March 02, 2003

An Online Adjunct Advertisement

I wonder if the future of academic history can be glimpsed through advertisements for online adjunct teaching positions? Here is a recent example, taken from the Chronicle of Higher Education's online Career Network, where one can find many more advertisements in the same vein.

Devry University Online, the advertisement reads, "invites applicants for history adjunct position." The position "offers the capability to work from any home office in the United States." Any home office?! Well, that's quite an offer, no? But isn't it the job candidate who would offer such a "capability" to the employer/university? Ah well, why be a stickler for details? Moving right along, we find that the requirements for this exciting employment opportunity include an MA in History and "a minimum of 5+ years successful teaching experience." For "successful teaching experience," you may substitute "positive teaching evaluations from students whose grades were inflated." Now is it just me, or is there not something profoundly depressing about the idea that someone who had been teaching for five or more years would be desperate enough to apply for such a position?

Nice to know that Devry University Online is an Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity Exploiter (er, Employer). But they left out one crucial detail, almost a prerequisite for an academic job announcement these days: that is, they forgot to mention that the university is fully committed to the pursuit of excellence.

Off to polish my CV.


When I question the notion that the university is offering the adjunct teacher the "capability" to work from a home office, I am not merely being snarky.

Think about it: The university pays the adjunct a wage to "teach" (if we may use that term to apply to this brave new world of online pedagogy) X number of units to X number of students. Since the adjunct does this from his or her own home, much of the overhead cost of running the course is effectively transferred from the university to the adjunct teacher -- ie, from the employer to the employee. All of the costs of running an office -- heat, electricity, telephone and internet connection, wear and tear on equipment and the like -- are absorbed not by the university but by the adjunct. The adjunct cannot bill the university for these expenses. Indeed, the adjunct's wages for the "teaching" of an online history course will not even suffice to keep body and soul together, never mind covering the overhead costs of the endeavor.

So the employer enjoys the advantages of little to no overhead, minimal investment in fixed capital, and extreme flexibility in its workforce (adjunct teachers are paid by the course and are hired and fired at will). Electronic sweatshop? No, I don't think we've advanced quite that far in the economic restructuring of the university. Sounds more like the proto-industrial putting-out system that characterized the early modern textile industry. The sweatshops came later.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at March 2, 2003 12:50 AM

Far be it for me to impose the novelty of reality and change to your pickle barrel of self pity, but in this case I must.

The fact is simply this: it's 2004 and technology is redefining what it means to work, go to school, and yes even be an 'educator'.

No one, and no vocation, is forever blessed. If you choose to ruminate about some golden past that never existed, then you will soon become the intellectual equal of all those brave Polish cavalrymen fearlessly charging German Panzers at the beginning of World War 2.

If you fear the intellectual sweatshop, then change the rules you enforce upon youself. No DeVry, Phoenix or other like degree will match the pedigree of a 'traditional' degree anytime n. These institutions supply and fill a need to people who otherwise would not be able to attend college. These Institutions do the same for those who otherwise would never be able to teach.

If that is whoring up the profession, then so be it.
Aslong as I don't have to be a cavalryman.

Posted by: John B at February 5, 2004 07:27 PM

John B,
I'm sure you're right that online courses supply a need to those who would otherwise be unable to attend college. I don't have a problem with schools trying to meet that need. In some cases, I might even support just such a goal.

I do have a problem with some of the specific ways in which some (or rather, many, and probably most) schools go about doing it. There is a middle ground between a kneejerk Luddite rejection of the new technologies and a kneejerk celebration of novelty for the sake of novelty.

Re: your stated intention "to impose the novelty of reality." As a matter of principle, I am deeply suspicious of any and all claims to privileged epistemological access to reality. As a matter of personal, and admittedly anecdotal, experience: I gave birth. Without drugs. I don't need lessons in reality.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at February 5, 2004 08:28 PM

Dear IA:

" privileged epistemological access to reality", now that's a Scrabble winner!

Anyway, the main point I'm making is that these places are not tapping into the traditional education market, they are expanding it to the unwashed hordes. And if that smells like Wal-Mart, then that's because it is. And just like Wal-Mart, if you choose to shop there, be ready for the relentlessness of it all.

And oh yes the motto "medicore education delivered sloppily by underpaid Independent Contractors" was my first choice for a motto before they went with fully committed to the pursuit of excellence. Go figure.

Posted by: John B at February 6, 2004 06:22 AM