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I am glad I am an adjunct. I am not happy—I am even angry, at times—with being an adjunct. That about sums up the ambivalence I feel toward my professional predicament. It has developed into a love-hate relationship as I have become caught up in a conglomeration of circumstances requiring me to respond, but with little power to shape my destiny. I, however, do not want to spend my entire essay whining, although perhaps you will forgive me if I do a bit of that, nor do I want simply to chronicle the well known professional inequities. But, I would like to try and offer a perspective that might prompt thought and even action by those with the power to do something, as well as provide some encouragement to my fellow adjuncts.

So, how did I get into this situation? Without going all the way back to the beginning, I will start with my more recent circumstances. After having served five years on the faculty of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri as a tenured Associate Professor of Biblical Studies (including three years as the Assistant Dean of the college of theology), I resigned at the close of the Spring 2004 semester. Working in the increasingly fundamentalist environment that was actively cultivated by the administration and trustees no longer was a viable option. My wife and I decided that without tangible support from the administration (although, to be fair, they likely would disagree with my characterization), the increasingly stressful and hostile working environment was not worth the physical, mental, and spiritual toll it was taking on me and my family.[1] Plus, we did not want our children to be raised under the influence of this atmosphere. I, as well, had ethical reservations about how faculty and staff were being treated. Knowing the bleak job prospects, we nonetheless believed that economic stress and life as an adjunct were better alternatives. We relocated to our home state of Texas, and not wanting to put our three children through another move, we made another difficult decision — this would be our last move for a long time. We understood the implications of that choice: even less hope for full-time employment as a faculty member, in addition to financial stress (my income dropped well over fifty percent), especially as my children enter college over the next five to ten years. We, however, wanted to take control of our lives as much as possible.

I had little trouble in getting more than enough adjunct teaching opportunities, something for which I am exceedingly grateful. These opportunities have allowed me to remain in teaching and provided some necessary, although insufficient, income. This, however, is part of my love-hate relationship with being an adjunct. On the one hand, it provides me great freedom. Even though I realize that at any time I may have to leave the field of education in order to find a livable wage (but, doing what, I have no idea), it has enabled me to do what I love. Of course, this freedom is actually due more to my wife's willingness to be the primary income earner in our family than anything else. But without even the meager salary generated by adjuncting, I could not continue to teach. Putting aside the financial issues, I am fortunate to be able to teach while not having to be overly involved in things that often plague full-time faculty: campus politics, seemingly endless committee meetings, struggles between administration and faculty, and the many other duties that take faculty away from their primary tasks of teaching, researching, and writing. How fortunate I am to do the things that originally motivated me to enter this field without having to spend time on the less enjoyable aspects! And, how grateful I am to both the administrators who find a way to get me classes each semester and to those faculty and staff who treat me with respect and dignity. On the other hand, in a way I feel as if I am on the road to nowhere. Will I look back in twenty years and feel accomplished if all I have done is adjunct? I can not help but feel that I am being greatly underutilized. I can contribute a lot more than I am allowed or able to under the adjuncting system. That situation creates some frustration and doubt about what I am doing and where I am headed. In fact, I often think that remaining an adjunct is wasting effort tied to what at times feels like the educational equivalent of a sweat shop when I should be putting my energies toward retraining for some other field. Is adjuncting then a waste or a wonderful opportunity?

My personal ambivalence toward being an adjunct also manifests itself in the senses of worth and accomplishment, as well as failure, produced by it. The former comes primarily from students, while the latter springs from my own standards of success and from relationships with some administrators and faculty. In the classroom, I feel affirmed and am convinced that what I am doing is not a waste. Yet, there always remains a certain stigma to my adjuncting, perhaps more in my mind than others', but nonetheless present: failure, second-rate, loser, embarrassment. After all, it was not my career goal to be an adjunct. This feeling can be especially strong when dealing with administrators and full-time faculty. I often feel like a stray dog, roaming from institution to institution, getting a scrap — a class or two — here and there, even a pat on the head, but not really being fully embraced as a part of any place. I suppose that is one of the most difficult things about adjuncting, not being a part of any community, or at least not feeling like a part. There are always the gracious — and, no doubt, genuine — hallway encounters with people, even invitations to certain departmental functions, but never a sense of belonging or contributing to the department's mission. I am not really blaming anyone, nor do I have any suggestions for resolving this (for the pay, can anyone really expect an adjunct to participate much more than by showing up and teaching his/her classes?), but it illustrates my ambivalence toward adjuncting — very thankful to be one, but missing a more meaningful connection to the students, faculty, administration, and staff, as well as to the goals of the institution.

While I understand that my experience is by no means normative, I nonetheless often reflect over the past two years (as well as over the first five years of my post-PhD career, which were also spent as an adjunct) about the value and role of adjuncting. Having worked on both sides of the fence, including being a lower level administrator and serving on faculty search committees, has influenced my perceptions. I think on the whole, adjuncting is making me a better, more well-rounded teacher and scholar. I now teach exclusively the basic introductory courses that virtually all students are compelled to take. I do not get to teach specialized courses that often have a higher number of motivated undergraduate majors or graduate students. Furthermore, I teach at a variety of institutions, including a four-year, private university, as well as two community colleges. The differences in students at the various institutions are tremendous, and I have had to work much harder as a teacher. My experience as an adjunct is making me a better teacher by forcing me more than ever to focus intently on students as individuals, rather than on classes as a whole. I cannot depend as much on classes having a number of students eager to swim deeply in the intricacies of a subject who will help bring along those not as capable or motivated (in my opinion, students contribute much to creating a learning environment). Many of my students struggle tremendously for a variety of reasons with basic concepts, and I am having to find more effective ways to convey concepts or to motivate. In other words, I do not have as many students who can help me create an environment of inquiry and curiosity (let me be clear, though, I still have these kinds of students, but just not as many). These concerns are not new — I have always taught introductory classes as part of my teaching load — but never have I taught them exclusively, nor have I taught such a wide array of students that comes with being an adjunct. I am becoming a better teacher as an adjunct than I was as a full-time faculty member, and hopefully, many more students — even the capable and competent — benefit. I do not believe that I am lowering standards, but instead finding more effective ways to teach. This is not something that I could not or should not have done as a full-time faculty member, but working as an adjunct has forced me to deal more directly with these issues in order to be successful.

