July 30, 2003

Bogging Hiatus

I'm taking a break to get some work done. I figure this blog can practically run itself while I'm away. Or at least, that my readers can practically run it for me. So I've left a couple of new entries for comment and discussion.


Ahem. Can we say "Freudian slip"? As someone has just pointed out to me, I wrote bogging instead of blogging hiatus. Yes, I do need to take a break from this.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:19 PM | Comments (7)

Tocqueville Explains the Growing Opposition to the Tenure System

No, not really. I just wanted to get your attention. But I think he does explain a dynamic that might be applied to the division between the tenurable and the nontenurable.

"In France," wrote Tocqueville in his The Old Regime and the French Revolution,* "the nobles clung to their exemption from taxation to the very end to console themselves for having lost the right to rule" (98). In Tocqueville's account, it was the growing gap between privilege and power which opened up a space for criticism and resentment, as ancient feudal rights and prerogatives became increasingly intolerable to an increasingly isolated French peasantry:

When the nobles had real power as well as privileges,...their rights could be at once greater and less open to attack...True, the nobles enjoyed invidious privileges and rights that weighed heavily on the commoner, but in return for this they kept order, administered justice, saw to the execution of the laws, came to the rescue of the oppressed, and watched over the interests of all. The more these functions passed out of the hands of the nobility, the more uncalled-for did their privileges appear -- until at last their mere existence seemed a meaningless anachronism (30).

Replace "nobles" with "tenured" and "commoners" with "untenurable," and here's one possible explanation of why increasing numbers of contingent faculty oppose the tenure system.

*Since "regime change" is a current buzzword, let me say that I think Tocqueville's Old Regime and the French Revolution is one of the most interesting accounts of regime change ever written: in large part because it was written by an aristocrat who wanted to explain the transition from aristocracy to democracy in terms that were comprehensible both to a displaced aristocracy and to an audience whose sensibilities had already been democratized.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:00 PM | Comments (2)

Is In Loco Parentis Dead?

This question is raised by John Bruce in the comments to a post at SCSUScholars on professor-student dating. Citing rules governing alcohol consumption, John suggests that it's not dead; kb seems to partially agree but partially disagree when he states that "In loco parentis isn't dead but its locus has moved from the faculty to student affairs offices, which practice it in an entirely different manner than did the professoriate."

In this article, Glenn C. Altschuler and Isaac Kramnick argue that in loco parentis has been "virtually non-existent" for the past thirty years and suggest that it will remain moribund:

The ballyhooed return of in loco parentis, it seems to us, is little more than a series of new rules -- adopted to minimize liability and litigation -- to regulate the consumption of alcohol on campuses. Significantly, since such rules have been on the books, drunken students have virtually never been disciplined, dorm rooms have almost never been inspected, and binge drinking has reached epidemic proportions.

But these two authors also believe that "a much more important, and more positive, development in higher education is occurring: the proliferation of living-and-learning communities, which aim to eradicate the boundaries between the life of the mind and recreation, between intellectual and social life."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:40 PM | Comments (4)

July 29, 2003

Why Do People Teach as Adjuncts?

I don't ask this question snidely. I understand that unionizing can improve conditions for adjuncts, but probably only to a point. It certainly doesn't lead to the tenure track. Over the long term, adjunct teaching will still offer *far* less in terms of remuneration and job security than other employment.

So then I ask: Why do it? What's the appeal? What leads a highly-educated person to choose a career that offers remuneration and security that are appallingly incommensurate with that person's achievements? That don't come close to meeting one's basic economic needs?

-- Kevin Walzer, Why teach as an adjunct?

This is a good question. And at the moment, I don't have the answer (or I should say, I don't have an answer, for I'm certain there is more than one answer to this question). Or rather, at the moment I don't have time to provide the kind of response that I think the question deserves. So for now, I leave it to my readers...


In the comments to this entry, Chris responds to the question as follows:

I continue to do it because despite the ridiculously low pay, I can still make more as an adjunct than I can at anything else for which I'm qualified -- e.g., Borders, Barnes and Nobel, Kinkos, and/or waiting tables.

In other words I'm screwed ... err ... I mean trapped. More schooling is not an option for me. And while I may be a reasonably smart guy, quick on the uptake, capable and all the rest, who's going to hire me? I'm sure many others here would say something similar to this: if someone would give me a shot, I think I would probably do okay, maybe even better than okay, but in this day and age, and in this kind of job ecomony, who's going to give me the chance? Answer: no one.

I know some people will find this unduly defeatist and pessimistic. I sincerely hope they are right.

But I can't help thinking of the comment that a history PhD made to the "PhDs and Nonacademic Careers: Information Underload" entry a couple of weeks ago. After noting that "of the group [of eleven] that worked and hung out together [in grad school], only one of us is actually a professor," Alisa summarizes the career paths of the other ten:

The others? Not one of us is working retail now, although most of us - myself included - did for a time after we walked away from history. The longest any of us stayed in that place was 2 years, and that was me. Four of us are in library science in some capacity, mostly at universities. (Sandy is chief archivist in the rare books collection at University of Chicago, Ian occupies the same position at Ohio State, and Sally is chief archivist at Butler University. Jennifer is head librarian at McGill, up in Canada.) One went back to grad school after several years, and is now a clinical psychologist. Michael does data base analysis for the State Department. He actually taught for a few years, then decided that the horrors of academic politics were not sufficiently offset by the joy of teaching. Carol went and got a bachelor's in occupational therapy, and is doing that. Barry is an editor for one of the big publishing companies, and Tim got his law degree and now works as an editor for one of the big legal publishing companies. Aaron worked as an employment counselor for the state he lived in, and just recently decided that he would go to law school. He just finished his first year.

The optimistic conclusion: "We are, all eleven of us, professionals. Some of us still have academic connections, and all of us still pursue intellectual professions. We did not get stuck in Starbucks or Barnes and Noble."

Much as I appreciate this comment, and much as I want to focus on the optimistic, I can't help wondering whether this sample doesn't tend to confirm Chris' pessimism, part of which stems from being in a position where "more schooling is not an option." From the sounds of it, the typical trajectory of the ten was not directly from retail work into other work in more promising fields. Rather, it strikes me that most of the people in this sample did have to go back to school. I'm assuming (perhaps wrongly) that the four people in library science had to do a library science degree. The clinical psychologist clearly had to go to school, as did the occupational therapist. Then there are the two who chose law school. Out of ten, that's eight whose career shift involved more schooling.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:24 PM | Comments (34)

July 28, 2003

Adjunct Unionization

A reader has asked me to post an entry on adjunct unionization. As said reader and I agreed, whenever I post about unionization/collective action at this weblog, reader response is underwhelming at best. Nevertheless, in the interests of responding to this particular reader (while at the same time possibly boring or alienating many other readers), I've decided to float another entry on adjunct unionization.

The most basic questions: How to start? Where to begin?

