My department has a number of courses we need covered by adjuncts in the next academic year. We were given permission to hire one (and only one) salaried adjunct and to cover the rest of the courses with per-course adjuncts. Salaried adjuncts receive benefits and are better paid than per-course adjuncts.

We received excellent candidates for the salaried position, only one of whom we can hire. After we close the search, (how) can I approach rejected candidates about teaching individual courses at the lower rate? Some career adjuncts have told me it would be offensive to offer a lower-paying and lower-status position to someone who applied for a better one, and I do not wish to offend anyone.

While the salaried position was publicly advertised, our institution does not advertise single courses. Furthermore, most of the candidates who applied for our salaried position were invited to by committee members or by our contacts, not because they were looking at ads.

How can I get the best outcome for our students and for teachers who would be willing to teach individual courses? I will continue to ask the administration for permission to hire a second salaried adjunct but do not expect to receive it. There is not much time to wait before starting our per-course search, as the current academic year is nearing its end (and our administration moves very slowly).


Because each of the top two candidates seemed too good to reject, we proposed a second salaried position, which we made by cobbling together the remaining courses and one from a related program. To our surprise, the administration reversed its earlier decision to let us hire only one salaried adjunct, and we were able to make two salaried offers. While my question is moot, I will leave it up for future search chairs.

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    Just confirming what you apparently already know: this is a somewhat ugly situation... If that's any comfort. That is, your perceptions are not "off"... and, yes, it's an exploitative situation. Sorry... Apr 20, 2019 at 22:47
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    "our institution does not advertise single courses" That is a practice that needs to change. Apr 21, 2019 at 1:25
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    @sgf mostly because the person needs to do very similar work that the first person does but will need to do this for less money and no job security. Basically imagine yourself coming to an interview which offers you to pay x$ per year. Then the interviewer tells you that you have not passes and now he tells you: would you like to do the same stuff for x/2$. Also I will be able to fire you at any time I want Apr 22, 2019 at 9:19
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    @sgf Yes, the whole situation of using per-course adjuncts to fill up what ought to be full-time positions is the exploitative part, and it’s sadly increasing at an alarming rate. The number of tenured staff at my old alma mater is less than half now compared to what it was when I graduated a mere four years ago. For my major specifically, it’s gone from five tenured and two adjuncts to one tenured and nine adjuncts. All the adjuncts are hired on a yearly basis, never knowing if they will have a job after summer. It’s disgustingly exploitative. Apr 22, 2019 at 11:07
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    @JanusBahsJacquet - It's that way all over. Just look at the number of adjunct administrative positions! (Oh, wait ...)
    – davidbak
    Apr 22, 2019 at 16:04

9 Answers 9


Ask them. What other option do you have? Not asking them I guess, but then you're making the decision for them. Personally, I can't imagine being offended if you explain it the way you did above. That said, I do agree that most candidates will react the same way other answerers have ("no freaking way!") -- all the more so because they were personally recruited for a permanent, salaried position.

You should have a firm offer for a specific course rather than just "inviting them to apply" for the lesser position. If possible, personalized mails or phone calls tend to be better received than form letters.

Edit: a lot of this discussion has focused on whether offering the lesser position is offensive. I think it's not, but beyond that, the question was:

How do I get the best outcome for our students and for teachers who would be willing to teach individual courses.

Even if applicants are offended by being offered the lesser position, that has zero bearing on the students or teachers that OP is asking about. Frankly, it doesn't really matter whether the rejected applicants are offended -- this will have no real consequences. On the other hand, if even one of these applicants accepts the per-course position, that could have huge consequences for both the students and teachers in question.

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    I agree with this answer. What the OP has to offer is not very good...but it has to be at least as good as offering nothing. The OP is giving them an option, after all. If the offer is made carefully and politely, it should not be offensive. Apr 21, 2019 at 17:40
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    @PeteL.Clark so if I made you a polite and careful offer to come and clean the bathroom at my house for $1, would you be pleased that I am giving you an option to do something and get paid for it? There is no chance that you would find this even a little bit offensive?
    – Dan Romik
    Apr 21, 2019 at 18:24
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    If you made that offer after I came up second for a permanent position cleaning your bathroom for $2? No, I can't imagine being offended, though I wouldn't be interested. We might not like it, but the "adjunctification" of lecturing positions has been going on for some time, so OP's offer is hardly some esoteric, bizarre suggestion like offering a post as a janitor would be.
    – cag51
    Apr 21, 2019 at 19:00
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    @cag51 those are valid points, but they miss the point of my comment. I was applying the logic in Pete’s comment to a different (and more extreme) scenario as a way of showing that, in my opinion, that logic is flawed. What I’m saying is that it may be that the offer of a part time adjunct position is not very offensive, but Pete’s explanation of why it’s not offensive is unconvincing. Giving someone an option to do something can certainly be offensive even though it’s “at least as good as offering nothing”. ...
    – Dan Romik
    Apr 21, 2019 at 19:14
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    @DanRomik - Gotcha. Yes, "We can't offer you lecturer, but you're welcome to clean the bathrooms" would potentially be offensive regardless of how it is phrased. I think this is where the disagreement on this question comes from -- others seem to think that offering the per-course position is nearly as bad as offering the bathroom-cleaning position, while I say that they are completely dissimilar.
    – cag51
    Apr 21, 2019 at 20:06

