June 14, 2003

The Adjunct Track: A Slow Train to Nowhere

When the train, it left the station
with two lights on behind,
When the train, it left the station
with two lights on behind,
Well, the blue light was my blues
and the red light was my mind.
All my love's in vain.

-- Robert Johnson, "Love in Vain"

The bitterest people I have ever met are career adjuncts. They work hard and capably, but they have no health benefits, abysmal pay, no security beyond the end of the term, and worst of all, no sense that they can do anything else with their lives.

-- Kevin Walzer, "On adjunct teaching"

Clio have I loved, but Clio does not care. She is no dewey-eyed maiden, is Clio, but a cold and demanding mistress: imperious and capricious and utterly indifferent to my fate. Of course I would not have it any other way: is it a Muse I am after, or would I rather watch Oprah?

But have I loved in vain?

Kevin Walzer has a great post in which he argues against adjunct teaching as a career option. Though he supports better pay and working conditions for contingent faculty, he worries that unionization might only serve to "make horrifying employment conditions less intolerable." Good point. One of the risks of unionizing adjunct faculty is that it institutionalizes and confers legitimacy upon the idea of a permanent second tier (to which the pro-union advocate might respond, 'But that tier is already actually there, an open secret that remains hidden in plain view, and after all, people do need health insurance'). Walzer's "dream scenario:" "instead of unionizing to barter for a few more crumbs, adjuncts simply resign en masse." More pragmatically, he urges individual adjuncts take a good look at how much they lose by remaining in the academy.

He's right, of course. And I am truly horrified by the thought of becoming a lifer.

Stay tuned as my identity crisis intensifies...

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at June 14, 2003 01:38 PM

Nice dream, Walzer. The problem is all the happy, joyful career adjuncts who think the problem with low pay and no benfits is a matter of mindset: "If life gives you lemons, teach two more sections." You know who I'm talking about. Plus, there will always be those people who think "it's just for a year while I'm on the market." Then there are the hobbyists who say "I can't believe they pay me to do this!!!"

How would the teamsters deal with scabs like this?

Posted by: Thomas Hart Benton at June 14, 2003 05:54 PM

"Then there are the hobbyists who say 'I can't believe they pay me to do this!!!'"

Hobbyists, eh? Well, there's another term for these people, but I'm afraid I can't use it here on my blog: I'm just a nice Irish Catholic girl, and I try to keep things family-friendly.

Adjuncts as scabs? Doesn't quite work for me. The vast majority of adjuncts aren't unionized. And though many (at least 30 percent) tenure-track and tenured faculty are unionized, they don't include adjuncts in their unions.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 14, 2003 06:11 PM

I can't believe there's even a question of organising. If the collectivity does not protect its collective interests in some way, it's going to get collectively screwed. Quibble about method (mass strike vs. trade unionism) if you must, but there's no alternative to organisation.

The two-tier hackademic work force is only a temporary condition, anyway. The elite workers of the infotainment industry are so steeped in the ambient ideology of their institution (hierarchy, conservativeness, elitism, etc.) that they are unable to protect their own interests. As more and more of them push more and more daisies, that little group of elite workers will get progressively smaller, until one day... poof!

I think the walzer-thb disagreement boils down to something like anarchists (kw) vs. social democrats (thb). Of course, there are other positions. Here's one:

"Only complete thoughtlessness could expect that adjunct-ism could be destroyed at one blow by a single "long-drawn" general strike after the anarchist plan. The adjunct system in Hackademia must be overthrown by the proletariat. But in order to be able to overthrow it, the proletariat requires a high degree of political education, of class-consciousness and organisation. All these conditions cannot be fulfilled by pamphlets and leaflets, but only by the living political school, by the fight and in the fight, in the continuous course of the revolution. Further, the adjunct system cannot be overthrown at any desired moment in which only adequate "exertion" and "endurance" is necessary. The fall of the adjunct system is merely the outer expression of the inner social and class development of Hackademic society."

