Our books

Become a Fan

« Saturday sounds | Main | Mentoring program update »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


perhaps I could give the perspective of someone who is tenured in a department that relies on long term adjunct faculty.
This is a real bind. On the one hand, departments are forced to be thankful to get adjunct positions to cover our teaching needs. But it is a disgrace to participate in this exploitation. To make matters worse, even when we try to rectify things, and get a tenure track line, departments are often forced to get rid of an adjunct position. This would be fine if the long term adjunct were hired. But often that is not the case. In fact, with TT lines we are required to do national searches, and almost inevitably someone from somewhere else gets the position.
To make matters worse (still!) in a typical department there are often tenured faculty who have stopped researching. What I have found is that these are the people on campuses who are most adamant about emphasizing the great difference between adjunct faculty and TT faculty. But in reality there is no difference. So the dynamics in departments and on campuses can be quite unusual.
What is happening on my campus seems to be typical of state colleges across the country.


I hope someone in this position will post, but I want to point out that there might be a vast variance in the types of non-TT long term positions. Many adjuncts are having a really rough time, no doubt. On the other hand, I know several long term career adjuncts (and lectures) who are very happy with their career. This is partly because the schools and the state they live in pay them more than most, and they also give them very good benefits. Hence they get a career of teaching a subject they love, summers off, involvement with student life, they present at conferences, etc. When I was an adjunct I became friends with some of these persons (maybe I will write to them and ask them to contribute). They were largely happy with their life and thankful that they got to stay in a location they love and also not have the stress of worrying about tenure.

While it is important to be concerned about the many non-TT track philosophers who are treated badly, I also think it is important to NOT feel sorry for those who are happy. At least I know that if I decided to go that path, I wouldn't want people feeling sorry for me. It would be a choice to stay in a profession I love, with a fair amount of freedom, and I would only stay if it was better than other jobs I could find. What might be hard for these folks is being treated as outsiders, as not "real" members of the profession and as people others should look down on or at least pity. As "Tenured" above points out, these professors actually (in terms of the work they do) are not much different than many who are tenured.

Now in the above I do not mean to diminish the very hard life many non-TT persons face, but I do want to show another side of the story that others might not have heard. I honestly have no idea how common it is to stay in a non-TT position and be relatively happy. I know a lot of people, but it might well be I ran into an outlier community. It would be great to have some posts from actual non-TT to help shed light on this.


One reason to be concerned for non-tenure track employees at universities is because of their contingent status. Most can be cut with little notice. That is a bad spot to be in. Imagine working at a place for 10 or so years, enjoying it and thinking it will last forever, and then you get cut. I have seen it happen.


Sure - I never said we shouldn't be concerned. I thought I made that clear. Anyhow, there is a chance with the vast majority of jobs on earth that you can get fired. Welcome to real life. Tenured philosophers are the privileged exception, definitely not the norm. And although it is possible to get fired, some non-TT positions have pretty tight guidelines for firing that are only a bit less secure than tenure, which is why I know a number of people who have been working at the same place for 20 plus years. (Again, no idea how common this is.)

So again, yes, we should care about non-TT philosophers who are treated badly, and many are. At the same time, there is a life of the non-TT philosopher which is a relatively happy and stable life, and with those persons we should respect them and welcome them as equal members of the profession to whatever extent possible.



There are two things in your response that need to be addressed carefully. The first is the sentiment behind "Welcome to real life". The second is that what you've said about tenured philosophers being "the privileged exception" is, when you take a more nuanced view, false.

"Welcome to real life" suggests professors don't live in "the real world" whatever that is. I (a) don't know what that means and (b) find it to be obviously false on any plausible interpretation. The belief that we in the academy somehow "don't live in the real world" *is* a common attitude, though. And I suspect this attitude is part of why it has become acceptable to dismiss academic experts -- they don't know my problems, people can say, because they don't live in the real world. That's dangerous and problematic for lots of reasons. The fact that you said "welcome to real life" does not, of course, mean you buy this. But using the phrase contributes to the perpetuation of a dangerous idea, so should be avoided.

On the second point: yes, almost all jobs you can get fired from. But among jobs that have a high risk-taking requirement, the guarantees tenure provides are extraordinarily modest. Hedge fund managers routinely have severance fund packages built into their contracts. Often these funds provide more compensation in the event of their firing than most philosophers will make in a lifetime. Doing philosophy (or any other academic subject) well requires taking major risks. It is *not* standard to require massive risks without providing some sort of surety in the event of failure. In the academy, this surety comes in the form of tenure. Elsewhere it can be severance funds, a requirement that your termination be negotiated with your union, etc. So philosophy is not a privileged exception, because (a) it's not an exception and (b) to the extent that it offers surety, the surety it offers is rather modest.


"Welcome to real life" was in reference to the notion that non-TT are contingent faculty. Most people are neither hedge fund managers nor are they tenured professors. Those who are elections, own small businesses, compare computers, work for human resources, physical therapists, etc., can get fired at any time, and for basically any reason other than race, religion, etc. (Admittedly the rules vary state by state). The protections that contingent faculty have are comparable to most of these "real life" jobs, if not much better. If contingent faculty left academia, they would likely work for one of these real life jobs.

I am not sure what "massive risks" you are referring to. If you mean going to grad school and not making money for years - this is the risk we decided to take. It was very hard to get into grad school, most people don't. I could easily not have taken my risk and the world would have been fine, as for anyone else who decided to take that risk. There is an oversupply of PHds, so it is not as if the risk is to serve some not meet public need.

Trust me, I know as well as anyone that grad school and the job market can be tough, emotionally draining, and require perseverance like nothing else. Professors work very hard, harder than most. It has been my experience, however, that they are a little out of touch with the ordinary life of the 60% of Americans without a college degree. But that is another discussion entirely.


I meant "electricians" lol.

UK reader

Amanda, it's my understanding that most adjuncts work from fixed-term contract to fixed-term contract, often year-to-year. That's not actually what the majority of the population (at least in the UK, not sure about the US) do. It's not the norm.

Pendaran Roberts

Normal jobs usually have some kind of contract that isn't fixed-term. There is some kind of job security that comes with the contract. If the person is sacked, they are owed some kind of severance etc.


I sympathise with Amanda's sentiment: the protections from being fired that tenure affords are not the norm across the work force, and I also agree that we should compare our job conditions not only to hedge funds managers etc but to that of the work force as a whole, including non-college graduates. But "UK reader" and Pendaran also make an important point. It is *not* normal in these jobs to have a contract that is fixed-term and actively needs to be renewed every year. It is normal to have an open-ended contract. Yes, you can be fired, and much more easily so in the US than in Europe or the UK; but if you are not fired then you just keep being employed without any need for you or the administration to act.


certainly where I teach adjunct instructors have to be renewed each year. So each year they can be let go. After 8 or so years they may take it for granted that they will be renewed. But that is at their own peril. In fact, I have seen adjunct instructors cut after many years of service. (I am in the US)


Tenured: Yes, that's exactly what I meant, I'm sorry I wasn't being clear. I meant that the "real world jobs" that Amanda refers to are not similar to adjunct positions, because even though you can be fired from them you don't have fixed term contracts like adjuncts do. Tenure is not the norm in the general work force, but neither is having to get your contract renewed every year.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Open job-market threads