March 07, 2004

Debates over Unionization

A reader who prefers to remain anonymous has proposed the following topic for discussion:

As a full-time Lecturer with a Ph.D. at a campus of a massive regional state university with a very strong faculty union, I've recently taken quite an interest in debates over unionization.

The topic I'd be interested in seeing discussed here is whether, in their efforts to win job security for Lecturers and other so-called temporary faculty, unions should make a distinction between adjuncts with Ph.D.s and those without. My university system does not, and the unfortunate effect of its advances in
gaining job security for contingent faculty is that newly arrived Ph.D.s and ABDs are being squeezed out of the system during the current budget crisis (which
is especially severe in my state) because departments are required by the union contract first to accommodate Lecturers who have been working in the system for a while, regardless degree attainment. In this system, those tend to be
terminal MAs, and Ph.D.s and ABDs are finding themselves losing work to faculty who, while playing an important long-term role in their departments that needs to be recognized, are not as qualified for their positions as the newer people.

I would be interested in hearing other people's thoughts on this issue, because most of the discourse that I read here (though I have to admit to checking
in here only periodically) and elsewhere on the academic labor movement does not explicitly address the disparity of qualifications that sometimes exists within the broad category of 'adjunct faculty,' which also varies dramatically between departments, especially at those institutions (and I speak here of four-year institutions, not community colleges) near the bottom of the so-called 'national hierarchy of colleges and universities.' I'm thinking here especially of Marc Bousquet's recent piece in the Minnesota Review
("Tenured Bosses and Disposable Teachers"), which presents the adjunct composition workforce as composed of underemployed Ph.D.s., rather than of terminal MAs. His version of the adjunct problem seems only to represent the state of affairs at
research schools and more elite colleges. In my state, Ph.D.s dominate the Lecturer category in the nationally recognized state research universities, but
not in the regional teaching universities, where the adjunct workforce is in a state of transition and, while terminal MAs still dominate the Lecturer workforce and the discussion of the prospect of gaining job security for adjunct faculty, more and more Ph.D.s and ABDs are arriving, spat out from the research institutions who exploited their labor during their graduate training, which was (or is) much more lengthy and expensive than that of the terminal M.A.s.

So I'd be really interested in seeing a discussion of how the 'Academic Labor Movement' is to define its constituency. To what extent should a union that
represents contingent faculty draw distinctions between employees based on degree attainment? How might those distinctions be made?

Not that anyone asked :), but since it's my blog, here's my opinion:

First, a union is supposed to be just that: a union. Once you start making divisions, you're undermining the potential strength your union, and helping management to follow a divide and conquer strategy.

Second, it's not at all obvious to me that terminal MAs are "not as qualified for their positions as the newer people." If we're talking about teaching, many of them are likely at least as qualified, if not more so.

Third (and I'll probably get flamed for this, but here goes), the academic profession is undergoing a process of deprofessionalization. I won't rehearse the grim statistics, which I've already cited ad nauseam (check under "Academia" and "Academic Job Market" in my sidebar). Suffice it to say that tenure-track lines are being eliminated in favour of part-time and short-term contracts, and that the bulk of teaching in the American college system is now performed by an untenured majority.

I believe that reprofessionalization would require an insistence that you don't teach at a four-year college or university without the PhD. Teaching assistantship, fine. Though it's obviously open to abuse, there is nothing inherently wrong with the notion that graduate students should serve a teaching apprenticeship by working as teaching assistants. But once you put ABDs in the classroom as primary instructors, what you're saying is that the Ph.D. doesn't much matter: those without can do it, if not as well, then at least well enough to allow the administration to save a pile of money on labor costs.

I'm firmly convinced that one reason why we find ourselves in the mess we're in is that the profession has failed to behave like a profession, which is to say, failed to maintain guild-like restrictions on the point of entry. This is not some kind of romantic pining for a warm and fuzzy artisanal world we have lost. What guilds do is sometimes not very pretty. But that's how they maintain themselves as guilds.

Does my third point contradict my second point? No, not at all. I readily acknowledge that a terminal MA can be as a good a teacher, if not a better teacher, than a Ph.D. My point is that a profession which claims the Ph.D. as the main form of certification must insist on the Ph.D. as the main form of certification. My husband worked for a law firm prior to passing the bar. There was a lot that he was allowed to do, but there were also some restrictions (eg, he couldn't represent someone in court). Did passing the bar somehow magically make his legal research and writing incalculably better? Of course not. Was he capable of appearing in court even before he had passed the bar (even though he was not allowed to do so)? Of course. But he had to jump through that hoop and get that certification before he could assume all the relevant responsibilities over which his profession claims to have a monopoly. That's guildlike. That's how they continue to assert that claim.

Now, if I were Queen of the Academy for a day, I would bring in tight regulations and restrictions which linked practice to certification (okay, first I would have to create a binding regulatory body, the lack of which is precisely the problem). I would be careful to include some kind of grandfather clause, so that terminal MAs who had been teaching for more than a year or two would be exempt from the new regulations. The point would be to create the kind of restrictions that would allow the academic profession to reclaim a monopoly on their labor.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:14 AM | Comments (16)

March 05, 2004

"We could hire God this year"

More proof (as if more were needed) of the "We could hire God this year" syndrome. Chun cites an application requirement that I hope is an aberration and not the beginning of a new trend:

From a recent job ad:

Semi-finalists will be asked to submit a half-hour video of one of their classes by April 12...

Was there ever a sentence more deserving of academic censure? Is this even legal?

I wonder if there are legal implications to videotaping a classroom full of students. Would one require their written consent? And how much would this cost, anyway? Whatever it cost, the burden clearly shifts from the search committee to the individual candidate.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:41 PM | Comments (38)

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)

February 11, 2004

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

January 26, 2004

Community College Teaching?

I'm not really here. (Not yet).

But here's a good question from reader DM (comment to Semi-Open Thread: Graduate School Reform):

Here is a possible question that might keep discussion going during our IA's break. Currently I am in that realm, in which I await responses from the initial interview. These colleges interview 15-18 candidates and select three finalists. Several community colleges seeking Ph.Ds have upcoming deadlines. Since I would rather be a full-timer at a CC, than someone adjuncting somewhere, I am filling out these applications. One never knows. My question/wish is for others, who have been down this road, to share their Community College experiences, including the application process.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:55 PM | Comments (37)

January 12, 2004

Cash-Starved Adjuncts Click Here

A reader who wishes to remain anonymous emailed me with a novel solution to the adjunct's cash flow problem:

Check out this Web site:

So I clicked, and then read the following:

Collegians are a highly attractive market, however students are increasingly hard to reach. Largely, they are immune to traditional advertising methods, as it plagues them day in and out, online and off. Soon, with the abundance of marketing thrown at them from every direction, even the most stimulating traditional marketing campaigns will go unnoticed.

Being a new venue, we are offering lower than industry rates for the services we provide. We do it all, we are flexible, and we have teams of willing students, who want to market your product, run sampling campaigns, and who will do what it takes to get your product or service noticed. We do it all with forehead advertising™!

As my anonymous reader suggests, who better than the instructor at the front of the classroom to reach these legions of collegians suffering from advertising ennui?

A company can pay to have legions of college students
across America sport temporary tattoos of the company's
logo on their foreheads. The students earn about $200
per week for wearing the tattoo continuously Monday
through Friday.

Could you imagine what would happen if an underpaid,
disgruntled adjunct decided to get in on the act?

If the adjunct, at a small Catholic liberal arts college,
is only making $1800 for a single section of freshman
composition, the adjunct would make more in a semester
sporting the temporary tattoo.

Sure, it's crass, commercial and demonstrates bad taste,
but that's a lot of cash for doing nothing.

What's more, it would probably get people on campus
talking about how poorly adjuncts are treated.

Anonymous reader has a point. Still, it's not exactly "a lot of cash for doing nothing." It's a nice bit of cash for agreeing to make a spectacle of oneself by turning one's very person into a walking billboard. But as headvertise puts it (under Benefits of Headvertising), you'll have "money for books (or beer)" and "all the cool kids are doing it."

(We're all going to hell in a handcart, aren't we?)

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:25 PM | Comments (9)

January 05, 2004

"Lynne Cheney of all people"

I've just finished reading Marc Bousquet's "The Rhetoric of 'Job Market' and the Reality of the Academic Labor System" (College English 66 no. 2 [November 2003]). The main argument is a restatement of the thesis put forth in his "Waste Product" article: namely, that the fiction of a job "market" obscures rather than uncovers the reality of a system organized around the ongoing and increasing casualization of academic labor (for discussion of this and related themes, see Oh Sh*t: Marc Bousquet's Excremental Theory of Graduate Education, along with What is a Labor Market? and What is a Guild?).