Posted by: che at June 14, 2003 07:45 PM


In Autumn of my life, I unwind by reading Critical Theory again, and thinking, without nostalgia, of my own days as a marginal academic. "Interpellation"? Could you be interpellated, by some title other than Invisible Adjunct, Dr, or historian?

What you have created here is such a wonderful symposium, so gracious, despite the pain, those skills, as writer, discussion leader, researcher, are in short supply. I think about where in a large company you might make your mark, in human resources as a teacher/trainer, in any kind of promotional or newsletter writing, as an instructional designer, in any job requiring communication with an educated public, like Public Relations or Office of Governmental Affairs, or in any entrepreneurial organization needing someone to do three or four jobs, while inventing a fifth. You would make a wonderful "boundary spanner," working back and forth between a technical department (whose jargon and mindset you would quickly master) and other professionals and managers. You could write scripts for "higher ups," speeches, and press releases. All of those are jobs you could walk in, fake for one "semester" and master in three.

I hope you will give "the other world," that of ordinary business, a chance. Clio will forgive, for she chronicles the doings of more figures than just academics. Maybe she is welcoming you to make a little history. (Probably not, but you have the talent.)

Posted by: The Happy Tutor at June 14, 2003 08:15 PM

You're in the autumn of your life, and I'm in the winter of my discontent. Or, uh, something like that.
Thank you for this.

A "boundary spanner"?! I have no idea what this means. I am so behind the curve. But I do like the idea of writing scripts and speeches for others: figure out what they want to say, then tell them how to say it.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 15, 2003 12:06 AM

Note to che:
You may be right about the need for collective action, but I don't think I'm prepared to form a revolutionary vanguard.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 15, 2003 12:08 AM

"Theodore Strelecki Faction"?

Posted by: zizka at June 15, 2003 12:18 AM

Some adjuncts have successfully joined forces with the resident faculty union--CSU Los Angeles is a recent case in point.

Posted by: Miriam at June 15, 2003 08:30 AM

THB: I don't know how the Teamsters would deal with the "scabs" you describe, nor do I care. I understand that my dream is just that, a dream. The only real solution is for each individual person to wake up and realize that they can do so much better elsewhere. At least that's what I did. And that's why I continue to be involved in the discourse on academic employment even though I'm now a thoroughgoing capitalist.

Che: I'm not an anarchist, I'm a free-market capitalist. There are other opportunities elsewhere in the free market. The free market is much larger than the academic job market. Even in this economy, jobs can be found. It's not easy, obviously, but even the lowest-level "white collar" job beats adjuncting. I know from experience.

Posted by: Kevin Walzer at June 15, 2003 01:04 PM

"The only real solution is for each individual person to wake up and realize that they can do so much better elsewhere."

Consciousness-raising is essential, no doubt about it, but I don't think we can "wake up" if we embrace capitalism uncritically, as if there really is such a thing as a "free market" in the academy or anywhere else. Read the subsequent entries on Bousquet's "Excremental Theory" of academic employment.

My thinking in regard to my off-the-cuff comment about the Teamsters is that some adjuncts behave like scabs. Some of them make it impossible to act collectively; they function as a surplus army of the unemployed, they drive down wages, and then they condemn the rest of us who don't adopt their individualist outlook as unjustified complainers (I'm not thinking of KW here--more like Jill Carroll, though some of what she says is sensible under the circumstances). Essentially, the "I-can't-believe-I-get-paid-to-do-this" adjuncts sell out to their exploiters in the hopes of getting crumbs from the table.

Here's where I'm torn. Adjuncts are a downtrodden lot, but I wonder if academic workers who are committed to change and collective action need to draw a line and declare, "You are with us or against us." And, if you are an adjunct who undercuts wages, expands the tyranny of flexibility, refuses to help your fellow academic workers, and then proclaims how wonderful the system is . . . well, what would a serious union movement do?

