Considering Surveys

This week I’d like to touch on a two surveys related to adjuncts (and writing).

The first is a recent survey done by The Chronicle of Higher Education. It’s dated October 18, 2009, and it reviews data gathered from April through July of the same year. Robin Wilson’s article discussing the survey is careful to point out its qualifications and limitations it only focuses on adjuncts in the Chicago area, it makes no claims about those who didn’t reply, and so on.

I have to say, I was surprised by a number of the results. Given the number of schools in Chicago and adjunct working conditions/the cost of living there, I was surprised to see that two thirds of those surveyed taught for just one school. I figured that more would be scrambling from school to school. I was also surprised by the low percentage (30 percent) who report they are adjuncts because they can’t find full-time positions. Here too I thought the number would be higher. But more central to our purposes are these numbers: 34 percent report that they “almost always” pursue their own research and writing, while 38 percent report that they “sometimes” do. That’s 72 percent overall, which is markedly higher than I expected.

This is even more striking when combined with the fact that 66 percent report their academic employers never help pay for them to attend conferences. The most amusing figure here is that 16 percent, or 1 in 6, don’t know if their employers provide funds for travel to conferences. Taken together, those numbers speak to a well-defined mindset among adjuncts: these are people who will teach regardless of compensation, write and research independently, and expect so little from their schools that they don’t even know if there is help available. In a very real sense, these faculty blend a calling with a freelance mentality: love meets the market.

The second is an older and more ambitious survey. Funded by CCCC back in 2004/5 and organized by Gloria McMillan, the National Adjunct Writing Faculty Survey Project set out to document precisely how the working conditions of adjunct writing faculty shaped their teaching. It aimed to collect at least 1000 anonymous responses.

And I have no clue what the results are. Consider this an update on an inquiry in progress, but the link to take the survey ( ) is dead. When I search in Google, I see the call for participants several places, but no results. When I search academic databases, I get only one result, for the initial announcement of the survey.

To date I’ve had no responses from Gloria McMillan or others I’ve tried to contact on this (nor any error messages on my emails to them). I suspect this is because they’re adjuncts—I’m trying another email for Ms. McMillan. I hope to have more to report in the long term, but for now, my temptation is to draw conclusions from these non-responses. I hope to be proven wrong, but my temptation is to conclude that the survey hasn’t reached its goals, or that it has, but was never synthesized into conclusions. I’m also tempted to conclude that this is more indicative of the real conditions of adjunct faculty in regards to writing—that their conditions shape and even trump their research—but we’ll hope I’m wrong on that one.

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