Phillip W. Magness

Historian – 19th century United States

Tax Season Tips for Adjunct Activists

Income tax season will soon be upon us. Since the marginal tax dollar delivered to the government is typically deployed on horrible things like drone-bombing poor people in developing countries, it’s actually a bit of a moral calling to get the maximum refund you’re entitled to claim under the tax code. And since the adjunct activist movement often complains about low pay and uncompensated work, I’m using this post to extend them a small olive branch of charity and suggest a few ways they might recoup a little cash from Uncle Sam. When preparing your taxes it might be worth investigating if you qualify for any of the following categories:


I. Mileage for (part of) your commute:

Many adjunct activists complain that they aren’t compensated for their time spent commuting to campus. This is an odd complaint, because very few jobs in any sector pay people to drive to their place of employment. While this perfectly reasonable reality of the entire working world is unlikely to change any time soon, there is a small related silver lining in the tax code. If you work at two or more different job sites during the same day, you are actually allowed to deduct commuting mileage between those job sites. Note that this does not include travel between your home and place of work. Or a side trip to the pet store in between your teaching gigs. If you’re part of the tiny percentage of adjuncts who are “freeway flyers” and accordingly drive between multiple different campuses, you may actually be able to qualify for a tax refund provided that you log your odometer for the qualifying legs of your commute.

II. Professional Association Dues:

Many vocal adjunct activists appear to enjoy the Modern Language Association conference. It’s not entirely clear what they do there, and it seems to vary from year to year. Earlier this winter the MLA conferees built a book fort to serve as a gun free “safe space,” for example, which is supposed to accomplish…well, it’s not at all clear what it accomplished. But there’s also some good news – the IRS allows you to deduct most dues paid to professional associations in your line of work, provided that it is ordinary and necessary for that line of work. The MLA might be necessary to your profession, and all the evidence suggests that symbolic book forts are becoming ordinary there as well, so make of that what you will.

III. Business Travel:

Academic conference attendance may not be funded by your department if you’re an adjunct (Many full time faculty only receive funding for 1-2 conferences a year, if that, so this perk can be overstated). Assuming it has a business purpose though – i.e. it’s directly related to your teaching and/or research – there’s a decent chance you can deduct your business travel expenses. This includes things like hotel and airfare, taxis, transit, and baggage fees. You can even deduct the gluten free vegan organic GMO-free fad diet kale-and-tofurkey wraps that you consume while attending conferences, but only at 50% of the price tag.

IV. Home Offices:

Does your campus deny you a dedicated office space because of your part time status? Good news! There’s a chance you might be able to claim a home office deduction for your primary place of work. The rules on this one are a bit tricky and require you to use the claimed space exclusively for work purposes, so read up on them at the IRS. The organic backyard urban vegetable garden where you grade essays about the Naomi Klein screed that you forced your undergrads to purchase likely does not count. If you qualify though, you might be able to deduct that room where you purport to over-invest 18 hours a day on grading papers and doling out cares. That includes a portion of your rent and utilities, as well as a number of asset deductions that could apply to things like computers or even furniture.

V. Classroom Supplies:

Are you unable to figure out where the campus copy center is located and thereby reduced to self-funding the replication of your syllabi on a 1970s mimeograph machine? Save the receipt, because it’s probably a job-related expense that you can deduct. The same goes for copy paper, dry erase markers, and various other necessary things you might purchase out of pocket. Be certain to document its purpose for the classroom. Using this deduction to buy yourself a new acoustic guitar to sing self-composed protest songs about unionization in your English 101 classroom will likely be frowned upon by the IRS as well as the neighboring classrooms and the unfortunate captive audience in front of you. Your itemized deductions in this area will also have to hit a minimum threshold in excess of the standard deduction.

VI. Research Expenses:

There’s also a chance you will have some deductible research expenses in the form of book purchases, library photocopy fees, archival scanning orders, and database subscriptions in your field of work. Of course to qualify for these things, you actually have to do research…

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