Posted by: Thomas Hart Benton at June 15, 2003 07:56 PM


On Boundary Spanners: Think of all the boundaries. Universities have departements, fields, specialities. The university is surrounded by a symoblic gate. The boundary is policed with a credential, the Doctorate, and marked with ancient regalia. In business, the company has a boundary where it butts upagainst consumers, suppliers, government, regulators. Inside a company are "stove pipes" or "silos," called subsidaries, profit centers, divisions, departments, and units. At the boundary organizations break down. To span boundaries you need to double-think, to speak two languages, that of consumers, for example, and the company, or regulators and the company, or the accountants and the marketing people, or training people and the product people. At the boundaries you find people with excellent human skills, and often liberal educations. They are used to working around a round table, making sure that everyone gets heard, they form teams, they creates social capital, make business friendships and facilitate. They are a major part of the shadow organization, not the top down management structure, but the cross disciplinary project managers, and can do people.

It is easier to get on a project them, then rise to project management than to get what is called "line responsibility," i.e., direct reports under you.

The nice thing about project management is that you can sometimes propose the project, sell management on it, and get responsibility for making it work. Creativity, courage, people skills, ability to schmooze, you have all that, and it would transfer, as soon as you get into a company and learn the basics of what they do, in whatever department you are hired into.

Believe me, within days, you will feel the unwritten rules, the glass walls, the political currents between departments that should work together and don't. That is where with some tact and skill, you can make your higher order abilities felt, by bridging those boundaries, without upsetting your boss or the boss of the other affect departments.

The ghost-writing thing would also be a natural for you. Public Relations or Corporate Communications are the usual terms. Big companies sometimes have a whole unit of speechwriters, and you can rise to suprising heights just on that skill alone, to VP in a Fortune 100 context, and make as much as $200,000 a year. Nice thing about it is that they would value your degrees, and would themselves be "people of the written word."

Also in Corporate Communications you find employee newsletters, a company magazine, copy writers for the website, it goes on and on.

Your skills strike me as very well adapted to dicey and difficult situations and people. A lot of it comes down to putting a good face on the intolerable, and making it sound humane. You manage to keep yourself sounding upbeat on this site, even in your "winter of discontent."

Take on step back, and you may well find that in a year or two you have taken several steps forward. You have the life experience now to handle difficulties. A few years ago, before all this pain, you might have been naive. Now, you are dealing with reality. Time to graduate!

Most people in business have themselves crashed and burned in one way or another. The straight line resume is a thing of the past. Companies lay people off, whole industries perish, you are just another talented person going through a career transition. The person interviewing you will have gone through his or her own trauma somewhere along the line. Welcome!

Posted by: The Happy Tutor at June 15, 2003 08:44 PM

"Consciousness-raising is essential, no doubt about it, but I don't think we can "wake up" if we embrace capitalism uncritically, as if there really is such a thing as a 'free market' in the academy or anywhere else."

Grant that there is no such thing as an entirely "free" market, for all sorts of complex reasons having to do with the relationship between economy, society, and state. I do think it makes sense to distinguish (relatively) free/open markets from cartels, monopolies and the like. And I think Bousquet's argument loses force if we don't acknowledge this distinction: as he points out, the conditions of employment since the early 70s have actually tended to eliminate anything that might look like the kind of market where the PhD-holder is free to sell his/her labor to the highest bidder.

In other words, the academic employment system never has been and never was intended to function as a market (using market in the loose sense of that term, and again granting that we are talking about relative, and not absolute, degrees of openness/freedom). It was a kind of labor monopoly, based on a social contract that has broken down. Many of us, probably most of us, understood (or perhaps I should say misunderstood) it in these terms when we first signed on: we believed we were entering something that worked differently from the market that governed employment in the world outside, a guildlike system in which we served an apprencticeship as a point of entry into a profession. As I read Bousquet (and I may be misreading him), the irony of the situation is that academics began to embrace the language of the "market" just as the labor monopoly was collapsing.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 15, 2003 09:21 PM

You almost have me convinced, and I think I'm almost ready to go corporate. Let's bowl!

