Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"If I Were an Adjunct..." From Yuri in Youngstown.

I've solved it!
If I were an adjunct, I'd quit.

Full disclosure, I'm tenured. I've never taught more than 3/3, and have been teaching 2/2 for the past 8 years. I publish in the right journals and I'm good at all parts of my job. I've been a chair and a vice-dean.

But if I were an adjunct, I'd quit, and I'd tell all other adjuncts to do the same.

I have a good amount of experience with adjuncts, as I've occasionally mentored one or two. Their stories are ridiculous pitiful. They start out victims, and they sometimes feed their own victimhood. They eat shit, say they like it, and the administrators abuse them.

Occasionally on this page you reveal adjunct "salaries." They're pathetic. Do something else. I would. I have enough real world skills that I'd rather crash the entire system than be a part of what's ruining it.

If enough people did it, just quit, walked out, the institutions would have to reconfigure how they use their football stadium money and start putting it to good use, hiring educated and able full time instructors. You'd all get to come back!

I talk about this with some of the adjuncts here, but their stooped shoulders simply slump some more and run off to their 8 am classes like rats.

Stop it. Don't accept it. Show some courage. You can be the change, my brothers and sisters.

- Yuri in Youngstown

58 comments:

  1. Easy for you to say.

    The problem is: you stop adjuncting, you're not in a university anymore. So you're not an academic anymore. So you've given up one item to put on your CV applying for tenure-track jobs... so you've given up your dream.

    That's the hook.

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    1. We've never hired one of our own adjuncts. We have hired PhDs who have not been teaching for 1-2 years, though. I know this is extremely anecdotal, but I wouldn't not consider a well qualified candidate who already had some teaching experience just because he wasn't currently teaching a section at some college some place.

      But Yuri has a nice spot to view these things from, and I don't think he fully grasps what's going on at all.

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    2. It is easy for me to say, and I fessed up to my position right in the lede.

      But what is the dream you've given up by quitting. A dream of teaching 1-2 sections for $2-3000 a class? That's nobody's dream. That's a nightmare, and the part-timers I work with have deluded themselves.

      I like what Terry has to say. We NEVER hire our own adjuncts, but we have hired scholars who may be temporarily out of the academic position. Showing us you can handle freeway flying means almost nothing when we're looking for a scholar/educator on a tenure track line.

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    3. When you leave a university system, you also lose access to a library. A library, of course, is essential to keeping on top of your scholarship.

      I've heard that adjuncting doesn't really benefit a CV at all, but not keeping current is worse.

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  2. Wait, so if all the adjuncts just quit, the Administration would be forced to hire them all as full-time?

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    1. Yes, of course. But not at first. The system has to go down first. They have to realize that piecing together a "faculty" using nothing but contingent folks is not useful, that they treat themselves and their students better by using real full time people.

      Some folks who quit will find happiness in other professions, those especially credentialed and diligent will reap the benefits when the system has to reconfigure.

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    2. Having worked at a SLAC where we struggle to find people who are qualified and willing to move to a rural area for the pittance that we are paid, mostly, when we lose someone, everyone else just gets and overload. And because they continue to function, Administration figures out that we can get by without... And that continues and continues. I'd say you'd have to have the system quit, not just adjuncts, to make any real change.

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  3. I agree with Yuri that the system will never, ever change until adjuncts decide that "there is some shit I will not eat". Because usually the oppressors will keep oppressing until the oppressed stop putting up with it. People will use others for the same reason that ugly rock stars always marry models.

    Because they can.

    But I would like Yuri to confess whether or not as chair, or vice-dean, or whatever, he was complicit in the abuse of adjuncts. If he hired them "because he could".

    If this advice is a self-justification for his past misdeeds, as in "It's not my fault because I had budgets to meet and I couldn't meet it without hiring slave wage adjuncts," then that's bullshit.

    So, Yuri, which is it? There are those of us in academia that are in secure and tenured positions who are working hard to make sure that the use of adjuncts is minimized. Are you one of them? Or have you been the beneficiary, career-wise, of their abuse?

    Enquiring minds want to know.

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    1. Absolutely I have hired adjuncts. Our department runs about 20% of our classes through part-time faculty. These are folks I've mentored, helped find real jobs, and been friends with.

      I am complicit. Rarely did I have to hold a gun on anyone though to take our adjunct money, which I believe is a little better than it is nationwide - we pay $5800 per section, or a yearly $40,000 flat for someone willing to teach 4/4.

      I'd hazard a guess I've worked harder for adjuncts than they've worked for me, but I'm pretty sure you've made up your mind about it already.

      What I'm more interested in is the efficacy of part-timers grabbing more power by simply saying no to the bullshit assignments. When one can earn more money tending bar or working in a library, or being a driver for an assisted living facility - all jobs some of my mentees have held - then the system is broken.

      If it helps you to villainize people like me, go ahead. I still believe a complete break of the abuse is best.

      Yuri

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    2. So wait...let me get this straight...if you were an adjunct you'd quit, because:

      "they start out victims, and they sometimes feed their own victimhood. They eat shit, say they like it, and the administrators abuse them"

      Yet you, one of the abusing administrators, somehow want credit for "befriending" and "mentoring" them, in positions that you think offer shit pay, as you watch them run off to teach their classes "like rats"?

