Adjunct vs. Adjunct

Did anyone else waste their youth? I mean, does anyone else remember Mad Magazine’Spy vs. Spy cartoons? Created by Antonio Prohias, these cartoons starred two sharp featured caricatures of spies, the black spy and the white spy. They were continually plotting against one another, trying to thwart ambitions, disrupt plans, and, in touch closer to clichés about anarchism than spies, blow each other up with lit bombs held behind their backs.


Spy vs. Spy was a lot more fun than Adjunct vs. Adjunct, which is a game I’ve recently found myself playing. You see, one of the schools I adjunct for has a graduate program. I shifted to teaching in it rather than teaching undergraduate classes in an attempt to escape the waste that accompanies education (excuses, plagiarism, etc.). Talk about naïve…but that’s another story.


What that means is, I sometimes find myself teaching a course in which one or more of the students is an adjunct faculty member. Sometimes they are adjuncts elsewhere, and have the explicitly stated desire of being a tenured faculty member somewhere. Sometimes they are adjuncts at the same school I teach on the graduate level for.


In both cases, I find myself straining to not, well, attack them. Fortunately, the desire is overt enough to be easy to detect and block, but it is alarming. This desire has two primary forms.


First, I find myself wanting to help (or make that “help”) the students in question by deflating their dreams. I want to explain how unlikely it is that they land such a position.

Second, I find myself particularly hard on their writing—and God save them if they teach English /composition. I find myself pouncing on every grammar error and every clumsy phrasing. There’s a kind of “How dare you aspire to a tenured position when you can only write like this” subtext to my parenthetical comments. Fortunately, I type these comments, rather than scribbling on actual paper, and that means most of them can be deleted, so that they only stain my soul, not theirs.


Because barely submerged under the desire to help is a particularly gnawing form of self-doubt. I didn’t get a tenure track position, and while I know the statistics I want to show on their heads about how the academic labor market is changing, part of it wonders if it is me.


Likewise, when I’m wondering if this adjunct’s writing is good enough, I’m actually critiquing my own.

Adjunct vs. Adjunct? Both sides are me.


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  1. Whoa! Your reflections are particularly relevant to me (even though my comment is not particularly timely) as I too have taught faculty in my writing classes. Our situations were vastly different than yours–I’m an adjunct and he was the director of one of the non-general education programs–but the self-doubt and the “stain [on] my soul” are the same.

    It was a hybrid course so we met in the “on-ground” classroom during alternate weeks. He claimed to “want to improve [his] writing” but the first few weeks it appeared more likely that he simply wanted to affirm his authority over me. The major assignment in this course was a researched memo due Week 5 and then again, in a revised form, in their e-portfolio Week 10. This faculty/student not only submitted a researched memo that didn’t appropriately address the assignment, it contained evidence of plagiarism. The zero recorded in the grades and my rather guarded comments had the effect of subduing him. From that point on I was able to teach without facing his subversive attitude.

    I don’t believe he intentionally created a challenge to me because I am an adjunct and he is a full-time instructor and program director. I face similar challenges from any student who arrives in my classroom with the defensive attitude of “I’m a good writer and don’t need your instruction only the credit for this class.” I’ve learned that I cannot allow such challenges to diminish my teaching, authority, or style. But I also learned to be very wary of any faculty member in my class roster. It is an unfortunate, anti-collaborative stance that is antithetical to my nature but necessary for my survival as an adjunct.

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