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 15, 2003 10:37 PM

Jill Carroll is an interesting case. It's hard to believe she makes $50K per year. She must receive abnormally high wages for adjunct teaching. The going rate for freshman comp here in Cincinnati is $1000-$1500 per course, give or take, and you'd be hard-pressed to exceed $20k per year teaching every chance you got. So, her example is not a realistic one for most adjuncts as a college instructor. On the other hand, I do like her general attitude about viewing herself as a self-employed businessperson. If you, say, substitute "communications consultant" for "adjunct instructor," then you have a pretty good model of how to build a business for yourself.

Posted by: Kevin Walzer at June 16, 2003 01:53 AM

The Happy Tutor is giving some excellent advice. Businesses are looking for smart people who can analyze problems and find creative solutions. If you can make the switch to results-oriented thinking, you're set.

Seven years ago I switched from academia to business myself. In my case, the first big result: Within six months, my depression, which had lasted for years, lifted on its own (the regular, larger paychecks helped a lot). In a year, I was running my own projects. In four years, the company doubled my salary rather than lose me to another firm.

That's how business works ... you do your job and you get paid. Unlike in academia, which is set up to weed you out and get you to quit, in business they want to invest in you, they want you to stay and they want you to succeed.

I love business, and frankly, have never trusted any organization again that claims idealistic motives. It's like, "You've got a mission to help people? How well are you paying your employees? What sacrifices are you asking them to make that you are unwilling to make? How are you contributing to your employees' kids' lives?" In business, you can measure all of that ... and when you see people get a regular salary, start to move up, it's exciting.

Academia has deteriorated into a racket, pure and simple. Yes, there's a wondrous sinecure at the end for some, but usually by the time you get to a tenured faculty position, you're at the age where your peers in business and government may be taking early retirement.

Posted by: IB Bill at June 16, 2003 07:37 PM

One reason I am skeptical that things will ever change is that there exists a single, powerful entity that acts like a giant carrot: the elusive tenure track job.
This dream is so powerful that the thought of collectively resisting the crappy working conditions is effectively truncated. Many adjuncts feel that if they organize or make waves, their tenure track chances will be minimized even further. The lack of job openings creates a censorship on many levels. This is a frightening situation. On the one hand we have a collective censorship against any impluse to make waves or fight the system because we know that there are people, many who are willing to claw and fight to even get into the line-up at the door, who will readily replace us. On the other hand we have the constraints of an elusive dream, or carrot, that also deters action.
Because our economic system is more about bald survival than advancement, a climate of fear is just what the powers that be ordered.

Posted by: Cat at June 17, 2003 10:25 AM

Note on "depression": I have read that that diagnosis was unknown before 1932 or thereabouts. Lack of money impacts feelings of self-worth. (Duh).

The problem with going into business is that many of the jobs for people with mostly-verbal skills involve dubious forms of persuasion (law, PR, advertising, etc.)

There are reasons why IB Bill's attitude is not universally shared, though I doubt that Bill is aware of them. There are many for whom The Market is neither a transcendant ideal nor the metaphysical substance of human life. IE, many believe that there are non-market forms of organization which are a.) different from the market and b.) is some respects superior to the market. We do not want to live in a total market society.

Posted by: zizka at June 17, 2003 11:35 AM

Here is a quote from Keynes, probably 1936. My understanding, subject to correction, is that he invented the term. His point here is that economic depression had psychological effects on large numbers of individuals which made it hard for the economy to recover since people stopped investing. He was not coining a diagnosis, but others picked it up.

"In short, economic depression brings about psychological depression. While a drop in the interest rate may make investment projects technically profitable, it will not, on its own, make investors more optimistic."