As in "Waste Product," in "The Rhetoric of the 'Job Market" Bousquet once again takes aim at the Bowen report of 1989, which projected a substantial shortage of PhDs across the humanities and social sciences by the mid-1990s.* Bousquet reads this very wrongheaded assessment as an attempt "to vigorously impose the ideology of 'market' on data that virtually trumpet the structural reality of casualization." In particular, he points to Bowen's decision "'to define 'faculty' quite carefully'" -- which, as it turned out, was not very carefully at all. By including only full-time tenure-track and tenured faculty in his analysis of employment trends, Bowen sought, in Bousquet's words, "to understand the employment system as system while ignoring the largest categories of its working parts."

And as in "Waste Product," Bousquet here seeks to account for the (in hindsight) amazingly uncritical reception of what was clearly a deeply flawed document:

Given the dramatic and startling nature of the conclusions of Bowen and Sosa's 1989 'job market' study, Prospects for Faculty (that faculty jobs would soon appear like manna in the desert), and its origin in an unusual collaboration between a sitting university presdient (William G. Bowen, Princeton president) and an undergraduate student (Julie Ann Sosa, then the editor of the Princeton student newspaper), it's more than a little surprising that almost no one seems to have questioned the Bowen study before a 1994 blurb in the Chronicle of Higher Education -- with the interesting exception of Lynne Cheney, who wrote a scathing New York Times editorial regarding the assumptions guiding it.

For Bousquet, the fact that "Lynne Cheney -- of all people -- was essentially alone in attempting to debunk the Bowen projections shows the staying power of the positivist market fantasy even in the most well-meaning and politically committed quarters of the academy."

Well, I do think Cheney an interesting exception. And I mean to look up the article (an op-ed entitled "The Phantom Ph.D. Gap," from September 28, 1989), as soon as I get a chance.

*From the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation website, a description of the infamous report:

This thought-provoking study of academic job markets over the next quarter century uses rigorous analysis to project substantial excess demand for faculty starting in the 1997-2002 period. Particularly severe imbalances are projected in the humanities and social sciences. Contrary to popular impressions, however, these projected shortages are not caused by any unusual "bunching" of retirements. The authors' discussion of factors affecting the outlook for academic employment includes information on changes in the age distributions of faculties, trends in enrollment, shifts in the popularity of fields of study, changes in the faculty-student ratio, and the continuing increase in the time spent by the typical graduate student in obtaining a doctorate.

This work will appeal to a broad audience. It will be essential reading for those who are responsible for determining the size and character of graduate programs in universities, for aspiring academics who are looking for a sense of their job prospects, for college and university faculty members and administrators who must recruit new colleagues, and for those interested in the federal role in higher education.


Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:15 PM | Comments (10)

December 08, 2003

"Has the Bubble Burst?"

The problem isn't rivalries or other students or anything of the sort. It's not even professors, by and large, though there's always the occasional problem person.

It's that the horizons of graduate school shrink down to a very short and narrow perspective, and disallow the very ideas and explorations that many people regard (properly) as the essence of intellectual inquiry. This will not happen in any obvious way: no ogre will appear to forbid you anything. It will happen invidiously, slowly, pervasively: no one will actually do it to you, and never will you be able to put your finger on exactly how and when it is being done. Slowly but surely, however, you will be cut to fit a very particular professionalized and disciplinary cloth, and become a willing participant in innumerable rituals of abjection. Slowly but surely, you'll begin to accept the intimate intertwining of your life and your work, and pernicious forms of virally spreading authority and power by numerous other people, some of them quite distant from you in social terms, over that intertwined work-life.

-- Timothy Burke, comment to "Jane Bast, Undeterred"

Reading Timothy Burke's comment, I was reminded of Clifford Geertz's account of having led "a charmed life, in a charmed time," which allowed him to enjoy "an errant career, mercurial, various, free, instructive, and not all that badly paid:"

I entered the academic world at what has to have been the best time to enter it in the whole course of its history; at least in the United States, possibly altogether. When I emerged from the U.S. Navy in 1946, having been narrowly saved by The Bomb from being obliged to invade Japan, the great boom in American higher education was just getting underway, and I have ridden the wave all the way through, crest after crest, until today, when it seems at last, like me, to be finally subsiding...

...The question is: Is such a life and such a career available now? In the Age of Adjuncts? When graduate students refer to themselves as 'the pre-unemployed'? When few of them are willing to go off for years to the bush and live on taro (or even the equivalent in The Bronx or Bavaria), and the few who are willing find funding scarce for such irrelevance? Has the bubble burst? The wave run out?

It is difficult to be certain...All I know is that, up until just a few years ago, I used blithely, and perhaps a bit fatuously, to tell students and younger colleagues who asked how to get ahead in our odd occupation that they should stay loose, take risks, resist the cleared path, avoid careerism, go their own way, and that if they did so, if they kept at it and remained alert, optimistic, and loyal to the truth, my experience was that they could get away with murder, could do as they wish, have a valuable life, and nonetheless prosper. I don't do that any more (Clifford Geertz, A Life of Learning).

I know at least a couple of senior professors who share Geertz's perspective. They entered the profession and developed and matured as scholars and prospered as academics when things were quite different. They have a keen (and often melancholy) sense of just how different. It is worth listening to these senior academics. I think it's important for prospective graduate students to realize that it's just not like that anymore (that referring somewhat loosely to the Bubble: ie, to that tweedy, booklined, privileged and protected space of purposeful work and educated leisure and a life well examined and the rest of it.) Not that it ever was just like that. But it's even less like that now.

As Ian Samson describes it in a wonderfully evocative passage in his review of David Lodge's Thinks:

The university in his work is a cross between a Bower of Bliss and a Weeping Castle, a place full of intrigue and adventure, a realm of the senses in which ideas are made flesh, where the battle between good and evil is carried on by Kierkegaard-quoting antiheroes. Whereas anyone who has ever worked in a university knows it to be more like an out-of-town retail park, a realm of memos and little cacti in pots, in which endless seminars are conducted by semi- professional bureaucrats on the work of David Lodge. This is reality. Fortunately, Lodge writes allegory.
Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:25 PM | Comments (36)

December 03, 2003

Life Outside the Academic History Box

Since 1990, there has been a growing disparity between the number of PhDs in history and the number of academic jobs, with American graduate programs overproducing historians on a yearly basis...

... For years, academics have maintained that this problem was only temporary. But the facts do not bear this out. The last ten years have witnessed a growing tendency to replace tenured positions with adjunct and visiting professors. Having found a good and steady source of cheap labor, it is unlikely that universities will rush to restore more expensive tenured positions. Further complicating the problem is the growing budget crunch facing almost every state...

-- Alexandra Lord and Julie Taddeo, Beyond Academe

Via The Cranky Professor, Beyond Academe is a new website designed "to educate historians about opportunities for historians 'outside the box' -- that is outside of academia." The creators are two history PhDs who left academe after years of teaching and who "have both come to love life 'outside the box,'" so much so that they can "heartily recommend it to others."

Among the "Useful Tools" on the site: The Culture of Academia, or How to Combat the Barriers Which May Prevent You From Leaving Academia, Five Quick tips for Transforming a CV into a Resume, and Rules of Conduct. Very useful indeed. Kudos to Alexandra Lord and Julie Taddeo for creating this site!

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:39 AM | Comments (47)

December 02, 2003

Who's Minding the Store?

A temporary dislocation? Or, the dawning of a New Order? We take as our point of departure what is, on the face of it, an absolutely astonishing observation: Quite beyond the surge in part-time faculty appointments over the past quarter century, the majority (i.e., over half) of all new full-time faculty hires in the past decade have been to non-tenure-eligible, or fixed-term contract positions (Finkelstein and Schuster 2001). Put another way, in the year 2001, only about one-quarter of new faculty appointments were to full-time tenure track positions (i.e., half were part-time, and more than half of the remaining full-time positions were 'off' the tenure track). This is nothing short of what Jack Schuster and I have labeled elsewhere a new academic 'revolution' — albeit a largely silent one.

-- Martin Finkelstein, "The Morphing of the American Academic Profession"

Martin Finkelstein offers what he insists is not "an exercise in expository hysteria" but "a realistic, if sobering, assessment" of the restructuring of academic employment. One valuable point that I think is worth emphasizing: in the face of the broader economic, political and social trends that are transforming the role and position of faculty, one of the academy's greatest strengths (ie., its decentralization) turns out it be a major weakness:

The point is simply that no one is in charge, no one is minding the store, just as it is being turned upside down. This is not to suggest that what American higher education needs is a coterie of external agents (e.g. the federal government, the student loan industry) jockeying to steer the transformation. Autonomy and diversity have, after all, been the hallmarks of the system’s strength. What it does suggest is that the system’s radical decentralization requires that individual institutions and constituencies assume an especially critical responsibility for self-consciously steering their own responses to the transformation with a view toward the future of both their own institution and the system itself.