The more complex question: Is it worth it? Which question is two-pronged: First, given the very real possibility of reprisals, is it even worth the risk that an individual must take? But second, and more broadly, is adjunct unionization even worth the enormous effort it must take as a collective action? Might it not help to formalize and legitimize the permanent existence of an underclass -- ameliorating the conditions under which they work, to be sure, but sending the signal to university adminstators that adjunctification can happily continue apace, though with some minimal restrictions on the degree and intensity of exploitation?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:42 PM | Comments (19)

Weekly IA Award

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to "Anonymous tt faculty member," who unravels the mysteries of the tenure system (comments to "Tenure and Academic Freedom Poll"):

It's hard to get tenure unless you have already demonstrated that you have nothing of consequence to say.

Well done, "Anonymous tt faculty member." But we rather suspect you might have something of consequence to say. It goes without saying, of course, that you should not say it until you have achieved tenure.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:09 AM | Comments (1)

Beautiful Minds

Via Critical Mass, the Washington Post reports (scroll down to "Looking Good, Grading Well") on a study by Daniel Hamermesh, an economics professor at the University of Texas at Austin, which finds that "the most beautiful university instructors get the highest rankings on student evaluations." Since

most universities consider student evaluations when giving raises and promotions, the study shows that professors' looks could affect their salaries, said Hamermesh, who has written papers on the correlation between physical beauty and earnings.

Hamermesh believes that "in a strictly economic sense," this may not be unfair: "If students pay more attention to good-looking instructors and thus learn more from them, then professorial beauty could have a 'productivity effect,' Hamermesh said." I'm not quite sure what Hamermesh means by "strictly economic." He seems to rely on the very dubious assumption that the higher a student's evaluation of a professor, the more that student has learned.

But speaking of "strictly economic," there's a profit-making opportunity in here somewhere. "'I don't know how much you can do' about beauty, Hamermesh said. 'You're stuck with what you've got.'" Obviously this professor is unfamiliar with the concept of the makeover (and is probably innocent of all knowledge of Glamour's Do's and Don'ts). I'm thinking lifestyle coach for sartorially challenged academics, which would surely be more lucrative than the adjunct career coach game (for more on this, see the comments to "An Adjunct's Commitment to Adjunctification"). But before I start charging for my services, here's a freebie that applies to both women and men: Never underestimate the importance of quality footwear, for shoes can make or break an outfit.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:27 AM | Comments (36)

July 26, 2003

Collective Action?

I think my testimony before the labor board meant something different to administrators at NYU than it did to me. As you said, for me it was a political path. It's something I felt I needed to do, the intellectual expression of my ideas and research in education. For people like us, we're connecting our intellectual life to public events.

I think I naively assumed that the Dean of the School of Education would see it the same way. I didn’t even know at the time that I testified that she was testifying on behalf of the university against the graduate students in the trial. But when I found out, it didn’t bother me in the least—I mean of course she would, she's an administrator and she represents the university administration’s interests. I don't even know what her personal views are on unionization. But I just assumed, you know, of course we all accept the principles of academic freedom and the right to express one’s ideas means that, sometimes, we're going to disagree.

-- Marc Bousquet, A Victory for All of Us: A Conversation with Joel Westheimer

As some readers may already know, Joel Westheimer was denied tenure at NYU after coming out in support of graduate student unionization and testifying before the National Labor Relations Board in favor of their right to organize. After an inquiry by the National Labor Relations Board determined that, in Westheimer's words, "there was probable cause that NYU denied me tenure in retaliation for my activities in testifying for the graduate students," the university "settled the case by paying me a financial settlement and by withdrawing the denial of tenure." He now teaches at the University of Ottawa. In the latest edition of workplace: a journal for academic labor Westheimer discusses his case with Marc Bousquet.

I'd like to raise a few points in response to their exchange.

First, Westheimer's case highlights the lack of academic freedom for those without tenure, which is currently the topic of discussion at this thread. One possible inference that might be drawn: this case demonstrates the vital necessity of the tenure system. Since university administrators will attempt to retaliate against views and actions that they find threatening, faculty must have a safeguard that protects them against arbritrary dismissal. Of course, this doesn't really address the problem of the lack of such protection for the pre-tenured (not to mention the untenurable contingent faculty). The most common response to this objection is to concede the lack of academic freedom for the untenured, but to argue that with tenure, at least some faculty enjoy security, whereas without tenure, no faculty would enjoy any security whatsoever.

Another possible inference that might be drawn: a case like Westheimer's demonstrates a very basic and a very serious flaw with the tenure system. The system places a good deal of power in the hands of tenured faculty and administrators, and raises the career stakes to a life-or-death situation. Obviously, outside of the academy, people are fired or not promoted all the time and for all kinds of reasons, some of them arbitrary and unjust. What is peculiar to the academy, however, is that tenure raises the stakes to all-or-nothing, which is precisely the reason that tenured faculty and administrators have so much power over the untenured. In fact, Westheimer basically survived the attack: he fought the decision, won a settlement, and found academic employment at another institution. But in many cases, a failed tenure bid amounts to a career killer.

Another obvious question raised by Westheimer's case: to what extent are faculty peculiarly vulnerable to reprisals in areas that have to do not with scholarship but with challenges to institutional structures and policies (e.g., in the matter of labor relations)? Of course, Westheimer himself would probably refuse to recognize such a distinction, for he views his testimony on behalf of the NYU graduate students as an extension of his intellectual work. But let's take the case of Assistant Professor X, a tenure-track Shakespearean scholar whose scholarly work challenges the dominant understanding of Elizabethan drama. It is extremely unlikely that Assistant Professor X's unorthodox approach to early modern English drama will even cross the radar screen of the university administration, though of course it will certainly be scrutinized and evaluated by other faculty members. But imagine that Assistant Professor X takes a public stand in support of unionization on campus, a position that has little or nothing to do with Shakespearean scholarship. Now, in addition to the pressures of peer review by faculty, Assistant Professor X has come under notice by administrators opposed to unionization, and is very likely subject to reprisals. It's worth noting that Westheimer was the only non-tenured NYU faculty member to testify before the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of graduate student unionization. Though it's possible, I think it highly unlikely that Westheimer was the only non-tenured faculty member at NYU who held views in support of unionization. But just as involvement in a unionization campaign in a non-academic workplace is a very risky business for employees who face reprisals, so too is it a risky business within the academy.

The pessimistic conclusion: the push for change has to come from those who are (at least currently, or in the short term) the least interested in change: i.e., from tenured faculty. The position of the untenured is simply too vulnerable. Yes, there will be the occasional Westheimer, the tenure-track faculty member who risks his or her own career for the sake of some larger goal or ideal. But then, Westheimer himself admits that he was naive, that he didn't realize the extent and magnitude of the risk he took when he testified on behalf of the graduate students. Indeed, he states quite bluntly that he "would never advise anyone to do something like this based on the idea that it is going to turn out right because things don't always turn out right in the end."

In response to Bousquet's question, "What are the consequences of cases like your own for organizing and for the experiences of junior faculty throughout the academy?," Westheimer provides both an optimistic and a pessimistic answer:

J: I have an optimistic answer and a pessimistic answer. Let me give my pessimistic answer first. The pessimistic one is that, sure, it has chilling effects when someone isretaliated against. It makes junior faculty members—regular faculty members as well—think twice before expressing their views on a particular issue in fear of retaliation.

