July 23, 2003

"Tough Love for Invisibles"

John Lemon responds to the "sense of structural victimization and perpetual self-pity" that he finds at this weblog with a series of posts entitled "Tough Love for Invisibles." Here he defines the problem; here he offers historical context; here he discusses "The Big Choice;" here he sets forth "Lemon's Law;" here he discusses the academic job market; and here he deals with nonacademic jobs. That's a lot of tough love, John. I didn't know you cared, and frankly, I just don't think I'm ready to commit. But I respect you as a person, and I sincerely hope that we can still be friends.

Seriously, there is a good deal of sense to the Lemonhead's advice. But there is also a good deal of specious argument. Take, for example, Lemon's Law: "Just because you are smart doesn't mean anybody owes you anything." True enough. But this tells us nothing about how much money people should be paid for the performance of the work they actually do -- though perhaps, since nobody owes anybody anything, all faculty should teach for no pay at all, as a kind of pro bono exercise? Nor does it address the ongoing conversion of full-time into part-time teaching positions (to repeat the statistics cited in "When Full-Time Faculty Support Adjunctification": as Richard Moser reports, "'Adjunct appointments went from 22% in 1970 to 32 percent in 1982, to 42% in 1993, to a current level of about 46 percent of all faculty'"). Instead, it locates the problem in the attitudes and expectations of PhDs: ie, if you're dissatisfied with earning low wages and no benefits for the work you do, then you must think the world owes you a living.

Such a response on the part of the members of a profession to the deprofessionalization of their own profession strengthens the admittedly pessimistic message I have put forth concerning graduate school: Don't go. Okay, if that's too harsh a statement, then let me modify it as follows: Don't go without doing some careful research involving a close scrutiny of the numbers. Think twice before attempting to enter a profession that is in the process of deprofessionalization, the members of which are either unable or unwilling to defend and maintain the status of their profession as a profession. Look into law school, medical school, businesss school, library science; consider moving directly into the workplace with an entry-level position in one of the many fields and sectors that offer possibilities for gainful employment. There is a big wide world beyond the academy, and there is no point in taking a 5-7 year detour that only delays one's entry into this world.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at July 23, 2003 09:59 AM

Clearly, people can make the choice whether to stay or to go, but this does not absolve the profession of addressing too many adjuncts and not enough t-t positions. I'd like to hear how those who left academia made the successful transition to the business sector.

Posted by: Anna at July 23, 2003 10:39 AM

There are so many things one could say to Mr. Lemon (I especially like the suggestion that anyone really smart who teaches at a community college is clearly "underplaced"), but instead I think I'll just offer some advice: John, perhaps one of the "stupid," "self-pitying," "griping" commenters on this list would be willing to serve as an editor for you. I hear they work cheap.

Posted by: cindy at July 23, 2003 11:58 AM

Anna: I participated on a discussion at the Wrk4Us site on transitioning to the business world. Here's the URL:


This site has a lot of good information. If you have other questions let me know.

Posted by: Kevin Walzer at July 23, 2003 12:56 PM

There is a big wide world beyond the academy, and there is no point in taking a 5-7 year detour that only delays one's entry into this world.

I'm going to offer a mild demurral -- mild because I agree with the general point IA's making here. There are reasons to attend grad school beyond obtaining employment, such as love of the subject and desire to pursue it in a rigorous setting.

However, if one is hoping for more than personal enrichment, be very, very cautious.

Posted by: Rana at July 23, 2003 01:05 PM

Yeah, insofar as this is an individual problem, the individuals involved should deal with it. No argument there.

Can't say I liked the stuff. A lot of it was standard-issue free-market ideology, as if adjuncts were bad investors who had put their money in Enron at the wrong time. He seemed unaware of the social dimensions of the issue (i.e., "What is happening to the profession?", rather than "Those poor adjuncts! The world is are so mean to them!") A bit of the successful competitor's attitude toward the defeated rivals. His scattered digs against ponytails, Foucault, and Marilyn Manson have been noted in the building. To me they don't seem highly relevant.

I'll try to go back and give it more thorough and fairer reading.

Posted by: zizka at July 23, 2003 01:07 PM

I must be feeling cranky this morning; I didn't like reading Lemon's advice, either.

It's not that all of it is bad -- I'll be having to put his out-in-the-business-world advice to work this fall -- it's pretty much in line with everything else I've been reading.

It's more that it feels faintly patronizing. Yes, I know I shouldn't be whiny, or cranky, or pass off blame onto others for things that are under my control. Indeed, most of Lemon's suggestions are things I've been telling myself.

But, dang, it's difficult swallowing such advice from someone who is currently sitting in the sort of position I covet and who implies that the only reason I'm not there now is that I've screwed up.

(Take for example the advice about publishing while in grad school -- good advice for those who can still do so but harsh lumps for those of us who've since graduated.)

Posted by: Rana at July 23, 2003 01:35 PM

I'm not an academic, just a middle-aged, middle class, midwestern mother of three . I stumbled across this site a couple of weeks ago and have been fascinated by it ever since.

There isn't much I can add to your discussions. My only comment really is that I've never seen so many smart people so miserable. Lemon may be somewhat snotty, but it's really pretty sound advice if you'd like to be happy. If you don't care about that, just carry on as you are.

One more thing: I've noticed that you sound remarkably like the farmers who have never gotten over the fact that the agricultural economy can't support family farms anymore. (I don't mean this as a criticism, only that there seems to be some underlying similarity.)

In any event, I've enjoyed your conversations very much and wish you all the best of luck.

