Slang City Mail

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April 17, 2009

Slang of the Week: freeway flyer/flier (noun phrase)
a part-time college instructor who travels from job to job

A consummate freeway flyer, Jack taught Intro to Philosophy at six universities, but he made more money with his summer job driving an ice cream truck.

“Yadith Sepulveda fears for her husband's safety when he leaves for his 14-hour work day--he could fall asleep while driving or an accident might befall him as he rides his motorcycle on California's crowded freeways. Is this man a high-speed courier? No, just another exploited freeway flier serving California's community college system.”
- Review of the documentary film Teachers on Wheels on

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.

Take a look in our bookstore for books and DVDs on all kinds of slang! This week's pick: How to Talk American: A Guide to Our Native Tongues by James Marshall Crotty. From Bible Belt Banter to Vegas Vernacular, from Redneck Rhetoric to New England Niceties, Crotty's savvy and often hilarious region-by-region guide to the way we talk provides a dead-on (and sometimes too strange) indication of how we think, how we behave, and what we hold dear.