Adjuncting and the stink of femaleness or poverty

A guest post by Elizabeth Picciuto.

This is my third year as an adjunct. From what I hear from hiring committees. I’m pretty sure that means I will have the stink of adjunct “staleness.” Among the zillions of reasons that adjuncting is a rotten state of affairs, allow me to add my own. I adjunct because I have three children, one of whom has severe physical and cognitive disabilities. Accepting a one year VAP means not only uprooting my typical kids. I must find new doctors (orthopedics, gastroenterology, pulmonology etc. etc.) and acquaint them with his complex medical background. I must find local schools that actually fund their special education. I must create a new IEP (that is, a contract with a school system that lays out what his requirements are for an appropriate public education). I must find accessible housing. In short, it’s too large a burden for a 1 year job that pays $55-ish K, (if you’re lucky).

Caregiving, of course, falls disproportionately on women and those from less advantaged backgrounds. And so, the stink of “staleness” may really be the stink of femaleness or poverty.

I’ve heard people say that if people really want to stay in philosophy, they’d make some sacrifices. I feel like I’ve made plenty of sacrifices just to finish my dissertation. I’m happy to move nearly anywhere for a low-paying job as long as it offers job security and health benefits. How much more of a sacrifice am I supposed to make? Honestly, do we really want to excise from the field people who also value their families’ well-beings? Mightn’t they have something philosophically interesting to say?

13 thoughts on “Adjuncting and the stink of femaleness or poverty

  1. I suspect most people who make such remarks about sacrifices is either engaged in wishful thinking or just woefully out of touch with the realities of the academic job market. Anyone working as an adjunct has already made compromises and sacrifices to stay in the profession. But no one is going to reward you for those sacrifices.

  2. So many people I know have this notion that they’re going to enjoy financial success, but when I ask them why they believe this and about their plans to achieve such financial success, they point to their moderate business or track and make some bridge to success within it or beyond it. The plans are often overblown or vague or practically unworkable, but the idea that they will become financially successful continues, though it is clear most are deluding themselves. Couple this with the fact that I sometimes experience friends or family, people whose lives change dramatically, in a short period of time. There is an epiphany in these people who suffer tragedy. It is a recognition that they have believed in something hollow for years. Often these are the same people described above.

    Recently someone I know was confronted with a life threatening illness. The person, one of the most successful (often the most successful) sales agents in his industry, was fired on a technicality. Actually he was fired because his insurance costs to the company’s pool went through the roof. He was stunned. He was offended. He was angry. His epiphany about the predatory nature of American business hit him squarely in the face. I was very upset for him but I was not surprised. Because, if we look closely we can easily see that, as a nation, this is how we treat one another in business. But why? Why do we perpetuate this idea that it’s every woman or man for her/himself?

    I am sorry you are dealing with this. I hope we will become better human beings.

  3. Regarding those having epiphanies: it seems that finally they recognize that there are real flesh and blood people who have been struggling every day, while they were enjoying some fleeting success.

  4. Derek, I don’t want to be rewarded for sacrifices. I am not owed a job in philosophy, and if I don’t get one, I have plans B and C. Here’s what I don’t want: to be judged unfairly and to have my family life held against me. People assume that if you have an adjunct position (as opposed to a VAP) that no one has been willing to hire you. “Someone would have hired her already if she was any good.” At least, that’s what I’m told SCs say. I wanted to point out that that’s an unfair assumption.

  5. Epicciuto, I think I had a different reading of Derek’s comment. I took Derek to be replying to the part of the post which reads, “I’ve heard people say that if people really want to stay in philosophy, they’d make some sacrifices. . . .”, and thus that the idea is not that the author of the post (or people in similar situations) want to be rewarded for sacrifices, but rather that someone who says “If you want to stay in philosophy, you would make some sacrifices” to misunderstand that sacrifices have already been made, and that they are not rewarded (and so, not relevant in the way that such an interlocutor would believe sacrifices to be).

