Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hey, adjuncts--GTFO!

To all you adjuncts lamenting your mistreatment, Dean Dad offers a polemic:
First, if you're adjuncting and you feel like you're being exploited, stop adjuncting. Just stop. Walk away. You are an adult, responsible for your own choices. If your college didn't specifically promise you a full-time job after x semesters of adjuncting, then it does not owe you one, no matter how badly you want it. Colleges don't exist to provide jobs for academics. It's not about you.
And hey, you know what? He's got a point there, at least for those folks who've been adjuncting for-freaking-ever.

So what gives? If you're miserable being exploited in your role as a long-term adjunct--and, no doubt, you are being exploited--why don't all y'all GTFO already? Adjunct positions almost never turn into FT faculty positions anymore.

Sure, adjunct posts are perfect while you're a grad student or for a year or two afterwards, while you're on the job market. But for anyone wishing to earn a living wage without being exploited by the academic system beyond that time frame, you've got to relinquish your false hopes. Think, men--think! Once the economy recovers--or even before then--isn't there anything you can go do in industry?


  1. Getting another job, man, I wish I had thought of that.

  2. The best response to Dean Dad's craziness exists online as brilliantly detailed by the illustrious Terminal Degree.

    TD's flava:

    "In the 2+ years it would take to train for a new profession, how is one supposed to EAT in the meantime? How is one supposed to pay for the training for a new field? And if quitting and going into a new field would mean moving, how is one to afford it? What if one is bound to a place (due to family obligations) and can't blithely walk away from the little income one can bring in?"

    People like Dean Dad have NO CLUE how expensive things like "re-training" are, how illiquid grad student finances often are, and how much effort and money it takes to flee academe once invested in grad school/a new profession that is not turning out ANYTHING like in the program brochure.

    He just wants to appease the cognitive dissonance he feels every time he pays an adjunct $2.5K to teach a class he knows they deserve to be compensated double (at least) to teach.

    And where are these new jobs anyway? Is he aware that even educated people can't find jobs, not just the students he graduates at his CC? Jesus Christ, even newly minted lawyers can't find jobs!

    It's not the 1970s anymore, where lots of new professions were hiring any person with a degree to fill openings with bright people they were willing to train. Some jobs require specialized degrees that few of us can afford to go back to re-train for, especially if it entails going to his college to pay for it. (Gee, more money for his school = more adjuncts he needs and can pay a pittance for!)

  3. Crap. Blogger ate the link to Terminal Degree's post.

    Go here.

  4. I read the site and everything seems to be a dodge for the administration....why have costs gone up phenomenally while resources for undergraduates have remained the same or gotten worse? Is it the lack of state funding, the drag of having a pro sports team - what is it?

    BTW, Thomas H. Benton (Bill Pannapacker) had already called for people to avoid grad school and the adjunct hustle back in 2003 (and again in 2009, and then 2010), so none of this is exactly new. However the question has never been asked of what happens to the university system when the adjuncts wise up and leave, or they transition from grad school to industry without adjuncting at all? Does the college then collapse without this exploitative system or does it come to its senses?

  5. @Strelnikov: Collapse and with much gnashing of teeth.

  6. @ Strelnikov & Online Ophelia:

    Or the wise amongst the academic elite finally demand change...with the backing of their professional organizations, unions, etc. Others will simply fiddle as Rome burns around them.

    Until then, status quo = adjunct hell (as stated by Marc Bousquet in his post Snarky linked to with "being exploited").

    Nothing will change without incentive, and I see very little forthcoming. Many grad students have unionized and done great things for students while they have Graduate Assistantships. In turn, many schools are limiting GA positions, thus doing an end-run around the unions. Three steps forward, two steps back.

  7. I'd pay good money to see all the adjuncts up and leave (but it would have to be all of them or it wouldn't work). That would be some good fucking times. There'd be plenty of pain to go around if that happened, let me tell you. Can you imagine the administrators like Dickhead Dad scrambling to staff classes? And the whining of all of us tenured folks when they tried to make us teach more to cover the sudden staffing gap? You'd hear it at the South fucking Pole.

    Dickhead Dad talks a good game about structural shifts, but he ignores the most fundamental structural shift of all: enrollments have risen over the past thirty years while tenure lines have either stayed more or less the same at schools like mine, or actually shrunk at most places. So to use his market euphemisms, demand has increased without a corresponding increase in productive capacity as measured by full-time employees. Instead they've accommodated rising demand through the use of temp labor. Oh wait, that's what the market told Dickface Dad to do. Never mind.