Finkelstein also argues that "constructive conversation about what form our future stewardship of the enterprise may best take" depends on "the quality of our 'problem definition,'" which quality must be based on "a realistic assessment of what we in higher education are up against." On this point, I think it's interesting to place Finkelstein's attempt "to offer an interpretation of the systemic and long-term meaning of the current restructuring in American higher education" alongside Stanley Fish's latest call to arms. In The War on Higher Education, Fish calls on academics to actively fight the assault on higher education:

What is not clear is the response of the academic community to this assault on its autonomy and professional integrity. Too often that response has been of the weak-kneed variety displayed by the Association of American Universities when its president, Nils Hasselmo, offered a mild criticism of McKeon's ideas and then said 'We look forward to working with Mr. McKeon.'

No, you should look forward to defeating McKeon and his ilk, and that won't be done by mealy-mouthed me-tooism. If the academic community does its usual thing and rolls over and plays dead, in time it will not just be playing dead. It will be dead.

This is all well and good as far as it goes, but it doesn't go nearly far enough. The problem here, I think, is one of "problem definition." Fish defines the problem in highly politicized terms, as that of a

general project of taking higher education away from the educators -- by removing money, imposing controls, capping tuition, enforcing affirmative action for conservatives, stigmatizing research on partisan grounds, privatizing student loans (here McKeon is again a big player) -- and handing it over to a small group of ideologues who will tell colleges and universities what to do and back up their commands by swinging the two big sticks of financial deprivation and inflamed public opinion.

If only the academy's ills could be attributed to the efforts of a small band of anti-intellectual ideologues seeking a takeover of higher education. Then it might be possible to come up with workable responses and solutions. But of course the problems cut much deeper. Incredibly (or perhaps not), Fish utters not one word about the large-scale and systemic restructuring of the terms of academic employment -- a transformation that has to be seen as the single most significant factor in the weakening of the bargaining power of academic faculty. To repeat the point: when (as in the year 2001), only "about one-quarter of new faculty appointments were to full-time tenure track positions (i.e., half were part-time, and more than half of the remaining full-time positions were 'off' the tenure track)," we are looking at an extremely vulnerable profession: a profession that is vulnerable not only to direct attacks by Republican legislators but also to the more indirect effects of much broader and amorphous social and economic changes.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:15 PM | Comments (18)

November 23, 2003

The Foundations of a Foundation Curriculum

Just a quick post:

Joseph Duemer's university -- which specializes in engineering and the sciences -- is remaking its foundation curriculum. As part of this curricular reform, the liberal arts faculty is designing first-year humanities courses which Duemer describes as follows: "They will be writing-intensive, multi-disciplinary, will focus mostly on primary texts, & will encourage students to critique the dominant ideas of their culture." There are also plans to increase the number of liberal arts courses that students are required to take -- from four to six courses. The process represents an opportunity for the liberal arts division to "take on a greater role in the foundation curriculum, which means more students in our classes, which, in turn, means--or should mean--more faculty on the payroll."

But what kind of faculty on the payroll?

If you guessed full-time, tenurable faculty. you are of course wrong (but of course you didn't guess that). "Because I made the climb from part-time Composition instructor to full professor," writes Duemer,

I have for fifteen years opposed the slide toward part-time & non-tenure positions. But it seems to me that the only way, realistically, to implement the new curriculum will be to hire non-tenure line & part-time people to meet the needs...
...[In] order to give our students the education they need & certainly deserve, it will almost certainly become necessary to create faculty positions that: a) do not serve the profession well & b) abuse individual scholars by treating them as members of an academic underclass.

Duemer wonders "what the folks over at Invisible Adjunct would make of this situation."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:46 PM | Comments (39)

November 19, 2003

Academic Job Search Strategies: The Cover Letter

My Dear [department chair],

Rejoice! After considerable rumination, I have choosen to fill the Tenure Track position in Art History advertised by your University in The Chronicle of Higher Education! Fret not, for while my decision was influenced by your university’s proximity to vast fields of wheat and several shooting ranges, I have choosen the University of [delete] because of its sparkling repuation and world-class faculty. As an art historian, one has the option of living a gigolo lifestyle, awash in cocktails and listing back and forth from auction to private showing to auction again. Nonetheless, I know that the charms of such a tawdry existence would soon fade. And so I say no - no! It is to the life of the mind that I must cling, and cling I shall at the U of [deleted].

-- Alex Golub, "Sample Job Letter"

Via Liz Lawley, Alex Golub gives Mary Morris Heiberger and Julia Miller Vick a run for their money with his own version of a winning cover letter.

Legal Disclaimer: The above is intended as satire. The Invisible Adjunct and its employees, agents and subsidiaries disclaim any and all liability and responsibility, moral, legal or otherwise, for any result (including, but not limited to, not getting the job and getting the job) obtained from any academic cover letter which salutes any department chair as "My Dear."


When I wrote the above, I did not realize that Mary Morris Heiberger had died recently. A brief obituary can be found here.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:04 PM | Comments (8)

November 12, 2003

Essential Courses, Non-Essential Faculty

Twenty years ago professors with credentials similar to today's part-timers made a good living. Their positions included job protection through tenure, sabbatical leaves, funded research, and health and pension benefits. Today, part-time faculty [at UMass-Dartmouth] have none of these benefits except a dental plan. Excluded from program and governance decisions, they are rarely welcomed to participate in the life of the university outside of their classes.

-- Andrew Nixon, "An unfair deal for part-time UMass faculty"

The above-linked article reports that 35 percent of the faculty at UMass-Dartmouth are now classified as part-time. Noting that part-time faculty now "shoulder so much of the teaching load that without them, the university could not fulfill its basic mission," Nixon finds a troubling disconnect in the inverse relationship between essential faculty and essential courses:

Part-time faculty members teach the introductory courses that full-time faculty often don't like to. These courses are considered so important that they are required for degree programs. Yet the administration does not seem to appreciate the irony that essential courses are being taught almost exclusively by a faculty it considers nonessential.

The figures cited by Nixon will not shock regular readers of this weblog. As I've pointed out in a number of previous entries (eg, this one), the AAUP reports that contingent instructors now constitute an "untenured majority" of the faculty teaching in American colleges and universities.

What I find noteworthy in Nixon's article is his argument that the reliance on part-timers is

not a recent phenomenon caused by the state's fiscal crisis or declining enrollments. During the booming '90s, when the Legislature provided more aid, the school increased its reliance on part-time faculty to reduce costs and make itself seemingly a better value.

Now that the boom is over and hard times have hit, "UMass-Dartmouth's chancellor, Jean MacCormack, has suggested becoming more dependent on part-time faculty to solve the funding shortfall." This despite (or is it because?) enrollments are actually increasing.

Thanks to reader Steve for the link.


Amanda at Household Opera visits the grocery store, wonders "for the umpteenth time why grocery baggers do such a haphazard job of arranging the groceries," posits four possible explanations for the "Decline and Fall of the Art of Grocery Bagging," and then applies her theoretical insights on grocery bagging to the state of the academy to arrive at "a plastic-sack view of higher education:"

So now, given the corporatization of the university, I'm leaning toward something like explanation 2. If the number of customers served matters more than the quality of the service, you'll bag faster and not spend the time assembling the cereal boxes into a foundation for the glass jars and the bread. If you have 100 students, you'll spend less time talking to them and giving them feedback. You can engage in nostalgia for the golden age of bagging, or of the university, if you like — but I don't see that working as a strategy for change, and I'm not holding my breath waiting for that era to return, if it even really existed in the first place.
Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:42 AM | Comments (25)

The Academic Job Market and the "Prestige Principle"

The paper confirms the intuition that there are self-reproducing departmental status systems within disciplines. Job candidates in all disciplines are exchanged in a well-defined manner between three classes of departments. Class I departments, at the top, exchange students amongst themselves and supply lower-tier departments with students but do not hire from them. Class II departments are on the 'semi-periphery,' generally exchanging candidates with each other (though there is a hierarchical element to this) and also sending students to Class III departments, which never place students outside of their class and usually do not hire students from within their class.

-- Kieran Healy, Solidarity and Hierarchy in Academic Job Markets

Kieran Healy summarizes the results of a recent "network analysis" of the "exchange of job candidates" in a variety of academic disciplines. "Though academics talk about 'the job market,'" he writes (for a discussion of this term, see this entry), "it will not surprise you that placement is deeply embedded in systems of departmental status that bear little resemblance to a properly functioning market." Interestingly enough, the paper finds that economics -- "the discipline that makes the study (and promotion) of markets its specialty," as Kieran puts it -- has "the highest degree of elite solidarity and hierarchical control over the placement of its graduate students."

