April 26, 2003

Let's Not Do Lunch?

A graduate student in philosophy writes: "I find Invisible Adjunct depressing but I read it anyway."

I'm glad he's reading it, but then kind of sorry he finds it depressing. And it is depressing, isn't it? This is not an upbeat and cheerful sort of blog. Maybe not the kind of blog you'd want to have lunch with. You might think, 'Sure, it makes a couple of good points, but then it's rather relentless in pursuit of those points, and altogether too negative; It's really kind of draining, and geez, I just want to have a nice, relaxing lunch and I don't know if I have the energy.' No, this is not a "let's-do-lunch" blog. It's more a late night, perhaps even a 3 a.m. phonecall, sort of a blog. In short, it's a bit of a downer.

Well, adjunctification is depressing, and in more ways than I have time to name. There's the depression of wages, of course (and not only for adjuncts: reliance on part-timers exerts a downward pressure on the salaries of the tenure-tracked and the tenured, too). And then there's the depression of status (again, a downward pressure on the status of the relevant disciplines overall. Take English literature, for example, surely this is the near-perfect example. Some attribute the degradation of English to the tendency of its professors to jump on the latest theoretical bandwagons. And they do seem to go in for the latest fads and fashions over in the English department...well, let's face it, they seem to have deconstructed and to have undermined the very basis of their own discipline and to have done so from within: this is curious and probably worrisome for anyone who cares about the long-term prospects of English literature as an academic discipline. But English literature is also one of the main offenders in the reliance on casual, part-time teaching staff, and surely there is a connection? perhaps there is even a relationship between reliance on contingent labor and a theoretical concern with the marginal and the contingent: is the adjunct instructor meant to serve as some sort of experiment in the decentering of the subject?) And then there is that other kind of depression that can result from the depression of wages and status. Unemployment and underemployment are depressing topics all around.

Someone asked me the other day, "You said the purpose of your blog was partly therapeutic. Is it working?" Ack. How embarrassing. Welcome to my me-zine: it's all about me and I'm all about therapy. How cheesy does that sound? This is one of the main reasons why I write this stuff under cover of a pseudonym. It's not that I'm worried about losing tenure, I don't have tenure to lose. It's more that, in pursuit of those couple of points that are the main focus of this blog, I'm also throwing out bits and pieces of myself, and who knows where they will land and how they will be received?

Anyway, the funny thing is, I think it's actually working. The fact is, I'm feeling much better these days. Well, maybe it's partly the weather, but I'm pretty sure it's also the blog. It helps to say the things that I say on this blog. I suppose it helps to "get it out of my system," as the saying goes. Of course, there's a fine line here. I want to get it out of my system and then move on. I don't want to spend the rest of my life obssessing over these cheerless themes, embittered and angry and what have you. But then I can't seem to move on until I get it out of my system. However, I'm beginning to see the exit, I think I can cut a path and find my way out. I'm not quite finished with getting it out of my system, there are still a few more things I want to say. I will say them, and then move on.

But meanwhile, maybe I'm bringing others down? Damn. There's always a catch, isn't there? Well look: I'm only one person offering one account of one side of the story. It's a side that doesn't get enough attention, I think, but still it's only one side. There are many other sides, too. Just take this side and place it alongside the others, not as a replacement but as an accompaniment to those other sides. And for heaven's sake, don't read this stuff if you are nearing your comps or your dissertation defense: I think you should know about the side that I cover in this blog, but I don't think you need to know it as you are approaching any of these hurdles.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at April 26, 2003 12:15 PM

If they haven't figured out the stuff you're posting here by the time they hit prelims and dissertation defenses, it's way the heck and gone too late.

In my always-snarky opinion, anyway.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at April 26, 2003 07:09 PM

This is just a geneal comment on my recent experiences on trying to find a PhD program.

I am very disturbed by the lack of psychological awareness of professors. That is, they could have student who is suffering form a severe mental disorder such as a dissociative disorder and not know anything about the effects of such a condition or how to recognize symptoms.

Of course, this is not just limited to students but to profs themselves. I know of a friend that went through an economic program where both of his supervisors were clinically schizophrenic (they were married) and separated and divorced while he was their student.

