Recently I had two experiences that made me realize how much I’d changed, and how much things have changed. (Stay with me—this really is about adjuncts and writing.)
Both of these experiences came when interacting with one of the schools for whom I’m an adjunct.
Experience #1 came when working on a course design for the school, which provides standardized course materials for its online courses. I agreed to revise a literature course for them, only to learn that I had to work with their newly established Course Development Process, which included required two hour “teleconferences” (phone calls).
I was baffled as to exactly what these conferences were for. It turned out to be a multi-person reviewing process, in which everyone had to follow along as the person running the meeting reviewed my course materials, made a few minor comments, and then signed off on them. Let me be clear: a few small areas of the course were improved. Let me be clearer still: that was not the primary purpose of the call, which was CYA, as everyone ritually agreed to the work. And let me clearest yet: we had different agendas. All of the other people on the call were on salary, and so if the phone call took an hour (which it did, thankfully), or two, they were paid the same. As an adjunct, though, and a freelancer, an extra hour spent farting around in a meeting was an hour I wasn’t getting paid for work somewhere else.
When I first started writing academic works, I did so to learn, and for the joy of it. Now, after so long as an adjunct and freelancer, those seem…insufficient. As does that word.
Experience #2 came from the same school. I was invited to write articles on my area of expertise that would be shared with the whole school. These articles were intended both to build community and to help raise the level of professional discourse. I did such things when I was first working as an adjunct. I wrote up handouts, contributed to lists, etc. Now, though, I felt vaguely like I was being scammed.
I don’t think that traditional academics in tenured positions feel this, though I’ve known any number who felt too busy, or like it wasn’t the best use of their time. However, it wasn’t the unpaid nature of the writing they objected to, it was the specific focus: they thought their time was better spent writing formal articles in their discipline than articles for the general community.
I did not set out to change my attitude toward writing and the academic community. I set out to pay the rent. But change happened, all the same…