Don't ask them. It's a smack in the face. Advertise the position in the same place you advertised the salaried one; they will see it if they are still looking, and apply if they feel they need to.

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    Agree. Please don't ask me to do the job for less money and no security. Ugh.
    – Buffy
    Apr 20, 2019 at 23:45
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    It's only a smack in the face if you smack them. There is nothing insulting about: While you were not selected for this position, we are very impressed with your application and would like to know if you're interested in an offer for another position in our department (further specify). Apr 21, 2019 at 1:45
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    @user1717828 that "other" position has the same duties and responsibilities but will pay substantially less and have no job security.
    – StrongBad
    Apr 21, 2019 at 2:02
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    Anyone who thinks that the offer of paying work is "a smack in the face" would seem to have a seriously over-inflated ego. They might not be interested because they have opportunities elsewhere, in which case they can just decline. OTOH, that adjunct job might be better than being unemployed.
    – jamesqf
    Apr 21, 2019 at 3:47
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    Because it smacks of "bait and switch". Oh, you advertised a good job and attracted good applicants and now you want them to settle for a much worse situation. This makes your institution look illegitimate.
    – JKreft
    Apr 23, 2019 at 3:23

This sucks, but it is the reality of the academic job market. Basically, you want to offer them (hopefully), or ask them to apply (less nice, bordering on rude), the same job but now you are going to pay them less, likely substantially less, with fewer benefits and no long term security. Now, here is the hard part. If you don't offer them the worse job, they are going to walk away thinking they were not even good enough to adjunct on a per-course basis. I think that is worse than being up front.

You just need to be up front. Say "We cannot offer you the position you applied for." Then tell them you have a much less desirable position that they are clearly overqualified for, but if they are interested you would be happy for them to apply. If you actually want them to take the job, you also need to demonstrate that your department respects per-course adjuncts, despite the university clearly not respecting them. That is the hardest part. You cannot mislead them and pretend that there is a carrot (i.e., the job they applied for and the one you are trying to get them). It sounds like you care, but hopefully you have some evidence of why they should expect to be treated fairly.

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    +1 for "a much less desirable position that they are clearly overqualified for" -- that wording really makes it seem much less offensive. Apr 22, 2019 at 19:06
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    Agree with this. The least offensive way is to just mention there are other less-desirable positions and ask if they are interested.
    – Dragonel
    Apr 23, 2019 at 17:34

There are at least two sets of people who would prefer the single course assignments to a full time job:

  • People employed in industry who like teaching, and would like some extra money.
  • Retired academics who do not want a full time workload.

To reach those people you need an outreach effort that should include advertising to fill your single course jobs. As part of that outreach effort, you could e-mail the full time applicants you did not hire: "Do you know anyone who would be interested in a part time job teaching one or more of the following courses: [list courses]". This does not presume the full time candidate is available for a part time job, but they can say so if they are.

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    So you're going to reject applicants for a permanent position, not explicitly offer them the lesser position, and then ask for their help with your staffing problems? Now that seems like a slap in the face.
    – cag51
    Apr 21, 2019 at 15:57

I'm not currently in academia, but as a recent job-seeker I'll caution you to avoid assuming how someone else will feel about a particular job. You don't know this person, or their situation, or what their goals are. You do them - and possibly yourself - a disservice when you just assume they won't want something and don't even let them know about it.

As an example, I had a recruiter tell me (well after the fact) that I was rejected for a position because it was located 200 miles away from my current location. The company I was applying to did not have the budget to pay for relocation, so they rejected me because I wasn't local. What they did not know is that I was perfectly willing to relocate at my own expense, as the job in question was close to family and a place where I had been trying to move to for several years. Instead of asking me about it, they made the assumption that I wouldn't find it acceptable and they lost what could have been their most valuable team member (I might be a bit biased...).

