New Adjunct – Roman Gladiator?


millerBy Melissa Miller, Ed.D., M.Ed.

If Rome wasn’t built in a day, how long does it take to “build” a New Adjunct? How long am I considered a novice? I’ve heard professors compared to many things (some of which I won’t repeat amongst this polite company), but I recently made the unlikely connection that, at times, I feel like a Roman Gladiator.

What led me to make this seemingly random leap? Oddly enough, I was reading the new book by Nicole LaPorte about the history of Dreamworks, the film production company (“The Men Who Would Be King”). One chapter takes the reader behind the scenes of filming the movie, Gladiator. One thing led to another (as my mind often does) and I found myself making a connection between the gladiator and, specifically, teaching my current courses. Upon further research (, the parallels became (laughingly) more apparant:

Gladiators had a contract called an auctoramentum. This specified how often they were to perform, what their fighting style would be, and their potential earnings. Adjuncts can relate to contract negotiations, although perhaps next time I should include a clause about my fighting style?

Potential gladiators (novicius) swore an oath agreeing to “submit to beating, burning, and death by sword if they did not perform as required.” Sound familiar?

Just kidding.

Gladiators often had tattoos, which served as identifying marks on their bodies. I can think of many such tell-tale signs of a New Adjunct: the crazed, caffeine-induced all-nighter look I thought I’d left in college; the repeated wardrobe because I don’t recall which outfit I wore to which class (sometimes I wish I had a uniform); the reading and computer glasses for eye strain from the time reading papers and in front of the computer screen. On a positive notes, I think New Adjuncts also have that unique smile and glow for every win or victory, big or small. What is your “tattoo” that let’s the world know you are an Adjunct?

Gladiators were the center of business and politics in the Roman Empire. If you think academia is not about business or politics, you are indeed a naive New Adjunct! Careers were made in the ring, and “large sums of money caould e won by gambling on the outcome” of the fights. Adjunct careers are “made” in the classroom, which I think can be compared to “the ring,” at times. I don’t see the large sums of money, however — and neither did the gladiators.

Expert gladiators were members of collegia, formal organizations similar to our professional fraternities or union memberships. A major purpose for joining this organization was to “ensure that they were provided with proper burials and that compensation was given to their famililes.” Yikes! Luckily, this is at the bottom of my New Adjunct To Do list.

Certainly, I’m not saying life as an Adjunct is the same as a human being with no freedom — a slave, essentially. I thought some of the parallels between the lives of the Roman Gladiators and Adjuncts were interesting. Maybe it’s because I’m finishing up a difficult course load and feel as though I fought through it tooth and nail.

About the New Adjunct: Dr. Melissa Miller completed her Ed.D. with an emphasis in Teacher Leadership from Walden University. She holds a M.Ed. from Mary Washington University and a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Virginia Tech. Dr. Miller’s professional and research interests include adult and online learning, professional development, and literacy. Presently, Dr. Miller works as an adjunct instructor and an evaluator, while also enjoying her role as a wife and mother.

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