Adjunct Matters | Adjuncts Matter by Eric De Sena

Greetings to our WCCFT Community!

I am going to break the silence on a taboo subject…the poor mental health of Adjuncts.

By now it is clear that mental health is a critical issue throughout the world. In the USA, awareness campaigns and improvements in mental health systems have been underway for a decade or so. Depression and anxiety can affect anyone, regardless of identity or economic standing. Look at Robin Williams. While I do not want to detract from everyone who is suffering, I do want to highlight that within academia, Adjuncts are highly susceptible. Not all Adjuncts suffer from depression and anxiety, but many of us do (yes, me too). For most of us, depression and anxiety spring from our professional and economic status.

As I have written before, the corporatization of American colleges and universities has caused most of the woes in higher education, including the Adjunct epidemic. Why is enrollment so low? Programs are being cut or diluted to focus on majors “that will guarantee students enter the workforce.” Students have fewer options, especially when it comes to the Liberal Arts and upper-level classes, and they perceive the weaknesses of programs. Therefore, an increasing number of students enter the workforce directly after high school or a stint at a community college. The elimination of courses and programs coupled with declining enrollment means full-time faculty are fired or encouraged to take early retirement. Since it’s all about the bottom line, armies of Adjuncts have been hired to teach, fill roles in libraries (lack of upper-level courses means less research), and counsel students.

[T]he corporatization of American colleges and universities has caused most of the woes in higher education, including the Adjunct epidemic.

Yes, we Adjuncts are working within our field of choice, but the circumstances are far from ideal and often lead to poor mental health. Three of the interlaced causes of depression and anxiety amongst Adjuncts are:

  • Economics. In the lower Hudson Valley, teaching Adjuncts average $3800-4000 per 3-credit course; the hourly rate of non-teaching Adjuncts is lower (all before taxes). Rent for a small apartment is in the $2200-2800 range. Therefore, a teaching Adjunct needs to teach seven or eight classes per year only to cover the rent, let alone all other fundamental expenses. Few of us have enough money for vacation, going out on weekends, or making an impulsive purchase. And we cannot save for retirement. This is a huge source of anxiety and depression.
  • Wasted talent. In the 1993 film, A Bronx Tale, Robert De Niro’s character, Lorenzo Aniello, tells his son the saddest thing in life is wasted talent. Most Adjuncts hold terminal degrees and are outstanding educators and professionals. We have many years of teaching, library, and counseling experience. We’ve presented research at conferences and have even organized major events. We’ve published books and articles and/or produced art, films, and other media projects. But as Adjuncts, our talents are being wasted. How can we give full attention to our students when we are only on campus between our other gigs? How can we continue to pursue research, creative, and professional projects when we work so much for so little? The simple answer is we can’t. And this is depressing.
  • Poor attitude toward Adjuncts on campus. Personally, I cannot complain because many full-time colleagues and administrators have recognized my achievements. Students have no clue I am not a full-time professor. But, in general, there is a poor attitude on American campuses toward Adjuncts. The concept of Adjuncts began when boards of trustees and top administrators realized that if you create part-time positions in the manner of graduate teaching assistantships, institutions can save a hell of a lot of money. 30 years later, there is still a lingering mentality that Adjuncts = graduate assistants. This could not be farther than the truth. Adjuncts = our full-time counterparts except that we have not had the fortune of landing a full-time position. This demeaning attitude towards Adjuncts is a source of depression.

Many Adjuncts suffer from depression and anxiety as a direct result of American Higher Education, Inc. Mental health issues are usually invisible to others. So, when we meet colleagues, we greet each other with smiles and report on how well our semester is going. But those of us who are experiencing such issues know how to put on a mask. And we are strong and caring enough to maintain energy and a high level of performance in the classroom.

We need change! We need higher pay and benefits! We need greater respect on campus! We need full-time opportunities! Clearly, mental health problems are based upon a multitude of factors and circumstances, but most of us will recover quickly with improved professional and economic conditions.

There, I said it.

In solidarity,

Eric C. De Sena
WCCFT Adjunct Representative
Member of the WCCFT Negotiation Team

Please reach out to Eric De Sena at for any union-related concerns and/or to send me news items for future issues of FTConnect.