have made some positive step when, in fact, it has does nothing but provided window dressing. Adjunct is what it is, or as Gertrude Stein so famously wrote: “A rose is a rose is a rose. ”

    If we have learned nothing else from the history of the labor movement in this country, we have learned that words mattered little and did nothing to change the deplorable working conditions and penurious wages which was the worker’s lot in the early years of this country’s history. It took organization and action and sacrifice.

  8. My official title is Part-Time Lecturer. That describes me very well. I work part-time at the university (full-time elsewhere) and I deliver lectures. I do not attend department meetings and I do not do research. Initially my title was Visiting Lecturer, but after many years, I am no longer just “visiting”. My contract still must be renewed each semester, so technically I am rehired each time.

    I never liked the term “adjunct”. When “adjunct” is used in a sentence, it is often something like, “Oh, you’re only an adjunct”. I find that demeaning. I am simply “part-time” as opposed to “full-time”. At one point I wanted to be officially considered “permanent part-time”, but I have long since given up on that.

  9. Josh, the problem is the shifting in the parlance.

    I am of the ideological school that Western Civilization is a continuum which draws its ideas from the past, and that scholars of the future will draw upon the thought of me and my contemporaries.

    When I did some scholarly research involving Adjunct faculty [] [], I had to do literature searches using not only the word “Adjunct,” but also terms such as “contingent faculty” or “port-time faculty” et cetera. I hear your rationale, but remember that adoption of the term “Annual Professor” will further complicate research by those who will follow us. And what if the person is an Instructor instead of a Professor? All the more complicated.

    Your suggestion smacks of the political correctness factor, analogous to the question of how to refer to those in America whose ancestors originated in Africa. It has, over the years, been appropriate at various times to refer to such individuals as “Negroes,” “Colored,” “Blacks,” “Afro-Americans,” “African-Americans,” “Of Color,” and who knows what else, and it is never clear as to what term to use (though we do know what NOT to call them).

    I’m not saying that the term “Annual Professor” should not be used; only that we should recognize the broader implications.

    And if we do use it, please make sure that both words are capitalized.

    – KHR

  10. What’s wrong with Contract Professor? We tend to work on contract status, and the contract consultant or worker or employee is the one with the job(s) these days. Heck, most people who work for Microsoft are contracted employees, so they are a lot like us. I either work with a contract as an “adjunct” or I don’t have a job at all.

  11. At our CC, we call adjunct faculty “associate faculty” which can be connoted as an equal colleague, or a subordinate, but I personally prefer it to “adjunct” or part-timer. I do disagree with the name change because, as someone suggested, it allows the administration to think they have “elevated” our positions somehow without addressing real issues. Additionally, some part timers want to remain so because they have a “real job” outside of teaching and conduct classes for “fun” or “vacation cash” or various other reasons. I don’t think a name change would be as important to them as a career instructor shlepping from school to school trying to piece together a reasonable load that will cover their bills while praying for a full time appointment. These are two entirely separate situations. If I was just teaching for “fun” you could call me “slime mold” for all I care.

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