Posted by: Not an academic at July 23, 2003 03:19 PM

Rana, crankiness must be contagious today. I read Lemon's articles and while I agree with some of his points, I find it easy for some to dispense advice when they are sitting in the ivory tower. Also, some of us have done enough self inflicted browbeating without having another individual say in a round about way that we don't have a permanent position because, maybe, we just can't cut the mustard. This reminds me of an earlier thread by department chair. Perhaps, offering specific advice on making this transition from academe to business would be more useful then patronizing those who are genuinely putting forth the effort to find another career.

Kevin, I would like to speak to you about this transition.

Posted by: Anna at July 23, 2003 03:24 PM

Rana, Anna: I don't think you are being cranky to object to Lemon's postings. Once again, the people who engage in the discussion on this blog are being told to shut up and stop whining about the problem so that it does't have to be dealt with. If we can reduce it to "you aren't doing enough" or "you screwed up" then those like Lemon in their tenured positions--as well as this writer, but I'm at a lowly community college, so I don't count ;-)--can continue to sleep well at night.

What's interesting to me is how often what is almost entirely a non-self-pitying, highly intellectual and academic discussion here at IA regularly gets labelled as a pity fest and then sets us all on the defensive. Maybe we should just start ignoring the Lemons of the blogopshere.

Posted by: cindy at July 23, 2003 04:01 PM

Just a point that Lemon didn't note. The complaining adjuncts are not people who failed to get the job. They're people who got the job (teaching history, etc.) but found out after they had it that it had been downgraded. Since the lead time on academic professionalism is not much less than ten years, a degree of shock and anger is unsurprising. Especially since this is happening within an economy which is booming for a lot of other people. Getting a Phd was once thought to be an accomplishment in itself, not just an entry ticket into a long-shot competition.

Posted by: zizka at July 23, 2003 04:26 PM

I thought the Lemon posts were very wise and useful. I also agree that IA isn't a whinefest -- there's griping and unhappiness, but that's natural and good. There's also some sharp writing and interesting insights.

Posted by: JT at July 23, 2003 04:36 PM

Anna: please e-mail me at connect@wordtechweb.com. Thanks. --Kevin

Posted by: Kevin Walzer at July 23, 2003 04:39 PM

I've read Lemon's posts pretty carefully and I think they're pretty useless. (Full disclosure: I say that as someone whose position is similar to his: I'm a tenured full prof at a "highly selective" liberal arts college.) The problem is that Lemon seems to be addressing what he *thinks* adjuncts in the humanities must be like, rather than addressing IA and other regular participants in this conversation. Some of his job-hunting-outside-academe advice might be good (how would I know?) but his statements and implications about the people who post here seem to me absurd: I certainly haven't heard anyone sneering at the stupidity of non-academics or whining that the world owes them a living because they're smart. There's very little self-pity on this blog. Instead, what I hear is a group of thoughtful people struggling in the tension between their love for their chosen discipline and a manifestly unjust system -- struggling to find creative and effective ways of resolving that tension. As IA says in her response to Lemon, the problem isn't that adjuncts feel "owed" for being smart, it's that they feel "owed" for the work they actually do! And they are right to claim that there's a lack of fit between, on the one hand, the quality, quantity, and importance of the work they do and, on the other hand, the compensation they receive. That's not self-pity, it's a realistic assessment of the situation.

Wish I could offer something more constructive, but at the moment I just had to say that.

Posted by: Ayjay at July 23, 2003 04:59 PM

Thanks. Your words are much appreciated.

Posted by: Rana at July 23, 2003 05:01 PM

There is a difference between bemoaning the state of academia in its particularly adjunctified aspect (which an adjunct is naturally more likely to notice and bemoan, and which is unobjectionable) and bemoaning one's own sorry state as a gypped adjunct (which garners far less sympathy and which I haven't seen IA, or most others here, do).

And, for what it's worth, Not An Academic's point up at #7 about the similarity between the complaints of adjuncts and those of family farmers could be quite instructive. I, for one, reflexively group the adjunctification problem into my "corporatization" box, but I'd love to hear more from someone who's seen a more specifically analogous situation unfold elsewhere.

Posted by: ogged at July 23, 2003 05:04 PM

IA asks "how much money SHOULD people be paid?" (Emphasis added.)This implies that there is some sort of absolute standard against which pay can be measured. But except for the constraints of federal/state/city minimum wage laws, what people get paid is a function primarily not of their worth but of their bargaining power in the market.

The problem for adjuncts isn't that they are "unworthy" of higher pay; it's that there are lots of them who will work for low pay. For adjunct pay to be higher would require fewer people to be willing to work for low pay, for adjuncts to unionize, for their employers to be shamed into paying more, for "consumers" (students and their parents) to demand new arrangements, or for some outside force (the government?) to force higher pay.

An analogy that comes to mind is acting. There are many more people who want to be actors than there are good-paying jobs. The best jobs are union jobs, which range from high-paying (the commercial theatre, like Broadway), OK-paying (professional regional theatres), and poor-to-no-paying (small local theatres). It used to be that almost no actors made even enough to live on. After actors formed a union (Actors' Equity), a small number of them could make enough to live; however, the vast majority still need "day jobs."

Shame, force, and appeals to "consumers" are unlikely to be productive. So, unless adjuncts unionize, or unless so many drop out of the market that colleges & universities are forced to raise salaries, etc., in order to entice them back into the market, the current trends are unlikely to change. (And unions tend to want seniority protection for their members, so current adjuncts would likely get a lock on adjunct positions & thus foreclose the adjunct market to future job-seekers.)

The question adjuncts confront is: Should they try to interfere with the workings of the market by collective action? And, is an effort to do so likely to be successful, either on a group or individual basis?