    As for doing an end-run around the union by limiting GA positions, I don't necessarily have a problem with that. Provided that every student is fully funded (as ours are), then I don't see the harm in it. It makes graduate students into students again, and not the Guatemalan dishwashers of academia. It might even shorten time to degree, which can only be good for everyone. Of course since second and third tier programs can't fully fund everyone, limiting GA positions just fucks their students even more than they already were, which is why such programs should be abolished.

    Once again, and with feeling:

    Don't go to fucking grad school. But if you really are one of those morons who feels they must, only go if you get guaranteed, non-teaching related funding for a minimum of five years. Otherwise you are better off doing almost anything else. Indeed, high school teachers in some of the districts around these parts make more than most of my colleagues (and they really do get summers off).

  8. The problem is that everyone I trusted (profs, advisors, family, friends, honor societies) told me to go to grad school. It was only once I was *in* grad school that I was told not to go.

  9. Me too, Ophelia. There was a total disconnect between what my undergrad mentors advised me and the reality of grad school as related to me by my grad school peers. The grad school profs were just total hosebag liars living in some alternate reality (or some mythical Golden Age of their past).

    And, Archie, you misinterpreted the end-run analogy. If you promise 3 years of funding (basically just during coursework), which entails teaching (and tons of grading) as a requirement, then at year 4 cancel all promises of funding (and send the students to Adjunct Hell), that means EVERYONE ends up as contingent faculty, with better compensation at the start and poverty-level wages in the middle. Good luck reaching the end! (For it is near.) This was not about limiting GA positions to, say, 5 a year or something. It's about limiting who is eligible to be protected by the union.

    I know practically nobody who gets 5 years of non-teaching funding (unless it's one of those super-special presidential fellowships). And that increasingly goes for not just those in the humanities and social sciences but also the hard science grad students as well. Someone has to teach all those math and physics courses too, ya know. (For more info, please see any post by BiPolar Beth, the blog's resident Bio grad student TA.)

  10. I went to grad school with 5 years of non-teaching funding and guess what? I didn't have enough teaching experience to land a real job. So took a 2-3 "half-time" visiting load, followed by a weird "half-time" tenure-track thing (quotes are b/c half-time is really three-quarter time), before I could get a real tt job. And guess what even more? My fellowship was one of those ones designed to address the Terrible Shortage of Professors in the Humanities predicted for the mid-1990s.

    I landed on my feet, finally, but I have since refused to serve as evidence for anyone's story that the system works or the cream eventually rises to the top or whatever the fuck. It's all blind luck and I never advise anyone to do it anymore.

  11. Actually, MPE, the five year package with no (or very limited) teaching is slowly becoming the standard at top-tier programs. Every PhD student at my university in every department gets it now, and we are far from alone. No one should go to grad school if their funding is tied entirely to teaching. That's no different from no funding at all. One or two years of GA duties folded into a five year package can be ok, but no more than that.

    That said, you are, of course correct that these so-called reforms are about preventing the unionization of grad students and limiting eligibility for the adjunct union. And the administration is also counting on people needing sixth-year funding and beyond to staff the sections and teach comp and all the other things adjuncts and grad students do. But a five-year no-teaching package with some flexibility for extending it one year through a GA should make it possible for many, even most students to finish before they are consigned to adjunct hell. I mean Jesus H Christ on a popsicle stick, in the UK they have cut the PhD down to three fucking years. Granted they don't waste the students' time with endless coursework, but even so, a red-blooded American ought to be able to do it in five without teaching.

    If most of the programs that can't offer a similar funding package shut down, we'd be a lot closer to reducing some of the worst forms of exploitation. To be blunt, the only reason such programs exist is to staff sections, labs, foreign language and comp courses. Oh yeah, and to make the faculty at those institutions feel better about themselves because they get to say they teach in a doctoral program. Well fuck their egos, and fuck their labs and sections too. I can see an argument for doctoral programs at flagship state schools and some private universities. But there is no reason for anything beyond an MA/MS program at a school (public or private) that can't fully fund doctoral students.

