Near the end of every semester, college adjuncts are caught in a reverse Hunger Games. Instead of hoping against hope that they won’t be picked, adjuncts bead sweat and pray that their names will be selected. Being picked means you get to eat in the spring or fall. Not so lucky? Better start looking for a new source of employment.
Adjuncts operate on a contingent basis. Each semester is a blank slate. Adjuncts can’t expect past semesters to inform future job prospects. One only need consider the case of Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct at Dusquesne University in Pittsburg. After working at Dusquesne for 25 years as an adjunct, she was summarily relieved of her duties, then at 83, and shortly died from cancer.
She received no health or retirement benefits from her employer during her stint and, certainly, received nothing after not being asked back to teach. Her time teaching was spent living in poverty. And her case of summary termination is not uncommon.
Adjuncts face this insecurity on a regular basis. With wildly divergent pay scales, the average English adjunct (I am one) receives $2,727 per course. This low rate of pay contrasts sharply with the role adjuncts play at universities and colleges. Between 1975 and 2007, adjuncts grew from 43.2 percent of university faculty to 68.7 percent. This coincided with tenured, full-time faculty representation falling from 56.8 percent to 31.2 percent. More and more of the least paid faculty members are taking on increasing responsibilities.