Posted by: Random Reader at July 23, 2003 05:50 PM

There maybe some good advice in Lemonhead's posts, but his Laws and Principles are really just restatements of what worked for him. It's an example of one the most interesting phenomena I learned about in history grad school: self-legitimating retrospective reconstructions.
None of my cohort who got good tenure track jobs did the stuff Lemon recommends. Presumably, their recipes for success would be different. So, here's a question: are there really discernible patterns in academic careers in the humanities in, say, the last 10 years? Or is the career path becoming more and more idiosyncratic? If so, could that be a consequence of the skewed labor market?
One of IA's main points and main contributions has been to put right on center stage the stark realities of job market numbers--numbers of graduate students, numbers of PhD's, numbers of adjuncts, and numbers of t-track positions. When you look honestly at those numbers, you begin to realize the magnitude of the risk you take in going to graduate school. You begin to realize that there is no reliable recipe for success. Business cards, nice suits, big smiles, and early publication are not a guarantee of anything.
Thanks in large part to IA,it's now possible for prospective graduate students to understand more clearly the risks involved.

Posted by: susan at July 23, 2003 05:56 PM

Based on my own experience on the academic and nonacademic job market, I think there's some very sensible advice buried in Lemon's "Tough Love for Invisibles", but I believe his tone will cause most to simply ignore it altogether. Dropping the dripping sacrasm and apparent dislike of much of his profession, here I think is some wise advice that can be gleaned from his blog.

Lemon restated: Many people in Ph.D. programs have trouble invisioning themselves happily employed in the non-academic sector.

I would add: At a poll over on Phinished, we found that the median number of years in the workforce between undergrad and the Ph.D. was between 2 and 3. A great many people went straight to graduate school after undergrad. If this work experience is at all representative, I imagine that the average Ph.D. student has extremely limited, short and usually disappointing experiences in the job market before entering a Ph.D. program. This would make for a difficult transition to nonacademic jobs for Ph.D.s looking to leave academia.

If, as I suspect, many adjuncts would leave adjuncting if they knew how to obtain well-paid, well-located jobs that provide many of the same benefits as academia, it would be beneficial if graduate departments recognized this and encouraged students to either have more work experience prior to the Ph.D. or encourage private/governmental sector internships during graduate school. It was during such an internship that I discovered my current line of work, which I greatly enjoy. (I even turned down academic offers for the job I have.)

Lemon Restated: By the second or third year of graduate school, you should have a realistic preview of your job market prospects and your own willingness to cope with the realities of the job market in your field.

I would add: While a good bit of pre-application research can help enormously in obtaining a good department-student match, I'm less certain that pre-application research would really discourage many people from entering academia. Think of all the people who told you about the bad job market before you entered graduate school. You probably thought they were a bunch of bitter ol' pessimistic failures. We hang onto both our optimism and our pre-conceived notions pretty tightly.

But a great many people do update their priors about academic life while in graduate school. If a closer examination of academia (as in "look at all these bitter people around me" or "look at all the candidates last year that didn't get jobs" or "I hate teaching undergraduates" or "I will kill myself before I take a job in central Illinois") makes you think twice, it won't hurt to start preparing a plan B, pursuing some internships or obtaining teaching credentials while you still have a tuition stipend.

Lemon restated: No one has ever not been hired because their interviews, presentations, and interview dress were appropriate, interesting and polished. Lots of people? Have not been hired for being unpolished, nervous, boring, unpracticed, or dressed in a way that offends an older or conservative member of the hiring committee.

I would add: These are easy mistakes to avoid with some research and interview prep, but I was amazed at how many job candidates at my university neglected them, passing up chances to do mock interviews and mock job talks in the department, wearing inappropriate shoes with their interview suit, etc.

I also tend to agree with Lemon that you shouldn't rule out too many jobs at the application stage, either because they are not prestiguous enough or they in locations that you don't think you would like to live. Just shoot to get as many interviews as possible. You can always turn offers down.

I'm certainly aware that the adjunct problem is not caused by a lack of interviewing skills. And given the current job climate, obtaining any job requires a certain amount of luck. But I did see people who should have gotten jobs not get them because their job talk went off badly (how do I know this? Because committee members? Gossip.) or because they only applied for four positions because they didn't want to leave the Big Apple.

The adjunct problem at our universities is fundementally a supply/demand problem. English and history departments are ethically no better or worse than applied math and engineering programs; they employ adjuncts because demand for humanities Ph.D.s is sinking while the number of Ph.D.s granted is increasing. In fields like statistics, health sciences, and economics, adjuncting is primarily a mutual coincidence of needs: graduate students need teaching experience and money while they finish their dissertations, departments need flexible staff to teach courses senior research faculty dislike teaching.

There is no sign that the academic market is improving. Until Ph.D. acceptance/placement ratios become a ranking criteria for U.S. News and World Report, universities have little incentive to not continue to create an oversupply. Personally, I think the best solution is to improve the professional development of Ph.D. students in distressed fields for work outside academia. This would add both those who would like to leave academia and those who stay, by lower the cost of transitioning to non-academic work and lowering the supply of people on the academic market in humanities.

Posted by: Matilde at July 23, 2003 06:17 PM

I'll join the chorus -- if Lemon gives good talks as he says he does, it's a pity it doesn't carry over to his writing. (Not the first instance of this, of course.) I thought the points on how to get a job could be written by my college freshman son ... who has had limited success in getting jobs.

I agree with Ayjay that there's not much whining on this blog. However, in the economist-commenter I seem to be taking on, let me note IA's thesis:

"how much money people should be paid for the performance of the work they actually do -- though perhaps, since nobody owes anybody anything, all faculty should teach for no pay at all, as a kind of pro bono exercise?"

The answer is: you pay people for the work they actually do up to the point that keeps them doing it, as long as that amount is not so much as to make the enterprise unprofitable. As there are so many adjuncts, pay is high enough to get someone to do the job.

