Most part-time instructors are aware of how damaging adjunct working conditions can be to our lives economically, physically, emotionally, and psychologically. You may also be aware of how these working conditions can hurt students, the institutions, and tenure-track, full-time employees as well. 

But how aware are students?

At the beginning of every term, I ask my classes how many of them know what an “adjunct” (what I choose to call myself) is. Many such instructors may think that raising such a question with students constitutes unprofessional “whining.” But these adjuncts internalize their exploitation and put on a brave face to make their teaching appear seamless in quality compared with full-time instructors. 

It’s as if students shouldn’t know that, unlike full-time instructors, most of us have other jobs to go to, which significantly limits student access to us; we may teach more classes than full-timers out of necessity, meaning we need more time to return graded work and we may appear harried when we come to class. If we teach in multiple districts, we may not be fully aware of institutional resources for students.

I propose that it is part of our job to inform students of these realities. We should make it clear that we will do our best to provide all students with quality instruction, but that colleges create barriers for students and for us by maintaining inequities between part-time and full-time faculty working conditions, compensation, and institutional support.

Will students empathize? They will if we empathize with them, and Campus Equity Week is a perfect opportunity to achieve this by educating students about our working conditions and learning about theirs.

Few students have a stable, full-time job, and many work at jobs that will never offer them full-time or stable employment. In order to avoid having to provide insurance for their employees, or in some cases, to simply keep them “hungry for hours,” businesses will purposefully underemploy students who find it difficult to cover basic needs. Further, these jobs usually lack any kind of security. 

What part-time faculty share with so many students is labor contingency, a growing trend that destabilizes all of our lives. We need to help our students see our situations, and we need to see theirs. To make any real progress, we should understand this as a moral, social, and, yes, a professional obligation.

— By Geoff Johnson, an English and humanities instructor at San Diego’s Mesa College and member of AFT Guild, Local 1931

Take Action: Use the union’s valuable CEW toolkit

The CFT Part-Time Committee has compiled a toolkit for Campus Equity Week as part of coordinated efforts to raise awareness about the unstable, contingent working conditions of the majority of higher education instructors.

National Campus Equity Week occurs in odd-numbered years during the last full week of October, but many campuses stage CEW events every year: hosting films, staffing information tables, performing public theatre, and moderating discussion groups. Visit the committee’s toolkit for downloadable materials to kickstart your CEW events.