by Jodi A. Campbell
I am 35 years old and I live with my parents.
Yes, I am an adjunct.
A few weeks ago, someone here wrote about the sacrifices she was making to cope with her classes being cut. For me, reading the post felt like a smack in the face. This may not have been the author’s intention, but it felt like she downplayed the serious economic instability that many of us face as adjuncts. There was an air of, “Oh, just make a few little tweaks to your style of living and all will be well!” What the author only briefly mentioned was that she has a partner on whom she can rely to help pay the cable bill and buy the groceries. I am fortunate that my parents are helping me. Without them…no. There is no “without them” because I can not live on what I make as an adjunct right now and five years of grad school more than wiped out my savings.
While cooking homemade meals, using up what’s in your pantry, and downgrading your cable package are all admirable, my story is slightly different. I moved in with my parents last summer because I could no longer afford to live on my own while finishing my dissertation. I actually lucked into finding an adjunct position at a small school near their house. I was told from the very beginning that they would need me to teach 4-5 classes in both the fall and winter because a professor was on sick leave and possibly retiring. Silly me, I believed them.
Three days before Christmas, which was less than three weeks before the start of the new semester, I found out my classes had been cut and I was only going to be teaching one class. Just like that, my already meager salary dropped by 75%. I was barely surviving on what I earned teaching four classes. How could I survive with just one class?
Here’s a glimpse of my life right now:
I carpool with my father, who happens to work in the same city where I teach, because I can not afford gas to drive 90 minutes roundtrip, three times a week. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, when I don’t have class, I sit at home and write or work on lesson plans for the upcoming week or search for a job, academic or non-academic, full time or part time. I really don’t care. Right now, I will take anything, but no one wants to hire me because I’m either overqualified because of my education or underqualified because my work experience is spotty due to spending so much time in school.
At night, I sit at home, with my parents and my adorable dog, who really is the only bright spot in my life right now. On weekends, you guessed it, I sit at home and continue the writing, planning, or job search. I also do as much of the cooking and cleaning as possible to assuage my guilt that my parents have to feed me and give me a place to sleep.
I have no money to go anywhere or do anything. By the time I pay my bills (two credit cards and my cell phone bill, which is on the lowest data plan possible with nothing extra), I have roughly $53 to spend for the entire month. That won’t fill my gas tank once. This is compounded by the fact that I live in the middle of nowhere, so there isn’t anything to do, either, and, believe me, I’m not overstating this. I’m surrounded by farmland and the occasional strip mall. Going to the grocery store is the highlight of my week, but one that is filled with fear that I might spend too much money and overdraw my account.
I live in a perpetual cycle of fear and self-criticism. I constantly doubt myself because I can’t get a job, even as a receptionist at the local gym or a waitress at a pizza place. I worry that I am either not good enough a scholar or have made all the wrong choices because, otherwise, I wouldn’t be struggling to find a job, any job. I worry that I will never be able to finish writing my dissertation because all I can think about is how I can’t pay my bills. I worry that once I do finish my dissertation, I will have spent five years of my life with nothing to show for it, other than a dissertation no one will read.
That’s my adjunct experience.
Someone on Twitter asked if I have any advice for single adjuncts facing cuts in class loads and it took me an entire week to realize I don’t. I really don’t. Everyone says to get a part-time job or find online work or “think outside the box” as to what you can do. I’ve tried all of that. I honestly have.
What happens when your options run out? I don’t know. It’s easy for outsiders to say that people should move on, but how do you say that to someone who has worked so hard for so many years to do something that they love?
I haven’t been an adjunct for very long, nor do I pretend to have a solution to the situation some adjuncts face. I just thought it was important to show another side of the precariousness of living as an adjunct.