Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Hanging Up the Toga For Now

I need to mail off the final papers to the students, who have scattered, most of them now owners of a college degree. In the meantime I wrote up a memoir of the semester, a lot of lies actually, and it ran this Sunday in the magazine. The unnamed university can reasonably be assumed to be Georgetown. I had a great time teaching and great enjoyed getting to know the students, something I probably should have mentioned:

"Trade Secrets" -- Washington Post, May 22, 2005

I taught a seminar on "Intermediate Journalism" at a local university this past semester. Like many colleges, the school brings in outsiders as "adjunct professors," meaning "professors who are paid cat food money." Being on campus brought back memories of my adolescence, since that's the last time I made $2.50 an hour.

Naturally for that kind of money I could not teach the students everything I know. That would require a Cornel West kind of salary. Occasionally the students would ask a really pointed question about journalism, like "Is it okay to make up facts to make your story snazzier?" and I'd just shake my head and say, "That'll really cost you."

So much they didn't learn! I never taught them how to write in the kind of objective, even-handed manner that keeps all biases and personal opinions discreetly laced through every sentence. I declined to demonstrate how the strategic use of such phrases as "he asserted" and "he claimed" and "he sputtered" can signal to readers that the quoted person is lying. I never told them how to manipulate an expense account to make a debauched night in Vegas disappear into the category labeled "Tolls."

Click here to read the entire column.

By Joel Achenbach  |  May 23, 2005; 11:47 AM ET
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Blogs and Journalistic Standards
Next: Michael Connelly



Posted by: Anonymous | May 23, 2005 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Great stuff.
"a simple, unpretentious toga"!
Fantastic. Absolutely fantastic.

Posted by: Tom fan | May 23, 2005 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Adjunct status isn't all bad. I can use the faculty lot after everyone else is gone. I make more than I would if I operated heavy machinery and I can still take codeine while I'm working.

Be careful about the pension money, though. Depending on the plan, anything you put towards retirement gets docked from Social Security.

Posted by: Dave | May 23, 2005 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Explore the whole dynamic of adjunct life in some future blog. Interesting life, with bizarre professional culture and horrific economics....

Most college students, including your children, are (will be)taught by adjuncts....

Tell our (and now your) story.

Posted by: Rent-a-Prof | May 23, 2005 5:38 PM | Report abuse

I've actually told my story, what about yours, Rent-a-Prof? Share. Why do colleges pay such lousy money to adjuncts? In my case, it was worth it, because it's fun, the students are excellent, it jazzes me about journalism in general, and I'm learning how to teach -- and that gives me a career option when I no longer can stand to wander around with a reporter's notebook and ask dumb questions of strangers. Also I had an office. Loved the office.

Posted by: Achenbach | May 23, 2005 7:30 PM | Report abuse

Joel: Why did you just call it 'a local university' in the print edition, instead of proudly proclaiming your Hoyahood?

Posted by: Mark | May 23, 2005 9:50 PM | Report abuse

I, too, was paid poorly as an adjunct--silly word--creative writing teacher.

Fabulous that you know who Cornel Wilde is!
I was in love with him when I was a child.
Saw all his movies...

Posted by: M.A. | May 23, 2005 9:58 PM | Report abuse

Re: journalistic standards -- The Post printed an article on May 11 about the alleged white flight to Calvert County and its unaffordable housing. It started off claiming someone named Doris Spencer, a resident of 5 years, couldn't locate any minorities in the county although it had been largely populated by Negroes in the past. The article failed to identify Doris Spencer as the Chairman of the Democratic Central Committee. I daresay Ms. Spencer could find as many minorities as she wanted by looking at the voter registration. The article spawned a lot of heated discussion on the Discussion Forum with people calling each other 'narrowminded bigots' and going downhill from there. This was a sin of omission. Identifying Ms. Spencer would have put a whole new slant on the article. It was grossly unfair to all residents -- white, black, Muslim, Hispanic and Oriental. We have all of them, thank you very much.

BTW -- I took a sociology course at American University many years ago and the prof. claimed the war in VietNam never actually happened. The whole thing was made up to sell newspapers. I thought the woman was off her rocker. How's that for journalistic standards. If this is so then who killed those 50,000+ people on the Wall?

Posted by: WASP | May 24, 2005 3:15 PM | Report abuse

I'm really starting to miss my friend High Anxiety . . .

Posted by: Tom fan | May 24, 2005 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Adjunct professor salaries -- They're paid less because, in most cases, they have another full-time job. This is only a part-time gig so you can't expect a livable salary. Law school classes are taught by professional lawyers making more money than God.

Posted by: WASP | May 24, 2005 4:04 PM | Report abuse

. . . You could say I'm truly pining.

Posted by: Tom fan | May 24, 2005 4:19 PM | Report abuse

If "most" adjuncts have another full-time job, it is BECAUSE being an adjunct does not pay well and schools do not want to give out tenure anymore.