    Now someone is going to call me an elitist, because by limiting PhD programs to the well-funded R1's I'm preventing people from living their dreams of academia. Well, if your dream included working for McDonald's wages after a decade or more of schooling, then by all fucking means, live it like you mean it. But let's face it, most people's postgraduate dreams can be satisfied with a one or two-year MA or MS program. They get to delve a little deeper into some shit that interests them, earn a little more at the other end if they become secondary school teachers, and (if we weren't in total economic meltdown) enter the workforce when they are still under the age of 25. Hell, they could do all that, go smoke dope on a beach in Costa Rica for a couple of years, and still start working before they turn 25. The PhD would be an elite thing for a select few, and I’m cool with that.

    Oh, and not to be a total prick, but why does someone who teaches at a community college need to have a PhD anyway (full disclosure, I went to community college, got an A.S. and then transferred to a four-year school)? If there weren't so many unemployed PhDs coming out of shit programs, we could staff CC jobs with MAs and MSs from regional universities without fucking up the system. And I'm willing to bet that the people who had those jobs would be happier and more productive because they wouldn't have had to get fucked over and around for eight years just to become eligible for gainful employment. Not to mention the fact that they wouldn’t have to deal with bullshit from their wanker advisors about how those jobs are beneath them (as detailed in some earlier posts).

    And, frankly, if we could cut the PhD to five years, six at the outside, most people could finish, try for the tt train, and then still be in their twenties if it doesn't work out. I'd be cool with that, and so would a lot of other people, I suspect. One way to do that would be to limit PhD programs to the top-tier schools.

  12. And Marcia, having served on plenty of searches at multiple institutions, the no-teaching experience thing is just a bullshit excuse that committees use to justify their choices. Maybe SLACs, CCs and tier-2 universities are different--I have no experience working at those--but tier-1 universities assume that teaching is an OTJ learning proposition. In fact, with the exception of people hired from other tt jobs, the candidates I've been involved in hiring at the junior level had, at most, a couple of semesters as a TA running sections, and maybe one small stand-alone seminar to their names. And we all know that sections and small seminars bear no resemblance to "real teaching."

    That doesn't mean that the cream rises to the top. Far from it. There is an oversupply of smart people and a shortage of jobs. So a lot smart people are getting fucked. But it strikes me that the system produces an enormous amount of waste in the form of contingent faculty. Why not reduce the burn rate by reducing the number of PhD programs. That would have the salutary effect of eliminating that "you didn't have teaching experience" excuse too.

  13. Having worked at Tier-2, SLAC, and CC institutions, I can tell you that yes, they all want real teaching experience. At my current place of employment, no one even gets considered for a TT slot without at least adjunct if not VAP experience unless that department is in need of a diversity hire. Even then, the person has to have at least TA experience.

    As to why PhDs work at community colleges, it's because those of us who do really like teaching. Not all doctorates are focused on pure research. I used several practical elements in addition to the theoretical research in my dissertation. It was one of the things that got me hired. Most CC search committees can spot a stealth R1 person a mile away. If the CV doesn't indicate a real passion for teaching, the person isn't going to get an interview. If by chance someone does slip in because of some whiff of potential, that candidate usually ends up offing himself/herself in the interview because pretty much all the questions are about students and teaching and commitment to research and continuing education to benefit teaching.

    Why would you think that CC students should get only regionally educated professors with master's degrees? Do they not deserve the same kind of intellectual diversity university students get?

    But back to the original post, I see both sides here. I think we exploit adjuncts terribly. There is a difference between temps that come in to fill a truly temporary demand and temps that replace needed tenure lines. My school will not be hiring anyone in the near future unless that person is a nursing instructor because that's the only place we have exponential growth. Meanwhile, my department gets smaller and smaller as the people who needed to retire years ago finally are leaving over frustration due to stagnant wages, growing administration, and larger class sizes. We could not run the college without adjuncts. The least we could do is pay them better and give them decent working conditions.

    But on the other hand, I've also seen the career adjuncts. It's not pretty. If you have been interviewed three times for a position at the same school and can't get hired TT, that is a pretty good indication you are not likely to be hired full time. Yet some people keep at it because they think they have "seniority," that they're somehow going to be entitled to the next job that comes up if they just stick it out long enough. They completely discount any outside competition because they think the loyalty they've given the school is going to be rewarded in the end. I hate to see the anger and bitterness. I understand where it's coming from, but in this climate, even the TT people are at risk of being thrown under the bus. At some point, people have to decide what they really want and what is realistically going to happen. If those two things don't mesh, the first one can be changed much more easily than the second.