      I don't need to "villainize" you. You, Yuri, are a villain. You did that to yourself.

      Don't expect us to clap and say "bravo". Or absolve you because you didn't have to "hold a gun" to any adjunct's head to take the job you offered, which was of benefit to you professionally, yet turned the adjuncts into poorly-paid, shit-eating victims with stooped shoulders.

      Shame on you.

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    3. I'm happy to hear a better idea, or we can continue doing what we're doing now.

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    4. I suspect it varies by institution, but, at least from what I've seen, the chairs who hired me as an adjunct could not have avoided hiring someone as an adjunct to fill that position unless they were able to say that they simply couldn't find people to take the job on an adjunct basis (and back up thatclaim through responses -- or, rather, non-responses, or lack of qualified candidates submitting responses -- to an ad with applications submitted through HR).

      On this one, I think Yuri is right: oddly, the only people with the power to bring down the current adjunct system right away are the adjuncts themselves (but -- and this is a big but -- only if they act en masse). Tenure-track (realistically, tenured) faculty would have to play a very large role in the next step -- refusing to change the structure/methods of instruction in ways that would allow administrators to leverage a Ph.D. instructor of record's credentials over a much larger number of students, with the help of "assistants," quite possibly including undergrads, who wouldn't pass accreditation muster -- but adjuncts could force the conditions under which the whole system would have to be rethought, one way or another.

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    5. On the other hand, at least at my institution, increasing use of contingent faculty (both part-time and full-time with 4/4 load) in intro/core courses has tracked very closely with the move from a 3/3 to a 2/2 for most tenure-track faculty, and a good deal of creation of new 2/2, tenure-track, lines. I'm told that the tenure-track faculty tried to get a parallel move from 4/4 to 3/3 (presumably with the addition of service; I'm not sure) for the full-time contingents when they made the move to 2/2, but weren't able to get both, and decided to take what they could get. One could argue that they should have held out for both, or taken neither, but they might well have gotten neither. I don't know if my department would have more tenure-track positions if the standard for entering assistant professors had remained 3/3. I do know we'd have fewer contingents, simply because the tenure-track professors would be teaching more. Whether that's a better outcome, it's hard to say (I'd say probably, in terms of the long-term welfare of the university and the professoriat, yes, but answers will vary depending on how much value one places on the production of humanities research -- and perhaps how one sees the quantity/quality tradeoff operating in relation to same -- and how many research institutions with a national/international research reputation one thinks that a single state needs. My state already has several, and I'm not sure that it needs another, at least not in every field, but, once again, opinions on that will vary).

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    6. Only 20% of your classes are taught by adjuncts? That seems low. Is it? I don't kow because the situation in chemistry is different - we just increase class size when more students show up.

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  4. If I Were a Rich Man by Fiddler

    "Dear God, you made many, many poor people.
    I realize, of course, that it's no shame to be poor.
    But it's no great honor either!
    So, what would have been so terrible if I had a small fortune?"

    If I were a rich man,
    Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.
    All day long I'd biddy biddy bum.
    If I were a wealthy man.
    I wouldn't have to work hard.
    Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
    If I were a biddy biddy rich,
    Idle-diddle-daidle-daidle man.

    I'd build a big tall house with rooms by the dozen,
    Right in the middle of the town.
    A fine tin roof with real wooden floors below.
    There would be one long staircase just going up,
    And one even longer coming down,
    And one more leading nowhere, just for show.

    I'd fill my yard with chicks and turkeys and geese and ducks
    For the town to see and hear.
    Squawking just as noisily as they can.
    With each loud "cheep" "swaqwk" "honk" "quack"
    Would land like a trumpet on the ear,
    As if to say "Here lives a wealthy man."

    If I were a rich man,
    Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.
    All day long I'd biddy biddy bum.
    If I were a wealthy man.
    I wouldn't have to work hard.
    Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.
    If I were a biddy biddy rich,
    Idle-diddle-daidle-daidle man.

    I'd see my wife, my Golde, looking like a rich man's wife
    With a proper double-chin.
    Supervising meals to her heart's delight.
    I see her putting on airs and strutting like a peacock.
    Oy, what a happy mood she's in.
    Screaming at the servants, day and night.

    The most important men in town would come to fawn on me!
    They would ask me to advise them,
    Like a Solomon the Wise.
    "If you please, Reb Tevye..."
    "Pardon me, Reb Tevye..."
    Posing problems that would cross a rabbi's eyes!

    And it won't make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong.
    When you're rich, they think you really know!

    If I were rich, I'd have the time that I lack
    To sit in the synagogue and pray.
    And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall.
    And I'd discuss the holy books with the learned men, several hours every day.
    That would be the sweetest thing of all.

    If I were a rich man,
    Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.
    All day long I'd biddy biddy bum.
    If I were a wealthy man.
    I wouldn't have to work hard.
    Idle-diddle-daidle-daidle man.

    Lord who made the lion and the lamb,
    You decreed I should be what I am.
    Would it spoil some vast eternal plan?
    If I were a wealthy man.

