February 24, 2004

Blogging Break

I'll be away for the next week. I may pop in to check comments (please may I not find fifty pieces of spam), but I won't be posting any new entries until next Tuesday or Wednesday.

I leave you to contemplate the following:

In response to the question "How rich was Darcy?" the blogosphere has determined that he was, in the words of Belle Waring, "rich as a mother****er." Quite right. Brad DeLong has the specifics.

But how repulsive was Mr. Collins? Or to put it another way, since this is a question that does not lend itself to quantitative calculation, Mr. Collins was repulsive how?

My answer next week.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:23 PM | Comments (4)

February 23, 2004

"The Juggernaut of Academic History"

What did Gibbon, Macaulay and Carlyle have in common?

None of them had a Ph.D. in History, and all of them are cited by Simon Schama in his recent call for a revival of the "golden age" of history:

Simon Schama, one of Britain's best-known historians, has accused fellow academics of making the subject too dull.

Professor Schama is calling for a return to a 'golden age' of historians of the calibre of Gibbon, Macaulay and Carlyle. He says modern-day historians - with a few notable exceptions - have lost the ability to inspire the public with tales of the past in the same way as their predecessors (Jonathan Thompson, "History just isn't what it used to be: Schama slams academic historians")

Timothy Burke approves, but adds an important qualification:

The only caveat I have is that the existence of a broadly communicative, publically engaged rhetoric of history is dependent upon the existence of a body of much more meticulous scholarship. Schama couldn't have written Citizens if there hadn't been a large historiography to write about, and the same goes for any of the successful public-sphere historians of recent years.

Good point. There may not be a lot of story to be pulled out of detailed quantitative analyses of parish registers and village rent rolls. But without that detailed analysis, we know appreciably less about demographic trends, property relations, standards of living, and so on. Some of this can of course be rendered into lively narrative prose, but not unless and until someone has already done that detailed and meticulous research. Burke's post is well worth reading, and especially for his suggestion that the overemphasis on a narrower "professionalized craft" at the expense of broader "communicative ambitions" is not the "inevitable consequence of graduate training."


For Kieran Healy, Schama's call for a return to the golden age of history "mostly seems like promotional fluff for his new TV series" and Timothy Burke's caveat must be seen as "more than a caveat:"

Schama’s Great Historians fused authoritative judgment, great range and vivid prose and brought the result to large audiences, helping to define the practice of history as they went. What fun it must have been. He wants those things, too. Yet although he speaks to an audience bigger than any of his heroes, Schama must know he can’t occupy that niche, because it no longer exists. The vast differentiation of the academic division of labor over the past century and a half destroyed it.

Is Schama expressing the kind of "anachronistic wishfulness that historians teach us to avoid"? Perhaps.

Certainly, there can be no return to a golden age. Today's historian can no more write like Macaulay than today's novelist can write like Jane Austen. Any attempt to write like Macaulay would probably succeed about as well as the various prequels and sequels to Pride and Prejudice have succeeded, which is to say, would probably result in embarrassing failure.

But while I basically agree with Healy on the pastness of the historiographical past, I don't share the telos of progress that seems to underlie his comment. It's not that I don't believe that the past hundred and fifty years have seen enormous progress in the accumulation of historical knowledge, the refinement of research methodologies, and so on. I do believe that there has been such progress (and one reason why today's historian could not write like Macaulay is that the historian would have to pretend to be innocent of this historical knowledge, which would already be indulging in a kind of ersatz Macaulay fakery).

Healy writes that "whereas the mills of academic specialization can grind exceeding small, we can’t all have our own BBC miniseries." While the latter is indisputably true, I think the former open to question. It's just not a given to me that the current division of labor is sustainable. It's possible, of course, and maybe even probable, that the wheels can continue to grind. On the other hand, it's also possible that academic history will come to be dismissed as a kind of scholasticism, or perhaps consigned to an increasingly narrow and rarefied space (e.g., elite research universities) as a kind of cultural luxury item. When I read that the history now accounts for only 2 percent of all BAs (a dramatic decline in both relative and absolute terms since 1970), and when I think of the funding cuts that the history mill has suffered over the past decade, I do have to wonder. And when Timothy Burke warns that the monograph does have value and insists that "one of the functions of academic research institutions should be to subsidize the work that does not and cannot seek a public audience," I think he too recognizes the possibility that such work might not be subsidized, or at least not subsidized at the current rate.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:56 PM | Comments (21)

February 22, 2004

Comments Closed for Older Entries

I've decided to close the comments for entries older than 30 days. This in an attempt to protect the blog against another flood of auto-generated comment spam. I don't want Viagra, and I don't ever again want to see the same Viagra ad dumped into 220 separate weblog entries.

It's rare that anyone (anyone but a spammer, that is) leaves a comment at an entry that's no longer on the front page. But if you'd like to post a comment to one of the older (and now comments-disabled) entries, please email me at ia at invisibleadjunct dot com.


Is there a script that will automaticaly close comments after n days?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:05 PM | Comments (7)

February 20, 2004

Dartmouth University?

John Bruce objects (permalinks bloggered; scroll to "Dartmouth and the Ph.D. Overproduction Problem").

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:19 PM | Comments (11)

Quel Scandale!

This is a dreary time of year for many of this blog's readers. Not surprisingly, spirits are rather low and tempers are a bit frayed. So before things turn ugly in the latest Jane Bast entry, let's distract ourselves with a couple of the latest academic scandals. Yes, it's a cheap ploy, and unworthy of this weblog's readership. I blush with shame even as I direct your attention to:

1. Wolf versus Falstaff Bloom. I guess this is a pre-scandal, since the New York Magazine article doesn't come out until Monday. But the story has already been picked up by major media from Sydney to Edinburgh.


Here is Naomi Wolf's "The Silent Treatment."

