Another Adjunct Story
Thinking about the UIC Strike

The 1:1 Fallacy of Contact Hours

Bad capitalistThe 1:1 Fallacy—the notion that professors work one hour for every hour of class that they teach—is a useful but pernicious lie promulgated by college administrators as a way of calculating the hours of work performed by adjunct professors to determine their eligibility for healthcare benefits. Most adjuncts are still, nonetheless, paid not by actual hours worked, but only for "credit hours" or time spent in the classroom. But here's what an adjunct professor's weekly work schedule really looks like: six courses at three different schools.

School No. 1: Unionized university with traditional-age students, where I teach Composition I and II (two three-credit and one one-credit lab, for a total of 7 credits at $1200/credit = $8400/semester; max credits: 8). I love teaching college freshman, and this group is really fun. I like this school a lot, for many reasons, not the least of which is the pay. But the commute from where I live in the Bronx is two hours: subway to bus to commuter rail to taxi or another bus. Parking is not free, so driving is not necessarily faster and not cheaper.

School No. 2: Unionized college prep program affiliated with a multi-college city university system. Students are a mix of traditional-age and returning (older adult). The course is college prep remedial writing/reading preparing them for entrance exams. ($64.84/classroom hour; 7.00 hours/week = $8171.10/semester; generally only offers adjuncts courses in the fall semester, due to enrollment). This is my least favorite gig, not because of the students, but because of the schedule. It's two separate courses broken into 9 weeks, instead of the traditional 18 weeks. Fairly quick commute via two subways: only 45 minutes door to door.

School No. 3: Satellite campus of an non-unionized Catholic college located in a low-income neighborhood. The school offers GEDs with a bachelor's degree. Students range from traditional age to older adults (some in their 60s) from low-income backgrounds. Courses I teach range from a writing lab to basic writing and research papers to mid-level literature courses with a strong writing component. ($448.75/credit x 4 credits per mid-level class = $1795/semester plus one nine-week zero credit lab at $1200) This is my favorite group of students. Nobody works harder or has more hurdles to get over than this group. Many of them fail badly the first time out, often because their lives are so complicated and there is little to no academic support for them, but they keep coming back until they get it right. I admire them immensely and they've taught me as much as I've taught them. Commute is 45 door to door by bus.

Fall Semester total: $17,806.90 for six courses at three separate schools. That's a "good" semester monetarily, a "bad" one pedagogically: six classes, six separate preps, a minimum of 40-80 papers of varying length to grade each week.

DAYS 1 & 3

6:30 AM-8:30 AM (off the clock)

Stumble out of bed, wash, dress, make tea in my travel mug, and be out the door by 7:00 to catch the subway to the crosstown bus to the PATH train to a taxi or another bus to campus. Check my smart phone for student emails and texts about emergency issues when I'm above-ground. Text or email back. Sometimes it's "I'm going to be late" notices; sometimes it's "where are we meeting?" or "Do we have class?" if the the weather is bad. Sometimes I don't know before I leave home whether the campus is closed or not; some schools don't bother to notify adjuncts. Not every school has an alert system that will text or email you when school closes, either. Sometimes, even in the worst weather, it's still open, though students inevitably have the common sense not to come to class, even though their professors are required to. Tenured professors have the luxury of cancelling classes; adjunct professors don't.

8:30-9:00 AM (off the clock)

Arrive at School No. 1 and print and copy any last-minute handouts I need. I like to do this at least one class ahead of time usually, because I never know if I'm going to get hung up in traffic. And it's great that School No. 1 has a department that allows me access to a copier and computer. That's not true at all the schools at which I teach. Guess what? The schools that offer me access to a copier and printer are the schools where I print everything I need, including materials for schools that don't offer me that direct access. So the "generous" schools are subsidizing the cheap schools in the form of office supplies.

9:00-10:50 (on the clock)

Teach Composition I/Composition I and Writing Lab. Every class I teach includes 15 minutes of in-class writing on a topic I propose, unless we're having a workshop day where students read and comment on each other's work. On discussion days, they start with writing that has something to do with what they've been reading, and that we'll discuss in class. That's in addition to the 5-7 page papers they write every couple of weeks.

10:50- 2:00 (off the clock)

Office hours during which students may or may not drop by, and during which I do class prep: making handouts, reading, answering emails, reading and responding to student blog posts (another class requirement), keeping up with current events for their use in classroom discussion, and oh, yeah, grabbing lunch, somewhere in there. I actually have an office here, and a rather nice one, but not all of my colleagues in other departments do. I share it with three other people whose schedules occasionally overlap, but there are other computers we can use in the department common spaces for when that happens. It sometimes makes scheduling student conferences sticky though. Oh, and none of us have keys for either the office or filing cabinets, so I can't leave my laptop or anything else valuable in there. Like most adjuncts, I carry around pounds of books and computer equipment. And lately, someone has been stealing our sample textbooks to sell to students or back to the publishing company. By the bagful, literally. My totebag full.

2:00-2:50 or 3:50 (on the clock)

Teach  Composition II. Same course pattern, different texts, literature this time, instead of non-fiction.

3:00-4:30 (off the clock)

Commuting to my next job, during which I read, either for fun or profit or check my smart phone for student communications. Thank God for e-readers and smart phones. Of course, I can't get the school email program to forward messages to my smartphone, so that complicates matters too, especially when a college insists I use only their email address and not my personal one. That means I'm on the computer late at night or early in the morning when I'm home.