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    1. @DfSS: This was the first thing I thought of, too--and not because I sometimes stumble around drunk mumbling to myself, "Ya ha deedle deedle, Bubba Bubba deedle deedle dum."

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  5. Basically, I agree with Yuri (both his initial point and his follow-up comments; I also think Stella has a good question, but am aware that even chairs sometimes have limited to no choice about whether they hire adjuncts. Vice-deans, I'm not so sure about. It might matter what one is vice-dean of).

    But/and I also agree it's not so simple. I'd guess that, all other things being equal, someone with relatively-recent (within the last 2-3 years) but not current teaching but a clear record of ongoing research and publication is going to have a better chance at a tenure-track job at many places than someone with current adjunct teaching experience but no publications. The reverse is probably true at most community colleges and some teaching-oriented colleges and nth-string state Us (anywhere where you get tenure almost entirely for teaching and service). But I suspect those places might also be willing to hire someone with, for instance, both relatively-recent college and current AP/IB high school teaching experience, or, in a pre-professional type major, relatively-recent college teaching experience and current relevant professional experience.

    Also, in addition to the c.v. line, there's the issue of having good-enough library privileges to maintain that record of teaching and publication. As I've said before, I might, in some circumstances, teach a single adjunct section at my present institution to maintain the truly excellent library privileges that go along with any faculty position there. But I also know there are places where the tenure-track faculty have a choice between driving hours on the weekend to use a decent research library or waiting weeks for interlibrary loan to do its thing (and then having to scramble to read the book before it's due back, no matter what time in the term it shows up).

    So I guess I'd say that adjuncts need to consider carefully, on a regular basis, what they're really getting out of each of their present adjunct positions (no unrealistic "foot in the door"/"x is probably going to retire sometime soon and maybe I can get hir job" expectations), and whether some other non-academic position (or even an administrative academic position, though as I write that I'm thinking "we really, really don't need any more administrators, tempting as the possibility is, since that seems to be where the money is") might provide more solid returns, short- and long-term, than the adjunct position. And the goal in leaving academia has to be not to return (though yes, if all the adjuncts left, that might be the first step toward some of them returning to better positions; on the other hand, it might just be really good news for recent Ph.D.s), but to build a work life that is more satisfying in itself (with the teaching itch, if it exists, scratched by anything from a K-12 position to various forms of public scholarship to corporate/government training. Basically, we're talking here about breaking down the imagined/desired academic life into its constituent parts, deciding which are most important/rewarding to the individual wannabee proffie, and looking for equivalent work/activities elsewhere).

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    1. This is really interesting and - I have to say this is welcome - reasonable.

      Well said.

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    2. So what role can tenure-track professors play in all this? Well, those in hiring could be more flexible in their expectations, both of adjuncts and of potential tenure-track hires. It's a pain to hire 3 adjuncts for 3 sections rather than one for all 3, or to hire someone who is only interested in teaching one section a year, but if you require recent teaching experience when hiring for full-time positions, perhaps you have some responsibility to make it possible for good teachers to maintain that recent experience while also supporting themselves with more lucrative jobs.

      And if your main criterion for tenure-track hiring is research/publication ability (especially if tenure-track proffies in your department have time to write in part because many of the labor-intensive core/intro courses are covered by adjuncts or full-time contingents with much heavier teaching loads than your own), perhaps you might consider that a steady but slow rate of publishing under adjunct/contingent conditions might demonstrate as much "research potential" as a fast rate under well-stipended graduate or post-doc conditions.

      But so far, I don't see much sign of that happening, and I'm not holding my breath. This, of course, is one reason why many of us in contingent positions aren't so sure we support the idea of tenure any more. The idea of the possibility of mid-career competition with burned-out, or simply fizzled, rising stars is, from my perspective, tempting, even as I realize that many tenured faculty who don't seem very productive research-wise are bogged down in useful and very necessary service, or gradually incubating research projects that require more time than the tenure clock allows, or re-invigorating their teaching as they catch their wind before plunging into the next research project. What I'd really like to see is a tenure system with research-oriented, teaching-oriented, and service/administration-oriented faculty, and the ability to move among categories over the course of a career -- or, alternatively, an entirely non-tenure-track system with similar possibilities. What isn't working very well, for the 70%+ of us who aren't on the tenure track, is the present system.

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    3. By the way, the "breaking down the imagined/desired academic job into its constituent parts" idea is inspired in part by Barbara Sher's Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want, which is a much more analytical (and hence useful to academic types) book than the new-agey title suggests. Mind you, it, like pretty much any make-your-own career book, is going to be much more useful in a growing than a shrinking economy, but maybe (please?) we're heading in that direction?

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    4. Cassandra, it is already the case that tenured faculty are either focused on research, or on teaching, or on administration; two of the three must be very rare. (Maybe they move once, from research to one of the others, then settle down.)

      And I don't know how it is in your field; but in mine, if you stop doing research completely for three or four years, you're done; you can't climb on that bicycle again. So the "competition" for the tenured people who have slowed down comes not from our middle-aged non-TT colleagues, but from our TT assistant professors. And they have a narrow focus.

