June 22, 2003

Weekly IA Award

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to Rana of Frogs and Ravens, who picks up on the Tutor's marriage metaphor to offer a sharp observation on the academic job search and to ask an interesting, if uncomfortable, question (comments to "Deprogramming from the Cult of Academia"):

[The] job search, in particular, is very much like a dating game, in which the 'prize' is an 'engagement' to get 'married' (tenured) at some point in the future. The notion of adjuncting as common law marriage is very apt, I think -- it can have the passion -- and abuse -- of a formal marriage, but with none of the security or benefits.

A question -- which is, no doubt, a variant of a larger one about the nature of academe -- why is this metaphor so apt? What does it say about the relationships between scholar-teachers and the institutions which employ them? I can't think of people in other professions talking about their employment like this, the phrase 'married to your job' not withstanding.

Well done, Rana. For my own part, I guess I can't say that I wasn't warned: after all, my mother did tell me, 'Always a bridesmaid, never a bride'...

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at June 22, 2003 03:57 PM

I never got to the dating phase cause of the high tech industry going boom on my head. But -- of course -- I would have been selected --- yeah, that must be true.

You guys have no *idea* how lucky you hare to have the post-academic interblog conversation going on. Leaving was terribly hard for me, back around 1998 or so, and there were very few people to talk to who understood.

Well, don't know if "lucky" is something that should be said in these conversations, but anyway....

Posted by: All Day Permanent Red at June 22, 2003 04:14 PM

Sure, lucky, ADPR. Know precisely where you're coming from, I do -- left just about when you did. :)

It's never fun. It's slightly less no-fun with friends.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at June 22, 2003 07:27 PM

Yup, left grad school as an ABD in 1996, though I'm still technically in academia, and I feel the same way. And congrats, Rana. A much deserved award!

Posted by: Cindy at June 23, 2003 12:24 AM

I don't think the marriage metaphor is apt. Adjuncting is more like a quick f*** in the bathroom of some bar -- 'Thanks ... oh, absolutely ... it meant a lot. I'll call you ...'

Posted by: Chris at June 23, 2003 12:41 AM

"Adjuncting is more like a quick f*** in the bathroom of some bar -- 'Thanks ... oh, absolutely ... it meant a lot. I'll call you ...'"

Ouch. Well, competition is stiff, but you are definitely a contender for next week's award.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 23, 2003 01:11 AM

Yesss! *pumps fist in air*


Posted by: Rana at June 23, 2003 01:12 AM

If the dating/marriage metaphor is to be considered apt, then you have to include both date rape and emotional abuse.

Otherwise the depths of the experience will not be taped.

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson at June 23, 2003 04:17 AM

A resounding indeed to the above. And the emotional abuse takes the form of phrases such as 'oh yes, you're sooo good ... your mind, your ideas and creativity ... oooh .. I'm here for you ... a little to the right ... mmmm ... OH YES, I'm going to ...'

This is where we could embark on a discussion about the three greatest lies, but I will forego that. Instead, I'd like to comment on the advice that was posted elsewhere that suggested getting to know the senior faculty is a key to success as an adjunct. In my view, that's like coming out of the bathroom, surveying the bar, and heading off to look for more.

(the Blondie song "Call Me" is playing in my head -- I'm showing my age, I guess)

Posted by: Chris at June 23, 2003 09:25 AM

IA, you claimed that the post above this was one that only a woman would really appreciate, and I think it applies to this one as well. Dating/marriage/sex is not a bad metaphor for academia, but it is not one that would have occurred to any of your male readers. I think it works pretty well because it captures a lot of the non-market stuff that goes into both a marriage and an academic job. In each case you have people committing to a lifetime relationship without any real clue what they are getting into (They can’t know what they are getting into) you have a messy emotional process associated with divorce/becoming post-academic, which in theory is just they end of a contractual agreement, but is actually more like ripping yourself in half, removing some vital organs and trying to sew yourself back together as a new person. Its also an agreement that has, and should have, a meaning beyond the contractual. You are not supposed to be in it for what you can get out but for something more.

The problem is that a modern marriage is an equal commitment between two individuals, or at least it is supposed to be. You hand someone the ability to destroy you emotionally and they hand you the same. Academic jobs are like that on one side, the employee, but increasingly not on the other side, the University. That’s why common-law marriage works so well as a metaphor. One side thinks that it is one kind of relationship and one thinks that its another, and the University/male in this abusive relationship switches sides as often as they want, while the employee/female is always stuck on one side. As some jock in a movie put it when talking to the owner of the team “when we call it a game you call it a business, and when we call it a business you call it a game.”