My optimistic answer, which I would like to put more stock in, is that the amount of support that I got and the degree of success we had in the case, would, I hope, encourage junior and senior faculty members to stand their ground on issues that they feel are important. At least in the end—sometimes—justice is done.

Frankly, I would have to put more stock in the pessimistic answer.

When the conversation moves from Westheimer's particular case to some of the broader implications of his experience, I am reminded of the main reason for my scepticism concerning academic collective action. Westheimer argues that:

The tenure track faculty need to recognize that their future is inextricably bound up in the future of adjunct laborers, graduate students and part-time faculty and non-tenure-track full-time faculty, which is a hugely growing sector of academic labor.

I think we all need to realize that our collective work lives, our professional lives at the university are all bound together. The circumstances of adjunct and graduate students relate to the circumstances of the tenured faculty: senior faculty get to teach lower level work loads and to teach only the courses that they want to; they can go on sabbatical and be replaced by an adjunct professor—who is making $2,000 a course.

It can also be turned around. Once it's clear that a senior faculty member can easily be replaced by a temporary part-time laborer or an adjunct or a graduate student making a fraction of their salary, it's clear that the teaching that the senior faculty does is devalued. With the financial incentive to replace their teaching by a much cheaper employee, their scholarship is also less valued in the university.

I basically agree with the above, and indeed have pushed this point perhaps ad nauseam on this weblog. At the same time, I have to say that I disagree with Westheimer's solution, which solution involves a particular form of collective action.

My problem with the strategies of the workplace people is that they link reform of academic employment practices with a very specific, and specifically lefty, politics. Given widespread indifference and complacency on the part of faculty, I almost hesitate to criticize their approach: after all, at least they are actively engaged in a real attempt at reform. But though I personally happen to share many of their political views, I think this lefty approach is doomed to failure. I am firmly convinced that many (perhaps most) faculty are simply not going to sign on for the following:

[Westheimer] One thing that is going to be needed is a culture change and a more holistic approach to our work, where what we write about is also what we practice and strive to experience in our daily lives. This means increased civic engagement and political participation in working to improve society.

To be perfectly honest, I have grave reservations about such an academic culture change, and my politics are (at least by American standards) definitely left of center.* And I'm fairly certain that many academics will not engage in a form of collective action which links campus reform to the reform of all of society. Those who are interested in such a movement are -- and will likely remain for the forseeable future -- a distinct minority. If change and reform can only be effected by lefty activists, then I fear the case is hopeless and we really are sunk.

I suspect the only real hope lies in a concerted effort on the part of faculty and professional organizations to make a new bargain with the university: but this they simply will not do as a left-oriented labor movement campaign, it would have to be done under the banner of "re-professionalization" (see this entry for a discussion of the question "What is a Profession?")

*This gets us into the very tricky area of the campus culture wars, which I'll save for another entry.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:17 PM | Comments (25)

July 25, 2003

Some Search Engine Phrases

that have directed people to this weblog (by frequency of hits):

*invisible adjunct
*university of phoenix brand recognition
*status anxiety
*the academic job market sucks
*phds underemployed
*thomas h. benton
*steal this university
*too much education and ph.d. and over-educated and job
*professor jokes
*getting a job after being an adjunct is it possible
*abuse of adjuncts
*confessions of a loser
*adjunct misery
*college textbook professor kickbacks
*intelligent system to handle lecturer to teach the subject in next semester
*professors scam academic
*grape picking job 2003 italy
*ridicule him with keywords from individual websites paranoia
*marriage versus graduate school
*proper grammar - it makes no difference to me

I am shocked and deeply concerned: proper grammar does make a difference to me.

But I wonder if I could connect all of the above into a coherent narrative, using the phrases in the order in which they occur?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:29 PM | Comments (4)

Feminist Heterodoxy: The Abortion Issue

Eszter has responded to an email from a reader who prefers not to support Planned Parenthood (Eszter's charity of choice for the upcoming Blogathon). "The reader's comment," she writes, "made me think that perhaps people are not fully clear on what the organization does so I thought I'd say a few words about it."

That reader was me.

As Eszter quite rightly points out, though "Planned Parenthood does work in the area of pro-choice advocacy regarding abortion rights," the organization also does a good deal of advocacy and education in other areas surrounding reproductive health and reproductive rights (eg, education about birth control). However, I would like to take the opportunity to point out that I already knew this about Planned Parenthood. And I am a little bit taken aback by the insinuation that if I don't want to give financial support to Planned Parenthood, then I must be ignorant of its goals and in need of education on this score.

I don't often talk about my position on this issue, and I may regret doing so here. But since the pro-choice position amounts to an orthodoxy within feminism, I think it's worth pointing out that there are self-identified feminists who deviate from the official line. To repeat what I said to Eszter in my email, I am personally profoundly uncomfortable with abortion and cannot actively support abortion rights organizations. At the same time, I am prochoice insofar as I am unwilling to impose my personal views on others, much less actively work to have my views imposed by the state. This is in part because I believe the question of when human life begins is basically theological in orientation, and in a pluralistic society, theological views should not be imposed by the state. Perhaps my position could be described as passively pro-choice.

I should add that from my perspective, many opponents of abortion oppose it for the wrong reasons. There's no question in my mind that many anti-abortion activists are indeed, as prochoice activists charge, concerned with controlling women's sexuality and policing women's private lives. I'm as creeped out as the next feminist by these anti-feminist activists. But for me, the fact that some (probably many) anti-abortion activists oppose abortion rights on grounds to which I object does not translate into an active support of abortion.

More specifically, despite my own personal unease over the practice, I support legal abortion during the first trimester. But once we get into the second trimester, I am morally uncomfortable enough to be unable to actively endorse or support the practice of abortion. I am opposed to abortion during the third semester with the exception of those increasingly rare cases where the life of the mother is at stake. I support the ban on partial birth abortion, which ban Planned Parenthood opposes, which is one reason why I cannot give them my support.

In other words, after struggling with this issue for many years, I now hold what I think of as a compromise position in two respects. First, my support for first trimester abortion represents a compromise between my own personal unease over the practice, and my deep unease over the regulation of women's bodies and women's private lives by the state. Second, my position eschews what I think of as the absolutism of advocates on both sides. Just as I cannot give the developing zygote/embryo the same moral status as a fully conscious human being, neither can I agree to the claim that the fetus at 6 or 7 or 8 months is merely a clump of cells. Clearly, anything less than an absolute position either for or against abortion must rely on an arbitrary cut-off point. For me, that cut-off point more or less corresponds to the old-fashioned notion of the "quickening."

