Introducing: Dear Crabby–Advice for Adjuncts

Dear Crabby is an occasional column of adjunct “advice” which first appeared on Karen Roothaan’s blog. She has graciously consented to write some columns for us. If you have questions, send them to us at

Dear crabby21-300x300 Crabby’s first foray into rendering adjunct etiquette advice appears to be successful, if by success we define a positive and appreciative response without adequate financial compensation. It is not unlike being a popular adjunct instructor, so many of you will certainly be able to relate.

If only there were a few more hours in the day, Crabby would personally respond to each and every one of your letters regarding the myriad economic injustices associated with being an adjunct, or contingent, faculty member. But Crabby has a life, and Crabby also has a publisher who has quite assertively suggested that this next column focus on students:

Dear Crabby,

I am an adjunct instructor in a very busy department. Our developmental courses are almost entirely taught by adjuncts, who have no voice in textbook selection. The most recent edition of our textbook is virtually identical to the previous one, but by requiring the new edition the bookstore guarantees that the old books cannot be reused and forces the students to pay top price. This really ticks me off. I calculate that if every person in the class buys the new textbook, students will spend more on books than I earn teaching the class. Am I wrong to be disturbed by this?

Expensive Textbooks Hurt Intellectually Curious Students (ETHICS)


If your department is as busy as you say, you can probably share your concerns with the students without fear of detection. (Leave out the issue of your compensation, since if this does go to administration you want to look like a little angel, not a self-serving “whiny adjunct.”)

Just mention the existence of the older book and let students know you will work with them regarding minor differences. Come up with things to do for the first week that do not involve the book, to give people time to order a used book online.

If possible, get your hands on some used books yourself, and make sure students know you have a few free copies available if needed. Usually students will self-select for this; there is probably a name for this psychological syndrome which Crabby does not know but the important thing is that even one student who cannot afford a text and gets a free one thanks to you is your insurance policy against getting in trouble. You did not know how else to help this student, and who can blame you for doing your job?

Sabotaging the textbook profiteers was one of the highlights of Crabby’s lackluster academic career, and she was never detected, so most of these cautions are probably not needed. Your students are definitely not going to rat you out for trying to save them some money!


P.S. @Darthvadersmoms adds  that “putting a book on reserve in the library is also a good alternative or using scanned chapters on a class Blackboard are also good form of low-level sabotage that I find highly effective.”

Dear Crabby,

I cannot believe you advised an instructor to give free books out to students as a form of low-level sabotage. What would happen if that person got fired? Wouldn’t you feel guilty?

Such Careless Advice Really Engenders Doubt (SCARED)


Having done this a few times, Crabby can assure you that detection is unlikely. However, just for the sake of argument, since that appears to be what you want, suppose word got out. The most likely repercussion would be to not get rehired, which sets the instructor up for an unemployment claim.

So Crabby will revise her advice to be used only if the instructor in question has enough wages in the first four of the previous five quarters to support a decent unemployment check, and there are no clear instructions to the contrary in the faculty handbook. Does that satisfy you, SCARED?

While we are discussing unemployment, please, contingent faculty, acquaint yourselves with the laws of your state. This may be helpful to you; it is also something you can share with students. As teachers we implicitly participate in the promise of education as a way to a better life, a promise we ourselves believed when we were in school. It is irresponsible, and less than honest, to allow our students to be overly optimistic about the future.

Our economy has been in trouble for decades. Telling students that education will increase their lifetime earning potential may be the truth, but it is not the whole truth. Let’s make sure our students know this, by exercising our academic freedom where it really counts.


Karen Roothaan is a retired community college teacher of mathematics, with over twenty years of experience at multiple institutions, mostly as an adjunct. The USDA nutritional guidelines and Dear Crabby were written right before she retired.


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