As another example, my wife applied for a job recently and did not get it. After the position was filled, she received a call from one of the managers who told her that while she lost out to a candidate with more experience, they were still very impressed by her and think that she would be a good addition to their team. They told her that they were anticipating another position opening up in a couple of months and while it wasn't the same as what she originally applied for, the work was similar and she would have opportunities to move from there to what she really wanted to do. This was a much better way of handling it, as my wife had wanted to work with this organization for a long time but it's nearly impossible to get your foot in the door. The manager didn't know that, so she politely informed my wife about the opportunities and let her make her own decision.

In your case, how you communicate with these candidates is key. It's unlikely that you'd offend someone by replying with a message like

Even though we weren't able to offer you that particular position, we were impressed by your interview and still think you'd be a valuable addition to our team. There are several other open positions that should be getting posted soon. I don't know yet whether they'll be part-time positions or full-time positions, but some of them would definitely benefit from someone with your particular background in XYZ. Would you still be interested in working with us?

You're letting them know that you thought they were a top quality candidate, and you're simply asking if they would be interested in hearing about other opportunities. Be polite, and focus on future opportunities in general at first. Give them the chance to say "yes", "no", or "yes, but only if it's full-time" before you start talking about any specific positions. I've had many recruiters do similar things to me when discussing possible contract work (which is pretty much the industry analogue of the part-time positions you describe). Float the general concept and get a good feeling for what they're looking for before you offer them something specific that might be absolutely out of line. If they're not interested, don't push it and ask if you can contact them when a full-time position becomes available.

If you approach it like "we're low-balling you with this lesser position" then you probably will offend people. If you approach it like "we really do want you on board, and we're trying to find a position that can make that happen" (and you sincerely believe that), then you're likely to be received in a positive way.

  • I think you are missing how truly awful per-course adjuncts are typically treated. It is more accurate to think of it as the department is desperate to fill a position at the lowest possible cost.
    – StrongBad
    Apr 23, 2019 at 15:26
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    The only change I would make would be to inquire if the unsuccessful candidate would like to be notified about future employment opportunities within the department. This would gauge their reaction without having to give details about those positions.
    – Chad
    Apr 23, 2019 at 16:45
  • @StrongBad - I understand that. I'm simply asking that you give the candidate the opportunity to decide whether or not that's an unacceptable arrangement for them. After all, the only one who really understands their goals and needs is them.
    – bta
    Apr 23, 2019 at 21:22

This sort of thing happened to me on several occasions. I applied for tenure-track jobs, specifically asking not to be considered for temporary jobs, and was offered a postdoc on more than one occasion. One time I even interviewed for a tenure-track job before getting offered a postdoc instead. This one was the only one that offended me since I actually flew out of town for the interview and the bait-and-switch was irritating.

The case at hand is somewhat different since it's a full-time adjunct vs a one-course adjunct at a lower wage, but I think there is some commonality. How offended they would be would likely depend on how demeaning you are about it. On one extreme, if the candidate interviewed for the job, was rejected, and then was offered a worse position, then there's a good chance the candidate would be offended. I've known one person who accepted such a job anyhow and he was miserable the whole time, thinking he deserved better. He didn't get along with the other faculty as a result.

On the other extreme, if the candidate simply was never contacted about the adjunct job, and then got a mass emailing from some university account alerting the candidate to the job opening, it's less offensive and you might get more interest. It just means the candidate was put on a list of people who might be interested. There's still some rejection involved but it seems to me it's less personal and less likely to be taken the wrong way.


Yes, you should ask them. Here is how I would suggest doing it.

Give detailed and meaningful feedback on the unsuccessful application

Speaking as a PhD researcher who is approaching completion and who has applied (unsuccessfully) for various positions, the one thing that is most insulting is the lack of meaningful feedback. It is very demoralising to spend hours and hours preparing a job application, only to get a very terse and cryptic sentence or two of feedback loaded with clichés that give me no sense of how competitive (or uncompetitive) I am on the relevant facets of the position. Worst of all is the feedback that is largely or entirely positive, justifying the rejection only on some bizarre criticism or prejudice that gives me the impression that the interview was a complete waste of time (because the panel had already decided I was not "compatible"), even though I believed myself to be a serious candidate.

Get to the point quickly

Everyone is overloaded with correspondence, and a person reading a message about a job application may be nervous/excitable/apprehensive. So, please make the key information crystal clear at the beginning of the message (personally, I prefer to see it even in the subject line -- for example,

[unsuccessful, but we may have other opportunities for you] application for lecturer at Univ. of Academiapolis

-- some may find this too blunt, but it saves combing through the clichés of the message itself ("we had a lot of strong applications"; "we really enjoyed meeting you"), many of which can be found in both acceptances and rejections (I recently had a conference acceptance notice which looked like a rejection, because it started by talking about the very high standard of submissions and the difficulty in making selections, with the crucial point, "your paper is accepted", buried in the middle of the paragraph).