      Now, what would be the effect (for math) of abolishing tenure? Long-term theoretical research would no longer happen in (or be supported by) universities, which already hire us almost entirely to teach elementary material, something that can be done (if you don't care about occasional errors in information transmission) by people without research-level training. Mathematically ambitious young people would do one of two things: get an applied research job in industry or government(there are many), maybe holding after-hours theory seminars for fun. Or go over to the dark side (quantitative finance), invent and sell some snake-oil incomprehensible instrument, get rich and jump ship before anyone notices. And then do research at leisure, as wealthy amateurs. If I were starting out now, in my late 20s and seeing where the profession is going, either alternative would seem preferable to even a TT job. So that's what would happen if you abolish tenure: the more ambitious (creative, competent) young people would look for greener pastures, and higher-ed would go the way of high school very quickly. It's happening before our eyes.

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    5. Peter: Literature (and, I suspect, a number of other humanities disciplines) is/are a bit more flexible. It's not uncommon for someone to slow down or even stop writing and researching for several years (usually while taking on a heavy administrative/service load or dealing with time-consuming family responsibilities) and then start up again. It takes time (which is hard to get if you're off the tenure track and need to work full time), and requires getting up to speed with current scholarship, but it's by no means impossible. That may be one of the reasons it's especially frustrating to be a mid-career non-tenure-track professor in my field; one does see tenure-track colleagues stop and start research (or invest years in the kinds of archival projects that truly break new ground, but/and are often not practical in the pre-tenure years, since they lead only slowly to publication), and knows one is equally capable of doing the same, given the same time and resources, but the time and resources are very hard to get.

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  6. Yuri, you're fucked here. There are a ton of adjuncts on this site and no idea besides, "Give everyone tenure and full time positions" is going to please everyone.

    You have been part of the problem, of course, Yuri. 2/2 load? Please. I teach 1/1. I'm the original fucking rock star. I pay my lab people industry-wage, so I'm not complicit.

    But you, Yuri, you're in a world of trouble here. I don't know if you know what you've wandered into.

    Of course the adjunct crisis is, well, a crisis. I applaud you for seeming to want to end it, but you're going to need to disguise your privilege before anyone who reads this page will allow you to have any input.

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    1. I've just read some of your old posts, Walter. You are, what my father would have called, and I mean it with great affection, a crank.

      You're a funny guy. I feel like I know you from the posts you write. That's good writing.

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  7. What's a better answer to the adjunct crisis? I'm no longer hiring, and probably past my level of interest in doing admin again, but I'd sure love to know a better way. I'm open to any good ideas.

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  8. I'm at a state U. Our funding has been cut year after year, and we're not allowed to raise tuition. Our English department was allowed to hire adjuncts for something like $1,000 per class. There were no takers. So what happened?

    Admin told the English department they'd have to raise the cap on their comp courses. The English department faculty and chair united and (rightly, I think) said no.

    The English department is now being punished for its uncooperative attitude. They can't hire anyone. Students suffer.

    I'm still glad to see that no one would accept the insulting adjunct wages that were being offered. Now what has to happen is that parents and students need to insist on instructors being paid a living wage.

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    1. And the next step might well be somebody deciding that those required English courses that can't be staffed aren't really so necessary, and/or can be handled by somebody else (hey, maybe communications can teach both oral *and* written communication! or we can make western civ. writing-intensive and kill two birds with one stone!).

      This isn't going to be simple, and departments/divisions will undoubtedly be pitted against each other. Whether the faculty in its current fractured state can muster the necessary solidarity to stand up to penny-wise and pound-foolish administrators, I'm not sure (but, yes, pressure from students and parents would certainly help).

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    2. Exactly! Something similar to this happened to our COMM program (and really, given that it was COMM, it was hard to make a case to keep it), but it got pared WAY down when they refused to raise caps. The "program" is down to one GE course now. Punishment at its finest.

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  9. Oh, my goodness! Just quit! Why didn't I think of that? Well, I guess I was just too busy being pathetic and cowardly and scurrying around like a rat, damn. With all of the great jobs out there just waiting for me to jump into them, I don't even have to send out application after application and inquiry after inquiry only to find that the jobs were taken by people without PhDs but with specific training and experience, or that the jobs just disappeared soon after being posted, or went to people with connections or turned out to pay less and have less security even than adjuncting. Perhaps my parents can support me on their retail/factory salaries while I spend my time looking for a new career and stick it to the man! That would be great! Take that, system!

    Here's the thing: yes, adjuncting sucks. It is exploitative and crappy work. The entire system sucks and is broken. It was great when I was a grad student needing to make some extra money and get some experience, but now, it just sucks. Many of us are in this with our eyes wide open. I went to grad school a clueless first-generation college student who wasn't savvy enough to know where to look for the real information and stupidly believed my advisors who said there were good jobs for good people even though it was tough. Maybe it was that way when I started, who knows. It wasn't when I graduated and I knew it. I do this to pay the bills until I can reinvent myself, but reinventing yourself takes time, especially when you don't have money or many connections. I'll be out of it in a few years and if until then you want to call me a pathetic coward, go for it. I suspect you have very little respect for most people at or near the bottom and I've dealt with people like that my whole life.