2. Will the real Matthew Richardson please stand up and deliver a lecture on international finance? Via Discourse.net, a truly bizarre story about an Oxford engineering student who flew to Beijing to deliver a series of lectures on global economics. The people hosting the conference thought they were getting Dr. Matthew Richardson of New York University, described by the Daily Telegraph as "a leading authority on international financial markets." Instead, they got a Matthew Richardson who

knew 'next to nothing' about the subject but, believing he would be addressing a sixth-form audience, ... felt he could 'carry it off'.

Mr Richardson, 23, borrowed an A-level textbook entitled An Introduction to Global Financial Markets from a library and swotted up on its contents on the flight from London to China.

As he arrived at the conference center, "'the horrible truth became apparent:'”

He said: 'It became clear to me that my audience was not students, but people from the world of commerce studying for a PhD in business studies having already gained an MBA.

'And instead of repeating the same lecture, I was required to deliver a series of different lectures to the same people over three days. The first one was immediately after lunch.'

The conference organizers are now talking about a legal action (but I suspect it would cost them more than it's worth to pursue the case, especially given the international borders).

Photos of the self-styled "Grade A Nobber" lecturing on global economics can be viewed at MattewRichardson.com.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:28 PM | Comments (26)

Jane Bast Makes a Statement

I returned to my apartment and looked at my statement. Bill was right. It did seem naïvely idealistic. Too much like Dead Poets Society, and not enough like Discipline and Punish. As I sat down at my desk to begin again, I tried to channel my inner Foucault so that I could think about my work and my abilities with the appropriate critical distance.

-- Jane Bast, "Making a Statement"

With a bit of help from her mentor, Bill Jeremiah, Jane Bast channels Foucault and comes up with a personal statement.

Yes, Jane Bast of "Jane Bast, Undeterred" has applied to graduate school. It cost her 1,500 dollars.

I think it's sad that undergraduate mentors like Professor Jeremiah can no longer heartily recommend that students like Jane Bast pursue graduate studies in the humanities. She strikes me as just the sort of smart, funny, mensch-like person the academy really needs (and I'm not her only fan: several people emailed me yesterday to notify me that Jane Bast had a new column at the Chronicle). But though I can't enthusiastically endorse her plan to enter a PhD program in English literature, I can certainly wish her well.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:26 AM | Comments (81)

February 19, 2004

The Cruelest Month? (A Thread for "P")

Seeing as some two-third of visitors (or at last respondants to IA's poll) to this site are academics-in-transition, and that this the 'ugly month' when often-dismal futures are foretold and difficult life-decisions made, I wonder if others would like to reflect with me on current travails and concerns on the adjunct track.

I don't want to thread-jack a useful conversation . . . but am nonetheless seeking conversation.

-- "P," comment to "Academe on the New Academic Labor System"

Here's a new thread for those who want to have this conversation.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:48 PM | Comments (5)


She might not be paid, but Carnegie Mellon University's newest staff member does all that a typical receptionist should: gives directions, answers the phone — even gossips about her boss.

'Valerie' is considered the world's first robot receptionist with a personality, university officials said Wednesday. The blonde roboceptionist interacts with people by talking about her boss, her psychiatrist and her dream of being a lounge star.

-- University Unveils Robot Receptionist

Here's a solution to the "classroom bias" problem:

Replace all human faculty with robots. The machines could be programmed to supply factual information on carefully delimited fields, and would be incapable of introducing material that was not directly related to the subject at hand or of responding to anything but the simplest "yes" or "no" query. Admittedly, students might initially find this a bit frustrating. But they'd soon learn not to ask real questions, which would increase the comfort level of everyone involved. To enhance the learning environment, the robots might be given "personalities" that simulate favourite professorial types: the cranky but lovable old curmudgeon, the high-voltage caffeine-buzzed lecturer, the ironic young hipster who really cares.

As a bonus, this would also solve the academic employment problem. Machines don't get paid, and robots don't know how to unionize. Thus, all faculty would be full-time and available 24/7 (except for routine maintenance breaks), and this at an enormous cost-savings to the university. Every machine would have tenure for life, or at least for the period under manufacturer's warranty.

Granted, this would throw a lot of human faculty out of work. But the "displaced professor" syndome would barely register beyond the Ivy Tower, and there'd be little danger of social unrest or of anything like a new Chartist movement. Does anyone miss the stockingers and weavers who were displaced by industrialization?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:23 AM | Comments (19)

February 18, 2004

Movable Type for Beginners

What does "Syndicate this Site" mean?

I've been blogging for almost a year, and I still haven't a clue. But the answer can be found at Learning Movable Type.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:49 PM | Comments (8)

February 16, 2004

One of these Things is Not Like the Other...

What does Osama bin Laden have in common with Bruce Ackerman of Yale Law School, Jack Balkin of Yale Law School, and Michael Walzer of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton?

For any reasonable, and reasonably sane person, the answer is of course nothing at all.

Kieran Healy reports on another, rather less than sane and reasonable, response to the above question.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:49 PM | Comments (4)

Response to Robert "KC" Johnson

My response can be found here.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:18 PM | Comments (0)

Still More on Conservatives in Academia

5. Along the same lines, ostensible political views and intellectual temperament may not map well onto each other. Temperamentally, most academics are highly conservative in the (Edmund) Burkean sense: they tend to oppose any change to their own institutions and they tend to argue strongly in favor of the maintenance of core traditions and practices. Many of the critiques of academic life circulating in the blogosphere now have less to do with the party affiliation of academics and more to do with this tempermental leaning, and the behaviors or attitudes which are justifiably seen as troubling would be no different if the party affiliations or political views of academics were changed, barring major changes to the nature of the institution. Magically turn everyone in the humanities into Republicans tomorrow, and they’d still exhibit all the behaviors that everyone is complaining about. Indeed, some of the conservative critics of academia seem to me to be actively campaigning for just this option.