Unionization of adjuncts is a potential solution, but unionization typically leads to some passing forward of the costs to students in higher tuition and some passing back to adjuncts in the form of fewer slots. If there's some malfunction that creates too many humanities PhDs to begin with, it's hard to see how unionization would solve that problem.

Posted by: kb at July 23, 2003 06:24 PM

I think Mr. Lemon’s section on ‘historical context’ does much to, well, give context to his remarks. There seems to be an assumption among many that something like a traditional tenure track position in the humanities -- with the compensation, freedom, and job security that entails – simply must by nature exist in large numbers.

As I read him, it’s precisely this assumption Lemon wishes to debunk. He regards the current structure of the humanities as an historical accident, and one that does not match well to the needs of the current academic ‘market.’

In this, I think the reader above who made the comparison to family farms is on target. I hear often that there are ‘too few’ tenure track positions. But too few compared to what? It’s not clear how much cutting edge humanities research and instruction we as a society want to buy. What this leads to, as Random Reader notes, is a labor market like acting or professional sports -- a winner-take-all tournament. There’s nothing terrible about this structure, so long as everyone goes in with their eyes open.

Posted by: BAA at July 23, 2003 06:48 PM

Matilde -- brava! Nice separating of the gold from the dross. :)

Posted by: Rana at July 23, 2003 09:17 PM

"Not an Academic," I find this to be a very interesting parallel:

"One more thing: I've noticed that you sound remarkably like the farmers who have never gotten over the fact that the agricultural economy can't support family farms anymore. (I don't mean this as a criticism, only that there seems to be some underlying similarity.)"

BAA, re: your statement
"There seems to be an assumption among many that something like a traditional tenure track position in the humanities -- with the compensation, freedom, and job security that entails – simply must by nature exist in large numbers."

In a sense, I too want to debunk this assumption, ie, to warn prospective humanities graduate students that this is no longer the case. Oddly enough, my hard-nosed "look at the job statistics and don't go to graduate school" advice is sometimes interpreted as "griping," "whining," "self-pity," and etc. Ah well. It's my blog, and I call it as I see it.

"I hear often that there are ‘too few’ tenure track positions. But too few compared to what?"

Too few in comparison to the actual demand for courses/teaching. There's no question that in many humanities disciplines, there is an oversupply of PhDs relative to the number of tenure-track jobs. But there isn't actually an oversupply relative to the demands of students for courses taught. Again, it's not a question of some people gettting tenure-track jobs and others not gettting jobs at all. What's happening is that the number of tenure-track jobs is declining even in the face of constant, and in some areas even increasing, enrollments/demand for courses. That is, the full-time positions are being converted into part-time positions. Perhaps this shift is inevitable. But if so, a strong argument against grad school in the humanities.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at July 23, 2003 09:37 PM

One addition to Lemon's list of possible jobs outside academia: corporate training organizations. Historically, these were often somewhat of a backwater (where you could put 'ol John, who isn't doing that well as a sales manager anymore, but whom everybody likes), but I think that's changing, at least in many companies. At GE, Jack Welch very consciously used the training organization as part of his culture-change strategy, and spent a lot of personal time in Crotonville (the GE central training facility) interacting with students, and I'm sure many training managers are drooling at the prospect of playing a similar role. If you can find a training organization that is trying to upgrade itself, your teaching and course development skills could be very valuable.

Posted by: David Foster at July 23, 2003 09:43 PM

Read it. Big deal. Didn't strike any nerves with me & but then, I'm Out. This is what They say, isn't it: "Publish, go to conferences and give papers, dress appropriately for the interview, practice your sound bites, etc. etc." Ho hum. Been there done that. Didn't work. (Mrs. Che said that I looked _too_ sharp and handsome but what can I do about that?) Nevertheless, I did get a job. A friend put the fix on and I ended up in a thoroughly corrupt little department at a vastly overrated Canadian university. It turned out to be a branch campus of the University of Hell. Sometimes you lose by winning.

Mr. Lemon sits on the sunny side of the university power divide. The power he and his peers have over the untenured and temporary folk is near absolute. This power has only strengthened as the university has stressed 'excellence' through competition. These days, those with power within the uni have maintained their privileges by setting themselves up as the arbiters of excellence. He's saying in essence that "if you don't want to play by our rules, leave. Here are some nice places you can go." He's right. If you accept his power as legitimate, you can play by his rules or leave. That's it. The other choice is to rewrite the rules.

And that's exactly what budget-cutting bureaucrats and neoliberal politicians are doing. Here in Japan, a bill to reorganise the national universities has just passed. Under this bill, the national universities will become corporations, only a limited number will receive government funds, and all profs will have to pass reviews every 5 years to maintain their posts. Prof resistance was naturally feeble, due to the personalised and conservative politics they have to learn and exercise to acquire & maintain power within the university. Sometimes you lose by winning.

Posted by: che at July 23, 2003 11:25 PM

In the larger society there really seems to be an antagonism against the academic world and the liberal arts and the humanities. Usually this is blamed on postmodernism and academic Marxism, but there are plenty of people who really have a contempt for that kind of impractical stuff, pretty much regardless. (To say nothing of evil-lution). There's a lot of pressure to vocationalize all of education on free-market priciples. Underpaid adjuncts and unemployed PhD's aside, this is an issue in itself.

I did go back to Lemon's piece and didn't like it better with a fuller reading.

Posted by: zizka at July 23, 2003 11:48 PM

I'm originally from Iowa (establishing the rural cred here) and I do think the 'small farmer'/humanities professor analogy is almost perfect in the sense that, from the perspectives of those who perform it, it's labor that is 'undervalued' by the rest of society.