Poor students, "learning to teach" on them...gosh, didn't you even take one class on teaching?

Please post your evaluations! :-)

Posted by: Wendy | May 25, 2005 12:20 PM | Report abuse

But aren't we always learning as we go, whatever our profession and however long we've been engaged in it? How many of us do our jobs so perfectly that we have nothing to learn, so perfectly that we could justify criticizing another person's job performance or salary? How many of us are engaged in a profession so noble as teaching?

Posted by: Dreamer | May 25, 2005 12:51 PM | Report abuse

See this article AND commentary for a flavor of adjunct life.
Re Joels challenge to me, I'll respond here to two:

1) Why do colleges pay such low salaries to adjuncts? Outsourcing. Higher ed has been at it for years. What started as a way to train teachers/professors AND teach huge sections of courses like freshman English, and Calc 101, made the bean-counters very happy. But the labor pool of bright, classically-trained people around metropolitan areas is HUGE. No need to go overseas, but Blackboard/WebCT and other distance learning platforms means this is possible, soon (and now in many profit-high eds.).

2) One story from my career at UMCP (there, I named the behemoth) concerns a former student who won a major writing prize on campus. At a reception, he introduced me to his parents. His dad turned to his son, saying, "See. I told you the way to succeed at such a large University is to connect right away with the full professors. That way, you'll make valuable connections and learn a great deal. Avoid the adjuncts. They tend to be fly-by-night."

I smiled at his day, still shaking his hand, "Mr. X, I AM one of the adjuncts."

Posted by: Rent a Prof, again | May 25, 2005 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Oh,God, it's that snarky old WASP again.

Anyway -- professors, adjunct and full, should question the University if they feel they are embarrassingly underpaid. For example, at American University, one 3-credit course carries a $2,754 tuition (that's $918 per credit). The students pay for their own books, admission fees, parking, meals, whatever. If 30 students sign up for that class, it brings in a revenue of $82,620 per semester. Three semesters a year brings in a total of $247,860 for that course. How much is overhead; how much for supplies, which students would pay an additional fee if there were extra costs. And that's for only one course. Multiply that by the number of students. I don't know how universities can beg for monetary gifts, donations, bequests, when they are that wealthy.

The value of something depends entirely on how much people are willing to pay for it.

Posted by: WASP | May 25, 2005 3:40 PM | Report abuse

"When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."

-- Wayne Dyer

Posted by: Anonymous | May 25, 2005 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Chicago Trib picked up on some protests by adjuncts several years ago when they started a demonstration at the State of Illinois Building in Chicago. It pretty much broke up after 45 minutes because everyone had to be somewhere else. The crew assembled handed out bags of peanuts to illustrate wages. The person who dressed up as an elephant was a bit over the top.

I, uhm, happened to be at the protest. I saw one younger woman who tried to hand out the leaflets as she was encouraged by a friend to talk to people passing by to go to the food court or to take care of driving license issues. Most people bristled at the complaints about pay. The largely white collar passers by ignored yet another protest on the plaza. The tradesmen in their work boots and hard hats stood in solidarity about the unionization issues. Lots of smoke, but not much flame.

I'm at the community college level, so it's a bit of a different game. I walked in knowing that coffee was considered a benefit for adjuncts. The materials I create aren't mine -- they belong to the college. It's good money on a per word basis, but I know that I have little status.

At one CC, I was cut out of teaching classes by an instructor in a different area who had classes that no one took and were cancelled. He had to fill up his hours and the class I would have taught was a convenient place to park his keister. A week before class started, I was on the outside looking in.

At a different nearby CC, I started teaching online classes. My supervisor is great and understands that I'm juggling a full-time job. I still have to take my turn with night classes and probably will get stuck with a 16 week Saturday course next.

I fear the fate of the person who has to string together part time spots at three or four schools or more to have a living wage. Illinois has a retirement plan that takes the movement into account, but it really penalizes with offsets those who have Social Security.

Depending on the institution, it's tough for practitioners of most stripes to get a firm foothold in an academic department.

Check out:
Chicago Tribune
April 30, 2002 Tuesday
"Road scholars; Adjunct profs are like academic serfs, handling more of the teaching load, getting little in return"
By David Moberg. Special to the Tribune

As an adjunct, you learn how to slink into the parking lot after the real professors have left for the day. You learn to lug your boxload of stuff through the doors. You learn where to get cheap and fast eats on the road between gigs. You gain a thick skin as you swing by your mail slot, full in the knowledge that a couple of wacked out student evaluations can end your version of tenure. You don't complain when your nametag is wrong.

And you don't wonder where the tuition is going. You learn quickly not to ask questions.

Posted by: Dave (Another rent-a) | May 26, 2005 4:39 PM | Report abuse

funny ringtones

Posted by: | August 6, 2006 10:23 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company