Again, with the exception of partial-birth abortion, which I actively oppose, I am not willing to impose my position (e.g., my personal opposition to second trimester abortion) on others. But neither am I willing to actively support any organization that advocates for abortion beyond the first trimester, no matter how much good work that organization does in other areas (e.g., birth control education) that I do endorse and support.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:03 AM | Comments (32)

July 24, 2003

Tenure and Academic Freedom Poll

I bring you yet another completely unscientific poll on the question of academic tenure:

By the way, the unofficial results of the first, completely unofficial and unscientific poll on tenure ("Should Tenure be Abolished?") are as follows:

Out of 153 votes, 51 (33%) voted Yes to tenure abolition, 47 (31%) voted No, and 40 (26%) voted for the rather vague Should be Modified option. 13 voters (8%) were Undecided, and 2 eminently sensible voters (1%) declared themselves Uninterested.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:53 PM | Comments (7)

What is a Profession?

A "Random Reader" has issued what I think an interesting challenge to my use of the term deprofessionalization in connection with the academic humanities (comments to "Tough Love for Invisibles"):

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).

Random Reader is quite right: I haven't defined these terms, but have rather presupposed a shared, albeit loose, understanding on the part of my readers. I would define a profession as an occupation or vocation requiring specialized training along with some sort of certification. Though as RR points out, there never has been a licensing requirement and even the PhD is not a formal requirement.

And then, of course, "profession" carries all kinds of other connotations, some of which take us into the uncomfortable area of class. White collar instead of blue; a salary instead of hourly wages; rates of remuneration that support a middle-class life versus rates of remuneration that don't; indoor rather than outdoor work; some degree of autonomy (no punching the time clock) versus strict regulation and supervision of employees.

But this is all subject to challenge. As usual, I welcome comments, criticisms and suggestions.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:44 PM | Comments (29)

July 23, 2003

One Sure Test of a Security System

is whether someone can get past the guards and the metal detectors with a loaded gun on his person. Unfortunately, this afternoon the security system at NYC's City Hall failed that test, and one City Council member is now dead and another seriously wounded.


This AP story reports that "The shooter was a political opponent of the councilman, and had accompanied him into the building before the shooting, a police source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The gunman's ties to the councilman apparently allowed him to bypass security."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:58 PM | Comments (13)

"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 09:59 AM | Comments (57)

July 22, 2003

An Adjunct's Commitment to Adjunctification

In last month's column, I wrote about the mistaken assumption in academe that adjuncts are people who weren't good enough to land a tenure-track job. This month, let me take on another common assertion -- that adjunct faculty members compromise the quality of higher education today because of the very nature of our jobs.

-- Jill Carroll, Do Adjuncts Have Time for Students?

In last month's "Adjunct Track" column, entitled "We're Exploited, Not Unqualified," Jill Carroll took issue with the idea that the use of adjuncts represents a dimunition in the quality of education offered to undergraduates. Angered by the suggestion that adjuncts are lesser beings, "bottom feeders" who couldn't make it to the tenure track, she offered a vigorous defence of adjunct honor against the implied insult of "adjunctification as travesty." Much as I can appreciate her indignation at the notion that adjunct faculty are inferior, I believe she is letting her anger stand in the way of a broader perspective on the issue. As I see it, students are cheated by adjuntification not because adjunct faculty are inferior but because adjunct faculty teach under inferior conditions.

In her most recent column, Carroll continues to abstract the practice of teaching from the broader context in which this practice takes place. The charge to which she responds is that, as Carroll understands it, "adjunct faculty members compromise the quality of higher education today because of the very nature of our jobs." But do critics of adjunctification commonly assert that it is adjunct faculty themselves who compromise the quality of education? Don't they rather argue that it is an overreliance on undersupported adjunct faculty that compromises educational quality? There is a difference between these two lines of argument.

To what lengths will Carroll go, I wonder, in order to defend a system which has her teaching 12 classes a year at several different institutions, and all without adequate pay, benefits, an office, research support, and the like? And just why is she so eager to defend it? It seems to me that it is more important for Carroll to vindicate her own status as a real university professor than to acknowledge systemic problems in curriculum development, faculty accessibility, departmental culture, and so on.

What's striking is her tendency to individualize and psychologize large-scale structural problems. "It all starts with how you think," says Carroll of her adjunct as entrepreneur model, which I blogged several months ago, "I know it sounds very pop psychology, sounds like Oprah. But it's true." Here we told that:

Giving quality time and attention to students -- or to anyone else in our lives -- has more to do with our commitment than with anything else. Even those of us with the most hectic schedules will find the time to spend on the people or projects that matter to us. We will make the time.

"The determining factor," Carroll insists, "is commitment."

Right. Well, in that case, why have full-time teaching positions at all? Adjunctify the entire faculty (think of the savings!), and make it a requirement that only the most committed need apply. Indeed, why not set up a new standard, according to which the very desire for a full-time salary, benefits, an office, research and travel money and all other extras would disqualify a faculty member from teaching on the grounds of lack of true commitment?

But if the determining factor is commitment, then why won't Carroll recognize the university's lack of commitment to its part-time faculty as just such a determining factor in the quality of education?


The above was written on the fly, and I neglected to link to an article that I had intended to mention:
In his "The Adjunct Rip-off," William Pannapacker enumerates "10 Reasons Why the Use of Adjuncts Hurts Students."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:01 PM | Comments (26)

July 21, 2003

Weekly IA Award

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to JW for a very clear and concise statement of one of the central messages of this weblog (comments to "If You Insist on Graduate School, At Least Do Your Homework"):

But one of the overall themes of this blog & its commentators has been: if you want to go to grad school, take a minute and do the math. Among the factors that need to be considered are at least the following:
(i) the likelihood of completing your degree, and within what timeframe;
(ii) the likelihood of your getting a decent job, once you complete your degree, and just how decent a job it will be (in terms of pay, of course, but also in terms of teaching load, location, and other quality of life issues);
(iii) the opportunity costs of pursuing a PhD.

For almost anyone seriously thinking about pursuing a PhD, the values of these variables should lead one to re-think -- not necessarily to abandon it, but just to think it through carefully. But for someone who has not gotten a fellowship offer from a fairly high-end program, the values for each of these variables gets worse. That person is less likely to finish, because they have no guarantee of support; they are less likely to get a job at the other end, both due to that lack of support itself and also because, frankly, that lack of support will be a professional stigma on their applications; and their opportunity costs will be all the greater, because they will have to take on even larger loans than the average tuition-waivered grad student. So if the calculation is iffy enough for someone admitted with support, it becomes all the iffier for someone without it. Now, that doesn't mean that some folks can't beat the odds ... but the point is being aware of just how stark the odds are.

Thank you, JW. You have stated the case with much more eloquence (and with far fewer words) than I have done.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:36 PM | Comments (7)

July 17, 2003

Blogging Break

My real life is interfering with my blog life. So I won't be around much until early next week (I certainly will not post any new entries until then, though I may peek in at the comments).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:49 PM | Comments (10)

If You Insist on Graduate School, At Least Do Your Homework

Still, I have a mournful affection for students who remain confident of their ability to beat the odds. The young feel invincible and full of potential. And many universities view their naiveté and energy as an exploitable resource. The majority of graduate students exist to provide cheap labor for undesirable undergraduate courses and students for high-prestige graduate programs taught by tenured professors. It seems like the undergraduates are the only ones who don't know this, and they get angry when you tell them.