  14. There is a place for PhD's outside of academe, as the purpose of the PhD is to train a person to do independent research - one may argue that TT tracks with UG teaching loads are effectively "Grown Up TA funding programs".

  15. Dean Dad's argument clatters to the ground when applied to the sciences. If every exploited post-doc suddenly left, and I wouldn't blame them if they did, that would be the end of science. Maybe we'll get through the current economic slump without astronomers like me, but medical researchers? It's ironic that almost no one doing medical research in the U.S.A. today has health insurance.

    Meanwhile, there's no shortage of higher-ups continuing to wail about the "imminent shortage of scientists in America." This has been going on since Sputnik, and it's no more true now than it was then. Remember that lost generation of scientists during the '70s, when the Apollo project was canceled?

    What is new is that young Americans are, for the first time, appearing to wise up about this. Here's an article about it:

    I'd say it'd serve the policy-makers who created this situation right, but it's the public who will have to take the real consequences.

  16. Why would you think that CC students should get only regionally educated professors with master's degrees? Do they not deserve the same kind of intellectual diversity university students get?

    Sure that sounds great, except that it doesn't really work that way, and I suspect you know it.

    Look, I'm a CC graduate. And I am not yet so decrepit that I can't remember my days at an urban CC in California. The faculty were all from Cal State schools, with a couple of UC folks thrown in for variety's sake. So they were already regionally educated, mostly at tier-2 schools, and many of them only had masters degrees. Of the ones who had doctorates, many of them were in education and not in the disciplines they actually taught. So there was none of the intellectual diversity you refer to.

    None of that mattered much to me as as student. I was there to knock out my lower division credits and transfer to a UC, which I did in short order while working 30 hours a week. And frankly, I thought it was great. I got through all my lower division math credits in classes of 40 or fewer. Contrast that with the kids at the UC I transferred to, who had to do their calc sequence in 300 person auditoriums with separate sections taught by doctoral students from the PRC who had no business teaching American undergraduates anything at all. I didn't care that the people standing in front of the room at the CC only had a masters, as long as they could teach me how to do differential equations and vectors (which they did quite well). When I got to the UC and started taking more advanced courses, then I cared.

    Anyway, you already admitted that you don't hire the closet R1 people, which pretty much leaves you the regionally educated people. And I'd be all for them having PhDs, except that those same regional doctoral programs are the ones producing a lot (not all, but a lot) of the waste product of the system: contingent faculty.

    As I see it, there are two ways to address the problem. One is to adjust the production of PhDs from within the system by shutting down doctoral programs that can't fully fund their students. This is an elitist approach, but probably the only one that we as faculty can advocate from within our institutions.

    The other change would have to come from without, through a major change in the way accreditation works. Between this blog and RYS I have seen a lot of posts from people who pretty clearly are teaching full loads at universities and colleges without even a masters, never mind a PhD. This is fucking criminal. If the accreditation rules were changed so that institutions that put people without doctorates in front of a class (with the sole exception of supervised teaching by ABD students from the same institution) lost their accreditation, then schools would be forced to hire PhDs. A second change that imposed a minimum percentage of courses to be taught by tt faculty or unionized adjuncts receiving a living wage, would also help. But since monkeys will fly out of my ass before that happens, I think the best chance we have is to shut down non-funded doctoral programs.

    That probably means fewer PhDs teaching at CCs and other minor institutions. And given my own experiences as a student at a CC, I think that's a price worth paying.

  17. Marcia, that line about "you need real teaching experience" was what my programs (both MA and PhD) used to persuade students that teaching their department's sections as adjuncts was beneficial for their future viability for TT jobs. And it was...for about a decade. Then they seemed to realize the ship was sinking (or sailing or whatever) and went full-on exploitative.

    It was just as shameful then to not provide teaching opportunities for grad students as it is now by "persuading" grad students to be de facto faculty for a fraction of the salary. If I accurately recall the tidbits of your history you have casually mentioned, you probably were in grad school at a time when there were few summer courses, which provide a convenient time for doctoral students to get teaching experience without drawing their attention away from coursework. Nowadays, though, many faculty take those courses to earn pin money for themselves (or as one told me, "No one else wants it"...I almost screamed at her, "Give it to me, you dumbo!"). That pin money can pay most students' rent for the summer and fall!