The paper to which Kieran refers is Shin-Kap Han's "Tribal regimes in academia: a comparative analysis of market structure across disciplines" (Social Networks 25 [2003], 251-80; no free URL), which relies on data culled from the Job Tracks: Who Got Hired Where section of the now-defunct Lingua Franca. Of particular interest is Han's argument that of the "various institutional features" that "distinguish the academic labor market" from other labor markets, the most significant is that of the "prestige principle":

For the academic labor market, 'the prestige principle' is the phrase commonly used to describe how the social structure and distributive order of competition are organized and related. In the particular context of hiring (buying) and placing (selling) of new Ph.D.'s -- 'junior hirings', it refers to the strong positive correlation between the prestige of the department where one acquires the doctorate and the prestige of the department in which one finds employment. Beset with the problem of uncertainty, for the actual quality of the candidates is basically unobservable at this level, the academic departments rely on the prestige as the primary means of invidious distinction. The workings of this principle are manifested in, and reproduced by, the pattern of transactions between departments.

The "unwritten -- yet essential and elemental -- rule" of the "prestige principle," writes Han, has been "repeatedly confirmed" in the relevant literature and "continues to be one of the key structural features, upon which much of the research on the academic marketplace is focused." And while "similiar dynamics have been observed in a range of other market settings," he notes, "the academic labor market stands out in its salience, emphatically distingushing itself from the classic labor market model (pp. 252-3)."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:56 AM | Comments (86)

November 07, 2003

"Life After Academe"

But, by far, the best thing about my new job is that I can be myself. I no longer play the part of the perennial job seeker who, low on confidence, weighs how much a certain choice will help or hinder the search for employment.

I've begun to remember who I am -- not the various versions of myself that I presented to prospective employers, but the real me. I don't think I realized until this past year just how taxing the job market has been on me, and I warn even the most self-assured and resilient individuals to watch out for the toll it can take. The life I have found after academe is truly my own, and friends tell me that I have never looked better.

-- Emily Peters, "Back to High School"

After five demoralizing years on the academic job market, Emily Peters was offered a position "as a teacher and department chairwoman" at a private high school, "which meant a teaching load of three courses each semester, some administrative responsibilities, and a starting salary higher than many of my professorial friends." She accepted the job and now reports that she's never been happier. "Sure, there's life after high school," she writes, "but I'm here to tell you there's life after academe."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:05 PM | Comments (25)

November 02, 2003

Weekly IA Award

Weekly? Well, give or take a month or so. Once upon a time it was weekly, and the awards committee promises that it will be so again.

But before we return to our original prize-giving schedule, I'm afraid we're going to have to establish some ethical guidelines. I'll be issuing a detailed document in the next week or so, but for the moment let me just say:

Enough with the "party" invitations! those thinly veiled lobbying attempts described as "cocktails and canapes with just a few of my closest friends." People. Please. I don't care if Brad and Jennifer will be there. This much-coveted award cannot be bought (no, not any amount of cash outright, nor with any sort of downpayment promising future fame and fortune and an endless series of dissipations). The IA Award is nothing more and nothing less than a frank recognition, and a faithful reflection of pure, unadulterated merit.

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to J.V.C. for a comment posted to "A Happy Academic Responds to My Blog." While the whole comment is worth reading, it is this line that stuck in my mind (and thus earned J.V.C. the prize):

Quite simply, the field does not know itself.

For once, I have nothing to add.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:10 PM | Comments (2)

October 27, 2003

SMU Associate Provost Says Adjunctification is "Not a Conscious Policy"

In 1995, SMU had 164 adjunct professors. In 2002 the number of adjunct professors had almost doubled to 241.* During that same time period, there was a net loss in the number of tenured and tenure-track professors.

What is happening at SMU is part of a nationwide trend. An increasing number of lecturers and adjunct professors now fill the ranks of college faculty. Universities are hiring fewer tenured and tenure-track faculty.

-- Michael Sayder, "The Trouble with Tenure"

The above-linked article offers two (or maybe three) views on adjunctification.

James K. Hopkins, chair of the history department at Southern Methodist University, thinks this trend "'is a disturbing development.'" He believes universities are hiring more part-timers because "'it’s easier and cheaper to use adjuncts.'" If you are familiar with this weblog, then I don't need to tell you that I think Hopkins is exactly right.

Ellen Jackofsky, Associate Provost of Academic Affairs at Southern Methodist, sees things differently. Pointing out that "'It’s happening everywhere,'" Jackofsky insists that the school's increased reliance on adjuncts is "'not a conscious policy.'" Now that seems an odd way to defend a practice (our hiring practices are unplanned and haphazard -- and our very lack of conscious design should protect us against criticism). But in any case, apparently it's a good, or at least a defensible, policy (or, rather, lack of policy):

She said adjuncts help staff classes and keep class size at a reasonable level. They also have expertise that many career teachers don’t have.

'There are places where adjuncts make sense. Business, engineering, advertising…any professional school,' Jackofsky said.

When asked if SMU uses adjuncts because they’re cheaper and easier, she replied, 'Not at all.'

I wonder how many of the adjuncts hired at SMU since 1995 teach in the business, engineering and advertising programs? Given the concerns expressed by Hopkins, I would guess that some of them are teaching in the history department.

Meanwhile, Ron Wetherington, director of the SMU Center for Teaching Excellence, recommends "the guarded use of adjuncts." Wetherington sees "two advantages" to the use of adjuncts: "'One is the need for colleges and universities to fill the demand for courses with limited faculty and financial resources,' he said. 'The other is to take advantage of professionals in sharing their experiences.'" Wetherington seeks to walk a fine line, defending the use of adjuncts while insisting on the necessity of maintaining a strong barrier between the two tiers. Tenured faculty, he insists, are "'the key to a university:'"

'It is tenured, fulltime faculty who provide — and should provide — the core of university teaching and who develop and define the academic and intellectual character of the institution,' he said. 'Adjuncts do not have the institutional commitment and emotional investment in the academy that this requires.'

One might argue, of course, that it is the university that does not have an "institutional commitment" to and "emotional investment" in its adjunct faculty. One might even be so bold as to suggest that, far from being commitment-shy and emotionally distant figures, many of the growing ranks of adjunct faculty would be more than happy to tie the knot (or at least to sign a long-term contract).

By the way, in support of the pro-adjunct position, the article cites from "Do Adjuncts Have Time for Students?" where the Chroncle's adjunct-entrepreneur insists that "the determining factor is commitment" (my response to Carroll can be found here).

Thanks to Robert Schwartz for the link.

*I wonder if this should read, the number of adjunct professors had increased by almost 50 percent?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:46 AM | Comments (6)

October 26, 2003

A "Poster Child" for the "Brave New World of Work"

'There no longer seemed to be anything standing in the way of Keith Hoeller's academic career. By 1982, when he netted his doctorate in philosophy, he had already contributed to ten academic publications, obtained a grant from the French government, and worked for a year as a visiting professor at Seattle University. He was even on the advisory board of a renowned specialist journal -- an honor usually accorded only to full professors. And yet the decisive breakthrough failed to come. Over the past sixteen years he has stumbled from one fixed-term appointment to the next. His latest stop is [the] community college [system] in Washington state, where he gives 12 lecture courses a year -- on a part-time basis. The job only brings in $26,000 a year. Now fifty, he suspects his dream of a Chair will never be fulfilled ... It's a great deal for the universities, but it splits the country's faculty into two classes.'

-- Ulrich Beck, The Brave New World of Work (Polity Press, 2000); cited in Keith Hoeller, "Equal Pay for Equal Work"

Keith Hoeller has spent the past twenty years working as a "part-time"
faculty member, often teaching more than a full load of courses in any given year. His academic career makes him a "poster child," he writes,

for what sociologist Ulrich Beck has called The Brave New World of Work (Polity Press, 2000), where 'fragmentation of the time and place of work is compounded by fragmentation of the normal labor contract. This contractual individualization, with the introduction of cheap-rate insecure jobs, is taking place not only at the bottom but right at the top of the skills hierarchy.'

Hoeller quite correctly views his own career path as "symptomatic of an ever-growing trend since America's colleges and universities initiated this two-tiered professorial track more than 20 years ago."

His column argues for equal pay for equal work, a position that can increasingly be found in the policy statements put forth by various academic professional organizations (including this statement by the AHA, which I blogged about here), but that has yet to be realized at any college or university in this country.

One major obstacle toward parity in pay is of course the current climate of state cutbacks to higher education and increased concern over rising tuition costs.

In these tough economic times, many colleges have increased tuition, without offering the students anything more for their money and without directing any of the revenues toward fairly compensating the part-timers. Spending more of the tuition dollars on the adjuncts would do the most good for students by giving them more access to faculty members who have time to spend with them.

Though I basically agree with Hoeller on this point, I'm not so sure that colleges have not offered students more for their money. I suspect many colleges have offered students more by way of extracurricular services and amenities, though at the expense of academic quality. Making the case for investing in faculty would require convincing students, parents and taxpayers that high quality higher education begins in the classroom.