-- Thomas H. Benton, If You Must Go to Grad School...

In his "So You Want to Go to Grad School?" column (which I blogged about here), Thomas H. Benton made a compelling case against graduate school in the humanities. He now offers words of wisdom for those who insist on following this very risky pursuit. It's important to note that Benton is not encouraging and endorsing the graduate school option. "I believe that most would not choose to go," he writes, "if they were properly informed about the risks (the most notable of which is a strong probability of never landing a tenure-track job)." I agree. Though aspiring graduate students will readily acknowledge that they realize the job market is "tight," many have no idea of just how grim is the situation in many fields in the humanities.

Among the more cynical responses to criticisms of the ongoing overproduction of humanities PhDs is the caveat emptor line, which conveniently places the fact-finding burden on prospective students while absolving faculty and administrators of any professional or ethical obligation to supply these students with accurate information about employment prospects. What's disingenuous about this response is its pretence of a neutral information field: as if the undergraduate is situated somewhere outside the academy, from which position he or she gathers the evidence and weighs the options concerning various career paths: law school versus grad school; public sector versus private; entry-level position in a possibly unpromising field versus unpaid internship in a field that looks more promising; low-paying retail job now (just to make ends meet and maybe even make a dent in the student loans) versus another year or two of school for a practically-oriented degree or certificate. Well, of course liberal arts undergraduates do seek out information on any number of fields and occupations (though many of them go on to follow a career path that starts out as something random: just get a foot in the door somewhere, anywhere, and see where it leads [which is basically, and understandably, the advice given to humanities PhDs who are forced to leave the academy: and I guess I've already said enough about the sense of waste and futility that comes from realizing that this is what one could have, and should have, done in the first place]). But it's worth noting that undergraduates do all of this while still immersed within and under the influence of the specific culture of a specific place that is not a law firm, not a large corporation, not a small non-profit organization, not a government office, not a high tech marketing firm...but that is rather the academy. For students with a genuine aptitude and passion for advanced studies, the attraction of a life of teaching and scholarship is pretty much overdetermined, reinforced at so many levels by factors that range from the pleasures derived from study to the very partial (and very pleasing) perspective they acquire on what it means to be an academic to the explicit (and very flattering) encouragement they receive from professors whom they greatly admire. To be sure, there are many humanities professors who no longer encourage the best and brightest of their undergraduates to continue their studies in graduate school. But there are others who remain convinced, and who manage to convince their undergraduates, that "there will always be jobs for good people" or that "the job market has to pick up with the next round of retirements" or that something or other must give. And there aren't a lot of other voices, or alternative sources of information, within the academy to challenge what I think is the unwarranted optimism underlying such views.

In any case, as Benton realizes, some people will go to graduate school in the humanities. And if they are determined to do so, they should definitely read his hard-hitting advice.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:21 PM | Comments (51)

July 16, 2003

It's Worth It?

[W]e have too much education to be employable outside of academe, and too little experience to be employable in it. We spend hours at conferences, publish articles in journals, and teach multiple courses, but the proportions are always off. And yet, we press forward. Because we know that at the end of 300 pages, Darcy will still marry Elizabeth, and at the end of 200 pages, Pheoby will still be listening, yet we will have noticed an infinite number of things that we never noticed before. And that's worth years of education and thousands of dollars in student loans and no tenure-track jobs.

-- Margaret Marquis and Brent Shannon, We're Happy. Really.

Is it? asks Amanda at Household Opera (via Rana at Frogs and Ravens). Is it really worth years of education and thousands of dollars in student loans and no tenure-track jobs? Well, call me a philistine, because I'm going to answer with an emphatic "No."

Honestly, I hope things work out for this couple, but I have to say that their column really irked me. What is the purpose of such relentless good cheer? Perhaps one could argue that, psychologically, this is a more adaptive strategy than depression and despair? Except that it isn't, really: it would appear that unwarranted happy thoughts only serve to lighten the emotional load as they make their merry way down the path to academic proletarianization. I suppose the truly adaptive strategy is to get just down-and-out enough to prompt some positive action, though not so down-and-out that one is paralysed by feelings of hopelessness. Alas, I myself have not achieved that elusive middle, so perhaps I shouldn't be criticizing someone else's response. On the other hand, since they did enter the public domain with their account of overeducated unemployability, I guess I'm entitled to respond. What I find troublesome about their insistence on the noble worthiness of poverty and underemployment is that it lends support to those who have no interest in reforming the current job system and every interest in maintaining business as usual. By the way, I'm going to assume this couple have no interest in children; the day a child enters your life is the day the penny drops, and hard.

Yes, I'm feeling rather cranky.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:58 PM | Comments (28)

PhDs and Nonacademic Careers: Information Underload

I read the advice columns, I visit the websites, I lurk at the WRK4US listserve: in short, I keep up with the "nonacademic careers for PhDs" literature. But what information I can find is extremely vague and highly anecdotal. Indeed, the literature on this topic is not so much informational as inspirational. Frankly, I've yet to be inspired. Or, to be brutally frank, for me the Horatio Alger for Adjuncts story inspires nothing more than a sense of utter waste and futility. There's no need to tell me that this is the wrong attitude, by the way; I already know that.

But what I'd like to know is, what happens to history PhDs who leave the academy? Where do they go? What do they do? How much money do they make? I don't mean, what happened to Dr. X, who parlayed an interest in Y into a career in Z field. I mean, what happens to history PhDs as a group or cohort? At the very least, in what industries or sectors are they most likely to be found? I'm haunted by the thought that they're most likely to be found behind the counter at the local Starbucks, or perhaps at the Barnes & Noble. I wish I could find some information to counter this pessimism. But I doubt very much such information even exists. After all, who would compile the data? -- certainly not the AHA. And if someone did manage to come up with some real information, would this data serve to refute or to confirm my pessimism?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:42 PM | Comments (29)

July 15, 2003

Adjuncts Not as Good as Tenure-Track Faculty = Women Not as Good as Men?

Just to be annoying some more, I would say that most adjuncts are not as 'good' as tenure track people, whatever that means. They are not the same jobs. When looking for a full-time person departments look for a lot of things, including the ability to supervise a really good thesis and defend the department in university committiees. Oh, and publish. For an adjunct it is enough that they are minimally competent and can start on Tuesday. Some adjuncts are very, very good, and some tenured people are atrocious, but they are very different jobs. The best (most likely to create change) arguement against adjunctification -as a trend- is that schools are doing a bait and switch. They promise that classes are taught by the best people they could find, but in fact they are taught by whoever they could get.