-- Timothy Burke, "A Pox on Both Houses, or Conservatives in Academia (again)"

Burke (that's Timothy, not Edmund) offers thirteen observations, and in so doing provides some much-needed perspective, on many of the key issues surrounding the "conservatives in academia" question. His latest post probably won't much appeal to those committed to a campus culture warrior ethos, to reductive us-v.-them dualisms, and to the notion that these are simple questions with even easier answers. Yes, of course I mean that as a high compliment. As they say in the blogosphere, read the whole thing.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:58 PM | Comments (3)

February 15, 2004

Elsewhere in the Blogosphere

(Or in that corner of the blogosphere that devotes itself to academic issues)

Just a quick entry to briefly note a couple of posts:

1. John Holbo takes up "This whole conservatives in academia thing."

2. Robert "KC" Johnson responds to my "Comment for Cliopatria Discussion" with more on "Interdisciplinarity and Student Demand"(to which I want to reply as soon as I get a chance).


There are a few points I'd like to raise in response to Robert "KC" Johson's post.

I'll begin by noting a couple of points of agreement. First, though I was thinking of "greater attention to previously excluded areas" when I spoke of student demand, I can well believe that there is also, as Johnson observes, "strong student demand for courses in political, diplomatic, and constitutional topics."

Second, I certainly share Johnson's concern over an organizational model that would eliminate the history department altogether. For all their differences in methods and approaches, I believe that historians working in very different areas and in very different ways are united by a distinctively historical perspective that defines the study of history. My suspicion is that what historians do in the history department is not going to be done as well, perhaps not done at all, under a rubric like "global studies." I also suspect that the elimination of an entire department generally stems from a cost-cutting imperative which makes lower-enrollment disciplines more vulnerable (certainly this has been the fate of some language departments at some schools: rather than continue to have a German department, an Italian department, and so on, the separate departments are combined into one language department).

Where I depart from Johnson is on the matter of disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity. His notion of the proper boundaries between the disciplines and subdisciplines is just too rigid to serve any purpose that I'm willing -- without further persuasion on this point -- to recognize as vitally, even centrally or definitively, important to the continued viability of history as a discipline. Certainly, he has a point when he argues that the value of interdisciplinary work should not be assumed as a given. But surely the same thing might be said of the value of maintaining firm disciplinary boundaries -- the more so when we recognize that, far from representing a venerable age-old ordering of knowledge, the conventional or "traditional" map of scholarly fields is of fairly recent (speaking historically, of course) origin.

Since interdisciplinarity is most often associated with newer approaches (the trinity of race/class/gender, the linguistic turn, the flirtation with French theory, and the like: it's cutting edge, or else it's trendy and faddish, depending on one's view), it's worth noting, I think, that the relationship between "traditional" scholarship/pedagogy and firm disciplinary boundaries is by no means a given. To cite just one example:

In terms of undergraduate teaching (which is one of the main concerns of Johnson's post), the "return to tradition" impulse often expresses itself as support for a Great Books or liberal studies curriculum, where courses are taught by faculty from any number of disciplines, including history, philosophy, political science, literature, and so on. And under the aegis of what discipline, exactly, are such curricula put forth? Well, under the aegis of no one discipline, obviously, because the Great Books themselves cannot easily be fit or forced into any one modern discipline (most of them, after all, were written well before the current division of separate academic disciplines), and anyway, the point, pedagically, is precisely to return to, or to recreate and reinvent, some notion of a "traditional" general education model that is seen to predate professional specialization. If Johnson's concern with "traditional" disciplinary boundaries requires him to disavow the value of the recovery/invention/reinvention of the Great Books tradition, that's fine. But then I think he would need to be explicit about the superior value of disciplinary divisions that would preclude the possibility of undergraduate courses in the Great Books mode.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:13 PM | Comments (8)

Peter Pan Syndrome?

In the comments to "Intellectual Diversity Debate", "flu in san diego" [note to "flu": shouldn't you be over that flu by now?] makes an interesting observation that I want to bring upfront:

The common denominator linking Horowitz's conservative warrior epic and much of the 'left-consensus' approach is, to my mind, the disturbing assumption that students (most of whom are at least 18) are intellectually and morally unformed creatures whose delicately vibrating innocence could be damaged forever if exposed to a real substantial argument in the classroom

I have to confess my odd positionality here: coming from Europe, I am continually shocked -- even after seven years in the U.S. -- by the blind assumption of juvenile innocence and the increasing infantilization of American citizens in general. This is a spectrum that begins with 'if you look under 30 the clerk will request ID' at the liquor store checkout and ends somewhere in a fantasy educational universe of ethereally vulnerable beings who (according to Horowitz) will be damaged by being forced to think for five minutes about race and gender, or who (according to the campus left) will be traumatized by being asked to take a brief look at the world from outside the warm certainties of some ethnic or other (e.g. GLBT) community identity.

My own experience is that students are in fact adults who often appreciate being regarded as such. I try to encourage them to drop the 'we're just college kids' identity that some of them have internalized. This creeping infantilization is an eerie reversal of the real campus revolution of the 1960s -- the one in which the students said to the faculty and the administration 'we're not "kids," by the way, so get off our backs!'

I'm reminded of Frank Furedi's essay on Peterpandemonium, which term was coined by two US advertisers to describe a trend whereby "'People in their twenties and thirties are clamouring for comfort in purchases and products, and sensory experiences that remind them of a happier, more innocent time - childhood.'" It's a cranky piece, and more polemical than fair. Still, I think Furedi is right to note that retro nostalgia now begins at an earlier and earlier age: what was once "the prerogative of elderly grandparents" is now experienced by "people barely out of their teens." We've never lived longer; we've never placed a higher premium on youth.

To return to the point made by "flu:"

Yes, college students are adults. Most of them have reached the voting age, if not the legal drinking age (Canada-US comparison: there's much more concern about underage drinking here in the States, I suspect it has to do with much higher rates of access to automobiles by those in their teens). And if college students weren't in college, presumably they'd be out in the world doing adult things.