The second major obstacle, I believe, is a resistance on the part of many full-time faculty members to the goal of employment reform. In the short term, this makes perfect sense: many tenurable faculty benefit materially from the existence of a reserve army of cheap teaching labor. In the longer term, however, indifference -- and in some cases outright hostility -- to the efforts of those who seek improvements in the pay and working conditions of a large and growing proportion of faculty is more self-destructive than self-serving. When professional organizations issue policy papers on the problems of adjunctification (which they are increasingly inclined to do), they do not do so because they have suddenly developed a case of the warm and fuzzies for adjunct faculty. Rather, they do so because they recognize the two-tier system as a threat to the status and pay of the profession as a whole.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:48 AM | Comments (2)

October 08, 2003

IA to Jack Blake: My CV is in the Mail

And as I read the First-Person columns this year about the scarcity of tenure-track jobs and the complaints about the indentured servitude of the adjunct track, I will try to resist the temptation to scream, lest I disturb my academically employed wife and my well-schooled daughter in our nice, large, affordable house three blocks from the nice public library in the semi-rural South, far from academic Mecca.

-- Jack Z. Blake, "Give Us a Chance"

Jack Blake reports that "we have trouble filling tenure-track positions across the university, including in my field, journalism and mass communications." This leads him to the following conclusion:

Even in a tough economy, it appears to me, especially after reading some of the First Person columns on this site, that many tenurable academics would prefer to read Proust in a Boston Starbucks and work at slave wages as adjuncts at a big-name university than to make a difference in the lives of first-generation college students in a land in which Levi Strauss makes jeans, not critiques of cultural hegemony.

Well, I'm ready, willing and able. Granted, my first response would be to ignore "an intriguing job announcement in a creative, professional field," because my own particular field is that of history. But I can retool. And I don't even like Starbucks coffee. My application is on its way.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:26 AM | Comments (58)

October 07, 2003

Bourbon versus Yoga: Responses to the History Job Market

I'm pretty sure that fury, bourbon, and violence against plastic penguins rank among the least helpful responses to a professional setback, but after laying waste to Lighty I have auditioned several more-constructive coping techniques and found them all wanting.

I counted my blessings, adjusted my expectations, and refocused my life around processes instead of outcomes. I practiced yoga, hit the elliptical trainer, and lifted weights. I wrote an article, reworked my CV, joined an organization in a subfield I am interested in, and revised my dissertation for publication. I am fit, credentialed, and moderately well adjusted.

-- Jon T. Coleman, "Anger Management"

A history PhD asks, "What is the appropriate reaction to failure on the academic job market?" Having eschewed destructive fury in favor of constructive "process"-oriented anger management techniques, he finds that he still angry. He insists on expressing that anger:

I am making a pitch to include loud and fruitless expressions of anger among job candidates' repertoires of healing strategies. While I agree that acts of self-improvement mitigate the gloom of unemployment, I refuse to let wholesome behaviors like reviewing books and designing new courses completely dampen my antagonism.

My feelings are real, justified, and widely shared among the echelons of young scholars shut out of the tenure track. Collectively, our frustration would blow the lid off a Hilton. Exercise and attitude adjustments siphon off some negative energy, but the remainder needs to be expressed.

Well, this is a bit of a departure from the "Chronicle-Land" mode about which Rana complained a few weeks ago. And it's bound to make some readers feel uncomfortable. I'll admit that it makes me feel a wee bit uncomfortable, and I like to think that this weblog is all about the kind of honesty about the job market that Coleman recommends.

Not that I don't appreciate Coleman's candor. To the contrary, I welcome this column as a bracing antidote to the usual desperately polite and "professional" evasions that characterize most discussions of the job market. I particular appreciate his frank admission that constructive coping techniques have only taken him so far, but no farther. Yeah, I hear that. All those New Age-y "career coach" buzzwords about processes and blessings and inward journeys just leave me cold. Quite frankly (and please don't send me hate mail), if I were prepared to rest easy with such facile nonsense, I wouldn't have become an academic in the first place. But I digress.

Coleman urges job candidates to "[express] their true feelings." While "shouting 'I'm mad!' will not change the system," he concedes, "it will promote honesty -- the taproot of good scholarship." The problem here, I think, is that an honest expression of one's true feelings probably doesn't take one much farther than an honest expression of one's true feelings. What's also required is either a story or an analysis.

In terms of story, there really isn't a satisfying narrative structure within which to place an account of job market failure. 'I came, I saw, I did not conquer' is hardly the stuff of which gripping narrative is made, and who the heck wants to read someone's chronicle of despair? In this regard, it is instructive to contrast Coleman's column with that of Henry Raymond, who finally landed an academic job in the UK after three years on the history job market.

With the very title of his column, "Salvaging an Ego, and a Career," Raymond permits himself to finally publicly acknowledge the shameful truth that one dares not openly acknowledge: the job market is destructive of one's ego. And the fact that his search finally ended in success gives him licence to say a few of the things that one just doesn't say:

Like so many friends in the same position, I went through the standard cycles: self-pity, self-deprecation, self-loathing, self-indictment. I blamed myself, I cursed the profession, I consulted a Magic-8 Ball. I began steeling myself for an alternative profession.

Ah yes. Been there, done that, and thanks for reading my weblog. But while Raymond cites "the standard cycle" as though the existence of said cycle were a matter of common knowledge, as he himself almost certainly knows full well, this is not part of our repertoire of agreed-upon givens but must rather be seen either as a form of hidden knowledge or perhaps as an open secret. Raymond can bring this out into the open because he does so in retrosepect, from the perspective of one who has suffered and endured and then finally emerged in triumph. His story works, in other words, because it offers the relief of a happy ending.

Those who don't have happy endings don't have stories, or at least, don't have stories to which anyone would care to listen. Which leaves us, then, with a broader analysis which moves beyond the realm of individual experience to examine larger structures and developments.

I certainly agree with Coleman that job candidates need to be less reticent about describing the horrors of the job market. But of course it's not enough to say "I'm mad!" that this has happened. The next step is to ask, Why has this happened? and then, What, if anything, might be done to prevent this happening to others? Is the history job market crash the result of inevitable forces beyond the reach of human intervention? And if not, then what kind of interventions should be made? And if so, then it's my firm conviction that anyone who knows what is happening has a moral responsiblity to warn prospective and would-be historians of just what it is that is happening.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:41 PM | Comments (13)

September 19, 2003


That's Rana's new term for the sanitized make-believe realism of the Chronicle of Higher Ed's "first person" columns.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:15 PM | Comments (7)

September 17, 2003

Wanted: Not One but Two Tenure-Track Jobs in the Same Department

We find ourselves in a most unsettling situation. We are a married couple, we work in the same academic discipline (zoology), and we are seeking two faculty jobs at the same time and in the same place. Although we have different research and teaching specialties, we would like to work within the same department...

...Our goal is to land two tenure-track jobs at a small liberal-arts college where we can pursue our separate research and teaching interests, although we are willing to compromise. Likewise, we would prefer to work in the Southeast, but are willing to consider other locales. Because we have no plans for children in the near future, we both can apply all of our time and energy to our work, without guilt. With a bit of luck and a lot of work, we hope to begin our dual academic careers by this time next year.

-- Tamatha Barbeau and Gregory Pryor, "Wanted: Two Tenure-Track Jobs in Zoology"

I can certainly understand why this couple want to find two jobs in the same city or region. But the same department? I don't know anything about the job market in zoology, but I have to assume it's much healthier than the job market in history: I can scarcely imagine a couple of historians daring to set their hopes this high.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:15 AM | Comments (55)

September 09, 2003

Academic Hiring: An Ethical Dilemma

Joseph Duemer posts about an ethical dilemma in hiring:

Your division hasn't hired a tenure-track line for four years & those hires were to replace someone who resigned & someone who was denied tenure; you have been making up the slack with adjunct faculty & 'visiting' full-time faculty. In fact, demand for electives is at a fifteen-year high. Class sizes are ballooning....

...Okay, now imagine that the incoming president--a respected civil engineer who has risen through the ranks at your institution, beating out two outside finalists for the job--has authorized searches for two tenure-track positions. You need someone who can do the ancient world outside of Greece & you need a political philosopher, preferably with an interest in Science Studies. It also happens that you have two long-time 'visiting' faculty members who have been meeting these needs for a number of years. They are both strong & popular teachers, one with an Ivy League PhD & one with a SUNY research university degree. The voting faculty of the division is on record as supporting the conversion of these two faculty members to the tenure track without a search, but both the outgoing & incoming presidents have refused to go along.

You & your colleagues are being asked to run national searches for the two positions. And while everyone from the president on down to the interim associate dean is telling you that you cannot run a phony search, you have also been told that if your internal candidates wind up among the finalists that you do not have to bring anyone else to campus for interviews & can offer the jobs to your internal candidates.

The fact that the incoming president was an internal candidate is a nice touch.

So if support for the internal candidates is strong enough, then the search ends up a phony: they will go through the motions, but without bringing in external candidates to interview. This is obviously unfair to the external applicants. And it's the type of practice that contributes to the perception that academic hiring is an inside game.