    But remember, it's pretty easy to sit there from your tenured position, with job security and money and privilege, and say "you're all a bunch of cowards, just quit!" Now you are a champion of the adjuncts, who just don't know what's good for them! See how pathetic they are, with their stooped shoulders! Of course, as long as you portray people whose real situations you know nothing about as worthless spineless losers you seem to be part of the problem. People's actual lives aren't that simple and aren't that easy. There are many many reasons people do this. But it's nice to know what you think of us. It reminds me why I want out of this profession.

    And the thing is, even when I'm out, I will still be vocal about the problems with the system. Perhaps tenured faculty will still call me a whiner. As others have said, this only works if everyone quits and that won't happen. Me stopping this exploitative work? Doesn't stop the exploitation. It just stops my paycheck and health insurance. And right now? Even Starbucks isn't hiring.

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    1. Well said. If your adjunct job comes with health insurance, that's a pretty good reason to hold onto it right there (at least unless/until you can find a non-academic job with similar benefits, or one that pays enough to let you buy insurance through an exchange, if/when those are set up). Good luck with the reinventing (and may the economy improve; if it does, that will certainly make quitting adjunct work a more viable option).

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    2. I really am impressed with many of the arguments, and I'm not insensitive to the plight of adjuncts. Regardless of my position, I am able to feel empathy. But it's anger that's my main emotion. If it were me, I'd refuse to be exploited. But I don't believe the academic career is the only one worth having.

      Some of the folks I referenced earlier felt a lot like many of you adjuncts. The guy who ended up working at an assisted living facility has made that a career. I used to see him occasionally at our library - yes, he could STILL go in - and while he was regretful that he had to give up one of his dreams, his dream of helping people found a different manifestation.

      I really believe that if you allow exploitation that exploitation will continue. I just have faith that educated people, at least educated enough to consider an academic career are going to be more flexible and more adaptable to do something else if the "dream" of an academic career doesn't work out. Accepting these ridiculous part-time positions has to be hard. How much are you willing to sacrifice? Are you get retirement bennies? Do most adjuncts have health insurance?

      The Starbucks isn't hiring line is bullshit, and I believe the person who uttered it even knows it.

      This post started because I was pissed off at the incredible injustice facing adjuncts. I hope that I would be able to do just what I suggested. Quit. Quit letting them fuck me. Do something else.

      I am impressed with the passion on this blog and I hope you all use it to change the things that are rotten in our business.

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    3. This.

      "Just go get another job" is always an incredibly naive suggestion, regardless of one's field or profession. I'm guessing that the people who make it have never been underemployed or out of work before. I call troll on Yuri from Youngstown.

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  10. This whole argument is like saying that migrant workers are at fault for low agricultural wages.

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  11. Good post and comments.
    This is what the fucking collijmizery-dot-commie website is all about.
    The CM is in top form today.

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  12. As a native of Youngstown and all it working class history, I think Yuri might have advocated the same point in a less-dickish manner. Just organize. After all, calling for all adjuncts to quit is just calling for them to strike, yes?

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  13. So I think in support of adjuncts, all full timers who are complicit in the system should also quit.

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  14. You'd all get to come back!

    Well, no. About half of them get to come back full time. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less.

    And maybe the folks in the admin building will move some money from non-academics or maybe they will just put off basic building maintenance a little longer and skimp on equipment a little harder.

    Not that I would discourage people from taking a stand, but I wouldn't count on miracles from it. More like kinder indentures and gentler abuse. Not the least because the cost of giving the adjuncts near-full time schedules is probably going up steeply.

    Nor can I say what I would do in their place...I was looking for an industry job when the interview that landed me my current position dropped in my lap after I had already gotten the skinny email about the position. And my feeling of emotional relief when I got the offer suggests that I had a lot bound up in my identity as an academic. Silly, perhaps, but there it is.

    // now a freshly minted, only slightly underpaid assistant professor at a dinky state school.

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  15. I agree with Johnny: the most effective thing adjuncts can do is organize, and specifically unionize where that's possible (if not in "right to work" states, a euphemism I hate). Then strike as necessary for better salaries, working conditions, etc. Generally speaking tenured faculty can't do that. The admins would learn: take away tenure as a realistic career expectation, and the unions come back.

    Tenured faculty can do very little. In my department hiring of non-TT personnel is handled by the Head without consultation with the TT faculty. There is practically no overlap, social or academic, between TT and non-TT. We teach different courses, staff different committees and, in a sense, compete for "resources" (hiring a particular type of person) in a zero-sum game. It is a system designed to discourage anything like solidarity between the two groups.

    The people who can do something about it are the recent PhDs. In math, without a degree from one of the top ten graduate programs, followed by a research postdoc, the chances of getting a TT position at a department which values research are nil (and even then, you may have to live in a less than desirable place). This would be the time to look at a non-academic option; there are many for people with math PhDs, including some with research. Starve the "adjunct-based academia" by denying it new blood. Any romantic illusions one may once have had about "academic life" are, at this point in the game, completely misplaced.



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  16. OP misses a rather significant trick, here. Well, several, but one I'm thinking of in particular. In advocating mass action on the part of adjuncts, he assumes that "adjuncts" as a class have a common economic goal (like getting full-time jobs or something).