So, I find it outrageous that there are no professional development courses for profs to help them become aware of psychiatric disorders. It seems to me that this is the basis of many problems in academia.

It seems that success in academia means matching up to a prof's predominant mental disorder, and if it comes about that yours does not match hers then you will be ignored and not recommended for whatever lays ahead in the field because you did not pass the socialization process which may be a sick and diseased community anyhow.

If a guiding light in academia is to "know thyself" then starting to recognize mental disorders instead of ignoring them might be a start, but in many of the departments in the humanities, addressing mental experiences in the language of psychology rather than through that which the discipline (say English lit) has to offer would be to step outside of that socialization process.

Posted by: David at April 26, 2003 07:21 PM

I agree with Dorothea. This is very useful reading for people towards the beginning of grad school (although not, say, the night before oral comprehensive exams ;). IA, your blog is also a sight less depressing than reading those first-person job-search stories in the Chronicle, since you're neither trying to come up with a bon mot to describe despair nor brave-little-soldiering through in order to hand out advice about how happy everyone can be working twelve adjunct jobs at once. But the people for whom this blog should be required reading are the folks making the hiring and admissions decisions.

David, I sympathize with your frustration and agree that our society's collective ignorance of and about psychological disorders is lamentable. But if I may speak as a professor for just a moment... even if I had been trained to identify psychological disorders in my students or colleagues -- and goodness knows I wasn't -- I'm not sure what I could do with my entirely unlicensed diagnosis. I can't write prescriptions, I can't administer therapy, I can't even make anyone go see Campus Counseling. Now, if one of my students comes up to me and tells me that s/he has such-and-such a disorder, I'll look it up, I'll make whatever allowances seem reasonable, and I'll certainly advise him/her to run it by our Disabilities Coordinator if it's something chronic which will routinely impact his/her education. But identifying symptoms and putting them together into a diagnosis... that's not my job, and it's one I'd do more harm than good if I played at.

Posted by: Naomi Chana at April 27, 2003 01:42 AM

What you are talking about is obviously quite serious and an area of grave concern. But I have to agree with Naomi on this. There is societal-wide ignorance of mental health issues, and academics often share this ignorance. But I don't think it's realistic or fair to hold professors responsible for identifying and diagnosing disorders that are well outside their areas of expertise.

"It seems that success in academia means matching up to a prof's predominant mental disorder, and if it comes about that yours does not match hers then you will be ignored and not recommended for whatever lays ahead in the field because you did not pass the socialization process which may be a sick and diseased community anyhow." Far be it from me to go out of my way to defend the professoriate on this blog :) But I think this overstates the case quite a bit.

Still, the relationship between faculty mentor and graduate student is amorphous and ill-defined, which leaves open the possibility for various forms of bullying and abuse.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at April 27, 2003 05:26 PM

I just wanted to chime in with Naomi and Dorothea to say that while this site might cover a "depressing" topic, I don't find your site itself to be depressing. In fact, I find it oddly comforting -- I think a lot of us in academia tend towards neurotic self-criticism and doubt (and if we don't going into grad school, we do as a result!) and I know it's really easy to fall into an "it's all my fault" mindset. So hearing that there are explanations for professional failure that don't hinge on personal shortcomings is tremendously heartening.

I was also amused reading about the therapeutic value of venting via blog; I have actually been contemplating blogging for very similar reasons. I _have_ to get such feelings out of my system, but it's very tiring for all my friends and family (not that they'd ever _say_ so) hearing me mope and whine at them (and then I feel guilty about that). Besides, even in the most depressing parts of your site, you're a wonderful writer, and worth reading on that account alone. :)

Posted by: Rana at April 27, 2003 09:23 PM

The tendency toward neurotic self-criticism and doubt plus the structural craziness of the academic job "market" adds up to a toxic combination. I think the "it's all my fault" response comes naturally, as it were, to many academics and would-be academics.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at April 27, 2003 10:41 PM

IA, please don't take my comment the wrong way. The reason I find your
site depressing is that I'm in agreement with you that academic labor
is a big fucking problem, and I'm already involved in that problem.
But aside from some timidly voiced concerns about not unduly weighing
graduate students down with too much teaching work while they have
"real" work to do (and it's strange and sad how easily and silently
that work starts to seem like a hobby compared to the stacks of papers
to grade), I hear little talk about the problem. You're doing a good