-- Ssuma, comment to When Full-Time Faculty Support Adjunctification

If most adjuncts aren't as "good" as tenure-track faculty, then in my discipline (history) -- and probably in other disciplines as well -- this must mean that in general female academics are not as good as their male counterparts. As Robert B. Townsend reports in Part-Time Faculty Surveys Highlight Disturbing Trends:

The growing use of underpaid and undersupported part-time faculty, and the waning of tenure lines poses a difficult problem for all new and prospective history PhDs. As data from other AHA departmental surveys indicates (see Figure 1), these trends have made it more difficult for women to strengthen their modest numbers in the history profession. In the AHA's annual survey of departments for 1998–99, women held one-thirds of all history faculty jobs; a modest improvement over findings from 1979 and 1989, when males represented more than 80 percent of the faculty (and roughly comparable to the growing number of women with history PhDs).4

However, the women who gained academic positions were significantly more likely to be employed part-time than their male counterparts. The departments reported that 41 percent of the women they employed were part-time, as compared to 29 percent of men. While the proportion of men employed part-time increased almost five-fold over the past 20 years, the proportion of women employed part-time has increased almost six-and-a-half times over the same period.

Again, if it's a strict meritocracy in which academics are assigned to the adjunct track or the tenure track according to their merits, then the implication is clear: women are not as good as men. Though indeed, the quality of the men has apparently declined significantly over the past twenty years: Townsend reports an almost five-fold increase in the proportion of men holding part-time positions. Perhaps this is due to the influence of women, who may be exerting a downward pressure on standards?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:46 AM | Comments (36)

July 14, 2003

When Full-Time Faculty Support Adjunctification

The change since 1975 is striking. Part-time faculty have grown four-times (103%) more than full-time (27%). The number of non-tenure-track faculty has increased by 92% while the number of probationary (tenure-track) faculty has actually declined by 12%. Consequently, where there were 50% more probationary than non-tenure- track faculty in 1975, by 1993 non-tenure-track appointments exceeded probationary by 33%.

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. The change in the proportion changed at about one percent a year. The most recent findings show that this trend continues unabated. The issue of contingent work has finally gained so much attention because the numbers of contingent faculty are approaching a majority, a situation already existing in the community colleges where almost one half of all students are now enrolled in higher education. There is nothing in the historical record to suggest that these trends will stop without policy intervention and our activism.

Richard Moser, "The New Academic Labor System, Corporatization And The Renewal of Academic Citizenship"

Among the responses by full-time faculty to the problem of adjuntification is a line of argument that I find rather curious. It goes something like this: grant that the abuse of adjuncts is unfortunate (which concession is often accompanied by the disclaimer that there is nothing we can do about the low pay and lack of benefits), the system is a meritocracy and those who are truly worthy do end up on the tenure track. Now, given the growing reliance on adjunct faculty, what this position entails is a belief in an overall decline in the merit of college instructors. If the system is a meritocracy which assigns candidates to the tenure track or the adjunct track according to various measures of worthiness, then we are led to the inescapable conclusion that there has been a quite dramatic diminution in the quality of academics over the past thirty years: while only 22 percent of those teaching in 1970 were unworthy of the tenure track, today that percentage has risen to 46.

Though I find it highly unlikely, I will concede that such a dramatic decline in merit is within the realm of the possible. Nevertheless, I think it is very strange to find the members of a profession arguing in support of the deprofessionalization of their own profession.

Can you think of another profession or guild or union the members of which would claim that a significant proportion of their membership were so lacking in merit as to deserve substandard wages and no benefits? I confess I cannot, though admittedly this may stem either from ignorance or from a failure of imagination. They might, certainly, allow for degrees and gradations of merit, as measured according to their various and particular criteria, and acknowledge that some lawyers/police officers/chartered accountants are excellent, some very good and so on down the line -- but they would be inclined to stop well short of acknowledging that some members of the profession/guild/union were incompetent or unworthy enough not to warrant even a minimum wage with modest benefits. Or, what they would say is that they had various forms of certification and governance and overseeing to ensure that the incompetent and unworthy were drummed out of their profession. Now, I'm not saying that this would in fact be the case, and for all I know there are legions of incompetent lawyers/police officers/chartered accountants who practice with impunity and who manage to earn at least a half-decent living. My point is that it is highly unusual (I believe it may well be unprecedented) for the members of a profession to actually and positively argue that those who have been duly certified as members of their own profession do not deserve even a half-decent living.

Well, but perhaps it is true that those of us who teach as adjuncts really are unworthy enough to deserve no more than what we currently earn. If this is the case, then I suppose the faculty who lend support to adjunctification must be commended for their truthfulness. While the spokespersons of every other profession/guild/union that we can think of would not make such an admission even if it were true, these faculty can be seen to put honesty and integrity before the narrow interests of the profession/guild/union. And of course it is very much against the interests of a profession to have its members and spokespersons argue that some (indeed, many, and the numbers increase as adjunctification continues apace) of its members are this unworthy. Indeed, if we think in terms of the reproduction and continuation of the profession as a profession, an admission like this would seem to express some sort of impulse toward professional suicide.

To reiterate: when faculty support the use of adjuncts on the grounds of meritocracy, they are not arguing that this meritocracy ensures that the unworthy and the incompetent are drummed out of the profession. They are arguing, rather, that while a significant (and increasing) percentage of the members of their own profession are not worthy enough to warrant a decent living, those who are not worthy enough to warrant a decent living can nevertheless be entrusted with the teaching of a significant (and increasing) percentage of college courses. Or, to put this another way, when faculty support adjunctification, what they are supporting is the idea that college teaching is of so little value that those who practice it needn't be anything special, or even anything half-decent, and needn't meet a standard that would entitle them to a living wage plus health insurance. And if those within the academy place so little value on the practice of teaching, and view a substantial (and increasing) percentage of the members of their own profession with such contempt, can we really be surprised if those outside the academy follow suit?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:40 AM | Comments (39)

July 13, 2003

What, if Anything, Can Adjuncts Do?

A reader has asked me to address the issue of what adjuncts can do about their situation. Frankly, at the moment I am not optimistic and am inclined to answer, "Not much." But that's not a very satisfactory response. So I'm throwing the question out to the readers of this weblog.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:56 PM | Comments (25)

Weekly IA Award

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to Chris, for his characterization of academic deprofessionalization as a merging of Nietzschean nihilism with American Taylorism (comments to Demoralization: Are We Taking the Human Out of the Humanities?)

If this has led to what Foucault calls the 'tryanny of the professors,' it does so by way of an opportunistic, and flagrantly cynical melding of Nietzschean nihilism with American Taylorism. Taylor (I think his first name is Frederick, perhaps the historians can correct me) is the father of modern mangement theory, and one of his primary tenets is the enforcement of a disconnect between the person and knowledge of the employee and the task at hand. It is a very rigid approach and yet is almost taken for granted in our world of work and employment: 'you may be a poet, a spiritual seer, a brilliant scientist, but today your job is to pick up those boxes and put them on the truck, so get to work.' What is truly perverse, of course, is that this same philosophy of disconnection -- and dis-affection, and, in Ruddick's terms, de-moralization -- has become ingrained within the 'profession' of humanities professing. And I think that when 'we' (meaning adjuncts, one-years, and other non-tenured academic workers) attempt to tell of our plight to either tenured faculty, Chairs, or administrators, this 'Taylorist' distortion of Nietzschean thought is, in part, the void into which our cries disappear.

