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The Pros and Cons of Being an Adjunct Law Professor

In the August issue of the ABA Journal, Deborah Cohen has an interesting article on some of the pros and cons of being an adjunct professor at a law school. As someone who has served as an adjunct professor of Legal Writing not once but twice (both times at George Mason University School of Law, separated by about a decade in between), I believe Cohen's article is pretty accurate.

As the article suggests, there is at least a whiff of "prestige" associated with being offered a position as an adjunct law professor that makes it seems like a great idea at the time. Cool, I'll be "Professor Carton!" I'll get paid to share my wisdom with law students! The class is only two hours per week, that can't be too much work, right?

All of this is true, but there is more to the equation that makes the decision on being an adjunct professor a bit more tricky. First, the compensation. As Cohen notes, the pay is pretty minimal -- about $1,000 per credit hour, she reports. Basically you can expect to receive just a few thousand dollars per semester for your efforts as an adjunct.

Second, part-time teaching as an adjunct professor is far more time-consuming than it may first appear. This is particularly true where, as in my case, you are teaching a subject for the first time. Beyond the couple of hours a week spent in class, I recall the following as being among the significant time commitments of being an adjunct professor:

  • Reading the assigned course materials;
  • Reading the teacher's aid/manual;
  • Preparing an outline of your classroom lecture/discussion;
  • Driving to the law school, parking, walking to class;
  • After-class discussions with students;
  • Driving back to your office;
  • Email correspondence with students (this has probably expanded to Facebook, Twitter, text messages, Google+ chats and who knows what else in the year 2012);
  • Blind-grading student assignments and exams, and trying to conform to your school's grading guidance;
  • Figuring out that although you have 15 people in your class, you only have 14 assignments turned in, and what you are supposed to do about that; and
  • Tracking and reporting grades to the school by student number.

For me, at least, all of these things took far more time than I anticipated, particularly the grading and the class preparation.

According to the ABA Journal article, adjunct work is rarely a path to a full-time faculty post. Indeed, one of the people commenting on the article who claims to be "a faculty member at a major Boston area University" says that "in the history of my University, no adjunct has ever moved to a tenure track position." The commenter adds that "I tell most of my friends that they will do better, and have better career prospects, getting a job at a place like Home Depot and doing all they can to learn the back end of that business."

On the other hand, being an adjunct professor does let you get a taste of what it is like to stand up in front of a room of students and try to teach them something. Although the time demands were ultimately too much for me to continue with it, I really did enjoy the couple of hours I spent each week in the classroom with the students.

Posted by Bruce Carton on August 20, 2012 at 04:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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