On the other hand, if they are seduced by the novelty of the unknown quantities and drop the internal candidates from their short list, then two people who have already proven their worth are tossed aside like old shoes. And the case becomes another example of the barriers to moving from the contingent to the tenure track. Of course, if we were talking about some other kind of employment market, we would point out that there's nothing to stop these two from applying for tenure-track jobs at other institutions. But this is the academy, where the distinction between tenurable and nontenurable increasingly functions like an old regime division between noble and commoner: if these two have been teaching as "visiting" professors for more than a couple of years, then they will be stigmatized as second-rate on the academic job market, and this no matter how impressive their publication and teaching records.

What if they dropped the plan of not bringing in external candidates if the internal candidates make it to the short list? In formal terms, this is the only ethical solution: if you're going to conduct a search, you conduct it properly. In practical terms, if hiring the internals is all but a done deal, then this would be even more unfair to the other finalists: better to be rejected early on in the process than to have one's hopes and expectations raised by a campus interview that is actually a fake.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:31 AM | Comments (17)

September 08, 2003

AAUP Issues Policy Statement on Contingent Appintments and the Academic Profession

Ten years ago, the Association reported that non-tenure-track appointments accounted for about 58 percent of all faculty positions in American higher education. As of 1998, such appointments still accounted for nearly three out of five faculty positions, in all types of institutions. In community colleges, more than three out of five positions are part-time non-tenure-track positions, and 35 percent of all full-time positions are off the tenure track. Non-tenure-track appointments make up an even larger proportion of new appointments. Through the 1990s, in all types of institutions, three out of four new faculty members were appointed to non-tenure-track positions.

-- American Association of University Professors, Contingent Appointments and the Academic Profession

I'm on toddler patrol at the moment, so I only have time to post a brief notice.

The AAUP has issued the above-linked draft policy statement, which diagnoses the problems of the nontenured majority, and offers a number of "recommendations for systems, institutions, departments, or programs preparing to make a transition from an unstable academic environment characterized by overreliance on contingent faculty appointments to a stable academic environment characterized by a predominantly tenure-line faculty." Not surprisingly, then, the proposals aim at converting nontenurable into tenurable positions. No question that this would be preferable to the current state of affairs, but I have to wonder whether this kind of change is even possible anymore (especially given the growing concern over rising tuition costs: at the very least, the kind of reform outlined in this policy paper would require convincing taxpayers, students, parents and legislators that a full-time tenured faculty is more important than new residence halls or a refurbished library or what have you -- I happen to believe that a full-time faculty* is more important, but I'm not convinced that others would be easily persuaded on this point...).

More on this later --

*I don't say a full-time tenured faculty because I'm not convinced of the merits of tenure (or at least not convinced that the disadvantages of the system outweigh the advanatages), and I'd like to separate the issue of tenurable versus nontenurable from the issue of part-time teaching at proletarian wages versus full-time teaching at a half-decent salary level.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:48 PM | Comments (4)

August 16, 2003

Weekly IA Award

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to Matilde for a nice summary of the predicament of the nonacademic job searcher (comment to "Class and the Academy"):

Cumos' article certainly does illustrate very well how difficult the transition from humanities Ph.D. to nonacademic employment can be. It's hard enough at 22 to exit college to find only menial work that you could have gotten without the degree. To find yourself in this position in your thirties, after so much more school, when your peer group is well into careers and families -- it's a bitter pill. I'm sure Elaine Showalter would argue that Chris' return on his education is an improved inner life while operating that weedwhacker, but reading his story just makes me all the more angry about the 'winner-take-all' state of the humanities professions.

Well said, Matilde. Your check is not in the mail, but luckily I am in possession of a rich inner life, which wealth I am happy to share with my readers.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:41 PM | Comments (3)

August 13, 2003

Class and the Academy

Does anyone in academe wonder what happens to Ph.D.'s who don't become an assistant professor at Midwestern Research University or at one of its lesser competitors? The standard answer is that they carve out a niche in an alternative career. The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation swells with pride at the success of these go-getters. The Ph.D., it turns out, can catapult one into the managerial elite.

But what about those Ph.D.'s with no real experience, the ones who have trudged through a swamp of menial jobs?

-- Chris Cumo, Blue Collar Ph.D.

Chris Cumo is not only "weary of the poor job market in academe" but also tired "of the incessant chatter that envelops it." Despite the "hand-wringing," he writes, "nothing changes:"

Every year new Ph.D.'s face the same ghastly odds of landing a tenure-track job. Every year bright young men and women grow old as rejection letters deluge their mailbox and erase their dreams.

What happens to PhDs who don't find academic employment? That's a question I've asked more than once at this weblog (most recently, in the entry entitled "PhD and Nonacademic Careers: Information Underload," with some followup at "Why do People Teach as Adjuncts?"). In this, his latest Chronicle column (also see his Out of Academe), Cumo approaches the question through the lens of class. In so doing, he raises an issue about which, I believe, most academics prefer to remain silent. It is all very well to adopt class as an analytical tool for exploring and explaining the world beyond the academy (either in a unitary fashion, or as part of the trinity of race/class/gender). But there has been remarkably little written about class within the academy, or at least very little in relation to those who aspire to join the ranks of the professoriat.

I think I might reframe Cumo's question "what about those Ph.D.'s with no real experience?" -- or at least, I think I would place the emphasis on a related question. One message I take from my reading of the nonacademic job search literature: working one's connections and building one's network is at least as important as figuring out how to transfer one's "skill set." Which raises the question, "what about those PhDs with no real connections?" (which question was raised by several readers in the coments to "The Nonacademic Job Search: Wealth and of Resources"). One answer to this question can be found in Cumo's column.


Russell Arben Fox has posted a thoughtful response to Chris Cumo's essay. Well worth reading.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:48 AM | Comments (31)

August 05, 2003

"Stronger Together:" Why the Tenurable and the Nontenurable Should Make Common Cause

We are witnessing the transformation of our academic work and our universities. Historically, university administrators have used contract positions to fulfill specific, short-term needs. But in the past decade, administrators have increasingly chosen to use casual labour for ongoing staffing requirements -- exploiting contract academic staff, their students, and their colleagues.

The inappropriate use of contract appointments is an academic freedom issue, a professional issue, a workload issue, an instructional issue, a curriculum issue, a governance issue, a research issue and a collective bargaining issue.

-- Canadian Association of University Teachers, Stronger Together: One Association for All[PDF file]

I've just across the above, which helps clarify my scepticism over adjunct unionization. Though the document refers to the situation in Canadian universities, there are enough similarities between the two systems to warrant attention to the CAUT statement. Indeed, CAUT relies on American data to warn against the threat to academic freedom posed by the ongoing casualization of academic faculty:

About 43% of American faculty are part-time. Of the 57% who are full-time, about 28% are on limited-term contract. That means only 41% of American faculty are tenured or tenure-track. The majority of those will be retiring in the next decade. It appears that within ten to fifteen years, unless present trends are reversed, only about 20% of American faculty will be tenured or tenure-track -- a proportion so small that acacemic freedom will be seriously jeopardized.

Does this sound so unbelievably bleak as to be, well, just unbelievable? I honestly don't think so. Forget about the Ivy League and the elite small liberal arts colleges and the top tier Research Is. These schools are almost certainly not going to adjunctify to the point where full-time faculty are outnumbered by part-timers (which is not to say that they won't continue to rely on underpaid adjuncts): their prestige is at stake, and we can safely assume that they will continue to employ a faculty composed of more full-time tenurable than of part-time nontenurable faculty members. But elite schools are not representative of most institutions of higher learning in this country. Or, to put it another way, most faculty do not work at elite schools. And if current trends continue, I actually don't think it's incredible to imagine that in twenty years' time, part-timers will vastly outnumber full-timers at many, and perhaps most, 4-year colleges and universities (a situation that already obtains at many [perhaps most?] community colleges).

Thus, for me CAUT's argument that the tenurable find common cause with the nontenurable makes perfect sense:

Tenured and tenure-track staff face a stark choice: help win salary, working conditions and other rights comparable to their own for contract academic staff or watch their own situation gradually decline to that suffered by their contract colleagues.

This gets to the heart of my objection to the notion that adjunct unionization is the answer to the problem of adjunctification. Frankly, at the moment I am inclined to view adjunct unionization as a hopeless cause. First, in practical terms, it is incredibly difficult to organize contingent workers in any sector. I can't imagine that adjunct unionization campaigns could ever succeed at more than a handful of institutions in the urban areas of the more liberal states. Second, even where adjuncts did successfully unionize, precisely because they would form a body separate from that of the tenurable, any increase in the bargaining power of adjuncts would be perceived as a threat by full-time tenure-track and tenured faculty.

The only real hope, I believe, lies in a concerted effort by and for all faculty to end the ongoing transformation of full-time salaried positions into part-time contract positions. I'm not suggesting that unionization is the only possible form that such a concerted effort might take. I am suggesting, however, that unless and until full-time faculty realize that casualization is something that is happening to their own profession and at their own institutions (instead of seeing it as something that is happening to those others -- i.e., to those unfortunates or unworthies who should either be pitied or scorned), the cause is sunk.