Nicely done, Chris. And let me assure you that here at invisibleadjunct.com we do hear you, for we like to think of this weblog as the void that fills the void.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:13 PM | Comments (22)

July 10, 2003

I'm Shocked and Appalled

by the amount of money someone was willing to pay for a Maisy birthday party set: tablecloth, party hats, loot bags, and the like. It's not available at any of the birthday party theme shops I've visited (online) in the past few days, I think it's a UK thing. But I found a set on eBay, and asked my husband to place a bid. I thought his bid was scandalously high: and now it turns out we've lost the auction! But I guess I can almost understand, since our son is crazy for Maisy.*

Guess we'll have to make do with colourful but non-themed balloons and streamers and party hats. I'm no Martha Stewart (hmm...and a good thing, too -- I guess that statement has a different resonance nowadays, doesn't it?), but I've got an idea for some mouse cupcakes that I think I can pull off.

*If you don't have a toddler, you may be wondering, Who the heck is Maisy? Maisy is an anthropomorphized mouse, basically female though more or less androgynous, and a huge hit with human toddlers of both sexes. I'm still trying to figure out the basis of her enormous appeal. One clue: bright, primary colors, but all is simple and low-key: nothing overcrowded or overpowering. And then there is the excitement of complete independence -- she seems to live in a house by herself, without any adult supervision that I can discover: she even gives herself a bath! -- but this boundless liberty is exercised within the confines of a jolly little world that is utterly safe and predictable. Oh, and she and her friends (a chicken, a squirrel, an elephant and a crocodile) have commandeered a train, which they ride up hill and down, and then back to the station. "Maisy? and the train?" are the first words uttered by my son every morning...

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:17 PM | Comments (9)

July 09, 2003

Demoralization: Are We Taking the Human out of the Humanities?

The question 'What’s the point?' is at once an individual cry of disappointment and a tiny fragment from a pervasive, whispered conversation that has been taking place in English departments for years. People who feel unnourished by the intellectual life in English tend to feel isolated because the myriad individual expressions of protest that are confidentially exchanged all the time have not yet been built into a shared world. The tensions within our field have reached the media and even our own journals in the distorted form of a culture war, with a clear cleavage between a traditionally humanist right and an antihumanist left. In the middle, but without a base, are people like this woman who are not traditionalists but nonetheless have convictions about 'what sustains people' that in the current environment would be discounted as conservative, humanist illusions. (She might for example be asked, 'Which "people" are you presuming to speak for?') Such scholars survive by putting a part of themselves into hiding, and their voices aren't heard. In a word, the dominant thinking in my field excludes and stigmatizes a conversation about humane concerns that many, many members of the profession secretly wish we could start to have publicly.

-- Lisa Ruddick, The Flight from Knowing

Via a new "pre-postacademic" weblog entitled Household Opera, this article by English professor Lisa Ruddick explores the "moral ignorance, or the numbness that comes with academic expertise." Among the questions she raises is whether there is "some logical connection between, for example, the academy's willed oblivion to the exploitation of part-time teachers...and the moral ignorance that’s built into the specialized intellectual training we offer, at least in the humanities." More broadly, Ruddick asks whether professional training in the humanities has a tendency toward demoralization.

As an example of demoralization, she exposes the "analytical slippage" behind an all too familiar move:

For example, let us say that there is such a thing as decency, which is a virtue. In the interest of decency, for example, a person could refrain from stealing someone else's ideas, or forego the thrill of humiliating a colleague. A second meaning of the word decency, though, is adherence to a set of communal norms that are really class norms or a screen for prejudice...This second, oppressive sense of decency calls itself by the same name as the good decency and masquerades as it; that is, a mindless bourgeois decency is the near enemy of genuine ethical decency. What current critical theory routinely does, though, is to collapse the difference, making the good thing look bad by calling it by the name of its near enemy-saying, for example, that anyone who speaks up for decency is imposing an oppressive social norm.

For Ruddick, this slippage -- the "summoning the near enemy to discredit some precious ideal that most people wouldn't part with easily" -- constitutes a moral problem. It is the problem of demoralization:

I think that the theoretical models that have dominated English and the related disciplines in the last two decades are especially effective tools for creating this kind of demoralization, because in their depletion of the meaning of such words as authenticity and humanity they eat away at a person's sense of having a vital interior life apart from his or her professional identity. I keep thinking it's no coincidence that the humanities have become in this sense a more perfectly closed world, a world with no experiential outside, in the very decades in which the depressed job market in the field has created a need for highly dedicated initiates who wouldn't keep asking if the outside world might have something better to offer them. The message we send to these initiates is: there's no real authenticity anywhere, there's no humanity you can count on, the moon outside your window is boring, so you might as well keep to your study and pray for a job.

The demoralization of which she speaks refers not only to a weakening of morale, but also to a depletion of the possibilities for creating and sustaining morally significant meaning. That these two are related is precisely her point.

I am intrigued by this article because, like the woman cited in the first quote above, I often find myself torn between "a traditionally humanist right and an antihumanist left." I can't sign on for timeless truths and eternal verities, but I've grown weary of and worried by the ruthless criticism of everything existing.* I believe I am not alone in occupying this uneasy middle ground -- though as Ruddick points out, this position is often experienced as one of isolation because it has not yet been developed into a "shared world."

Ruddick ends on a note of cautious optimism, expressing the hope that her profession might develop a culture that "without dispensing either with traditional scholarship or with critical theory, somehow uses literature as the basis for a complex exploration of the art of listening that is one of the creative forces in the world." At the moment, I see no reason to be optimistic.

*I am reminded of a wonderful essay by Gordon Schochet, in which he writes of his "more than a half-hearted endorsement of the post-modernist rejection of 'foundationalism,' which, to my mind, has been a kind of brooding presence in the epistemological firmament since the publicaction of David Hume's Treatise of Human Nature. At the same time, however, I am deeply troubled by the empirical reality of the loss of foundations and even more disturbed by the piety of recent attempts to root our lives in a restored 'morality.'" Gordon J. Schochet, "Why should history matter?" in J.G.A. Pocock ed., The Varieties of British Political Thought, 1500-1800(Cambridge, 1993).


Timothy Burke has posted a moving account of his response to Lisa Ruddick’s “The Flight from Knowing,” in which he relays his struggle to reclaim the “joy and passion of inquiry” from the "tyranny of theory."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:35 PM | Comments (61)

July 08, 2003

History and Demography

Her department has quite a few faculty members who are 65 or older, but Ms. Maza does not expect many of them to retire any time soon, because professors whose pension funds are partly invested in the stock market 'are reluctant to retire as long as the economy doesn't pick up,' she says.

-- Jennifer Jacobson, Who's Hiring in History?

Here is a delicate issue, so sensitive and potentially incendiary that I almost hesitate to raise it. But I know I can count on the readers of this weblog to discuss the matter with their usual tact and intelligence, and without descending into a nasty battle which pits the passions of callow youth against the wisdom of riper years.

