Abject Adjuncthood

I saw this posted elsewhere this morning. A couple of hours spent trimming and raking in the yard gave me time to digest it.

I’ve never had a tenure-track position. I haven’t yet taken the time to get a terminal degree—maybe one day, but I didn’t want one a quarter-century ago and I haven’t wanted to uproot my family and my career in the years since. I do have a quarter-century of performing experience, though, and I’ve taught as an adjunct faculty member at the college level for 22 years. I greatly enjoy teaching, and the overwhelming majority of my students have been bright, conscientious, and eager young musicians. Many professional musicians, as I do, see teaching not as simply a revenue stream but as a duty to uphold. Maybe it’s a topic for a therapy session, but part of why I teach is because I feel like I owe it to my own teachers, Mr. C, Jay, Art, John, Tommy, my dad.

Currently, and for the past few years especially (despite the pandemic!), I enjoy a great relationship with my school. All schools have some level of professional challenge, but I have wonderful colleagues, I feel that I’m paid decently, and they even offer me a matching 403(b).

It hasn’t always been the case. Adjuncthood at another school was rather demeaning. I don’t think I was projecting, but I could feel a sense of caste between adjuncts and tenured/tenure-track faculty there. I taught there for eight years and they wouldn’t even give me a school email address. “We don’t do that for adjunct faculty.” When I told my department chair that I wouldn’t be returning for the following AY, there was no discussion. I felt devalued. Replaceable. Expendable.

That’s why UCLA’s biochem job posting hits hard for me. Nothing says “devalued” like, well, “nothing.” Musicians bristle at the word “exposure,” and I can imagine that many in the sciences are feeling that brush this morning.

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