But come on -- in every other sense this analogy is a complete crock! People who are being driven off their family farms by economic exigencies were typically born there, raised there, and have gotten up at 5 AM day after week after month after year to do the relentless labor farming really involves. Their roots go about as deep as human roots go. Humanities grad students have freely chosen to be who they are! Their information upon entering the field may have been imperfect, but they're by definition far above average in intelligence and resourcefulness. They should not expect the same kind of empathy from us proles on the outside of academia as the poor bugger whose farm has been foreclosed on after it'd been in the family for generations! Who's hosting the webpage discussing his re-training options?

zizka, this isn't 'antagonism' toward those who are learned like you; it's simply the refusal to grant an automatic financial reward for who you are, and what you've studied, no matter how worthy it might be. I also read Lemon, and agree he's abrasive, but he's *right* in the essence of his argument.

I too was a humanities grad student once upon a time, with very fine dreams of tweed and cozy seminars. I dropped out after two years (Lemon was also right in that this is just about how long it takes to 'wake up' to the reality of the situation in the humanities) and have lived a different life than I thought I would -- I moved overseas, and I do 'quasi-academic' work, i.e. instructional design.

But I've long gotten over my illusions of smart=automatically valuable to society. Saying that something esoteric isn't worth much in financial terms, and having outright *contempt* for it, are two entirely different things.

Sorry for the rant! I've been genuinely impressed by the temperate and illuminating tone taken on this site, and in this particular thread. I hope I haven't soured it.

Mr Tall

Posted by: Mr Tall at July 24, 2003 02:46 AM

Unionization is no panacea for the problems you folk have been describing. Even if the unionized folks succeed in collectively bargaining a higher wage, you still have the problem that even more folks will want jobs at that pay rate. You'll have to somehow exclude them. IA has done a great job of convincing me that the root cause is excess production of humanities PhDs (I know that lots of other arguments have been offered but the excess supply one is to me by far the most compelling). Unionization won't cure that and may exacerbate it.

Posted by: gerald garvey at July 24, 2003 04:19 AM

As I read him, Lemon is engaged in one of the oldest fallacies in economic rhetoric; assuming that there are micro solutions to macro problems (equivalently, assuming that options which are open to *anyone* are open to *everyone*).

George Orwell pointed out in "The Road to Wigan Pier", that it cannot possibly be the fault of Fred Smith that two million men are out of work. But a logical consequence of there being two million men out of work, is that Fred Smith or someone very like him will be out of work, and that is something which is *always* attributed to some failing on the part of Fred Smith, even by the man himself.

It's similar with the adjuncts. A quick count of the graduate students, followed by a quick count of tenure-track jobs, reveals that one number is larger than the other. Any advice given to adjuncts to "do this and you'll improve your chances" is therefore misplaced, unless it reduces the number of graduate students or increases the number of tenure-track jobs.

The only useful advice one can give to adjuncts, therefore is 1) advice aimed at reducing the number of adjuncts relative to teaching posts, which to be fair Lemon does provide a bit of in his discussion of non-academic jobs, or 2) advice aimed at making the condition of being an adjunct better. Of these two, I'd rather see more people thinking about the second.

Posted by: dsquared at July 24, 2003 05:02 AM

But dsquared: the two million men Orwell refers to were unemployed because the whole economy of England was in the dumps. They would have taken any jobs they could have found. The crisis in humanities professorships, on the other hand, coincided with the prolonged economic boom otherwise known as the 1990s. As I mentioned in my previous post, the very smart people who run and contribute to this blog have *other options*. Don't you think Mr Smith would have been delighted to have had such problems?

In other words, academia is a 'micro' that *can* be abandoned for other opportunties, not a 'macro', i.e. an entire economic system that affords no other options.

Posted by: Mr Tall at July 24, 2003 05:22 AM

I just wanted to add a comment to these interesting points made above:

There's no question that in many humanities disciplines, there is an oversupply of PhDs relative to the number of tenure-track jobs. But there isn't actually an oversupply relative to the demands of students for courses taught. Again, it's not a question of some people gettting tenure-track jobs and others not gettting jobs at all. What's happening is that the number of tenure-track jobs is declining even in the face of constant, and in some areas even increasing, enrollments/demand for courses. That is, the full-time positions are being converted into part-time positions. Perhaps this shift is inevitable. Invisible Adjunct

Even if the unionized folks succeed in collectively bargaining a higher wage, you still have the problem that even more folks will want jobs at that pay rate. You'll have to somehow exclude them. IA has done a great job of convincing me that the root cause is excess production of humanities PhDs (I know that lots of other arguments have been offered but the excess supply one is to me by far the most compelling). gerald garvey

Let me relate my experience in a discipline that has not experienced a growth in Ph.D.s, which I think served as evidence to both of your points above.

In my discipline, we face the same demand-side phenomenon that is experienced in humanities: increasing enrollments combined with lowered public funds for education that puts pressure on universities to slash costs where ever they can. However, we haven't experienced the same growth in Ph.D.s that has been seen in the humanities. The number of Ph.D.s granted in my discipline has been relatively constant since 1960.

The market outcome therefore is substancially different. Lacking an oversupply of Ph.D.s to fill the 'teaching gap' and faced with a market that bids competitively for Ph.D.s for nonacademic jobs, I've observe a radical increase in class size, a decline in the number of full-time faculty, and rising salaries. The decreased demand for faculty hires has not resulted in the 'part-timing' of the teaching workforce, largely because our graduate students have too much bargaining power.

