Recently I found myself in a conversation with a college administrator (not from my school). As we caught up on old times, our attention ranged across a variety of people whom we’d both known for years. This one had gotten a job in Florida while that one took a position in Texas. But time and again, we found people who remained working as adjunct faculty at the school where we’d known them.
In case you’re not up on the college labor structure, you’re depriving yourself of a system of haves and have-nots. Full-time, tenure-track faculty members make a decent living, receive benefits, and enjoy marvelous job security. At present, I believe that I’d probably have to join Al Qaeda to lose my job. But a large number of classes are taught by adjunct or part-time faculty. These people are paid poorly—often less than half what full-timers get for the same class. They receive no benefits, and they have no assurance that they’ll have a job next semester. A large number of these people are newbies, sort of paying their dues as they get started in the profession. Many of these folks are still completing their education. They couldn’t land a full-time job yet, so they really don’t have room to complain. Another large segment is comprised of retirees and others who have no desire to teach a full load. These people enjoy teaching one or two classes each semester. Their pay is limited, but they never have to attend faculty meetings. The setup seems fair to all parties.
But a third, and significant, cadre of the adjunct ranks are the lifers. These are people who, for whatever reason, can’t get a full-time job. They’ve sold their academic birthright for a mess of pottage and find themselves teaching year after year in the same place, hoping against hope that they’ll eventually get a break and reach the majors. That’s what they hope, but the hope is almost never a realistic one. After a few years, these people become identified as lifelong adjuncts. There must be something wrong with them, the reasoning goes, if they haven’t gotten a full-time position yet. Since they couldn’t get it five years ago, we probably shouldn’t give it to them now.
One guy at JCCC, started teaching adjunct a year after I did. He got an interview a year before I did. He’s gotten one since. But by now it’s been a good ten years since he’s had a crack at the full-time ranks, and he’s put in a total of fifteen years as a part-timer. That’s nearly half a career! And the sad thing is that there’s really no hope. Once you’ve moved from the hopeful new guy status to the hopeless long-timer, you’re never going to make the jump.
Life can be like that. Regardless of the people who claim that we can achieve marvelous things if we just want it badly enough, many things have passed us by. I’m not going to get that job at Harvard. That possibility is gone. The professional baseball career is gone. The hope to be a men’s swimwear model is pretty well faded. I can’t bring those things back, despite all the good vibes I can generate.
Our sinfulness is the same way. “Fallen is Virgin Israel,” Amos says, but he might as well have substituted my name or yours. “Never to rise again . . . with no one to lift her up.” We’re hopeless, just as Israel was. We’re hopeless, except that we have someone to lift us up just as Israel discovered that she had someone to lift her up. My modeling career may be down for the count, but I have a hope. And that hope has a name.