    Not true. At my current institution, more adjuncts than not are retirees with MAs, high school teachers with MAs, or industry pros with MAs, all teaching just a few extra classes here and there for the spare cash. Of the rest, many are soi disant academics who only have MA degrees, still toying with going back for the PhD but ultimately not eligible for TT jobs at the university level in any case. Only a bare few are PhDs with aspirations, much less any chance, of a TT job at a university.

    "Adjuncts" are not univocal in their needs or wants, which is why they can never, will never organize. The vast majority of adjuncts at my institutions (and other nearby ones - I've checked into this) are happy with the situation; it's exactly what they're looking for. They aren't going to rise up. Would-be TT profs don't have the allies they need even in the "adjunct class," because they, themselves, are not representative of it.

    As for quitting, people have bills to pay, yo? Besides, a savvy adjunct can get by with putting in no more than maybe an hour outside of class for every hour in (averaged over the semester), which, at the going rate, is about $18 an hour. Even at two hours outside of class for every hour in (averaged, again), that comes to about $12 an hour. That ain't great money, but it ain't bad, especially if your advanced degree is in French literature and you have no job-specific skills.

    There are many, many aspects of adjuncting that suck. This is not disputed. But, seriously, how easy do you think it is to make $15 an hour working outside your training and specialty? It isn't - trust me. In the end, adjuncts have only slightly less job security than any worker in one of our wonderful "right to work" states, and the pay, while insulting compared to what TT profs make, is not, in the end, all that bad. It's not a great job. But, man, I can think of a lot - and I mean a LOT - of things that I would enjoy less.

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  17. * originally posted in the wrong place on these comments. I was unable to delete the original. *

    I've been fortunate in my teaching career, but before I found myself I here I bounded a bit in real world work. I understand "Gone Grad" though. Sure, it's not easy to find another career or even another job, but nearly anything one finds will pay better and offer more benefits than what the typical adjunct gets. (I understand even more clearly now how fantastic the adjunct pay is at our school.)

    Maybe I'm naive as all get out, though, about the overall premise of my post. But I am not looking at it from the point of view of one adjunct with one real-world situation.

    I'm thinking our institutions are absolutely fucking over these part-timers, and something drastic has to be done to right the wrong. I also posited the idea that if it were me, I'd quit. Maybe that is a singularly stupid plan for someone else, but I hope that I know myself a bit. I might not be able to give up the $1500 a class - or whatever - but I still believe that I would turn to other work opportunities instead of being taken advantage of by the institution.

    I've taken a few knocks today, and that's okay. I hold no grudge or bad feeling about any of it. I have really enjoyed hearing the different viewpoints, even when they've been couched in some ungenerous languages and assumptions.

    Seriously, there is a lot wrong in the academy, but I think the adjunct crisis is wrongest of the wrong.

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    1. This was a pretty interesting discussion. Don't sweat the insults. In fact, you got off pretty easy. Keep it coming.

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    2. For your first post, at least you didn't criticize professors with children, like I did. I think starting with a BANG is the way to go. :) And it got us all talking about something important! Welcome to the Misery!

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  18. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/05/how-to-walk-away/275833/

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  19. If this were affecting my institution (confession: adjuncting à l'américaine is vanishingly rare in my adopted country's HE system), there would be only one way to shift the tide: Implement the TT:non-TT ratio as a part of ranking and accreditation.

    It makes sense that this ratio would interest potential students. I am amazed that the helicopter parents of North America haven't yet grasped that filling their snowflake's schedule every semester with a roster of underpaid, overworked, employment-insecure instructors threatens to make said snowflake's life more difficult come graduation time. What happens when it comes time to find, say, a senior project mentor? The adjuncts are either nowhere to be found or ineligible for such service, and while the tenured/FT might pick up the slack, they end up stretched thin and not doing much mentoring per student. What happens when the adjunct who taught three of your classes up and decamps (or is fired outright) during your senior year? Who else knows you well enough to write half-decently convincing job and/or grad school LORs? Probably not the tenured dinosaur who is "teaching" your senior seminar, never takes attendance, barely skims your term paper, and just gives everyone an A.

    This is why the relative number of non-FT teaching staff should be right up there with time to graduation, size of library, alumni donation rate, and whatever other criteria college ranking systems already use to measure prestige and pitch it to each year's crop of incoming students. Even if "prestige" isn't the same thing as "quality education" (OBVS), my institution, at least, certainly pays far more attention to the former, since this is really what those annual rankings are designed to measure.

    As soon as it becomes clear that students with a choice in the matter are opting for schools that eschew adjuncts (whether out of a sense of justice or pure self-interest), administrators will have to take notice.

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  20. In my pre-coffee rant, I'm going to call bullshit on all of this.

    Adjuncts are abused, and I've found that it, or at least the perceived experience gained from it, doesn't help in landing a TT job.