Adjuncting has also forced and allowed me to expand my horizons in ways that probably would not have been possible had I remained a full-time faculty member. Now only occasionally teaching biblical studies, I teach primarily American history and world religions, fields I have followed and had interest in, but never the opportunity to teach (for me, teaching is one of the best ways to learn the depth and breadth of a field). While I continue to be intensely interested and active in biblical studies, "the lights are coming on" in ways that either would not have been possible for me, or would have come at a much slower pace. In general, my adjunct teaching has provided me with a much broader context in which to appreciate, study, and understand the Bible. It has helped remove some of the professional blinders I unintentionally wore. On those occasions that I do get to teach a biblical studies class, I can teach confidently within a much broader intellectual universe, hopefully being a more able guide for students. Likewise, when researching and writing on the Bible, I now have a greater frame of reference. To use the language of the academy, I have a greater proficiency in interdisciplinary studies. Again, I am not suggesting that such broadening can only occur within the adjunct experience, but as a full-time faculty member teaching biblical studies, I could not have explored these fields to the extent I am now doing.

The advantages produced by my adjuncting experience are proving invaluable, but will they help me in my current circumstances to re-enter the domain of full-time faculty? I genuinely doubt it. As I said earlier, I am now a much better and more well-rounded teacher and scholar, but unfortunately I do not see these traits necessarily making me more marketable, especially in light of my desire to not move my family again. For instance, while I consistently teach and write about American history and religion (and possess a Masters in American history), will anyone seriously consider me for a position teaching anything other than biblical studies? I do not think it is likely, especially without some personal connection and in light of the way the various disciplines are generally conceived and fashioned. My terminal degree is in biblical studies, but I have consistently focused my teaching and writing on the uses of the biblical text (i.e., its reception history), especially within an American context. So, am I working in biblical studies or in American history and religion? I think both, but from a prospective employer's viewpoint, I fear the answer would be, neither, especially without terminal degrees in both fields. Although I believe that adjuncting has helped me be a better interdisciplinary scholar and my students have benefited from this perspective, I suspect this is not apparent to others given the criteria typically used to judge prospective faculty. Nor do I think that interdisciplinary work is valued as much as it is purported to be or broadly understood beyond possession of terminal degrees. Of course, there are many factors involved in the hiring process (as well as with interdisciplinary studies), and it is not fair to focus on just one, but this illustrates the conundrum of many adjuncts. Adjuncting can produce skills that are not easily quantifiable in a market that places great emphasis on terminal degrees and evaluation of expertise based on narrow categories.

I also have wondered about the purpose of adjuncts in the institutional and professional settings. Why do some institutions consistently and increasingly use adjuncts, and what do adjuncts expect from this position? Do institutions only think, consciously or unconsciously, of saving money and meeting growing course demands as cheaply as possible? Do adjuncts think of it primarily as a holding pattern on the way to full-time employment? While affirmative answers are certainly understandable and perhaps defensible, they also seem, to some extent, misguided and one sided. I wish that a more reciprocal relationship could be established between institutions and adjuncts — one that produces genuine mutual benefits. My experience has led me to conclude that often the greater benefits fall to the institutions, even bordering on exploitation in some instances. Adjuncts are not merely figures in a budget or an army of TBA's on a department's course schedule. At the same time, I have concluded that adjuncting is not for everyone and certainly there should be no expectation to make a decent living from it while awaiting a full-time job. I think institutions have a moral and ethical responsibility to do more than pay adjuncts minimal salaries with little or no benefits while also continuing to insure this lower-class status by producing more and more prospects for the adjuncting pool. As an adjunct, however, I must come to terms with the situation of the market before accepting its conditions and consequences. Unhealthy working conditions and attitudes often dramatically reduce any possible advantages to the institution or the adjunct.

I, like most adjuncts, have a great deal invested in the field of education, and it is not easy to decide to walk away from this investment, but at some point, I may have to. I suspect that either financial pressures or the desire and ability to make a greater contribution might ultimately lead me out of the field. For the moment, however, being an adjunct (and being married to my wife) has saved me from an oppressive situation, kept me doing what I love, and made me better at it; the personal benefits have been great. Yet, it has also produced great frustration, self doubt, financial pressures and insecurities, and, in my opinion, damaged my prospects for full-time employment; the professional benefits seem small. If at some point, I am able to regain a full-time faculty position, my adjuncting experience will prove invaluable. If, however, this does not occur, then I fear that it will have been a waste of time, at least professionally. But, since I do not have a crystal ball, I will continue being an adjunct for a little longer, enjoying its benefits and being glad to do it, while also hoping that someone with the power to do something will try to make changes, however small, that will create a better situation for both their institution and adjuncts.

Scott M. Langston, Texas Christian University

[1] I do not want to spend time on the specifics that led to my resignation because this is not the point of the essay. However, I feel that some background is necessary in order to understand my situation as an adjunct. In a nutshell, I came under intense pressure and scrutiny for having led a Bible study — not as a representative of the University, but in keeping with the University's policies, as a private individual, at the organizational meeting of the more moderate Baptist General Convention of Missouri. I am happy to give full and fair disclosure of my situation to any who are interested.

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