Feed the Adjuncts: Group Exhibition and Feature on NPR

Feed the Adjuncts JPG Email

(Image: Colleen Kelsey)

Participating Artists: Nicholaus Arnold, Wesley Berg, Matthew Burgy, Clara Coleman, Leesa Haapapuro, Sara Janowski, Ashley Jude Jonas, Colleen Kelsey, Jean Koeller, James Luckett, Edmund Merricle, Marsha Pippenger, Leah Stahl, Frank Travers

By: Colleen Kelsey

FEED THE ADJUNCTS is a social political, ONE NIGHT ONLY, pop-up art event featuring 14 local Dayton artists who teach part-time at one of the 4 local universities/ colleges and art high schools that rely on part-time workers.  Adjuncts are considered the fast food workers of the academic world.  Currently one out of 3 adjuncts are living in poverty with average earnings of about $2700 each course per semester. (1) These depressive conditions have gradually been happening over the last 35 years.  Slowly administration duties have been stripped from professors by way of creating whole new administrative positions. This has resulted in the bloating of administration departments by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009. (2) In effect this has stripped funding for full-time tenured positions. In 1969 80% of faculty positions were tenured or tenure track.  According to AAUP, American Association of University Professors, today 50 percent of the teaching positions are filled with “contingent” part-time adjuncts and it continues to grow with 70 percent of instructional staff being either part-time or non-tenure track appointments. (3)

Local adjunct and established painter Jean Koeller has adjuncted on and off for the past twenty years, with time at all four local universities including the Dayton Art Institute.  Koeller currently teaches part-time at Stivers School for the Arts. Koeller explains it this way, ”I understood that when I began teaching, adjuncting was a way to “cut your teeth,” or “on the job training so to speak” but there isn’t much reward once you have become seasoned or good at what you do. There is a set wage and it never changes per class and your always living by the skin of your teeth, waiting to be granted a class or two each semester and it’s not a guarantee, so, one is always on edge.”  Often adjuncts teach more then full-time tenure professors just to earn above poverty level wages.  This leads to what Koeller describes as the “constant struggle with time, place and with no reward, no increase in wages year after year, no benefits or power over your circumstance”.

Local Adjunct Professor Wesley Berg recently accepted a position teaching in Texas for a year.  Wesley reflects that “the adjunct system is letting down the students.  My students in Foundation Drawing were pretty disappointed that I wouldn’t be back next semester.  I’m sad to leave them.  But I have to leave because I don’t make a livable wage or receive basic health benefits, even though I teach a full load of classes.  I feel like I’m abandoning those students, when instead I want to put all my energy into teaching them.”

Fellow adjunct Colleen Kelsey agrees. “I have been teaching for over 8 years now and adjuncting for six of these. After time in the class teaching, planning lectures, grading, prepping demos and all the other work it takes, I probably only make around $7 an hour. And somedays that all goes to a babysitter who watches my three kids”.

Adjuncts have to be inventive, often coming up with outside sources of income. This is especially true in the dry summer months of unemployment. Year round Koeller teaches private lessons and in the summer she runs painting sessions.  “Summers are the hardest since you know you have to find other employment and I have to say, it is twice as hard to find summer jobs due to the fact that your competing with high school and college kids, for again, minimum wage and the older you get, it’s even more evident that your not hirable for a short period of time. Then there is the issue, how do I (personally) keep painting and carve out that time to concentrate on what I thought I was meant to do?” explains Jean Koeller.

Historically the adjunct position was created in inequality, especially gender/ racial inequality.  In the 1950s and 60s if a women professor were to become married she would automatically be demoted from her full-time teaching status to a part-time position so as to take on more of the “wifely duties” around the home.  Colleen Kelsey experienced a contemporary version of this inequality.  “While I was pregnant with my daughter Zoe I had to go on unemployment. It was so demoralizing, I wanted to work but they wouldn’t hire me because there is no maternity leave for adjuncts. Who was going to hire a very pregnant woman or a woman who just had a baby?  And there have also been times when classes get canceled, there is just no guarantees or security, no health insurance either or benefits,” says Colleen Kelsey.  “As an artist who has invested years and thousands of dollars in my education, it is disheartening to be treated as disposable commodity.  But I keep teaching for the love of the subject and my students,” Kelsey concludes.

