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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  1. Couldn’t possibly disagree more with Patricia Woods’ comment.The reason adjuncts are paid less is that the administration is interested in getting teaching done as inexpensively as possible. The “entrepreneurial mindset” that the writer thinks the adjunct acquieces to is the nature of the relationship form the get-go, as required/specified by the employer.
    The adjunct may, if he has time, publish, or perform (if he is a musician or other performing artist) but the college has decided that they do not need this.
    At the same time, the college is happy to reap the benefit of the adjuncts’ additional achievements. It’s free adverising! In addition, they have no intention of rewarding the adjunct for his/her publishing, performing, or other ouside professional pursuits. The don’t need to!

  2. As an undergrad I was published and have continued to write over the years since graduating. I have taught on campus and online and always found time to put my thoughts onto paper or on the computer if you will. Right now I am working on a subject that I taught the longest, Cultural Diversity. I have also written about the 2008 Presidential campaign and since that is finished, I hope to publish that soon. Being an Adjunct means that you have to supplement your income or teach for two institutions at the same time. Still, I cannot imagine anyone educated to teach at the university level not doing any writing at all! That does make one think that perhaps an Adjunct is not fully prepared for teaching in higher education and that is probably the reason why we are not paid as well as full professor who have published and are interested in continuing their own education, thus the point of taking continuing education courses. I suppose the thinking is if the person is willing to continue to upgrade their skills, they deserve to earn more pay as they development them.

  3. When I was an adjunct, I was a mix of 3, 4, and 6 regarding strictly academic writing.

    The need to make more money eventually spurred me to writing as a profession and I eventually left college teaching.

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