Posted by: zizka at June 17, 2003 12:38 PM


Your comments are interesting. I'm curious to know what forms of organization that you consider to be superior to the market. I don't consider the market to be some kind of "metaphysical ideal," but speaking pragmatically, it has (in my view) provided the most opportunities for the most people. Certainly it provided ample opportunity for me to make a living. That's the beauty of it. If one market (academe) doesn't have what you want (a job), you can go to another market (business). As for "dubious forms of persuasion," I don't consider advertising or PR (both of which I've worked with) to be any different from a job application letter and vita--God knows I sent out far more of those in academe than I ever have in the business world. The only difference is the product you're selling (brand x in the case of business; in academe, to quote Tom Peters, you're selling "the brand called you").

Posted by: Kevin Walzer at June 17, 2003 05:02 PM

People who really, really believe in the market, and they are not rare, actually believe that everything is a market. For example, the family is one form of organization which is different from, and in some respects superior to the market. Some market ideologues try to describe the family as a "kind of market".

Any cooperative organization not organized for profit-taking is a non-market organization. Likewise, any form of volunteerism is non-markey activity -- and again, I am aware that market metaphysicians try to describe all activity as market activity, with volunteer organizations just being inefficient, piss-poor markets. Neighborhood and community organization are likewise non-market forms of organization. So is monastic organization. The university traditionally has been a non-market institution, and by and large I don't think the marketization of the university has been a good thing from the point of view of the humanities, and further marketization will be worse.

Van Gogh's works are probably are worth over a billion dollars by now, but they were not produced for the market. Van Gogh did them for himself, and his brother supported him. In their lifetimes almost nothing was sold.

Rather tellingly, you dropped my qualifier in "in some respects superior". I can't tell whether your opening question was amused incredulity, or whether you actually are asking. In the current atmosphere of market worship, there are plenty of people who cannot imagine any form of organization except for the market, feudalism, and Stalinism; I have no idea whether you are one of them.

For homework I'll ask you to try to imagine a point of view from which PR and advertising are regarded as unsatisfying and sometimes unethical activities compared to academic research.

The fact that the business market worked for you personally better than the university did is, to me, crushingly irrelevant. The concern of some of us here is for the fostering of scholarship, considered as a public good, rather than strictly career considerations. To me unsuccessful PhD.s (like Van Gogh in his lifetime) are something other than people who made a bad career choice.

(Believe it or not, I've heard that "brand yourself and sell yourself" stuff before. I didn't like it as much as you apparently did.)

P.S. How do I know that Van Gogh wasn't producing for the market, when he actually was willing to sell painting, and tried to do so? Because he produced painting after painting that wouldn't sell. He did not adapt himself to the market. Too bad Peters wasn't there to give him the "brand yourself!" talk.

Posted by: zizka at June 17, 2003 06:44 PM


My earlier post wasn't meant to be an attack, so your sarcastic hostility is out of line. I'll address a few of your points:

1. I don't equate the invisible hand of the market with the hand of God--or, to use your term, I'm not a "market metaphysician." Your point about non-profits is a good one. They aren't necessarily "piss-poor markets." I would add that non-profits are heavily dependent on philanthropy from others (like Van Gogh's brother), which is usually in the form of profits earned in the market. But my main point is simply that one has to earn a living, and it's damn hard to do so in the academy; exiting that market for one with more opportunity is a good decision for many people, myself included.

2. Nowhere did I (as you imply) suggest that concern for scholarship as a social good and respect for the market are mutually exclusive concepts. Like you, I believe that scholarship is a calling, and I am very concerned about the potential loss of scholarly voices that the university's employment situation presents. I have managed to continue my scholarly work while earning a living in the business world; I have published three books, one of which won an award from Choice, and continue to write. You may be interested in an article I wrote for the Chronicle a couple of years ago that addresses the question of how displaced Ph.D.s can continue their scholarship. You can find it at this link: http://chronicle.com/jobs/2001/05/2001052503c.htm

3. I'll ignore the cheap shot about PR ethics disguised as a homework assignment.


Posted by: Kevin Walzer at June 17, 2003 10:50 PM

There are reasons why IB Bill's attitude is not universally shared, though I doubt that Bill is aware of them.