  6. Yes, that makes sense. I apologize for misreading you, Derek, and in retrospective, your meaning was not confused – I was!

  7. Not sure I follow this comments thread. Could others please clarify further (to help me and perhaps others more appropriately understand the comments)? If you reread the complete guest post, in what way is the author “woefully out of touch with the realities of the job market” or “engaged in wishful thinking”? The only kind of wishful thinking I find in the complete guest post is precisely the kind of thinking that is very important and almost always required for social change. (Should people have kept talking about ensuring women or ethnic minorities in the U.S. their right to vote or, God forbid, run for political office as “engaged in wishful thinking”? What is the purpose, other than serving the social function of helping to maintain the status quo, of calling activist and/or hard work toward goals in the face of steep, arguably unjust odds as instances of “wishful thinking”?) And I cannot find any indication that the author of the guest post is woefully out of touch with the realities of the job market. Can you?

  8. David, I read that as well as being directed at the author’s interlocutors who say “If you want to stay in philosophy, you would make some sacrifices,” not at the author.

  9. Philodaria has correctly interpreted my intended meaning, but I see how my original phrasing allowed for a more hostile reading, owing to the ambiguity of “such remarks.”

    I meant to be writing in solidarity with Dr. Picciuto and offering further grounds for dismissing those who would tell her she is supposed to make sacrifices. I am also working as an adjunct, and even without children I also decided that most VAP positions were not financially feasible alternatives, once the costs and stresses of moving were factored in.

    In particular, I intended the charge of wishful thinking to apply to those who are themselves trying to establish an academic career (or grad students who will be doing so soon) who say that you ought to be willing to sacrifice for that career. In saying this, some people are trying to draw a distinction between themselves and those who are stuck in adjunct positions, in effect, “Well, that won’t be my fate, because unlike them I’m willing to sacrifice for my love of philosophy.” They’re the ones who wrongly think their sacrifices will be rewarded.

    I suspect Edward (at 2 and 3) had similar intentions, since he refers to “the same people described above” rather than to the “views expressed above.”

  10. Many sincere thanks to Philodaria and Derek Bowman for their very helpful/patient comments and clarifications. Despite my now corrected misunderstanding from comment #7, I hope my main sentiments expressed there ally (at least a little) in the spirit of the guest post along with Derek B.’s and Philodaria’s excellent comments.

  11. I am now in my fourth year of adjuncting. We had to leave our stable academic jobs (me on non-tenure staff, my wife in tenure stream) because our location did not offer enough (virtually none) special needs support for our younger son, once he moved into grade one. We had negotiated a job share with our University, and it seemed to be working out. We could manage one academic job between us, me handling most of the teaching and my wife running her lab and doing research and some upper year teaching.
    But we had to move to get the therapy and support. So now all we can get is adjunct teaching at much less than half our salary. We have moved to be near my in-laws, so we get family help, as well as much better educational support and access to therapy. We knew we were committing academic professional suicide, but we had to move. We do wish that the adjunct teaching positions had some redeeming features. No permanence, no pension, no health benefits (until last month) and lousy pay. Admittedly we are in Canada, so we have access to basic health care and adjunct positions here are better than in the US, but it’s still no picnic. We would not survive without support from my in-laws.
    The academic world will judge us as failures, but we cannot fit into the rigid demands it puts on us – little choice in job location, almost always spouse or partner has to compromise job/career and long hours at work expected. The job is self selecting workaholic obsessives within narrow academic fields.
    I understand exactly the situation you find yourself in. My opinion is that we are succeeding in a life situation that is not within the experience of most of academia. They are not qualified to judge us.

  12. Andrew, I came across this a lot later than you wrote it. Thank you for writing it. It’s good to know we’re not alone. I’m glad you have support. I do wish that it didn’t seem to come down to the career for which we trained or the care our kids need. Here’s hoping one day it won’t.

Comments are closed.