Plan A, or, Don’t Call Me an Adjunct

In Hub Features on February 3, 2015 at 11:21 am

By David Chatfield

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the author’s blog ( It is reposted here with permission from the author.

Plan A, or, Don’t Call Me an Adjunct

David Chatfield, It’s Not About the Clock, or KA-CHUNK. 48″x52″. Oil on Canvas, 2011.

Teaching is as much a labor of love as it is a part of my artistic practice. I would be teaching in some capacity no matter the circumstance, just as I would be painting or collaging no matter the circumstance.

Yet I am continually reminded that it is labor.

I am obligated by my passion to teach, yet I am laboring extremely long hours at two different schools in order to fulfill that obligation.

Add to that the burden of a third job because the other two cannot cover all my bills.

As a result, I am not giving my students all of myself; they receive only what I have the time to give because I am spread so thin.

This makes me a less effective educator. I see the student’s disappointment when I do not hand back an assignment when promised because my weekend was occupied by a surprise design assignment on top of my regular six-class prep regimen.

And I am even more disappointed that I cannot respond to papers and assignments in a way that I think will provide the students with maximum opportunity for academic achievement and personal improvement.

Recently, at one of my schools, I was late in turning in the previous semester’s assessments because my other school changed my class schedule to include a new class I was capable of teaching, but had never taught before.

This makes me a bad employee of the institution that relies on our assessment data for state funding, as well as a bad employee of other, which needed my full attention to create a class (albeit with little time) that would accurately reflect my expertise as well as the academic standards of the school.

So even though I consider myself to be a pretty badass teacher (epic in the words of one of my students) and a hard-working employee to anyone who has the temerity to hire me, I cannot be as badass or epic as I could be if I had the normal (and well-compensated) workload of a full-time professor.

At last year’s Adjunct Symposium, hosted by the United Academics of Philadelphia, I had the privilege of speaking to the issue of limited resources available to adjuncts.
I essentially said (in my awkward and sometimes jumbled public-speaking mode) that my impulse to say yes to a student’s request is often times hampered by limited supplies.

As an Art teacher, saying that a student cannot see an idea through because I don’t have what they need is tantamount to censorship.

And as a worker, I am obliged to say yes to any class or assignment given to me — partially because I am willing to work and eager to work hard, but primarily because I need the money. Saying no means I miss out on pay.

As I said, I’m spread thin.

Wanting to say “Yes” to my students but having to say “No” because of institutional limitations means the total loss of academic freedom.

Having to say “Yes” as a function of quantitative financial factors means the loss of quality labor.

At this point, I need to point out the fact that I am technically paid only for the time I spend in front of the students. Keep that in mind as you read the next few sentences.

The institutions I work for require a great deal from me outside of that time in class. I am continually asked by my schools to attend faculty meetings and to fill out departmental questionnaires, rubrics, assessment grids, and the grids that assess my assessments. I’m even required to hold office hours by one school, regardless of whether I have an office.

(I luckily now have an office at one school, which I share with six boxes of language department storage and a piano.)

And the students I work for expect meetings outside of class, for example, if they need to talk about their grade or need extra help. They expect prompt replies to their emails and even ask if I can meet them outside of my regular office hours as their class schedule can’t accommodate my limited time. So I am expected to accommodate them.

I am required to do all the things that a full-time professor is expected to do without any of the support, benefits, or pay.

As stated in a recent Philadelphia Metro article about the movement to unionize adjuncts, “Estimates range from 60 to 75 percent of the workforce in higher education being made up of adjunct professors” (this number varies from school to school, but the overall trend is toward part-timers out numbering full-timers).

I hate being called adjunct, or contingent faculty. I think it’s obvious why, if you’ve read this far.

So do not call us adjunct. The word means “something added to another thing but not essential to it.” We are absolutely essential.

And do not call us contingent. The word contingency means “a provision for an unforeseen event or circumstance.” In other words, Plan B.

Increasingly, we are plan A. We are the majority of higher ed teachers and yet are treated like we are still Plan B. Until this changes, our students will never receive the full effect of our labor, knowledge, experience, and passion.

David Chatfield is an artist and educator currently teaching at Lincoln University and Cumberland County College. His art focuses on labor and economic issues, and it has been informed by his work as an adjunct professor and a decade of working within an unstable and unpredictable job market. Follow him on Twitter at @riotbus, or visit his website at