Posted by: Josh at April 28, 2003 02:41 AM

I think I have got things backward again. I am enjoying enormously my life as an adjunct... Perhaps I am simply more optimistic it is a learning experience leading to a career rather than an impediment to something else somebody else might imagine I should be doing. Yes, grading papers is beginning to wear, and yes, I have another course starting next Tuesday. But I loved my winter term courses and am looking forward to tackling a core theory requirement. It might be better to take the summer entirely for my own research but given the two weeks vacation my "real world" friends are restricted to every year I remember my job is challenging, interesting and even the onerous grading part can be done with coffee at a cafe. Not bad at all.

I am interested in your notion we are dragging down the salaries of full-time faculty. It was my impression our adjunct piece-work teaching was what * paid * for their salaries!

Posted by: Nicholas Packwood at April 28, 2003 02:42 AM

Not to worry, Josh! I don't think I took your comment the wrong way, it just struck me as a nice statement of something I had been thinking about myself.

Nicholas, I wish I could be more optimistic about adjunct teaching as a valuable learning experience leading to a career. For many adjuncts, alas, it is nothing of the sort -- unless we define years of adjuncthood as a viable career.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at April 28, 2003 06:01 PM

Yes. I happen to be on the fence about wanting a teaching career just now, so maybe I'm not the best to respond to Nicholas on that front, but I do know that other aspects of adjuncting are just not compatible with the future I want for myself.

For me, having to move repeatedly around the country after the end of each temporary stint, feeling continual anxiety about whether I actually will have a place to land each fall, and going months without seeing my boyfriend, do not add up to a viable "career."

In fact, having to do great wads of course preps each time seems to me to be having a highly detrimental effect on my ability to publish, which seems to be the key to finding long-term employment in academia. (Let alone finding two such positions -- my boyfriend is finishing up his dissertation -- but that's another story.)

There's much I like about academia, but not so much that I'm willing to sacrifice family, health, etc. for it. My god, I'm not even stable enough financially to justify owning a pet!

Posted by: Rana at April 28, 2003 08:22 PM

Re: the mental health thread...

I agree with IA and Naomi that it ain't fair to demand that profs be counselors. That said... our employers ain't counselors, either, and there's still a good deal of material and training available on ways to cope with various psychological disorders that crop up in the workplace.

I don't think education would be a bad thing. I've been on both sides of the divide myself -- I had a student once who obviously needed counseling immediately, and to this day I don't know if what I said to her convinced her to go. And, of course, I've been loopy as a loon -- psychosomatic distress and the whole nine yards.

I hate to assume that no one *wanted* to help me, though that might have been the case. I'd rather believe no one knew how. That, at least, could be ameliorated.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at April 29, 2003 02:05 AM

Maybe better communication between student health service and counseling and the faculty would be the answer -- along the lines of "if you have a student in trouble, here's who you can send them to or who you can talk to yourself."

I had one situation once where a student was under serious stress due to life-threatening domestic issues, and it it weren't for the combined efforts of faculty and counseling (and security) working together to persuade her, I don't know if she would have had the courage to take a leave of absence to work things out (rather than trying to cope with home difficulties AND keep up in all her classes). I know that I really appreciated being able to talk with counseling services myself, to know that when she came in to talk with me I wasn't making the situation worse and that other people were also aware of the situation.

Other times it's been frustrating to learn after the fact, or through accidental conversations with other faculty or staff, that a "slacker" student we'd been thinking poorly of was actually wrestling with some fairly serious mental or physical illness. Destigmatizing mental illness would probably go a long way in helping, too.

Posted by: Rana at April 29, 2003 07:20 PM

Probably some people were too "busy" or self-important to want to help. But others were probably genuinely ignorant.

I agree with Rana that destigmatizing mental illness would make a difference.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at April 30, 2003 12:46 AM

This kind of reminds me of when students say "you make issues of social class sound SO depressing!"
Well....? If someone can suggest ways to make those who work minimum wage dead end jobs sound "happy" I'd love to hear from them!

Posted by: Cat at April 30, 2003 05:25 PM