The reason why increased student enrollments have not resulted in increased money for faculty hires, I suspect, is that while tuition paid by students has increased, it has not increased enough to offset the declining money from the states at our public institutions. With public universities, demand is two-fold: the student and the public. While student demand to purchase university education has been increasing, public willingness to fund it has declined. As public institutions employ the majority of academics, this decline in demand for faculty at public institutions has affected the entire market.

My point is that the decline in funding for public universities has affected humanities disproportionately, both because of the increased supply of humanities Ph.D.s (it would be interesting to know why humanities Ph.D.s increased at a rate much faster than other disciplines) and the higher cost for humanities Ph.D.s of leaving academia (in disiplines such as statistics, economics and business, nonacademic groups even interview at the professions annual meetings and advertise jobs in the professional outlets). Disciplines that have either strong nonacademic demand or a non-rising supply of graduate students have not 'adjunctified', suggesting to me that oversupply and higher cost of transitioning to nonacademic jobs is largely to blame for the current humanities labor market.

Posted by: Matilde at July 24, 2003 09:47 AM

KB writes: "Unionization of adjuncts is a potential solution, but unionization typically leads to some passing forward of the costs to students in higher tuition and some passing back to adjuncts in the form of fewer slots. If there's some malfunction that creates too many humanities PhDs to begin with, it's hard to see how unionization would solve that problem."

It's debatable whether there is a malfunction in the generation of humanitiews Ph.D.'s. I would say, instead, that there is a distinct malfunction in the generation of t-t jobs. If I and my cohorts can consistently string together semesterly teaching loads of 4 or 5 or even 6 courses, then it becomes difficult to argue that there is an over-supply of Ph.D.'s. It is possible, however, to argue that there is an under-supply of t-t jobs.

The issue of unionization becomes germane here because while many of us teach 4/4, 4/5, or 5/5 loads etc., we typically do so at 2 or 3 different institutions. Why? Because standing faculty unions, in a protective gensture that plays into the administration's wishes, typically stipulate that if someone teaches x number of courses over y semesters, that individual must be included into the bargaining unit. The way around tbis, obviously, is to ensure that no one ever gets anywhere close to the numbers.

I know for a fact that some universites (e.g. West Chester Univ. in PA) will use adjuncts almost to the full extent permitted under the union contract, and then will lay them off for a semester to prevent them from going over the limit.

Adjunct unions, if they could be organized, would/could counter-act this lovely little practice.

Posted by: Chris at July 24, 2003 11:13 AM

Mr Tall, you have seriously riled me. I too am from Iowa (northwest corner) and I never suggested that PhDs deserve more empathy than farmers forced into other jobs. However, your rant nicely illustrates my point. It simply doesn't make any difference how connected they are to the land, how hard they've worked, or how long their families have farmed that land. None of those things move markets one iota. Similarly, in the case of humanities PhDs it makes not one whit of difference how clear their understanding of the problem or how trenchant their criticism of academic corporatization. There is still a huge supply/demand imbalance. The only live question is how to respond. Here, I would point out that those Iowa farmers (including my own family) are the direct descendants of Irish, German, and Scandinavian peasants who had the strength and courage to pick up and move to an unknown place when they had to in order to survive. I haven't got the slightest doubt that the people who post here are similarly able to work things out for themselves.

Now I'm going back to work. I wish all of you the best.

Posted by: Not an Academic at July 24, 2003 03:34 PM

I think there's in fact a great deal of connection between the problems facing small farmers and those facing adjuncts. Small farmers forced to leave the business agitate for various government help, appealing to the way of life of the farm. This help benefits mainly large corporate farms, to the detriment of small farmers, and is a driving for in many of them leaving farming. To the extent that benefits accrueing to tenured faculty harms adjuncts, by pricing tenure out of the system, the two are quite similiar.

Posted by: Dennis O'Dea at July 24, 2003 05:09 PM

Not an Academic,

I disagree with the implied Lamarckianism of your comment, and I also have to wonder about how much courage it takes (leaving aside the accuracy of the scenario) to move if survival is dependent upon it. I think it might take more courage to stay home and die.

I'm not sure how we measure intelligence, but I think one definition might be "the capacity to realize the predictable consequences of actions," in which case we'd have to conclude that humanities graduate students are strikingly less intelligent than the general population. We may also have to factor "will to ignore" in there somehow, but I think that's a different statistic (but one that leads us to the strikingly counterintuitive conclusion that there the average humanities graduate student has stats like Str 10, Int 7, Wis 17, Dex 11, Con 9, Chr 10--secular priesthood, indeed).

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at July 24, 2003 05:12 PM

To talk meaningfully about the "deprofessionalization" of a "profession" requires both terms to be defined--which they aren't, here. Teaching is often called a profession (as is most indoor work with no heavy lifting). But it's not one of the traditional "learned professions": those are law, medicine, and theology. And it doesn't have one of the primary indicia of a profession: limited access via qualification by the existing members of the profession. There's no academic equivalent of the bar exam.

True, most university teachers these days have Ph.D.'s. But it's not a strict requirement (Arthur Schlesinger famously lacks any graduate degree). The lack of a licensing requirement helps create the abundant supply that in turn drives salaries, etc., down. That's good for buyers (universities) but bad for sellers (would-be tenure-track teachers).

Posted by: Random Reader at July 24, 2003 05:41 PM

"I disagree with the implied Lamarckianism of your comment, and I also have to wonder about how much courage it takes (leaving aside the accuracy of the scenario) to move if survival is dependent upon it."

I'm probably not the only one who doesn't understand what you mean by "implied Lamarkianism." Could you specify what it is you think "Not an Academic" has implied?

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at July 24, 2003 06:17 PM

Lamarckianism is the idea that acquired characteristics can be inherited. That is, that the farmers forced into town will be strong and brave because they "inherited" it from their ancestors.

