Full-Time Adjuncts—The Spinster Aunts of Academe


LanceBy Lance Eaton

The question has all the hallmarks of: “When are you going to settle down and have kids?” It implies that I’m not legitimate, or that my personal goals should be what the person projects for me. The question is this: “When are you going to get a tenure-line position?” Apparently, full-time/part-time adjuncts are the unmarried spinster aunts of Academe—looked upon with a degree of pity and always with the lurking suspicion: “How come she can’t snag a hubby?”

Here’s my truth: I have very little interest in a tenure-line college gig. As I’ve continued to develop my craft, expanded the range of courses taught, and have had a good deal of conversations with colleagues at the five colleges and universities that I teach at, I’ve finally become convinced that I am, indeed, exactly where someone with my ambitions and academic qualifications should be.

A tenure-line job is just not what I want.

The most obvious reason is because tenure-line jobs are becoming increasingly rarer than the philosopher’s stone, and not nearly as coveted. While the country has seen a flood of Ph.D.s over the last 30 years, the actual number of tenure-line positions is shrinking (never mind the effect that the economic crisis has had). Additionally, besides an expensive, lengthy, and often frustrating process of applications, if I do land a job, it may be half-way across the country. So I am left to uproot my life and start anew elsewhere for a job that I’m not even sure I’ll like or just after a few years of settling in, may discharge me anyway.

Then, once you land the job the department politicking begins within your department, across departments and throughout the college/university as you take your place on committiees and try to prove your valor in order to land tenure. 

For me there is a deeper reason. I have an academic background that allows me to fit into several departments, including history, literature, interdisciplinary studies, and psychology. In addition, I love the fact that I get to teach such a diverse range of courses such as World History, American Literature, Comics, and Cultural Diversity. However, if I were to go for a particular tenure-line job, I’d most likely lose this perk. I’d be expected to teach in one department, and most likely be asked to teach upwards of three or more of the same introductory course. Maybe, just maybe I’d get to teach one or two courses that are part of my passion. I’m just not that faithful, academically speaking.

So ask yourself if you really want a tenure-line job. You may find that you don’t. Trust me, it’s not so bad being a spinster aunt when it’s spinsterhood by choice.

About the Freeway Flyer: Lance Eaton has a Master’s Degree in American Studies from the University of Massachusetts in Boston where he focused primarily on Popular Culture and Gender/Sexuality studies. He also has a Master’s in Public Administration from Suffolk University, where his concentration was on nonprofit organizations. He teaches at several schools in the Greater Boston area including Emerson College, University of Massachusetts at Lowell, and North Shore Community College. He’s professionally written and presented on topics such as comics, zombies, audiobooks, and adaptation. He also keeps a running blog with his students at http://hitchhikingadjunct.blogspot.com. When not flying from school-to-school, he also enjoys reading comics, cycling, gardening and cooking.

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  1. Hi Litwit,

    Part of my experience has just been pure luck (right place; right time; when someone to teach a random course is needed); but what got the ball rolling was at the community college I teach at, I actually went through and proposed a course through Interdisciplinary Studies and once that was under the belt (with some support from the department) it opened up a range of other things to teach.

    I’ve also found though that in those comp I * II classes, you have opportunities to shape and do things you really like. I’m teaching a College Writing II next semester on “Research” and I’m using the theme of Fear/Horror; so we’ll be reading 1-2 books (including Frankenstein) and be using “horror/fear” as the center research piece, but then push students to study the topic within their own field of study (i.e. psychology majors research the psychology of fear; history majors study fear in history; business majors study the major fears/pitfalls of the particular business they are interested in, etc)…that way we focus on point but also have some more interesting elements to add to it…

  2. Lovely in theory, but if you can tell me how to get beyond developmental english, and composition I & II classes as an adjunct, I am listening. I got the MA because I love literature, not because I want to teach basic grammar and writing skills.

  3. You make an excellent argument about teaching across disciplines. I also teach a variety of courses and when I finally get a full time gig, I will be sad to say goodbye to that variety. Unfortunately, I need a full time gig as the part time versions don’t come with any job security or benefits and they are much lower in pay. Plus, I spend a portion of my time at conferences and publishing, so jumping all over town to different schools is hard on me.

    I love the perspective, though, and I think it’s great that there is another voice with this perspective out there.

  4. Good post, Lance. I do enjoy the freedoms that being an adjunct allows for. Looking forward to hearing more!

  5. This is quite an intriguing perspective into how a tenure position would affect someone like yourself. I haven’t even thought along these lines, but you’re absolutely right. Very insightful, Lance; thanks for sharing!

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