In an article entitled "New Data Reveals a Homogenous but Changing History Profession," Robert Townsend reported that

One of the most striking pieces of information is the finding that the average age for historians is 51.8 years—the oldest of any of the fields in the survey and more than three years above the average for all fields. More than half of the [full-time] faculty in history were over the age of 55. Almost 45 percent of the historians employed in the academy had been at their institution for 10 years or more.

This is an interesting, and I think a troubling, demographic skew. Well, of course I'm troubled by it: I'm on the adjunct track when I had hoped to be on the tenure track. But I believe it is not a healthy sign for the "reproduction" and continuation of the profession (as a profession) overall. The problem, as I see it, is not that there are too many full-time historians over the age of 55, but rather that there are too few full-time historians under the age of 55. And frankly, I think there should be a better balance junior and senior faculty. The junior faculty bring energy, enthusiasm and new ideas, while the senior faculty provide experience, maturity and even, sometimes, real wisdom. But over half of full-time faculty over the age of 55 does not strike me as an example of this sort of balance.

In fact, I'm not sure how much difference it would make if more tenured faculty retired at age 65 instead of hanging in until the stock market recovers. It's not as though one can confidently expect that the retirement of a senior tenured faculty member opens up a new tenure line for a junior scholar. Over the past decade, we have seen an erosion of tenurable jobs as tenured faculty are not replaced (or rather, are replaced by contingent faculty) when they retire. Still, some tenured lines are continued, obviously, so that in some cases it probably would make a difference.

So I do have to wonder about the present situation. It's difficult to avoid the thought that the burden of weathering the current economic downturn falls disproportionately on the younger members (or would-be members, or marginal members) of the profession. Given the tenure system, and given the Supreme Court's ruling that mandatory retirement at 65 constitutes age discrimination, is there no other way to spread the wealth and poverty of the historical profession? How about a mandatory (but not age-related) cap on years of service to any given institution (say 25 years? or maybe 30?)?


In the comments section, Livia directs our attention to James Shapiro's "Death in a Tenured Position," which opens:

On April 1999, I attended a one-day conference at which a couple of distinguished scholars read papers before an audience consisting largely of graduate students, few of whom were likely ever to get on the tenure track that would lead to their appearance on the podium. A provost then made an appearance and singled out for praise a senior scholar in the audience. That scholar had been teaching at the college level since 1945 and had entered the tenure track in 1952.

The incongruity between his open-ended career and the dead-end careers of most of those in the audience proved too much for me...

While Shapiro is a strong proponent of the tenure system, he objects to the "abuse of tenure" and argues that when "tenure so nakedly serves the interests of established senior scholars, while it remains beyond the reach of most young scholars, any defense of the tenure system is badly weakened." Intellectual progress, he suggests, "depends on a complicated intergenerational exchange" and is "predicated on the assumption that those who control the mechanisms by which scholarship is made possible—tenure, endowed chairs, service on editorial boards, fellowship and tenure-review committees, directorships of patronage-dispensing institutes—will turn them over to the next generation after an appropriate time, even as their mentors did for them."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:12 PM | Comments (12)

July 07, 2003

WordPerfect or MSWord?

I was going to write a rant against MSWord, but hasn't that been done to death?

Anyway, I much prefer WordPerfect, but I've been gradually (and painfully) switching to Word. Not because I want to, but because it seems I have to. Since just about everybody else uses Word, and Word does not do a very good job of converting WordPerfect documents (I mean, it mucks up the formatting in some serious ways -- whereas WordPerfect does a fine job of converting Word documents)...well, there is no point in postponing the inevitable: I must capitulate to the global hegemony of Bill Gates. This is not about some impulse to conformity ("and if Jimmy walked off a cliff, would you follow...?"), but about sending essays and chapters and the like to colleagues and editors, all of whom use Word. On the brighter side, I hear they're finally retiring that silly little Clippit thing, which I hate with a passion normally reserved for baby-killers and brutal dictators (what an insult to the user's intelligence! yes, I'd like to see a paperclip winking and leering at me while I'm trying to figure out why in the heck this program lacks "reveal codes".)

Okay, I guess that did turn into a mini-rant.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:29 PM | Comments (43)

July 06, 2003

Weekly IA Award

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to Carine Bichet for an emphatic rejoinder to the line of argument which language hat then described as the "what color is your interview suit?" explanation for academic unemployment/underemployment (comments to "The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner?"):

The plain fact of the matter is that the academic job market is such that *good* people, with *great* publication records and *excellent* training that they’ve received from *famed* advisors at *top* schools, are not getting jobs -- regardless of how well they interview. Fucked-up and unfair? Oh, yes. But true? Definitely.

Well done, Ms Bichet. Readers might be interested to learn that, in addition to earning you this award, your comment inspired a proposal of marriage which included the promise of a weekly omelette brunch (smoked salmon and Gruyère every Sunday morning? you'd want to get that in writing: if you accept the proposal, please make sure he signs a prenup).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:51 AM | Comments (2)

July 05, 2003

Yet Another Movable Type Query

Gentle Readers,

I would like to take advantage of MT's "extended entry" option. Would someone please explain to me, in language suitable for addressing, say, a bright but ignorant 6-year old, just how this is done? E.g., Do I enter the text of my entry in the "Entry Body" box? or in the "Extended Entry" box? or in neither or both of the above? Many thanks.


P.S. I have tried the MT support forum, which is often very helpful. But the users of that forum tend to presuppose a level of competence that I have yet to achieve.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:57 PM | Comments (5)

July 04, 2003

A Solution to the Adjunct Problem?

The Adjunct Problem has rather a nineteenth-century ring to it (think, for example, of the Woman Question). The management at D-squared Digest have drawn inspiration from the nineteenth-century practice of buying and selling military commission and clerical livings to propose the following solution:

If tenured professorships are such great things and recently graduated PhDs want them so much, they are presumably willing to pay for them. Universities should sell their professorships, at whatever price the market will bear.

This follows from an earlier post on Adjunct Pay, where D-squared had promised to provide "a shocking proposal for a solution." Of course, here at Invisible Adjunct we have long since ceased to be shocked by anything concerning the academic labor system. Indeed, readers of this weblog may recall that Mr Thomas H. Benton proposed something along similar lines a couple of months ago, for which he earned a well-deserved Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory).

Anticipating opposition to the idea of monetary exchange, D-squared writes that since "the defence of the realm and the cure of souls are no less important than the 'sacred guild of scholars,'" he will "not be taking any objections on the grounds that there is something fundamentally immoral about taking money for an academic post rather than awarding it to the man or woman who has most enthusastically brown-nosed prominent co-authors on journal papers." I happen to agree that there is nothing "fundamentally immoral" about the proposal, though whether it is desirable or even possible is another question altogether. In any case, I impose no such strictures, so please feel free to endorse or reject the proposal on any grounds whatsoever (I do recommend reading D-squared's posts, which are especially perceptive on the "psychic pain" of exclusion from the ranks of the tenurable).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:09 PM | Comments (17)

July 01, 2003

Blogging Break

I have to take a bit of a breather, hope to resume shortly.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:09 AM | Comments (1)