My pessimism over the possibility and potential of adjunct unionization should not be interpreted as an optimism concerning the likelihood that the tenured and the nontenured will make common cause.

In the comments to Patricians versus Plebeians, Random Reader suggests that the tenured will not interest themselves in the future of the profession because they are primarily motivated by narrow self-interest:

IA speaks of a 'need' for tenured faculty to align with non-tenured, in order to prevent further erosion of tenure. But that's primarily an erosion in the future, via the elimination of existing tenure slots, upon the retirement of the incumbent, with non-tenure slots. In most places, the administration is eliminating the tenured via attrition. Ergo, the incumbents are safe. What is their self-interest in organizing to help posterity (i.e., future tt faculty)? Not much, I'd say. In fact, as the tenured faculty look at the trends in the labor force in general, with increased use of part-time/temporary workers, they would have good reason to suspect that their days are numbered, and that they should devote their own efforts to preserving their own privileges--while expecting those privileges to die with them. That's what's happening everywhere else. There's no reason to think that the academy will be any different.

I want to believe that this represents far too jaundiced a view of tenured faculty. But I have to admit that I have occasionally entertained suspicions that such a depiction is an all-too-accurate representation. I invite readers to help me banish such unhappy suspicions (though feel free to help confirm them, if confirm them you must).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:23 PM | Comments (10)

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 23, 2003

"Tough Love for Invisibles"

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

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

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

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:59 AM | Comments (57)

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

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

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 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)

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 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 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)

June 28, 2003

Getting to Yes?

The title of this entry makes me sound like a used-car salesman, I know. But after reading some recent posts on Frogs and Ravens and Invisible Adjunct I find that it's relevant.

To summarize briefly, a lot of folks are angry. They have labored for years to earn a Ph.D. and they now find there is no market for their skills. Unable to enter the profession that they love and that they have spent years preparing for, they are disillusioned, demoralized, and despondent. They feel they have wasted several years of their life and are now hopelessly behind in trying to find employment that people of far less education are qualified to do.

-- Kevin Walzer, The Power of Positive Thinking

Kevin Walzer recommends the power of positive thinking. This deserves a reply, but for the moment real life intervenes. Response to follow.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:19 AM | Comments (17)

June 27, 2003

My History Job Search Paranoia Confirmed?

When making tenure-track hires, history departments engage in what economists call nonprice rationing and what educated laypeople might call discrimination. To reduce the large group of applicants to a manageable number, the members of history-department search committees reject applications for the slightest cause...

... Departments in all disciplines try to engage in the same process, but they can do so only to the extent that they have a glut of serious candidates. Economics departments currently have precious little opportunity to indulge themselves, but history departments have ample room to maneuver. I know of one candidate for a history job who was rejected because her surname was the same as that of a member of the department, and a professor on the search committee thought she would therefore not be a good fit.

-- Robert E. Wright, A Market Solution to the Oversupply of Historians

From the "just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you" files:

There's a discussion brewing down in the comments to "Is Tenure a Cartel? Redux" that I want to bring upfront. The discussion concerns a series of columns by "C.A. Wilcox" (this is a pseudonym), "a tenured professor of history at a major research university who will write a regular column this academic year on how the job-search process works from the hiring side of the table in history."

In a column entitled "A Long Shortlist," Wilcox offered what I must consider an invaluable insight into the sheer arbitrariness, nay the downright craziness, of the selection process:

I paid close attention to what might appear to be a mundane aspect of the CVs: the professional memberships listed by the candidates. Remarkably, some applicants failed to indicate that they were members of the appropriate professional organizations, not just the American Historical Association, but also the smaller ones appropriate to the field in which we are searching. When all such groups have low dues for graduate students, it's definitely a mark against a candidate who has not joined them and who thus is not receiving the journals (and current book reviews) regularly. Nonmembers have to pay more to attend professional meetings, and they usually cannot participate in panels at those meetings. Thus memberships are, to me, an important early sign of the professional engagement we seek from new colleagues.

Now when I read this, I had an actually physical reaction: my gut clenched, and for a brief moment I felt dizzy. You see, when I went on the market, I was one of those candidates who "remarkably...failed to indicate" my membership in the various professional associations to which I did in fact belong. I would have been more than happy to have listed them on my CV. But I had been told not to by my advisors and mentors. Indeed, in an early draft of my CV I had actually included them and was quite explicitly warned to remove them. This would be seen as CV-padding, I was informed. And the suspicion of CV-padding might result in being eliminated from consideration as a candidate. In other words, I was told exactly the same thing that William Pannapacker was told (comment to "Is Tenure a Cartel? Redux"):

I was told by career advisors at Harvard that one should not list professional memberships on a CV because these are not achievements or qualifications. Anybody can join an organization, and presumably everyone in the profession with good credentials is already a member of all of the major societies.

Well, I'm rather relieved to learn that I didn't just make this up. Because when I read that Wilcox column, for a brief moment I had to wonder whether I had got it all wrong. Perhaps my advisors had most emphatically warned me that I must list professional memberships on my CV, or risk being eliminated as someone who does not show signs of early professional engagement? But no, I do know that I didn't get this wrong (though if I applied for the job in Wilcox's department, which is not outside the realm of possibility, then of course I got it very wrong indeed).

So presumably some committees might eliminate a candidate for including memberships on a CV (CV-padding), while other committees might eliminate a candidate for not including memberships on a CV (lack of professional engagement). How is a candidate to know which committee will eliminate on the basis of which decision? Are there subtle clues in the job announcements, some kind of cryptic code, perhaps, that the extremely bright and assiduous job-seeker might manage to crack?

This all sounds rather silly, doesn't it? But it's actually rather serious for the job candidate. In Wilcox's search, people really were eliminated for not listing memberships in professional organizations. I'll bet many, probably most, of them did belong to the appropriate organizations, but had been advised not to list them.

Psst...Hey, you. Over there. Yeah, you. You're an "A" student, and you love history, and the life of a tenured professor looks pretty sweet, and your undergraduate professors are encouraging you to continue your pursuit of history in graduate school. Don't do it!


My job market paranoia confirmed? Mr Pannapacker has left a comment at the "Is Tenure a Cartel? Redux" entry that tends toward a confirmation:

In any case, there are lots of criteria that are far more important than anything that goes on the CV when it comes to hiring at any institution (but you'll never know what they are). I recently served on two search committees, and I now realize that the process must look nearly random to the candidate. Anyone in contention for a job anywhere has to have outstanding credentials. A trivial difference can easily be blamed for the major differences that cannot or must not be articulated.
Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:44 AM | Comments (48)

June 25, 2003

Is Tenure a Cartel? Redux

Well, not the original post, but the comments (which are more interesting than the post, in any case). A couple of people have asked me what happened to the "Is Tenure a Cartel?" piece. I lost it, along with some other blog entries, during my server woes a few weeks ago (lesson learned: back up your entries!).

But though the page containing the original blog entry has vanished into the ether, I've discovered a cached version of the comments page via google. I find this rather eerie: the ghost of a page that no longer exists (though of course its existence is neither more nor less real than the original -- I can't wrap my mind around cyberspace and time and the lack of embodied being and so on).

So here are the the lost-but-found commments. How weird is this?


Ed Bilodeau has discovered a cached version of the original entry (now, how'd I miss that? well, I don't claim to be anything more than a rank amateur here...):

Is Tenure a Cartel?

In the comments to "Adjunct Survivor: Big City" (Contingent Faculty and Academic Freedom), John Bruce argues that the tenure system is a cartel:

Tenure is (or more accurately, was) a way to cartelize the academic job market, in combination with the Ph.D. The point is to set up major barriers to entry (the Ph.D. requirement) and then control the overall terms and prices of service via the AAUP's contracts with individual universities...

...Another analogy occurred to me regarding tenure as cartel: cartel members, having established a price, are tempted to overproduce and thus undercut themselves. This is what happens with the Ph.D. product -- to fill graduate seminars, which are sold at the tenured price, professors must inevitably produce more Ph.D.s, which results in an oversupply, which results in price cutting. OPEC members routinely wink at their assigned quotas and produce more; university departments nod in agreement as the various professional associations decry the hiring of adjuncts -- yet they go back to their seminars and produce more Ph.D.s to glut the market in future years. They wouldn't have enough classes to teach if they didn't.

Zizka finds "cartel" an apt term, and adds the following [award-winning observation] in the comments to "1 in 5: Thomas H. Benton Explains Why You Shouldn't Go to Graduate School" (Benton's essay, by the way, really hit a nerve: the joint was jumping yesterday in the comments section for that entry):

We ought to get an economist on this. What we have is a classic two-tier hiring system in a declining industry (humanities). The industry also is highly dependent on a large pool of workers who rationally should be finding jobs elsewhere. To the extent that scholarship (rather than just teaching) justifies the system, the future looks grim since the scholars of the future are not being fostered. And it looks like an enormous shakedown is ahead.

