by Cody Luff
I am sitting on an academic time bomb. One that has been ticking since I accepted a temporary position as a full-time faculty member at the Sylvania campus. I have been an adjunct for six years, rolling up and down the I-5 corridor with three bags in my backseat. One for my morning classes at PCC, one for my afternoon classes at Chemeketa, and one for night class at a different PCC campus. Both lunch and student meetings were frequently conducted on the hood of my battered Honda Accord and I had found several coffee shops that had tables big enough to house my stack of grading, lesson plans, and the occasional flurry of design projects waiting for review. I had achieved a low-grade balancing act that paid the bills and kept me employed in the profession that I love. Unfortunately, enrollment numbers wavered and my balancing act fell apart. Instead of six classes stitched together between various schools and campuses, I dropped to four, and finally to two. A temporary position opened at Sylvania and I applied for it and was accepted in short order. I was now a temporary-full-time-daily-rate-faculty member and I immediately became aware of differences between the adjunct experience and that of a full-time faculty member. No longer did I conduct my student meetings in a parking lot or grade in my living room at 4 in the morning. I was assigned four classes and found that in my 35-hour contract that I had time to actually speak to my students for longer than a few minutes before a long commute. I discovered that I could go home at night, having graded that week’s ration of papers in my office, and actually have dinner with my family. Not only did I feel that I could impact my students’ education on a greater level, but I felt that I had time to enjoy that newfound ability. I was on campus when they were, student meetings could stretch beyond the boundaries of my commuting time, and I could actually chat with my colleagues about teaching ideas and seek advice the very moment I might need it. The game was sizably different.
But even though the cup had been placed to my lips, I knew it wouldn’t last. My position was temporary, I did not have assignment rights, and when my time at Sylvania was at an end, I would enter the adjunct pool at the bottom of the bottom of the pile. The likelihood of getting even one class per school is very poor. I realized that by taking this temporary position, I may have inadvertently started the swansong of my career. I have been tremendously lucky in the fact that my position has been extended for a year, I have twelve months to pack my CV with as much committee work as I can, twelve months to scour the schools along the I-5 corridor for open positions and to feed the adjunct pools my information. This position has been a life saver but it has definitely highlighted the dangerously precarious nature of working as an adjunct. So many of us would like nothing more than to secure a full-time position at PCC, temporary or otherwise, and yet the act of taking that temporary position has a much greater impact on future employment than we may have initially thought. By this time next year I will be scrambling to find open classes, coming employment announcements in hopes of stitching together temporary assignments, community education classes, and the occasional odd-hour section of reading or writing to find my balance once again.
Is there a better way? I don’t know, not for sure. I do know that things will change and, in fact, are changing, but I hope that they change quickly enough to help adjuncts in my position, or any position, before we lose our balance altogether and find we must leave the profession we love in search of income security. With the national press to focus on assessment and success of our students, it seems like a strange thing to lose so many great professors because our schools are unable to focus on job security for the majority of their instructors.