Ask permission to keep each applicant's curriculum vitae and application data on file

Depending on data-protection legislation, you may, strictly speaking, be obliged to delete the job-application records after having hired the chosen candidate, and may not be permitted to utilise them for other purposes. By asking permission to keep an unsuccessful applicant's data on file, you are treating him/her with respect, demonstrating implicitly an interest in hiring him/her for other opportunities, and giving him/her an opportunity to indicate whether he/she is interested. I would phrase it something like this:

Despite the negative outcome of this application, we were very impressed by you. We also have some hourly-paid positions for individual courses, and wondered whether that type of work might be of interest to you. If so, please confirm whether or not you give us permission to keep your curriculum vitae and application materials on file, with the view to possibly offering you some hourly-paid work without the need for a further interview (NB: we do not advertise these hourly-paid positions). Obviously, we appreciate that you may find the lower pay and fewer benefits of such hourly-paid work unacceptable, so if we do not hear from you, we shall assume you are not interested.

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    Welcome to AC.SE. See academia.stackexchange.com/questions/103498/…
    – StrongBad
    Apr 21, 2019 at 2:04
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    To your first point: I wish it were standard for every position to give a personalized rejection letter, but this is often impossible for legal reasons. To your last point -- your last sentence is perfect, but just saying "let us keep you on file for a lower-paid position" is almost certain to be ignored, whereas a firm offer for a specific, carefully-chosen course is perhaps more palatable.
    – cag51
    Apr 21, 2019 at 2:35
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    "Obviously, we appreciate that you may find the lower pay and fewer benefits of such hourly-paid work unacceptable, so if we do not hear from you, we shall assume you are not interested." ...and if we do hear from you, we know you are desperate and pathetic, I suppose? Apr 21, 2019 at 6:05
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    It's more readable to use "they" over "he/she" Apr 22, 2019 at 23:43
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    They don't have "many opportunities" for the rejected applicant. They have single-course adjunct positions - part-time underpaid work for people looking for careers. Apr 23, 2019 at 2:21

If it's not too late, bring this up in the interview: "If we don't offer you this position, would you be interested in these not-as-swell position?" I don't recall where, but I know I've been asked this question a number of times. Pre-emptive strike.

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    I think this might put the candidate in an uncomfortable position. They might wonder why someone would pay them full price if they admit they're willing to work on the cheap. May 3, 2019 at 18:40

I think everyone is looking at this wrong. The same people may take a permanent job for different reasons that they may take a temporary position. Someone who applied for a permanent position might still be happy to take a part-time role to build their teaching portfolio, or get some money on the side, or just to hang around a college a few hours a week when not working at their real job.

You probably wouldn't want to hire people who's prospects are so bad that they would settle for a life of adjuncting anyway. Unless they are nearing retirement and view it as a fun way to wind up their career or something like that. I'd prefer professions with careers and connections in the local industry, who bring a valuable complementary perspective to the department.

Offer it to the local applicants as the part-time gig it is supposed to be. "sorry you were not selected blah blah blah. However, we do have a need for someone to teach X Y or Z for the coming term. Please notify us if you are interested.".

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    Not sure I follow...you point out that those who want a permanent position is a largely disjoint set from those who want per-course adjunct positions, but then say to offer the latter to applicants from the former group anyway.
    – cag51
    Apr 21, 2019 at 4:53
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    @cag51 I think you're overstating things with "largely disjoint". Surely there's nothing disjoint about the people interested in padding teaching portfolios or earning extra money. Still I edited to try to make it clearer. The reasons differ, not the people. Apr 21, 2019 at 5:45
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    @ASimpleAlgorithm Some people need a visa for work, others plan to relocate with a family from another coast or continent. Apr 21, 2019 at 7:23
  • @DmitrySavostyanov I covered that with "local applicants". Of course no one should make a major life change to adjunct a single course. Frankly they shouldn't do it for the full-time version either. I feel like people are straining to find complaints to support a political agenda here. Not every hiring policy for every role will fit every need of every applicant. You only need one of them. Apr 21, 2019 at 16:39
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    This may be country dependent, but in some places a lot of people taking adjunct positions is just the same people trying to get a full time position, and often people qualified to full-time positions face prospects of long time or full life of adjuncting. In my area, the set of people who want permanent positions and the set of people who accept part-time temporary adjunct positions are not disjoints at all.
    – Pere
    Apr 22, 2019 at 17:28

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