|Slang City Mail|
|April 17, 2009|
Slang of the Week: freeway flyer/flier (noun phrase)
Although I used to work as an adjunct, I only recently became familiar with this term. That’s probably because I live in a city so densely populated with institutes of higher learning that it’s possible to travel between poorly paid teaching jobs on the subway.
And poorly paid they are. Though adjunct instructors often have the same qualifications as full-timers, they earn a fraction of a full-timer’s salary, receive no benefits and often find themselves scrambling for work when a class promised in May is suddenly cancelled in September. But there’s always the hope that eventually, a full-time position will materialize and make all the time and money spent on an advanced degree seem worthwhile. (I have heard that some people actually prefer working several part time jobs; however, I have not met any.)
The earliest citation I could find for this term was a 1990 article in the Washington Post, in which University of Texas professor emeritus James Sledd was interviewed. He complained that most freshman composition classes were taught by freeway flyers, which he defined as “graduate students who drive like mad from one college to another to teach, because they need the money for getting through their advanced degrees.” These days, they are more likely to be graduates than graduate students, paying off two or three degrees worth of student loans.
While Sledd was scandalized by the number of freeway flyers two decades ago, they teach more and more classes every year, even as colleges charge higher and higher tuition. According to the American Association of University Professors, back in 1989, just over one-third of the faculty at degree-granting institutions was part-time. In 2005, they made up 48%, and as endowments continue to shrink, that number is likely to grow.