Power Adjuncting

The Chronicle published a piece this week by Douglas W. Texter,
"No Tenure? No
Part-timers, it goes, can now make a pile of money (in the
neighborhood of $100k annually) by stacking teaching gigs at a couple of
different institutions. Texter offers ten principles useful for adjusting
one’s thinking while taking the plunge into the pot of gold that is
"entrepreneurial adjuncting." Among the guiding tenets: care, assume a
mercenary attitude, change what you read, change the company you keep, watch
Risky Business
, and so on.

I learned about the column not because I pay all that much attention to
but because it drifted across
a listserv I am subscribed to, albeit in digest mode. Texter’s column
stirred a fair amount of discussion, something like 32 list messages on the day
it appeared. And without pointing too directly at any of the comments or
naming names, the responses included variations of:

  • CHE is link-baiting (flashing a glimpse of the shocking and
    grotesque, tabloid-style);
  • it can’t be done: no multi-part-timers are making $100,000;
  • skepticism followed by mathematical improbabilities (viz., it would take
    98 bowls of Captain Crunch to get the nutritional value in one bowl of
  • $100,000 isn’t all that much money, especially considering benefits are
    nowhere a part of the picture;
  • Texter’s column is satire (or the obverse: no it’s not);
  • What could possibly be CHE‘s motive in publishing this?;
  • irrelevant;
  • inside word has it that D. W. Texter is seeking a tenure-track position
    now that he has made his great fortune.

Sure, I’m having a little bit of fun with these characterizations, but I mean
to capture the spirit of the dialogue more in the interest of marking it for a
future return rather than summing it perfectly for those who didn’t watch as it
unfolded. Clearly there is a lot of interest in the proposition that
part-timers, especially online part-timers, can make a load of dough simply by
teaching several moderate loads. The perennial problem of mileage is, in
the 100K part-part-part-timer model, solved by an internet connection. And I
don’t mean "solved" with respect to professional-ethical considerations; I mean
"solved" in the sense that online, a body can be linked in with many different
institutional scenes as there are tabs open in Firefox. So, this happens, and
yet we don’t understand it all that well because it is only partially visible
from any single institutional perspective (i.e., it doesn’t happen at any one

For the past couple of years, I’ve had a hand in mentoring new online
instructors at another university, checking in every week or so by email or
phone with those who are teaching an online course for the first time.
While in this role, I’ve had the chance to meet a couple of entrepreneurial
types who are doing a heckuva lot of teaching online for multiple institutions
(note: many are teaching in fields other than Composition or even English
Studies). Are some making 100k? I imagine so. Okay, maybe 90k.
And collecting income by working at, say, three institutions without ever
leaving their in-home offices. Once I called a new instructor I’d talked
to a couple of times before and heard, "Now which university are you with?" And
more recently, a part-timer told me about teaching experiences with
, and Baker before mentioning that
the most s.he’d ever taught was 18 sections in one semester–all FYC at four
different institutions (none of this was online, btw). We didn’t talk gross
income. But that’s less my point. Instead, I’ve been thinking about
how this sort of load passes unnoticed because it is distributed, decentralized.
There is no large-scale accounting system in place that would give anyone
insights into just how prevalent a practice this is, although it wouldn’t
surprise me at all to see institutions and accrediting bodies coordinate some
means of calling these practices into check, perhaps by creating some sort of
regional clearinghouse or something. I’m not all that well versed in how
accrediting bodies address contingent labor in higher ed (or, for that matter,
how those involved in accreditation audits come and go, how they become familiar
with the interests they serve, and so on), but I continue to have an interest in
the growing tension between part-time labor as it is typically conceived and how
these new work categories that fall outside prevalent mythologies. I’m curious
whether and to what degree these new work categories will change the shape of
ongoing conversations about part-time labor, for better or worse, in the next
five or ten or fifty years.


  1. This might be crass and wrong and such, but these kind of stories strike me as a sort of “revenge tale:” basically, the adjunct/part-timer who is unable to get a tenure-track position for whatever reason but who likes/is able to teach online ends up getting well-paid. I mean, making the kind of salary that an associate or even full prof makes (albeit with no benefits) with no other responsibilities and the opportunity to live anywhere with an internet connection? I don’t know; on some days, that seems like a pretty good gig to me.

  2. I can see how power-adjuncting accounts might be read as revenge narratives, as really sticking it to the system, in some respects. Texter’s account certainly comes off that way. There is a thread of “getting over” in his CHE column. I do think more and more people are finding that it is a good gig, that it allows a fair amount of flexibility otherwise unavailable, and that the old constraints (e.g., travel) don’t apply in quite the same way. Many of the online part-timers I’ve talked with say they work for more than one institution. It makes sense that there would be more and more “free agent” approaches as programs push offerings online while caring very little for where the labor comes from provided it is credentialed labor.

    I continue to wonder about the stability of such a system, or, to put it another way, about the sustainability of the 100k-adjunct lifestyle. I mean, I would like to meet someone who has earned 100k annually for, say, 10 consecutive years. If such a person exists, I’d even buy their quintuple espresso just to have a conversation.

Comments are closed.