    This the start of my 9th year of adjuncting. I started right out of grad school and haven't taken any semesters off. Like the rest of us, I teach at three schools: an East Coast R1, the #2 SLAC in my field, and a local CC. My time at the R1 and SLAC should get me play when applying for TT jobs, but no go. People usually start with "Maybe you're not a great or even a good teacher." Don't even. My student evals are top 5-10% at the CC and SLAC. I've been summoned into the office at the R1 previously because they are dumbfounded at how high they were. Last semester I got my first "You changed my life through teaching" student comment on one at the R1. Still makes me warm and fuzzy. Students at the R1 are going to the administration each semester asking if I can teach other various courses because of how engaging our class discussions are. I'm a damn good teacher.

    Then they usually figure "oh … your research must not be up to par." Bullshit. I'm in the visual arts, so we're judged on the number of exhibitions we have (same as published books for the rest of you) , reviews we get (same as articles in a peer journal) , and scholarly citations. In the last 7 years I've had 12 solo exhibitions, with my first out of grad school being a solo museum exhibition at a highly respected contemporary arts institution. 47 group exhibitions including 12 at museums and 6 international. 61 reviews / articles written about my work. 9 scholarly citations ranging from being included in textbooks to dissertations being written about my work. I've given 11 public talks about my work at institutions (Ha. I'm giving another in 2 weeks and have to cancel my second week of classes. Someone watch Twitter.) And in terms of the Art "holy grail" I have work in the collections of 9 museums including MoMA. All said and done, my CV is 9 pages.

    Then people usually move on to "Oh your application packet must be poor." Nope. Its been looked at by all my recommenders, and 2 well respected non-reccomenders. All say it looks great. One thought it was daunting, and suggested that I cut it down a little because it might be threatening to the faculty already there. Yes, take out accomplishments I've worked for so as to not bruise the egos of the hiring committee. Fuck you.

    Over the last 3 years I've applied to 67 TT jobs. 1 interview. 1 INTERVIEW. Fuck me.

    In all but 3 cases, who did they hire? Someone strait out of grad school or someone with less than 3 years of classroom experience. And all but 1 time someone with a smaller list of professional accomplishments. But the best? I applied to a well known and respected institution in the Midwest, where I and my work are on the syllabus. They teach and talk about my work for 1 week a semester. Didn't even get phone interview.

    As well, unlike this rant, I'm detrimentally humble. My wife has scolded me many times for replying to the question "What are you up to these days?" with "Oh, just hanging out."

    So, yes, we should all quit. Because none of what we all kill ourselves to do will get us a TT job. Apparently, it in fact hurts us. I've concluded that we all need to be mediocre. It seems to be the answer.

    Sorry for the pre-coffee first post rant, but I couln't contain it any longer.

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    1. There's this funny (or terrible) thing I've realized about academia: experience on the job counts negative points. A little more precisely: initially (in terms of TT hiring at a place with research) teaching experience counts zero, and publications are a plus. A little bit later, if you're competing with new people for the same kind of job, publications are a still a plus, but teaching experience is a minus. Still later, both teaching and research experience count ZERO: you're either a star, or you're stuck where you landed for the rest of your professional life (hopefully with tenure). At least in math.

      I say this as someone who, over the years (since getting tenure) every few years hits the job market, to try to leave a location I dislike. There are no holes in my CV: publications in the top journals in my field, invitations to first-rate places and conferences, degrees and postdocs from top institutions. None of this matters, just my age.

      Okay, I'm old, but something similar seems to be at work in your case. Why does this happen? I think the main reason is that almost anyone with a PhD and research/scholarship activity following it is vastly overqualified for the job we're actually hired to do: teaching very elementary material to poorly prepared (often unwilling) students. In this situation, excellence (as a researcher or teacher) is completely superfluous; as far as undergraduate teaching goes, all professors with a PhD are interchangeable. Teaching is the easy part of what we do, anyway; lots of people can do it well, and there's not much difference between two and six years' teaching experience. So why not hire the new PhD--probably cheaper and, being less experienced, easier to treat abusively and/or dismiss without too much of a bad conscience.

      That's one possible explanation. The darker possibility is that there's some sort of "warning" (in code) in your letters of recommendation. Or people making phone calls to share derogatory comments about you, maybe of the kind that cannot legally be considered in the hiring process. Or people not making phone calls to say good things about you. People making phone calls: that's what gets (or loses) jobs.


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    2. It makes me, as I assume others, crazy that years of experience teaching at good institutions counts for zero, if not against you in some situations.

      I'm young - mid 30s, but have been told thats going to work for me in some places and against me in others. Some say institutions are going to be afraid that I'm going to only stay a few years if I'm under 40, even though I've been teaching at the R1 and CC for 9 years and the SLAC 5.

      Yes, the newly minted are always going to be cheaper. But I would think at a point departments and administration would get tired of hiring the marginally less expensive and spending time shaping and grooming them, when they could hire someone that knows the workings of the system and can fit in without too much trouble or headache. Which is maybe another problem - you could seem like trouble if you know the inner workings of the system.

      As for the darker possibility, I don't think so. I've seen all 3 letters, and couldn't be happier with them. Of course I'm not there for any of the phone calls, and one of the recommenders can be a bit abrasive on the phone, so that might not be helping. But I didn't think about asking a few colleagues to pick up the phone and make a call. I'm sure a few would be willing to do that, so thanks for the tip.