I didn't mean that, by the way. It was just meant to convey that people are tough, most of the time, and its pandering to suggest that when someone gets an unfair hit they need our sympathy.

Posted by: Not an Academic at July 24, 2003 06:24 PM

"Lamarckianism is the idea that acquired characteristics can be inherited. That is, that the farmers forced into town will be strong and brave because they 'inherited' it from their ancestors."

Okay, I get it.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at July 24, 2003 06:56 PM

I read his blog and then came over here. Even though i'm in the private sector and not a Ph. D., i think Lemon's advice was useful only by accident. He struck me as a pompous bully.

As i read the comments here i was surprised at how objective most were and how little whining went on. This is a really good blog.

Posted by: craig henry at July 24, 2003 07:25 PM

Pandering? Sympathy and support are *pandering*?

What an awful idea. Without the "pandering" I got from my husband and a couple of close friends, I'd have recovered a lot more slowly than I actually did.

Maybe some people don't need that kind of help. Yay them. It's just pointlessly cruel, in my opinion, to insist that nobody should want or get it.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at July 24, 2003 07:51 PM

Thanks for the response, Not an Academic: we have a lot in common! I'm from NW Iowa as well, actually. I didn't mean to 'rile' anyone with the perhaps ill-judged tone of my comments.

I *do* have empathy for family farmers -- my own grandparents' farm was sold off in the early 1980s -- and I never suggested that you said PhDs deserved *more* warm feelings than farmers! I think their (PhDs seeking t-t positions) situation is regrettable, but far less so than that of people who have fewer legitimate choices about where their lives are going. The market is indeed cruel in some ways, but it's also relatively transparent: the lack of professorial posts has been common knowledge since the time I was a full-time grad student in the late 80s.

My comments were sparked not so much by your analogy, which I agree has some merit, but by other comments suggesting that 'larger society' harbored an 'antagonism' against higher learning. I think that's a tired complaint. I'm sure it's true to some degree, but what does 'larger society' value wholeheartedly in a plurastic nation such as the US? And, closer to the bone, what can any society really afford to pay for? In the long run, the family farmers haven't really done much better for all the government aid made available; Dennis O'Dea is of course right in that most of that money has ended up in the bank accounts of corporate farms. Market corrections are always painful, but propping up market sectors artificially frequently results in unanticipated ill effects and the eventual breakdown of the system itself.

It is interesting to think about ways of reforming the academic market while avoiding such a breakdown, and to the great credit of IA and others on this board, this is exactly what I've seen here. The discussion of ending tenure is especially trenchant in this light, because it's arguably the market imperfection driving this whole mess.

So again, allow me to apologize if I've been intemperate.

Posted by: Mr Tall at July 24, 2003 09:41 PM

I DID NOT mean anything remotely like that.

I will now go back to my recipe websites where I belong and leave you people to yourselves.

Posted by: Not an Academic at July 24, 2003 09:49 PM

Not an Academic -- I really am sorry if you feel like I've chased you away from this forum. That was never my intention, believe me! I hope you'll stay and offer more comments like you have done -- it makes discussions like this far more interesting to have a variety of viewpoints expressed. Again, my apologies.

Posted by: Mr Tall at July 24, 2003 09:59 PM

Sorry, bud! I wasn't addressing you, but the person before you.

In any event, I really am getting out of here. I'm just an ordinary person, not a PhD of any stripe. And its frankly too painful to look at this for very long.

I'm taking my kids over to the admissions office at the University of Iowa at the end of this month. After reading all this, I'm ecstatic that they both want to be engineers.

Posted by: at July 24, 2003 10:16 PM

"And its frankly too painful to look at this for very long."

You've got a point. Maybe *I* should hanging out at the recipe sites too (btw, do you know about www.bakingbits.com?)

Good luck with the admissions office!

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at July 24, 2003 10:22 PM

Whew! Glad that's straightened out, Not an Academic. Good luck with your kids at the U of I -- where exactly are you from, BTW? I'm from Orange City, up in Sioux County.

Posted by: Mr Tall at July 24, 2003 10:27 PM

Well, my grandfather was born in Orange City, as was his cousin John Hospers, one of the founders of the Libertarian party. So now this will be a NW Iowa comment line. Pella Windows -- is that Orange City?

One thing about the internet is that anyone can show up and eavesdrop, and even pitch in if they feel like it. Now, supposing that this site WERE a kvetch-fest, would there be anything wrong with that? Nobody is being forced to listen. In my experience there has been a moderate amount of griping on this site, but mostly by people who either have been pinched very recently or else who feel trapped.

Despite being ultimately from Orange City, I am one of the people who have suggested that there is a bit of animosity against the university in the air. Lemon certainly displayed some of it. I also notice it in the (non-academic) world I live in. And when you say something like "Maybe our society has decided it doesn't need quite that many history teachers" (not a direct quote), isn't that something animosity against the university, pluralistically expressed both through the market and otherwise, might contribute to? Recently Tom Delay or Dick Armey (one of the major Texan politicos) wrote a letter telling people not to send their kids to Texas A&M and Baylor because they were too wild-eyed radical. This is not an urban legend, and yes, he was talking about **Baylor** of all places.

Posted by: zizka at July 24, 2003 11:16 PM

The cornerstone of my neoimmiseration theory is a Delay presidency within the next twelve years. Sensible radicals should give him their support.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at July 24, 2003 11:44 PM

Why wait that long, Chun? Cheney won't run.

Posted by: zizka at July 25, 2003 12:08 AM

zizka, this is indeed getting too inbred! I certainly know the name and story of Henry Hospers. BTW, though, Pella Windows is actually based in the town of Pella, which is the other Dutch-immigrant epicenter in Iowa, along with Sioux County.