This is why I'm genuinely puzzled by the concern over "indoctrination." I absolutely agree that the college classroom should not be an indoctrination camp. But I don't believe students are in any real danger on this score. Let's see: the college instructor meets with a group of students for 2-4 hours a week, for a 12 to 14-week period. It would be difficult to indoctrinate a group of toddlers under such conditions, never mind a group of 18-year olds. And then there are the student evaluations to keep the instructors in line.

On the other hand, I do think that college students are still relatively unformed (I know I was, at any rate). There may be something about college that keeps people in a somewhat younger state than they would be if they moved directly into the workplace. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, and might even be seen as a good thing: college as a privileged in-between stage that gives very young adults the time and space to become young adults.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:56 AM | Comments (61)

February 14, 2004

Who Will Police the Police?

Or review the reviewers?

Via The Little Professor, the NYTimes reports on "something peculiar" this week at Amazon.com:

[The] company's Canadian site had suddenly revealed the identities of thousands of people who had anonymously posted book reviews on the United States site under signatures like 'a reader from New York.'

The weeklong glitch, which Amazon fixed after outed reviewers complained, provided a rare glimpse at how writers and readers are wielding the online reviews as a tool to promote or pan a book — when they think no one is watching (Amy Harmon, "Amazon Glitch Unmasks War of Reviewers").

Amazon does have a response to the question, Who will review the reviewers?:

To increase the credibility of the reader reviews, Amazon has introduced a means for users to vote on the quality of each review, and a corresponding ranking of the top 1,000 reviewers.

But apparently, and I suppose not surprisingly, some people are trying to game that system too.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:07 AM | Comments (5)

February 13, 2004


Does anyone use this? Is it as good as people say it is?

I want to be able to save documents in MS Word format, but without having to use MS Word (which I hate with a passion). WordPerfect is slowly dying, so I'm looking for alternatives (but nothing too cutting-edge: I have neither the interest nor the capacity to aspire to join the ranks of the software avant-garde).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:14 PM | Comments (18)

Comment for Cliopatria Discussion

But posted here due to a problem with my Cliopatria registration. This is a rambling response to Timothy Burke, who responds in turn to Robert "KC" Johnson, at this entry at Cliopatria. Not meant to serve as a blog entry, and probably not of much interest to most readers of this weblog. So don't click unless you care, deeply and passionately, about current trends in historiography.

"'And as I said, there's a historiographical reason for that: if one has a
beef with social history in this respect, one has to contend with the fullness
of the reasons for its rise.' [this quotes Tim Burke]

I agree. I also suspect one might have to look beyond academic history in
order to fully account for this rise. If we look at various versions of history
that address themselves to wider publics (historical films, museum exhibits,
and so on) it seems clear that there's something else going on than a takeover by the New Left. For some reason (or rather, for some complex set of related
reasons), what resonates with people outside of academic history can be broadly
classed under social/cultural history: histories of everyday life, histories that
pay attention to various social/cultural factors (what did people eat? what
did people wear? did they have premarital relations? and so on). In other
words, I think many people aren't so much interested in What happened? as in What was it like?

To be sure, there's obviously an audience outside the academy for military
history (and also, I would add, for women's history in a women worthies
vein -- not for histories of gender roles, histories of women and property law,
but for biographies of inspirational women). But I think there's at least as much
of a demand for histories that provide access to some version or other of lived
experience. And even in the case of military history, it would be interesting to
know how people are reading and interpreting these works. It may sometimes
come closer to What was it like? than to What happened? (think civil war

I don't know exactly what's going on here. My point is that it's probably a
conceit on the part of academics to think that the direction of the field is
exclusively, perhaps even mainly, shaped from within.

Which brings me to my next point, which doesn't often get raised in these
discussions: namely, the issue of student interest or student "demand." To
what extent does the current pie chart (more social than military history, eg)
stem from student interest? This must vary from place to place, but I suspect
at many schools this *is* a factor, and I know from personal experience that at
some places it is openly acknowledged as a factor: if you want higher
enrollments, you need to do more of X and not so much of Y. This is a topic that makes a lot of academics uncomfortable, because open admission of a need/desire to capture student interest can come to close to sounding like a desire to capture market share (the student as consumer and etc), and because there are also obvious problems with having to cater, perhaps, to what might be seen as current fads and fashions.

But my point, again, is that I don't think the shape of the field (in terms of
scholarship and teaching) is solely due to the conscious choices and interests
of professional academic historians. To put it another way, one hundred or
two hundred years from now, someone doing a history of late twentieth-century
historiographical trends will probably come up with explanations that are
not yet available to us because we're in the middle of something the full
significance of which we don't and can't yet see.

Which brings me, finally, to my own hobbyhorse. I think the rise of social
history at the expense of political history has to be viewed within a
larger historical frame. Social history first emerged in the eighteenth century,
thanks to people who were most decidedly not New Leftists (ie, by people
who are now often dismissed as dead white males who helped secure the triumph of capitalism). These people (mostly French and Scottish: in the
Anglo-Scottish case, people like Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, John Millar, Lord Kames, William Robertson, David Hume [though Hume combined traditional
constitutional-political narrative with the newer stuff on commerce and
manners]) invented the modern concept of "society," and they invented an
historiography that sought to account for the history of this entity. In practical terms, what this approach entailed was attention to the history of commerce, of manners, of arts, of laws and customs, of women, and etc. They were quite explicit about what they saw as the shortcomings of political narrative, with its focus on individual actors and particular events. Some of them (eg John Millar) went so far as to argue that such actors and events were merely
instances of broader conditions and trends. Though this approach to history obviously didn't replace conventional political narrative, it did offer a challenge to the political paradigm that continued to exert some influence throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. None of this is to deny the particular significance of the rise of the new social history in the 60s and 70s, but rather to emphasize that there's a longer history to the social v. political history debate.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:31 PM | Comments (14)

Fear of Litigation

I knew that I had just been fired, or, rather, I knew that my contract would not be 'renewed' the following semester. I wondered whether there might be some kind of internal appeals process. Cross-examination in the dean's office, perhaps?