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  21. I am in my third year adjuncting, but my first semester working only as an adjunct. I enjoy the teaching, the lack of committee commitments, etc but I think the whole thing is insanity. I am now teaching at 2 institutions. Thankfully in both cases my ideas and opinions are valued in the departments, but the pay is just not enough. I am also grateful that my spouse's job provides me free health insurance. I have it better than most.

    I have interviewed for 2 full-time positions in the past 2 months and I came in second both times. Come spring, I may head back for another post-doc to see if I can improve my chances in industry. I fear being too far removed from research (in a lab) and that being an impediment to any kind of career.

    I agree the system needs to change and it can start with us adjuncts, but at the same time we need jobs. We cannot have a gaping hole in our CV for 2 years while we worked as garbage men (I saw a garbage truck today and figure they probably make more than me. Why did I go to school again?) or in some other higher paying job that has little value in academia.

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  22. One thing Yuri, as a senior tenured professor, _can_ do is to stop taking on new PhD students and advising students not to pursue that track.

    Yes, part of the adjunct crisis is that people are willing to indenture themselves in hopes of winning the golden ticket. But part of the problem is that schools continue to produce a glut of freshly minted PhDs and faculty continue to promote the wonderful life of the academe.

    GTFO. Maybe Yuri can't, because he's too dependent/invested/cushy. But he can work to reduce the number of new PhDs being produced. I know several faculty, well known in their field and secure in their positions, who have ceased taking new students for just this reason.

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    1. Sadly, PhD student enrolment is increasingly tied to b̶a̶s̶i̶c̶ ̶i̶n̶c̶o̶m̶e̶ ̶u̶n̶i̶t̶ undergraduate enrolment.
      The equation goes something like this: More undergrads = more tuition $$$ (and the more unprepared the undergrad, the more tuition they have to pay when they inevitably flunk required courses) = more tutorials and more marking = more n̶e̶e̶d̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶s̶l̶a̶v̶e̶ ̶l̶a̶b̶o̶u̶r̶ grad students needed to work as TAs = more PhDs graduating with shit prospects and willing to do whatever it takes to survive.
      Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

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  23. I'm a department chair. Last year, we hired a TT person who had taught for us a few years back, as a one-year leave replacement. S/He was the top candidate out of all the applicants for this position. Rather than counting hir year with us against hir, we chose to see it as a year-long job interview, even though we did not know at that time that we would have a position open up.

    Just my .02.

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  24. Yuri, I missed this whole thread. I appreciate your putting yourself out there, and also the discussion that ensued. Great stuff.

    I do feel compelled to say this; while I see what you are saying, it seems very cold.

    Also, I strongly feel that tenured profs at Us that offer PhD programs should just stop it. STOP it. Stop supporting a system that cranks out so many hopefuls with no real hope. So that is something YOU can do.

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    1. Bella, your comment prompted me to look up the 2011-2012 employment report for new PhDs (published by the American Math Soc.) to get some data.

      In 2011-12, American departments granted 1800 math PhDs. Of this number, 1300 are are employed in the US, 200 overseas (the remainder are unemployed or "unknown"). Of the 1300 in the US, 800 have academic employment (the balance: government, industry, non-profits.) Also in 2011-12, 460 mathematicians got tenure-track academic jobs in the US (not drawn from the same group of people, since it is unusual to get a TT job right out of graduate school.) To me these number say that, while the job scene is tough for new math PhDs, it is not hopeless if they keep an open mind about non-academic employment.

      I have a PhD student. He is absorbing the process of doing research: learning all that is known about a topic, trying to think of connections with nearby topics or generalizations, coming up with an interesting and doable problem and solving it. The particular area is not important, but I think there is value in having people who can do this, even if they are not employed in academia. Not now, but at some point I'll have "the talk" with him about jobs. I'll tell him that, when he is further along, he should take a couple of applied-type courses and maybe get an industry internship, just to see if he likes it.

      I think as long as they're informed about the employment situation in academia, it should be their decision whether to continue or not.

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    3. Well, Peter, I admit I am thinking more of what I know personally: humanities PhDs (English and others---Philosophy, etc. Those are the people I see in my department at my CC, with its location quite near, relatively speaking, to several wonderful R1 libraries). I do wonder, with regard to your numbers, what kind of employment counts as "employment"----are they counting adjuncts as employed? I'd bet they are....but I don't know for sure.

      I have said this here before: my daughter is very bright. She has all the right qualities to be an academic. She wants to be a history professor. I have done everything in my power to dissuade her. I'll continue to do that.

      She is bright in more than one area, and I always tell her that if she is hell-bound to work on a PhD, it should be in math or science. She's 15, and we should research this together more.

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    4. Hi, Bella. Yes, I imagine the "employed" count does include new PhDs whose job title is "adjunct". Almost all math "postdocs" are time-limited positions involving both research and teaching, so it is common to get strong TT applications from people who have been adjuncts for 2-4 years, and published good papers during that time.

      And in your daughter's case: I wonder if it would be a good idea to point out the distinction between "historian" and "history professor", and then look for examples of people with PhDs in History who went on to do non-academic things (surely there are historians in the State Department). After all, having a PhD just means knowing a particular topic very, very deeply. But yes, it's too early to decide, and with one in math or science she would have more options.

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