My point in commenting was to offer hope and encouragement to those who may want to make the jump to business. Also, The Happy Tutor was giving particularly sound advice from a business perspective and I wanted to call attention to that.

As for the market, I don't believe in the market ... the market just is. The market is the ways things are. It's not a choice to set things up as a market. A market gets created on its own whenever a group of individuals need to deal with scarce resources that have alternative uses; any interventions in the market are a choice. Of course I think some interventions are necessary.

When it comes to adjuncts, you have a classic labor problem. There are far more people than jobs. You need more jobs or fewer job seekers. Since humanities professorship sounds like such a pleasant life, the latter is unlikely. Thus, to do the former, you need to convince your fellow citizens that more jobs are worth creating, either by encouraging them to take classes (and buy academic books) or by supporting you (through your university) either through donations or increased taxes.

Humanities departments have gone out of their way, however, to antagonize their fellow citizens. ... the way NOT to convince your fellow citizens to support you is to ridicule or deride the kind of work they do every day and act like it's somehow beneath you or that your work or opinion is much more important than theirs. It is NOT to mock their values, as so many humanities professors do. It is NOT to speak in a jargon that sets off the bullshit detectors not only of most businessmen, but of most college professors in the pure sciences as well. And it is NOT to act like you are somehow entitled to something.

That all said, I don't have a solution. I think humanities departments won't be able to convince their fellow citizens to support them until they do a better job of aligning themselves with taxpayers and alumni expectations, or provide a valuable good or service they're willing to pay for.

Americans will support scholars who teach most of their careers and learn, and then either leave behind a legacy of well-educated students or "cheat the grave" as Jacques Barzun said by contributing to the field at the end of a full life of teaching and studying.

Americans will not support a bunch of radicals who went to grad school to sit out the Vietnam War. The problem, that is, is partially generational: The Baby Boomers need to be flushed out of the system. Then the next generation can rebuild from there.

Posted by: IB Bill at June 17, 2003 10:53 PM

Oh my--we're back to the "Culture War." I am not sure why humanities professors should indoctrinate their students in one ideology or another, but they should present alternatives and reveal ambiguities and conflicts. This can be frightening to those who profit from reductive moral clarity. I think most people in the humanities have become frustrated with all the jargon-spewing academics (though I don't see why the humanities shouldn't have a specialized vocabulary like any other discipline or profession), but the percentage of those who are engaged in the spewing is rather small. Most of us are too busy preparing kids for the middle class and corporate serfdom.

Regarding the market issue, I'd wonder if the Happy Tutor, IB Bill, and Kevin Waltzer would considering providing a critique of Bousquet's argument about the "market" above? I don't mean this as a refutation of their points (which have partial validity, I think). Such an engagement might be very productive, though I doubt there's any money in it.

Posted by: Thomas Hart Benton at June 18, 2003 08:26 AM


Thanks for your comments...I'm not sure what Bousquet's argument is versus what your argument is. Could you please restate what you want me to comment on (or give me a link)? Are you saying there will always be a surplus of adjuncts, and this will prevent a realistic labor movement? If so, well, yeah.

Posted by: IB Bill at June 18, 2003 10:32 AM

The thread on Bosquet is on this Web site in the June 15 section above. Bousquet's position, if I have it right, is that there is "no market," that the "demand" is controlled by cost-cutting administrators rather than by need for teachers. The fact that there are so many adjuncts is proof that demand exists. What is lacking is the collective action, regulation, or scrutiny necessary to prevent administrators from converting tenure-track positions into adjunct positions. In other words, academic employment is not a free market, rather its a system controlled by outsiders who have an interest in containing costs, consolidating their power, and thwarting faculty organization.

Posted by: Thomas Hart Benton at June 18, 2003 10:46 AM

I would agree to this extent: Administrators control demand to the extent that they accept a certain number of students, and then require them (or not) to take certain kinds of classes. Administration therefore sets a range of the number of English classes to be taken, for example. So there is a fixed number of slots to be filled.