As a metaphor I don't like the whole sex-in-a-bar thing. At some point I have to agree with those safely ensconced in tenured jobs who tell the lumpeninteligensia “Well, we told you the odds going in, you have only yourself to blame.” Adjuncting for the 6th year and expecting it to merge into a tenure-track job at Cornell is like Chris having sex with a stranger in a bar bathroom and hoping that it will blossom into a meaningful relationship. You’re kidding yourself. The forms of behavior are not that dissimilar. If you are going to have a long happy marriage it is probably good that at some point during the courtship phase you were both so overcome with passion that you ended up in a bathroom or a broom closet or something, but the context matters quite a bit. I think the problem with a lot of people is that they have no real clue going in what an academic relationship is, and they keep putting things in an unrealistic context and don’t realize that it also fits into a lot of other contexts.

Rana, do you realize that with this metaphor you have single-handedly feminized the entire academic profession? Good job.

Posted by: Ssuma at June 23, 2003 10:32 AM

If Rana has single-handedly done anything whatsoever to the entire academic profession, then she must possess enormous powers of which I (and probably Rana herself) had not been aware. Go Rana! And when you've finished up at your end, I've got a couple of modest proposals that I'd like you to take a look at. Nothing too taxing, you can probably implement these major reforms of the entire academy in your spare time.

Ssuma, is it really the case that tenured faculty warn incoming graduate students of the odds?

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 23, 2003 11:28 AM

They warned me. I warn our incoming grad students. Literally everyone who dropped by the grad student offices while I was in school heard a lot of stuff about the job market. I think that at a certain point you have to be willfully blind not to figure out what the odds are. Do you find it to frequently be the case that faculty encourage this willful blindness? Why do people fall for it?

Posted by: Ssuma at June 23, 2003 11:54 AM

I would argue, IA, that if they're already incoming grad students it's too late -- they've made their commitment, and they'll firmly repress any cognitive dissonance about it.

Gotta tell 'em during the application process. In fact, that might be part of a solution to the "we've got too many great applicants!" mess grad departments say they're in.

Not refuting your point (heaven knows nobody told me nothin'!), just hoping to augment it.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at June 23, 2003 11:56 AM

I.have.the.power.... :)
(Geek points if you recognize where that's from!)

More seriously -- I think the "catching people early" is pretty crucial. I would say that before graduating with the BA is the key time; it's during this period that those of us with degrees in "impractical" majors like English, philosophy, history, etc. are fielding innumerable "what are you going to do with that?" questions from relatives (usually followed by "teach?").

The "marital" equivalent would probably be "so, hon, when are you going to find a nice boy and get married?"

Meanwhile, I'm trying to decide whether my current situation is more like a break-up, a trial separation, or coming out.

For what it's worth, I think family/marital metaphors run rife through the institution -- take the old "why having a baby is easier than writing a dissertation" joke list, for example. Expanding on the analogy is surprisingly easy to do.

By contrast, I am finding that the dominant imagery and language of the corporate world is that of sales and products and marketing -- a strange shift.

Posted by: Rana at June 23, 2003 12:22 PM

Perhaps we need to mark a relative generational dividing line, say, around 1994-95, and then speak of those who began grad. school prior to and subsequent to that line.

I'm glad to hear that many post-'94 grad. students have heard the tales of the abyss. That said, I don't believe that all "newbies" are being told. In fact, I know from first hand experience that many undergrads are still being encouraged to go to grad. school (in the humanities).

Personally, I started prior to the generational dividing line. I was told to not worry, that I would be a shoe-in, and that my time would come.

You can save the "caveat emptor" clever comebacks. I've heard them all. But caveat emptor misses the point (except for those dedicated to the notion of an ahistorical free-market and a suck-it-up-pro-capitalist world view). We are immersed in an historical and ideological process in which intellectual (and artistic) labor is being re-configured according to the dictates of a monopoly system.

Not to usurp the IA, but I highly recommend the Bousquet essay that has already been discussed on the blog. I also would suggest taking a look at Andrew Ross, "The Mental Labor Problem," Social Text 18.2, 2000.

To end, I summon the rather unlikely testimony of Samuel Beckett: "All the things you would do gladly, oh without enthusiasm, but gladly, all the the things there seems no reason for your not doing, and that you do not do! Can it be we are not free? It might be worth looking into. But what was my contribution to this burial?"

Posted by: Chris at June 23, 2003 12:24 PM

My own response to the caveat emptor guys is the same as my response to lotteries. Yup, folks ought not let themselves be exploited like that -- but this excuses those in charge how exactly?

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at June 23, 2003 12:33 PM

Well, in a previous string I did mention the male version of the metaphor: "Find 'em, Fool 'em, Fuck 'em, and Forget 'em".

Posted by: zizka at June 23, 2003 01:19 PM