I couldn't imagine what I had done. And nobody would tell me. I wouldn't sleep much that night.

-- Thomas H. Benton, "Ignoring My Inner Lawyer"

Thomas H. Benton contrasts the "professionalism" of his early teaching career with the riskier but more humane approach that he can now afford to take. As an adjunct, Benton writes, he "unconsciously regarded every student as a potential lawsuit" and acted in accordance with this fear of litigation:

I was never alone with a student. I documented every exchange, keeping a diary of conversations and making copies, at my own expense, of every paper I annotated. I adhered as strictly to my syllabus as if it were a legal contract. I never discussed issues that were outside of the advertised course content.

In class I studiously avoided using any of the potentially offensive words that have since been listed in Diane Ravitch's The Language Police. I even removed my wedding ring when teaching, as I had been warned to do, in order to avoid creating a 'hetero-coercive environment.'

In retrospect, Benton believes that he was not only "dour and humorless," but also ineffective as a teacher. And anyway, his extreme caution didn't prevent him from being fired, or not rehired, possibly on the basis of a single student's allegations concerning his conduct.

Now that he is on the tenure-track, he notes, he can

afford to take some of the risks that I believe make one a better teacher. I decreasingly feel the need to protect myself by strict adherence to inhumane regulations. I speak more informally; I venture jokes. I often talk about my personal life in class. And I let students talk to me about theirs. I don't recommend medications, but I do loan books. Sometimes I hold classes at my house. All of this over the protests of my inner lawyer.

Given some of the concerns raised in the intellectual diversity thread, I think Benton's column is a useful reminder of some of the complexities surrouding faculty-student relations. In contrasting the status of adjuncts with that of tenure-track professors, moroever, he also raises an important dimension to the debate, and one that is too frequently overlooked: namely, that in addition to the question of de jure limitations on classroom speech, there are often de facto limitations as well.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:17 PM | Comments (17)

February 12, 2004

Intellectual Diversity Debate

The Fifth. Whence came our thought?

The Sixth. From four great minds that hated Whiggery.

The Fifth. Burke was a Whig.

The Sixth. Whether they knew or not,
Goldsmith and Burke, Swift and the Bishop of Cloyne
All hated Whiggery; but what is Whiggery?
A levelling, rancorous, rational sort of mind
That never looked out of the eye of a saint
Or out of drunkard’s eye.

The Seventh. All’s Whiggery now,
But we old men are massed against the world.

The First. American colonies, Ireland, France and India
Harried, and Burke’s great melody against it.

-- from William Butler Yeats, The Seven Sages

If you think you have an easy answer, you probably haven't asked a hard enough question.

Next Wednesday, 18 February the Chronicle is hosting a Colloquy Live with David Horowitz, whose Academic Bill of Rights seeks, in his own words, "to remove partisan politics from the classroom." Background pieces include Horowitz's vindication of "the rights of students to not be indoctrinated or otherwise assaulted by political propagandists in the classroom or any educational setting," along with Stanley Fish's response to the initiative, in which he characterizes "intellectual diversity" as a "Trojan horse of dark design."

Horowitz's campaign, which claims to offer a "simple remedy" to what is purportedly "one of the most pressing issues in the academy," strikes me as mischievous at best, and as very probably worse than mischievous. Fish's response, which rests on an insistence that the mission of the university must be purely and exlusively "academic" in nature, strikes me as hopelessly, if strategically, naive (but his essay is well worth reading).

Not surprisingly, the debate has been taken up by a number of academic bloggers, including Kieran Healy, The Little Professor, and Robert "KC" Johnson.


Timothy Burke cautions against "conducting heedless panty-raids through course catalogs and deciding from titles and course descriptions what the overall content and political perspective of a course might be." Well said.


A "professor of English at a hot American university on the east coast" weighs in on diversity at University Diaries.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:12 PM | Comments (61)

February 11, 2004

If You're the Chair of a History Department...

...you're probably not reading this weblog :)

But if you are reading this blog, and you haven't already participated in the joint AHA-OAH Departmental Survey on Part-Time/Adjunct Employment, here's a gentle reminder to please do so as soon as possible. A brief explanation of the survey can be found here.

Thanks to Rana for the link.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:26 PM | Comments (0)

February 10, 2004

Unfinished Business

This morning I received an email from "another one on the margins," who asked whether I'd be willing to post the following:

I'm a member of the part-time contingent group and in a transition stage right now. To complete that transition, I feel like I owe it to myself to finish this final project: my manuscript. Landing a book contract should have been one of the happier moments and it was for five minutes. However, since getting it I've become increasingly disinterested in the topic and in completing the book. I wrestled with it as a dissertation, an article, a book proposal and now a book. Now I don't know. I am just wondering if anyone else struggles with maintaining his or her scholarship with no university affiliation, no funding and in the midst of concerns about finding a job (whether it is in academe or not) and trying not to let that interfere with scholarship. There used to be a time when research made me happy even in the uncertain job market. Now it seems like a burden. It's no longer 'fun' and I'm afraid to tell the publisher that I can't finish because I really do want to complete it.

I suspect there are readers out there who find themselves in similar situations.

Two brief points:

First, I want to take the opportunity to congratulate "another one" on the book contract.

Second, here's my quick take on the question:

It seems to me that "another one" needs to first figure out whether it is possible (given lack of money and other support) to finish the project within a reasonable time frame. I also think she should give herself permission to not finish the book if it's something she just doesn't want to do. If she let go of the sense of obligation to finish, and then found that finishing was both a realistic and a desirable option, I think she would then need to start thinking of the project as some sort of beginning, and not merely as an ending. Since "another one" is leaving academe, this would require detaching the book project from its association with academic job market/academic job prospects. To put it another way, I think she would have to arrive at an understanding of the project not as a burden carried over from a previous period in her life, but as a new thing (admittedly difficult if the book emerges from a dissertation) or at least as a thing in itself. Not easy to do, but not impossible either.