    And Archie, your opinion is elitist and yet it still has some merit. The problem is that there are needs for more positions; the problem is that schools refuse to convert adjuncting positions to TT or long-term contract ones. Take 4-5 courses a term, package them together and you have a full-time position. At one school instead of 2-3! The need is there. (Note: you seem to agree with this assessment in your post just above.)

    The "job shortage" is a myth masking the improper (and obscene) unpacking of TT jobs. As EnglishDoc said, "There is a difference between temps that come in to fill a truly temporary demand and temps that replace needed tenure lines." At one school where I worked, I often saw the same adjunct's name listed for 7 courses! Every term! Job shortage? Temporary staffing? Every. Single. Term.

    Also, as a P.S. #1: My highly exploitative program used to be in the top 10, then dropped to like 17, and has been slowly climbing back up...on the backs of its grad students. So, we might want to even question what a "top tier" school or program is.

    P.S. #2: My discipline has a professional aspect. We weren't allowed to take those (usually MA-level) courses for Ph.D. requirements. So, cerebus, I and my colleagues can recite Theories of Basket Weaving till the cows come home, but many of our Basket Weaving skills are untested and mostly self-taught (or out-of-date...thanks digital revolution!). And, honestly, if they will hire Basket Weavers with the BA and MA, why would they bother hiring a Ph.D., especially if they have antiquated rules that would require them to pay someone more simply because of that Ph.D.?

    Unless you think the government wants to hire people to study public Basket Weaving. They're already funneling those funds to TT professors via grants. And even that money is drying up!

    "All's a muddle."

    P.S. #3: I also attended a CC. Most classes had essay exams. I was extremely prepared to excel at the local elite SLAC when I transferred. Most of my CC instructors also only had an MA. I also had an MA when I was a TA and adjunct. Most people with an MA are perfectly qualified to teach. Sadly, though, some schools and programs have started giving the MA and MS away just as easily as their BA and BS degrees, which makes the credential just as questionable as a high school diploma nowadays. Fuck @ credentialism!

  18. This type of argument always makes me remember why I don't want a PhD. I just want to teach at the CC level with my little M.S. and be happy...well, happier than most of the PhDs I've ever encountered, at least [Present company excluded {or included, if you prefer!}]. I don't need a big house or a big car. Actually, I need a big car to make it to work in the winter... but I don't need a FANCY big car. So, I have a microscopic slice of the pie right now with my adjunct CC position, but it might become a full-time CC position within the next year and a half. YAY for full-time CC positions and a slightly-larger microscopic slice of the pie! I just hope it pans out, or Mathsquatch will go on a three-day mean...the warpath.

    Mathsquatch out.

  19. I'm an adjunct and finally make the median wage - around 40k.

    I teach 30 sections a year. 30.

    Still, feels like a cakewalk compared with sitting in a cube. And at under 30 years of age - I can think of worse things to do with my time.

  20. Angry Archie, when I said "stealth R1," I didn't mean people with degrees from those institutions (I am one of them). I meant people whose greatest desire is truly to work at an R1 but who apply for CC jobs because they want to get their foot in the door somewhere and move up or think that any TT job in academe is better than no job even if it's not suited to what they want to do. In short, we don't want anyone who settles for CC work. We have people teaching for us with doctorates from Yale, Harvard, Berkeley, Rice, and U of Chicago, to name just a few. They are here because they want to be, because they love teaching.

    I'm also not pretending that our students are interested in advanced research. What I am saying about intellectual diversity is that it makes departments better which in turn improves the quality of education students receive. If everyone in a department comes from the same 3-4 schools, they all tend to think alike. They've all been educated the same, so it's harder for new ideas to take hold. They are sometimes less willing to try new teaching techniques or study a wider variety of scholarship in the discipline. Thus the students lose out on better learning experiences because the faculty members are limited in their own experiences. People from the outside shake things up.

    In my own department, I've seen local MAs who had no idea about English mainstays from 20+ years ago such as Peter Elbow, David Bartholomae, and Shirley Brice Heath. I taught a seminar for my colleagues on a basic pedagogical technique that's been in existence for over 30 years. The local colleges just weren't teaching this stuff to their graduates. As a result of the "outsiders," our faculty is better educated and brings that new knowledge to the students. I have learned from them as well since they were taught things my program didn't emphasize. And isn't that really the point of education, lifelong learning that we can pass on to others who help us perpetuate the cycle? If we don't model it, how can we promote it?


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