The market applies, however, to the filling of that range of slots. There are more people who want to fill those slots than total number of slots, even at reduced wages and no benefits. Administrators can exploit that by holding down costs ... allowing Ph.D. programs to deterioriate into programs kept to appease a low-cost labor pool, who then graduate into an even lower-cost labor pool as adjuncts.

The market also applies to you -- you are a resource with an alternative use. You can take your talent elsewhere. You can even raise money and start your own university if you can convince others of its mission!

I wouldn't bet the farm on collective action. Not that it's a bad idea, I just don't see it as practical. I readily admit I could be wrong, though. Labor movements are studies in applied knowledge and raw, applied power and academics may find themselves thinking that's reductive, not to mention getting bogged down in defining critical terms.

The best bet, I think, is to pressure the funders of these universities (and as well as accrediting agencies) to intervene and demand professors teach a certain percentage of classes or lose funding or accreditation. Tenure committees would need to reassess how tenure is granted. All the interested parties would need to be on board for such a radical restructuring -- and each group needs to know what's in it for them.

Plus the humanities professors will have to address the "culture war" issues before they could approach the state (or alumni) for help. Otherwise, they will be politely told to screw off. Mainstream academic thinking, what is required for tenure, is far, far to the left of the Democratic Party. No one wants to support that. They'll tolerate it -- but that's different.

Posted by: IB Bill at June 18, 2003 12:09 PM

I would go a step farther than THB and suggest that not only is there no market to speak of, but that what is presently in play is a struggle for power over a commodity, "knowledge/information," that is ultimately the university's stock and trade. In my view, the players in this play are, on one side, the tenured and tenure track faculty, and on the other the administrations. For several generations the faculty were in control of this commodity, but the internet and the increasing vocational bent of the B.A. (not to mention the M.A. and the Ph.D.) have changed that equation. Administators want to recoup that power because it is so obviously lucrative. And ultimately, there is nothing to halt them.

Here's why. The form this play takes is that of a waiting game in which time is on the side of the administration. The administration merely has to wait for their tenured faculty to retire, which they do in dribs and drabs, and then not replace the line. Against conventional wisdom, this recouping of faculty lines by the administration does not necessarily translate into adjunctification. It can result in this, and often does, but it needn't necessarily do so. The alternative scenario, which is already being enacted in English and History Depts. at some of the smaller, more elite coleges, is to assign more intro-courses to the existing faculty. Yes, this takes away from their time to teach various mid and upper level courses, but then administrators do not usually see the intrinsic or compelling merit to courses on Joyce, or what have you. They do, however, see the merit in basic writing courses, and to a certain extent they are responsive to the political expedience of courses on, say, minority literatures, or historical surveys on the slave trade, or immigration etc.

My point here is that the by now very old chestnut about converting adjunct positions into tenure-line positions is moot. It's never going to happen. What is already happening is that in lieu of tenure-track jobs in English Writing Programs are emerging in which faculty are hired on non-tenurable 3- or 5-year contracts to teach 3 or 4 sections of freshman comp. per semester. The equivalent of this in History Depts. is that individuals are hired out of grad. schools to teach large World History surveys, again on 3- or 4- or 5-year contracts. And sadly, the pool from which people are hired for these positions is typically not the already existing adjunct pool.

In my more paranoid moments, what I envision is an eventual dis-assembly of the English Dept. as we presently know it. (qand probably History as well.) Granted, this is probably a generation away, but I fear the process that will result in this 'brave new world' is already underway. In the interim, I suspect we will see more and more 40 and 50-something tenured faculty being used to teach these comp courses and broad surveys as adjuncts are slowly phased out of the equation. It's worth keeping in mind that many union contracts covering the full-time and tenured faculty stipulate only how many courses a person may teach, not what they can teach.

Posted by: Chris Devenney at June 18, 2003 12:43 PM

Kevin and Bill, perhaps I overreacted. From the point of view of IA and others handling individual situations, what you've been saying is helpful. One of the issues here has always been the prejudice against non-academic employment, and I am in agreement with you that PhD's should look outside the university (which is where I've been since 1980).

