Why Adjuncts Don’t Write

As we’ve seen in previous posts, many adjuncts write. They write well, prolifically, and usefully; they win awards for their writing. Some publish scholarship in their field; some blog or otherwise engage new media in ways that provide valuable service to their disciplines.

Many adjuncts, though, do not write for publication. Why is that? There are a variety of possible reasons.

1) Adjuncts are bad at what they do.

Some commentators suggest that the conditions under which adjuncts labor drive the best of them out. The best leave, it is suggested, for greener pastures, leaving only the tired and the inept toiling as adjuncts. This is possible, but I’d obviously like to think this isn’t the case.

2) Adjuncts are too busy and tired.

This is one of the most obvious reasons adjuncts don’t write (at much as they like, as much as they thought they would, etc.). I think we can take it as a given that some adjuncts are exhausted—and if you’re driving from campus to campus to campus, you are usually not writing during those hours.

3) Adjuncts care about other things.

One of the first people I contacted about this blog falls into this category. She trained me as an online teacher, and has made a long and rich career out of being an adjunct teacher. When I contacted her about her writing, she simply said that she didn’t write—that she put her energy into other things. This includes being in a band, running a business, driving race cars, and so on. I can’t say exactly what is lost through her choice to not pursue traditional scholarship—but I can testify that her real world experience is highly useful and applicable in the classroom.

4) Adjuncts have other demands on their time.

Some of the exhausted adjuncts are organizing and mobilizing, making their profession a better place through direct action. They are foregoing their own writing to improve workplace conditions.

5) Adjuncts care about teaching more than writing.

This is actually one of the saddest truths about many adjuncts I’ve met. Many are not really a good fit for traditional scholarship. Oh, they’re smart enough, no doubt—but their focus is on their students. They live for that moment when classroom discussion catches fire and the enthusiasm spreads through the room. In my field (English), they often actually prefer the lower level courses because there they can focus on the texts and helping students understand them, rather than, say, the theoretical emphasis of graduate coursework. These faculty should be teaching—ideally at a liberal arts college, where teaching is valued—and be cherished for that focus.

6) Adjuncts have bought into an entrepreneurial mindset.

An interesting article in Academe makes the case for this position. There John Hess argues that some adjuncts have shifted to a kind of “what’s in it for me” approach to how they spend their time. These adjuncts are turning away from traditional scholarship because they estimate of the return on scholarly writing is too meager. Hess spends some time discussing this approach, so I’ll let you read it for yourself, but it boils down to rationalizing one’s labor: seeking the greatest return for the least effort.

This seems at once tragic and completely logical. The classic image of a teacher is one who is devoted beyond the limits of selfish calculation to his or her student, giving more than is needed, asked, or even understood in the short term. And that is if not gone at least threatened and diminished by the adjunct labor situation. Becoming a rational laborer seems sensible in the current work world.

Needless to say, there are paradoxes and contradictions in this list. Not only do I not deny them, I embrace them: they are the essence of adjunct teaching. People who care more about teaching than writing may be forced to short their teaching to survive.

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