The 2012 report by The Coalition of Faculty Workforce states that women make up 61 percent of part-time faculty, likewise as all faculty members do, they rely on student evaluations to keep their positions. (5) A recent study has shown that student evaluations are “systematically biased against women” through an online course where students evaluate poorly male faculty who they believed were female while simultaneously rated the very same male faculty member with high marks on their classroom evaluations. (6)  With regards to racial inequality the 2014 the House Committee on Education and workforce issued a 36-page report on the “contingent faculty” problem, in their report data shows that “The proportion of African-American in non-tenure-track positions (15.2 percent) is more than 50 percent greater than that of whites (9.6 percent)”. (7) An article by Tressie McMillian goes into greater detail about these prejudices built into the academic system against African Americans stating “African-Americans make up just 5 percent of full-time faculty. If you leave out the high proportion of black Ph.D.s working in historically black colleges and universities, black full-time faculty in the U.S. barely clears 4 percent.” (7)

To teach is a noble calling, it is challenging job and it is a job of service that speaks to our better natures.  James Hoff says it best about the adjunct system “”it is unjust because it cynically manipulates the better angels of the human spirit – the desire to help and to share one’s interests and values, to cultivate meaningful relationships, to inspire, and to teach – in order to save a few bucks.”  The art pop-up art exhibition Feed the Adjuncts aims to bring light to the adjunct crisis.


At Feed the Adjuncts some artists will be making their work on site, others are installing their work directly, all medias featured. All art sale proceeds go directly to the Art Adjunct Profs. BYOB…. Feed the Adjuncts is planned in collaboration with Wesley Berg Studios. This pop-up exhibition space is donated by artist and Divisible Gallery Director Jeff Cortland Jones.




Divisibe Gallery, Front Street Warehouse

1001 E 2nd St,

Building 100, Door BC, Fl 2rd,

Dayton, OH 45402

FACEBOOK EVENT: https://www.facebook.com/events/1028202993918647/

Kelsey Projects Contact:

Colleen Kelsey





(1). Clara McCarthy, “Adjunct Professors fight over crumbs on campus”, Washington Post, August 22, 2014  https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/adjunct-professors-fight-for-crumbs-on-campus/2014/08/22/ca92eb38-28b1-11e4-8593-da634b334390_story.html

(2).  Caroline Fredrickson, “There is No Excuse For How Universities Treat Adjuncts”, The Atlantic, September 15, 2015 http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/09/higher-education-college-adjunct-professor-salary/404461/

(3). American Association of University Professors http://www.aaup.org/issues/contingency/background-facts

(4) Veronica Popp, “For An Adjunct Professor, Academic Power Dynamics Feed Into Rape Culture”, Bitch Media, February 11 https://bitchmedia.org/article/adjunct-professor-academic-power-dynamics-feed-rape-culture

(5) ”A Portrait of Part-Time Faculty Members”, The Coalition of Academic Workforce, June 2012 http://www.academicworkforce.org/CAW_portrait_2012.pdf

(6) Anya Kamenetz, “Why Female Professors Get Lower Ratings”, January 25, 2016  http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/01/25/463846130/why-women-professors-get-lower-ratings

(7) Tressie McMillan, The New Old Labor Crisis: Think being an adjunct professor is hard? Try being a black adjunct professr”, Slate,  January 24, 2014 http://www.slate.com/articles/life/counter_narrative/2014/01/adjunct_crisis_in_higher_ed_an_all_too_familiar_story_for_black_faculty.html


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