For me the big issue here, though, is what I see as a collapse of university humanities at the macro level, as tenured profs hang on to their jobs while the next generation works as adjuncts, with the result that the next generation of scholars is pretty stunted. While this can be understood in market terms (overexpansion, etc.), it doesn't seem that the system is shrinking down to a smaller but comparably good system, but to a worse system. What you guys were saying slid by that.

Both of you said things which seemed a bit complacent and tending toward market-worship. Market-worship is pretty pervasive these days and I have a hair trigger reaction to it. Citing Peters in itself was enough to set me off. Putting the university and everything else increasingly on a market basis is often unthinkingly presented as a panacea, sort of like the fall of Communism, and I'm highly suspicious when I hear that kind of stuff.

Posted by: zizka at June 18, 2003 03:09 PM

I agree with your analysis of the job situation from the macro level, and also with your conclusion. The younger generation is getting the shaft. The most courageous response, in my view, would be for universities to reduce the number of Ph.D. students they admit, but there are a hundred reasons that will never happen.

I agree that one shouldn't have an uncritical worship of markets, but I do also tend to believe that many humanities scholars have an uncritical skepticism of them as well (call it "uncritical critical thinking"). I think this accounts, in part, for the difficulty that many new Ph.D.s have in transitioning out of the academy. Obviously, how one responds to the culture of business is partly a function of one's own values, and is a very indvidual matter.

As far as Peters goes, his recent work is incredibly glib and shallow, but a few of his books from the 80s and early 90s were extremely helpful for me in learning the culture of corporate business. He's a very smart analyst of corporate culture, or at least he used to be. I have little use for his newer stuff, which is a type of self-help for middle managers (WOW! is the key motif there).

Posted by: Kevin Walzer at June 18, 2003 05:30 PM

As an ex-academic who left for pastures whose color I had no conception of, I can only testify to my personal experience, which is as follows:

As an academic (philosophy) I was almost continually frustrated: at the unwillingness of students to engage or care, the unwillingness of colleagues to engage or care (about material they devoted their lives to!), the shitty job market, the isolation academia imposes, the growing irrelevance of my subject matter to everyday life, etc. etc. etc. I'm sure you all know the story. I was depressed and, most of the time, lonely.

Since I left, I met the woman of my dreams, got married, moved to a city I love more every day (Seattle), and have formed a very large group of intelligent, lively friends who enjoy discussing all the things I tried but failed to discuss with my grad school compatriots: philosophy, politics, pop culture, etc. The jobs I have had, in the dread Market, have put me in contact with extremely smart, motivated people. I have been engaged and challenged, and this in jobs that I never particularly wanted or cared about!

I won't say I've found my niche or my course in life--I sense that I'm nearing the end of the aimless-post-school period--but I can say without qualification that leaving the cloistered, airless, insular world of academia is the best decision I've ever made.

Posted by: Realish at June 18, 2003 07:25 PM

wow. this thread it the motherlode.
sorry to have entered it so late.
particularly, i'd like to thank che
for taking it for granted that organizing
is the appropriate move for career academics.
i've found it shocking in my short time blogging
how little discussion there is on this
last best hope of democratic principles
(in the world economy as in academics).
as i remarked in my own blog, with hindsight
i can sort of understand it: few of the those
with access to the tools (as of right now)
consider themselves working class.

it was also very refreshing to see even
the remarkably even-handed "t.h. benton"
chide that insufferable twit walzer.

as for ib bill . . . if
"the way NOT to convince your fellow citizens to support you is to ridicule or deride the kind of work they do every day and act like it's somehow beneath you or that your work or opinion is much more important than theirs."
then what the heck are you doing it *for*?

Posted by: vlorbik at June 30, 2003 09:48 AM

Vlorbik: I wasn't.

Posted by: IB Bill at June 30, 2003 03:29 PM