That's all rather vague, and I fear not very useful. But perhaps others can offer something more concrete.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:01 PM | Comments (18)

February 09, 2004

Academe on the New Academic Labor System

While most members of the higher education community have come to appreciate the magnitude of the past decade's increase in part-time and non-tenure-track positions, a tendency persists to treat the issue as distinct from other issues. In fact, the growth in the number and proportion of contingent appointments over the past few decades constitutes a sneak attack on academic values and on the stability of the faculty as a whole.

-- Gwendolyn Bradley, "Contingent Faculty and the New Academic Labor System"

A very quick post. This is just to briefly note that the latest edition of Academe is devoted to the topic of "The New Academic Labor System." Bradley's article provides a useful overview of the problem, which she characterizes as "grave" but "not hopeless." In terms of her diagnosis, there's very little that would shock the regular readers of this blog and not much, perhaps, that hasn't been stated and debated at this site. Some of the discussions at this weblog (e.g., here, here, and here) indicate that the substitution of "academic labor system" for "academic job market" is more controversial than Bradley seems to acknowledge (though her brief explanation is no doubt due to limitations of space). But her main argument -- that the growing use of of contingent faculty is something that is happening to the profession as a whole, and not just to the contingent faculty themselves -- is a point worth emphasizing.


John Bruce responds here.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:29 AM | Comments (26)

February 08, 2004

Poll: Your academic position

I tried this one before, but something went wrong with the script. This time I've used the CHNM poll builder, a nifty little tool that is not as flexible as pollbuilder.com, but definitely more reliable. By not as flexible, I mean that, for example, there is room for only five possible options. Also, there's a strict character limit for each option, which is why Part-Time and Full-Time have been shortened to PT and FT respectively. Obviously "contingent" covers a range of employment situations (and hides a multitude of sins). Please select the response that comes closest.

And since no IA poll would be complete without offering readers the chance to divulge potentially sensitive information on consumer preferences:

If you wish, please indicate (in the comments) your favourite brand of coffee and/or tea.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:49 AM | Comments (65)

February 06, 2004

My Crankiest Post Ever

Welcome (or welcome back) to this my personal weblog. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I've been thinking about taking an extended break from the blog. And if you've visited in the past few days, you will have noticed that I've decided against this kind of hiatus, at least for the moment.

So I'm back in business. Yay or nay, depending on how you view this blog (more on this below). But now I have to say that I'm already rethinking my decision to continue.

Basically, yesterday's brouhaha (see the comments to "Reduced Salary, Reduced Effort?") has left me feeling cranky. How cranky? Well, too cranky. I took a break and came back full of things to post, and right now I can't see my way to posting them. I'm just too darn cranky. I mean, I haven't felt this irritated since a certain exchange with a certain Department Chair, which was quite some time ago.

To add to my crankiness, I've just received an email from someone who seems to think I am responsible in some way for my readership, which readership this person seems to view in the light of a class of recalcitrant, and not especially promising, pupils. This person thinks I could be a voice for these unfortunates, and is concerned that I say the right things on their behalf. Said person also urges me to out myself, on the assumptions that a) this would be liberating; and b) if I had the courage of my convictions, I would stand up for them under my own name.

So yeah, now I really am "moaning" and "carping" and "whining." If you don't want to hear me carp, and moan and whine, please read no further. Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars (note: if you do pass go, unfortunately you will not collect two hundred dollars, at least not from me).

Right then. You've been duly warned. Today I am seriously cranky.

What I want to do here is to say something about what I think this blog is all about.

This weblog has variously been described as "partly sad but true, part pitty party," as "an incredibly smart blog on academia," as the "ranting of an anonymous and bitter person" (this from a personal email, so no link), as "required reading for all doctoral students," as an expression of "a sense of structural victimization and perpetual self-pity," as one of the "top ten blogs deserving wider recognition," and etcetera and etcetera. In other words, responses are mixed. Some people like it, some people don't. That's only to be expected, and indeed, that's only how it should be. I can't please everyone, and I wouldn't want to please everyone even if I could.

So different people have different notions of what this blog is or isn't, of what I should or shouldn't cover, of what I must or mustn't say. Some people express dissatisfaction when I post about certain topics (politics, for example). Other people express dissatisfaction with my failure to post about certain other topics (community college teaching, for example). Again, that's to be expected, and pretty much how it should be.

What I want to say is this: This is my personal weblog.

I guess I could leave it at that -- but if I were someone who could simply leave things at that, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have a personal weblog.

When I first started the blog, I said that I wanted "to think of my own predicament, and that of countless others who are in my situation (ie, unemployed or underemployed PhDs), in relation to a range of broader problems and challenges both within and outside of the academy." I also wrote that I was looking for "a space that is somewhere between the level of the personal and the level of policy," and suggested that this blog was "my small, my very small, attempt at carving out a space that I otherwise do not find." In other words, I was hoping to do something that falls somewhere between a highly personal online journal and a highly impersonal website on academic employment (with pie charts and graphs and all kinds of stuff that's basically beyond my ken).

Well, okay, that's pretty much how I saw the blog when I began, and it's pretty much how I see the blog today. The main difference, I think, is that I've moved even further away from the personal than when I first started. I used to post the odd entry in what I call "me-zine mode," and this I no longer do.

I no longer do this because I now have readers. Many more readers than I ever expected to have. Which is a good thing, obviously, and just what I had hoped to acquire: after all, who the heck sends stuff into cyberspace for anyone and his dog to read without hoping that anyone if not his dog will indeed read it?