4:30-6:00 (off the clock)

Arrive at School No. 2, where I have a cubicle with a computer, and access to a very cranky photocopier. Still no place to leave anything valuable, including my coat and purse, though there is an overhead bin to store books and papers in. On my short day, when I leave School No. 1 at 2 instead of 3, I have office hours (compensated) for School No. 2. Those students do drop by and they need a lot of help. They also email or text me a lot more. I try to have all of my copying for this class done ahead of time too, because there are usually two or three people ahead of me at the copier. The office staff are great about getting things copied if I get it in ahead of time though.

6:00-9:20  PM (on the clock)

Teach College Prep English. This is a combined reading and writing course, because, of course, you can't teach one without the other. I used to do both integrated, but now there are two people teaching this course because it recently changed from nine hours/week to ten hours/week and nine is the maximum adjuncts can teach at this school. So now, instead of nine hours, I get a little over six each semester, which means a net loss in pay, though the amount of work isn't much less. It also, I'm pretty sure, discombobulates the students pedagogically to have these two related and intertwined aspects of the course taught separately by a different instructor.

9:30-10:15 PM (off the clock)

Commute home.

10:15 PM-1:00 AM (off the clock)

Eat. Unwind. Crash.

Moi-Nomore adjuct wage theft-lowGross pay for day: $493.62 for what looks like seven hours of work. That's about $70/hour, if you don't include my four hours of office hours and prep. Add that and it takes my base pay down to $44.87/hour for my 11-hour workday. Tack on another almost four hours of uncompensated commuting time that costs me $25/day. We haven't even gotten to the grading papers part yet.

Days 2 & 4

10:00-12:00 (off the clock)

Stagger out of bed grateful for eight hours of sleep. Make tea, sit down to read emails and fend off disasters. Catch up on the news. Save a few articles for future use. Eat a little breakfast at the computer.

12:00-5:00 (off the clock)

Grade papers from classes at all three schools, do a little class prep for tonight's lit course at School No. 3. At midterms, fill out a ridiculous amount of paperwork for student evaluations. By hand. In triplicate. This school has no online grading system, a demanding recording keeping policy, rubrics, and dictatorial syllabi. I don't choose either my books or the way I construct my course here. I confess I cheat a bit. I make the papers longer but fewer. The syllabus also dictates an inordinate amount of written homework which I must read and grade, on top of the 5-7 page papers and the 10-15 page research paper. This class meets once a week for 3.5 hours for 18 weeks. The lab on Day 4 meets once a week for 2.5 hours for nine weeks, but has little prep and just a final portfolio review orgy. Somewhere in here I will grab lunch and/or dinner.

6:00-6:45 (off the clock)

Grab bus to School No. 3

6:45-7:30 (off the clock)

Office hours, which I am contractually bound to have, even though I don't have an office here. There isn't even a teachers' lounge. Usually I just hang out outside "my" classroom and wait for my students to find me. I'm also not compensated for this time. It's included in the fee I'm paid for the course.

7:30-10:00/6:00-8:30 (on the clock)

Teach the lit class or lab. I teach these classes without a break so we can all go home a little earlier than the schedule, and because it takes us too long to get started again if I give us a break. Everyone takes a bathroom break but me, which is fine, because the bathrooms in this school are like "The Worst Washroom in Edinburgh" from Trainspotting. Students are supposedly not allowed to eat during class because the custodial staff doesn't like cleaning up after them. I say screw that, especially since many of them are coming from work. Hungry students can't think. And I know the custodial staff isn't spending all their time keeping the bathrooms clean and in repair. They also tend to hustle us out of class if we stay until 10:00 so they can go home early too.

8:30/10:00 (off the clock)

Take the bus home.

9:15/10:45-midnight (off the clock)

Crash and burn.

Days 5, 6 & 7 (off the clock)

Get up late, do some errands, grade some papers. Field emails and resolve disasters. There are always papers to be graded. Always. At least two hours a day are spent grading papers, even on the days I'm not teaching. That's because two days a week are sixteen-hour days where I get no grading done. Papers take anywhere from ten minutes each for short homework to 40 minutes for longer papers to read, mark, and write comments on. 50 papers x 40 minutes = 2000 minutes or about 34 hours a week, just grading. Just grading.

School No. 1 gets 7 hours/week teaching time.

School No. 2 gets 7 hours/week teaching time + ½ hour of office hours.

School No. 3 gets 6 hours/week teaching time.

20 hours of teaching time + 34 hours grading papers + 12 hours prep and admin. = 66 hours/week

That's about $15.00 an hour.

By comparison, when I worked part-time for a large environmental consulting firm, I worked 25 hours a week and made $34.00/hour, or about $48,000/year gross. Teaching, I'm lucky if I gross $32,000/year, with extra freelance work over the summer.

Fifteen dollars an hour for someone with an advanced degree. And it seems pretty clear that I spend more hours working outside the classroom than inside, by an almost 2:1 ratio. But the benefits package must be great, you say. You have unions in two of those schools. But I'm part-time in all of them, which means I have no health care, and a pittance of retirement benefits from one school. And remember, this is a "good" semester financially. Most semesters I teach two or four classes at most. That's probably just as well, because nine months of this schedule at my age would probably kill me.

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