Anyway, better get back on topic before we're thrown out for geographical tangent obsession: I'm not disagreeing with your idea that there's anti-intellectualism out there, in Iowa, and Texas -- and in every other state, too. It's certainly one of the disincentives to supporting liberal education the market is reflecting. Perhaps in my earlier post I should have said 'What is the market *willing* to pay for'? Human societies simply don't support huge cognitive elites. I had to come face to face with this unpleasant fact when I was a grad student, when I realized I just didn't have the ambition and drive -- and maybe the raw smarts, and that's always the hardest part to admit -- to continue down the PhD path. I'm not trying to imply, of course, that you or anyone else on this list lacks those qualities! But it's an increasingly narrow band of people who can succeed in the academic humanities, i.e. those who combine the intelligence with the persistence with the ability to 'sell themselves' when they have to. I think that's what Lemon's getting at, albeit crudely sometimes, as I'll freely admit.

What frustrates me in the academic humanities today, however, are complaints about the shrinking market for humanities students that are coupled with the widespread assumption that whatever's currently hot theoretically is what students should automatically be interested in pursuing. I know you alluded earlier to many people's dissatisfaction with Marxist/postmodernist theories dominating the humanities. I'm sure that's true -- it certainly was for me. Another reason I got out when I did was that I just got sick of subjugating my own ideas of how the world worked to the dominant academic culture I found myself in. True diversity of thought wasn't valued much.

I was reading an essay yesterday called 'What use is literature?' by Myron Magnet in the City Journal (this journal is one of my favorites, although I'm sure you've guessed already where my political sensibilities lie). The URL is http://www.city-journal.org/html/issue_13_3.html. Anyway, Magnet says the study of literature should be about discerning the wisdom about the human condition that's been distilled by great writers. This is almost exactly what inspired me when I was an eager young English major. But how do you think someone holding and openly expressing this view would do in an interview for a faculty post in just about any English department in the country? Is there really room for this kind of diversity?

Posted by: Mr Tall at July 25, 2003 12:40 AM

My own personal beef with academia is primarily the imposition of point-of-view that you mentioned. I've never been exploited or abused.

In my day, it was somewhat reversed -- the world of the English department had a definite Confederate tinge to it. My own bete noir isn't mostly politics, though, it's "Theory" and what I call personal liberation, and above all Lacan and anyone who pays any attention to him.

I met a guy out here whose grandfather was from Granville, a little tiny Luxemburger town near Orange City.

Posted by: zizka at July 25, 2003 12:56 AM

The "eternal verities" reaction to literature is, like adolescence, something you grow out of. Those who continue to advocate it do so for political reasons. The values they see as universal are those which support their interests.

Speaking of City Journal, I much admired the scurrilous piece on Michael Moore they ran recently.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at July 25, 2003 01:06 AM

Thanks, Chun, for perfectly encapsulating the response people like me get in the academic humanities these days. Couldn't have said it better myself.

Love your stuff on the keeping historical knowledge within the Priesthood over on the 'professionals' thread, by the way!

The Moore piece is good fun, isn't it?

Posted by: Mr Tall at July 25, 2003 01:21 AM

It's a good sign that the topic has drifted off the Lemon stuff. I think craig henry has sized him up right.

back to the topic drift:

I find it 'interesting' that everyone feels oppressed, swamped, or vaguely threatened by Other People's Theories. How is it possible for everyone to feel that way? Marxists have been battling PomoPeople longer than anyone. Both feel oppressed by liberal scholars. Ignatius Reilly types feel (always a few, right?) oppressed by all of them. Liberal scholars feel threatened by all of the above plus feminists, Straussians, African-American studies, and so on ad infinitum. Need I add all the micro-panics: the Freudians vs. the Lacanians, or even the Guattarians vs. the Deleuzians? Whose paranoia are we to believe?

Here's some off the cuff theorising. There must be more possible explanations, but here's what I can think of at the moment.

A. It's ideology in the bad old Marxist sense of the term, that is, feeling of theoretical encirclement is the academic way of expressing the unexpressable: the division of academic society into haves and have-nots.

B. It's an inevitable product of academic professionalisation through specialisation which renders most scholars unable/unwilling to understand things outside their own specialty. The Japanese term 'senmon baka' (=specialist-idiot) comes to mind. Fear of the unknown, but also an understandable reaction to hermetic, paranoid style of nearly all academic writing. (I know very well that people write popular books. These are often dismissed as lacking seriousness.)

C. Bourdieu would say it's a product of academics' attempts to validate their particular stash of specialised knowledge at the expense of others. No doubt this would be increasingly important as the institution downsizes. Just ask a geographer.

Posted by: che at July 25, 2003 11:53 AM


Posted by: Dennis O'Dea at July 25, 2003 05:48 PM

Che -- I am not bothered by other people's theories, except when I see them being enforced on people. Grad students and even undergrads are liuke supplicants, trying to please the professor, and I hate watching people figure out what they're supposed to say. I first remember seeing this as an undergrad in the prehistoric era when positivism and analytic philosophy, statistic social science, and New Criticism ruled (where I was), and structuralism was just getting started. Whenever a friend goes to grad school, he/she comes back repeating slogans and talking in code. And people who resist doing that tend to shorten their careers.

A, B, and C are about right. What strikes me is that the vigor of paradigm-enforcement is not reduced in the slightest by the widespread awareness that none of the paradigms has any real authority.

Posted by: zizka at July 25, 2003 07:25 PM

Indeed, zizka -- my point is that not only is 'the vigor of paradigm-reinforcement' not reduced by metastasizing theories, it's enhanced.

Posted by: Mr Tall at July 25, 2003 08:39 PM