One of the things I've learned about launching one's observations into cyberspace is that it takes a thick skin. It's pretty much a given that sooner or later someone or other is going to take strong exception to something or other that you've said or to something or other that you've failed to say. And of course you can't control the responses that you elicit. You have to be prepared to be quoted and misquoted, cited and cited out of context, interpreted, overinterpreted, misinterpreted, and so on.

Well, that's the public sphere. And if you could control the responses you elicit, what would be the point of eliciting them? And if you don't want responses, and are not prepared to deal with them, why publish on the internet? Get yourself an old-fashioned diary, write your thoughts in private, and keep it under lock and key.

I'm fairly certain I don't want responses on anything too personal, which is why I no longer do me-zine mode. But what about all that other stuff that I post about regularly? I guess the question I'm really grappling with is: am I still prepared for the responses or am I ready to pack it in?

Now, what's irritating me, and what seems at the moment like so much noise that I don't want to hear is not disagreement and counterargument in relation to some argument or other that I happen to have made. I like to argue and debate. I want to hear and learn from other perspectives. I wouldn't want my posts to be greeted with a chorus of yays.

No, I'm talking about another type of response altogether: the kind of comment that seems to take issue with the very existence of this weblog. This type of comment generally combines wholesale dismissal of the site and its purpose with heavy-duty psychologizing about the motives of anyone who would run, and of anyone who would participate in, a site called Invisible Adjunct. That is, it basically says, you're posting on academic issues, and doing so as an adjunct, and therefore you must be doing X and you must be saying Y and you and your readers must by definition be Z. This type of comment is often accompanied by the complaint that "You shouldn't say X and do Y or be Z [never mind whether or not I really am doing X and saying Y and being Z], because I don't want to read X and I don't like it when people do Y and I don't like people to be Z."

Now, what I want to say to people who make this kind of comment is something like this: "Look, if you don't like what this blog has to offer, don't visit the blog. Don't touch that dial, don't click that link. I mean, you know, I didn't come to you, you came to me. And if the very existence of this weblog offends your sense of decency, you notions of propriety, your idea of what should and should not be, do yourself and me and my readers a favour and just stop visiting already." But then I do have to say to myself, "Look, given that this kind of response is inevitable, no matter what you say or how you say it, if you don't want or can't deal with this kind of response, then don't run a weblog and publish your stuff on the internet." If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. It cuts both ways, doesn't it?

So I'm going to go away again and think this over and basically discover what feels right.

Meanwhile, since you're here, and I'm not done, I want to take this opportunity to emphasize again that, at the end of the day, though I don't post much about my personal life, I do see this site as my personal weblog. I don't claim to speak for The Adjunct, or for any other adjunct but my own cranky self, though I obviously do try to provide a space in which adjunct faculty members can speak for themselves. I'm not affiliated in my capacity as Invisible Adjunct with any professional organization or institution, though of course I often link to and comment on the doings and sayings and goings-on at any number of academic organizations and institutions. I'm obviously not trying to compete with the Chronicle, and don't even pretend to offer comprehensive coverage of issues pertaining to academia. What I'm doing is offering my own observations on academia and on whatever else strikes my fancy, by myself, on my own, from the privacy of my own home.

Well, but not quite on my own, after all. I also want to say something that I've said before, which is that this blog's readers are a very important part of this blog. So much so that I would shut down the blog altogether before I'd close down the comments function. Without you I'm nothing, at least insofar as I'm Invisible Adjunct. That said, I hope it's clear that I don't pretend to speak for my readers (they don't need me to do that, they do a pretty good job of speaking for themselves), and that my readers do not speak for me.

Which brings me to another point, which is really just the same point yet again (well, hey, I warned you...). Here are just some of the things that I think this weblog isn't:

*It's not a leaving academia site. I don't claim to offer advice on how to get out (or on how to stay in, for that matter). If you are thinking about leaving the academy and are looking for practical, concrete advice on how to make the transition, I recommend WRK4US and Beyond Academe.

*It's not a pro-adjunct teaching site (that is, it's not a site that recommends adjunct teaching as a viable career path). I would have thought this was blatantly obvious, but some of the comments in yesterday's brouhaha indicate that it's not. If you are looking for such a site, I suggest (which is not to say recommend) Adjunctopia.

*By extension, it is also, of course, not a Horatio-Alger-for-Adjuncts site. If that's what you're after, you can visit Adjunct Solutions, where Jill Carroll offers entrepreneurial strategies aimed at "building careers, one class at a time."

*It's not a union hall, though I do sometimes post on adjunct unionization.

*It's not the official or quasi-official organ of any group or body whatsoever, and not an official publication in any way, shape, or form. As I've said before, when you visit this weblog, you're not exactly hobnobbing with the academic power structure. Despite my google warning, rest assured that most people in academia have never heard of or visited, and never will hear of or visit, this weblog.

Point being, there's no party line, no official strategy, no organizational impetus to be found at this site. This blog is not intended to help people launch themselves into rewarding postacademic careers or organize their fellow faculty members into a collective bargaining unit or achieve unheard-of success (fame, fortune, and a table at Balthazar) as adjunct-entrepreneurs. To put it another way, while I'm more than happy to debate and argue about anything I post on this site, I'm not going to take responsibility for things I haven't said and for things I not only don't do but don't even claim to be doing. Still less am I inclined to view myself as in any way responsible for my readers: not what they say at this site, and certainly not what they do with their lives.

Again, this is just my personal weblog, where I post my observations and encourage others to post their own comments and observations in response. It's a free and voluntary effort all around. I am free to post, you are free to read and comment, or to not read and not comment, as you see fit. Of course I am also free to not post, which is precisely the question I am considering.

Okay, this really is the crankiest thing I've ever posted, which may be an indication of how I should decide the matter of whether or not to continue. And it occurs to me that after posting this entry, I may lose so many readers that my dilemma will resolve itself without any further effort on my part :)

If you've come this far: thanks for reading, and sorry I can't give you two hundred dollars.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:30 AM | Comments (53)

February 04, 2004

No Pain, No Gain

To desire, or even to accept of praise, where no praise is due, can be the effect only of the most contemptible vanity.

-- Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759)


Do you want a prosperous future, increased earning power
more money and the respect of all?

Call this number: 1-646-XXX-XXXX (24 hours)*

There are no required tests, classes, books, or interviews!

Get a Bachelors, Masters, MBA, and Doctorate (PhD) diploma!

Receive the benefits and admiration that comes with a diploma!

No one is turned down!

Call Today 1-646-XXX-XXXX (7 days a week)

Confidentiality assured!

-- a piece of spam that I just discovered in my mailbox

I want it all, baby. Money, power, fame, fortune, the respect of all, and heaps of praise where praise is most decidedly not due. So sign me up! I'll take one of those B.Comm diplomas, perhaps followed by a Doctorate (PhD) diploma in Econ (though maybe I'd be better off with an MBA? if so, I'd like to order an Executive MBA: go big or go home, as I always say).

*The actual digits have been removed to protect the innocent and the not-so-innocent. The email address seems to come from Germany, but 646 is a newish NYC area code (I have it for my cell phone). Is it just me, or has the diploma mill entered an entirely new phase altogether?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:00 PM | Comments (23)

Dartmouth Dean Defines Hospitality

'The status of visitors, even popular ones, is always inherently vulnerable.'

-- Michael Mastanduno, Professor of Government and Associate Dean of the Social Sciences at Dartmouth College, on the termination of (or failure to renew) Ronald W. Edsforth's annual contract ("Professor's Departure Stirs Questions at Dartmouth")

Ronald W. Edsforth has been a "visiting professor" at Dartmouth for eleven years. Apparently some of the illustrious citizens of the Department of Government think this metic has overstayed his welcome.

(For every tenure scandal that revolves around allegedly corrupted and politicized motives, there are how many similar cases involving the nontenurable?)

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:43 PM | Comments (1)

February 03, 2004

Reduced Salary, Reduced Effort?

From Chris, a regular reader and commenter at this weblog, comes the following description of a teaching dilemma:

Last semester I held a full-time appointment teaching Freshman Comp. at a large state university. I knew from the outset that I would only be appointed for the one semester, but a new need arose that led the dept. to ask if I would be willing to teach two more comp. classes this semester, albeit as an adjunct salaried at $3000 per class. When my full-time salary for last semester is pro-rated, it breaks down to about $6300 per class plus health benefits. The adjunct position, at $3000 per class, offers no benefits. Not surprisingly, I accepted the second semester position simply because I desperately need the money.

However, I now find myself in both an emotional and ethical quandary. While employed and salaried at a full-time level last semester I gave my all, 100% and then some, and as many of the readers here realize, teaching freshman writing to state university students is no picnic. Now, though, salaried at $3000 per class,
I find my willingness to go those many extra steps to be waning. I start
to take them because they are, to some degree, ingrained, but friends,
including academics, have warned me not to.

People have said to me 'they're paying you half as much and they took away your benefits. You don't owe them a thing'. And when I say 'what about the students, don't I owe them my best efforts' these academic and non-academic friends all say the same thing: 'in short, no, they're not your problem. It's a shame they're not going to get your complete energies, but you only owe the
university $3000 worth of effort, not $6300. And that', they say, 'is the
devil's bargain the university established'. Still another friend made a
compelling analogy to professional sports: 'if you play 3rd base and are
signed by a team for the league minimum, your performance over the course
of the season, if good, will lead to bargaining power when you come back
next year to re-negotiate your contract. But in academe, the 'players'
have no bargaining power of this sort. All you may get for putting forth
the effort you put forth last semester is a pat on the back and 'thanks,
best of luck' from the dept. chair. Your responsibility here is to fashion
a ratio of responsibilities between the competing interests, all the while
keeping your and your needs paramount'.

So by now my question to the readership is obvious: what do people think
about this kind of pro-rating of effort?

This is a tough one.

Now, if this were simply a matter of a contract between employee and employer, there wouldn't be much of a dilemma. Chris would be obliged to do what he had agreed to do but no more: teach X number of classes to X number of students, hold X number of office hours, grade X number of papers. While he could certainly do more than these Xs if he wanted to, he would not be under any sort of ethical obligation to do so.

But of course it's not simply a matter of a contract between instructor and university administration. There is also the question of the students. As Chris asks, What is owed to the students, and by whom?

As anyone who takes teaching seriously can attest, the endeavour is more than the sum of the Xs and often does require going that extra mile. The problem, of course, is that the university that relies on contingent teaching labour is banking on adjunct instructors doing just that -- going that extra mile even despite the low pay, lack of benefits, lack of basic support and amenities (office space, secretarial support, and so on). To stick to the devil's bargain set by the university is to shortchange the students. To do right by the students is to help the university not do right by the instructors.

Is the adjunct who goes the extra mile behaving like a scab? Is the adjunct who refuses to do more behaving in a shamefully unprofessional manner?

To put the question another way: what are the professional obligations of someone who is expected to perform the work of a professional under conditions of deprofessionalization?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:53 PM | Comments (117)

February 02, 2004

Bart Taunts the PhDs

[Marge, Bart, and Lisa go to their local "Bookaccino" superbookstore.]

LISA: I'm going up to the fourth floor, where the books are!
BART: I'm going to taunt the Ph.Ds!

[Bart approaches the three workers at the espresso bar, all of whom wear glasses and bored expressions.]

BART: Hey guys! I heard a new assistant professorship just opened up!

[Ph.D'd baristas gasp and lean forward eagerly.]

BART: Yes, that's right. At the University of ... PSYCH!

-- from The Simpsons episode that aired Sunday, 25 January 2004; quoted by Amanda at Household Opera

I saw the episode. My reaction was much the same as that of Chris (recorded in the comments at Household Opera): "As we watched it, my friend and I laughed, and then ... we didn't ..."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:10 PM | Comments (16)