Once upon a time, when I was young and hopeful and naive, I would have dismissed any talk of "tenure as cartel" out of hand. That's the rhetoric of free marketeers, I would have thought, who want to impose a corporate logic on an institution that exists to serve a higher calling. The university does and must stand in opposition and as an alternative to the market.

Now that I've been adjunctified, I'm not so sure. Seems to me the university has been pretty thoroughly, if not completely, corporatized in many areas. The increasing reliance on a part-time contingent workforce is of course one such key area. What, if anything, has tenure to do with this?

Does tenure represent a bulwark against the ongoing corporatization of the university? Or has the tenure system actually contributed to the imposition of a corporate managerial logic in hiring practices, encouraging the overproduction and subsquent devaulation of the PhD?

Once again, I'm not an economist, nor do I play one on this blog. Speaking in non-economic terms, I have often wondered whether tenure hasn't actively contributed the academic job problem by engendering a false sense of security on the part of those who should resist the devaluation of the PhD for the sake of the future of the profession. In a profession where people don't have the security of tenure, would senior people let things come to such a crisis point (almost half of all humanities teaching at colleges and universities is now done by those outside the tenure system) before finally realizing (and perhaps realizing too late in the day) that something has gone awry and that something should be done?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:57 PM | Comments (31)

What is a Labor Market?

My post on Marc Bousquet's* job market argument (ie, there is no academic job market) generated some interesting comments on what constitutes a labor market.

While Chun the Unavoidable is "sympathetic to Bousquet's argument," he does "not see the evidence" for Bousquet's "radically counterintuitive claim." There is, he writes,

clearly a job market. It's not a very good market, obviously; but he has a job, and I see people get jobs all the time....

...If there are jobs advertised each year, as there are, and a candidate who applies receives one, as usually happens, then it seems to me to be a market. Not a very good one, yes, but it's still a market.

Jeremy Hunsinger sees it differently:

just because people get jobs does not mean its a market. Braudel points out that anti-markets occur also, but in anti-markets, there are no markets, just understandings and agreements, often unstated, that business will be done in a certain way, with certain people, and not others. In short, anti-markets are closed systems, a form of systemic plural monopoly. In all likelihood we are probably looking at a tightly woven, historically developed anti-market for most academic jobs, though there may be some real academic job markets in 'hot' fields, where open competition necessarilly occurs because of a lack of qualified applicants.

I'm not familiar with Braudel's anti-market model. As described here, it sounds rather too closed and restrictive to apply to hiring practices within the academy. On the other hand, I don't think we are looking at anything close to a free market, in part because I think tenure is a decidedly guildlike institution which operates differently than (some would say interferes with) the kind of transactions we commonly associate with the market. So at the moment, I'm partial to Bousquet's notion of a failed monopoly of professional labor, though I'm open to other ideas...

A couple of questions:

Given the two-tier system of academic employment, are there two separate job markets: a tenure-track job market and an adjunct track job market? Or are these two tracks rather part of the same market/system?

In terms of adjunct jobs, to what extent are wages and working conditions influenced by the existence of a better class of job (ie the tenure track job) -- e.g., by encouraging people to make economically irrational decisions (i.e., stay within the academy working for low pay and no benefits rather than seek employment outside the academy) in the hope of making it to the higher tier?

*Part II on Bousquet coming soon.


Steven Krause, an associate professor of English literature who describes my blog as "partly sad but true, part pitty party," argues that "academia works like the rest of the world in the sense that when it comes to employment, it all boils down to supply and demand" (permalink bloggered; scroll to Tuesday, June 24, 2003). I beg to differ. Though I certainly agree that "anyone going into a PhD program better do a little market research first to find out what sort of jobs exist on the other side of the rainbow," this whole question of supply and demand strikes me as much more complex than Krause acknowledges.

There is undoubtedly an oversupply of humanities PhDs relative to the number of tenure-track positions. But how and in what ways does this stem from the laws of supply and demand (again the question: what is a market?). The fact is, the erosion of tenure-track jobs is occurring alongside a constant (in some cases even an increasing) demand for teachers. Indeed, adjuncts most often teach precisely those courses for which there is a great demand, while the tenured often teach course for which there is comparatively little demand.

I am reminded of Alex Pang's phrase "a conspiracy of narrow interests:"

What's happened with the academic job market, it seems to me, is something different. It's better thought of as a bad outcome of a conspiracy of the narrow interests of administrators and permanent faculty. Why do I say this? Look at the kinds of courses that are taught by adjuncts: introductory lecture courses, surveys, service-intensive courses like English comp. This isn't because administrators or department heads have tried to create a more rational market, or to match teaching supply and course demand more effectively, but one driven more by convenience and hierarchy: it's a way for administrators to cut costs, and for senior faculty to focus greater love and attention on their graduate students, enrich the collective intellectual life of their institutions, etc.

If you believed that this was happening because of a macroeconomic logic, you'd conclude that universities were operating under the assumption that it was impossible to know, semester to semester, whether there would be enough demand for Western Civ or differential calculus to have anyone permanently hired to teach it; but that it absolutely essential to have lifetime 24/7 access to specialists in [insert favorite absurd example of something]. What SHOULD be happening is the opposite. Since academic fashions change as quickly as any others, but the need for students who can write a decent paragraph and compute the area under a curve does not, universities should have spent the last two decades outsourcing their high-level, theoretical work, and investing resources in a permanent cadre of teachers.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:33 PM | Comments (16)

June 24, 2003

The Nonacademic Job Search: Wealth and of Resources

QUESTION: I have decided I don't want to stay in academe, but what else can I do?

ANSWER: The first thing to do is to rephrase your question to, 'What do I want to do?'...

A wealth of resources is available to help you in a nonacademic job search...

...One of the most entertaining ways to test your reactions to the career choices of people of your age and background is to read the weddings and engagements section of The New York Times on Sundays. Take a look some time and use your reactions to what people do to help you figure out what you want to do.

-- Mary Dillon Johnson, What Else Can I Do?

Well, okay. So now that I've perused what David Brooks calls "the mergers and acquisitions page" ("Harvard marries Yale. Princeton marries Stanford. Magna cum laude marries magna cum laude"), I've decided that what I'd like to do is to start from scratch and begin a new life as an Episcopalian with a trust fund.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:05 PM | Comments (27)

June 16, 2003

Do Adjuncts Behave like Scabs?

In the comments to "The Adjunct Track: A Slow Train to Nowhere," Mr. Thomas H. Benton makes a provocative suggestion:

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

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

So Mr Benton has visited a blog entitled "Invisible Adjunct" and left a comment suggesting that adjuncts, or at least some adjuncts, behave like scabs. To which I reply, Good for you, Mr. Benton. This is a delicate and thorny issue, and I'm glad you've raised it. One of the problems surrounding discussions of academic work is that we are all too polite, and let's face, all too embarrassed, to confront the issues openly and frankly.

I'm torn too. To work as an adjunct is not only to consent to one's own exploitation but also to participate in the unfolding process of the deprofessionalization of academic teaching more broadly. And this is quite apart from whatever pronouncements one makes on the topic: whether one says, "Adjunct teaching is a bad deal" or "I can't believe they pay me to do this!" it is the teaching at a low wage that contributes to the devaluation of teaching.

There's no question that adjuncts represent a surplus army of cheap labor. And there's little question in my mind that the existence of a surplus reserve of unemployed/underemployed workers drives down the wages/salaries of the fully employed. From one perspective, we can say that every time an adjunct agrees to teach an English literature course for $2,500, that adjunct is contributing to the devaluation/degradation of the profession of teaching English literature.

In common parlance, the term "scab" refers to someone who is doing something in relation to labor union activity. A scab is someone who crosses a picket line, who refuses to join a union, who takes a job as a replacement worker for a worker who is out on strike and so on. I think it's obvious that adjuncts are not scabs in this way. They are not refusing to join a labor union. In fact, it is the full-time faculty labor unions who refuse to admit adjuncts to their membership (as far as I know, the only full-time faculty union that bargains on behalf of adjuncts is the one at CUNY). Nor are adjuncts crossing pickets lines or taking jobs as replacement workers as full-time faculty members go out on strike.

So the term can only make sense in a looser way, as a means of calling attention to the ways in which adjunct labor undercuts the salaries of the fully employed. To call adjuncts scabs even in this looser way, however, would only make sense, I believe, within the context of a movement on the part of full-time faculty to actively resist the adjunctification of their disciplines. Such a movement (not necessarily synonymous with unionization) would have to involve, at the very least, a two-pronged effort to bring the number of PhDs in line with the number of tenure-track positions:

1) a scaling back of graduate students admissions (in some disciplines, a dramatic scaling back); and
2) a campaign to convert part-time into full-time positions

Such a campaign might also require an insistence that the practice of teaching at a fully accredited four-year college or university requires the PhD: though graduate students can still work as teaching assistants, no one can serve as primary instructor for a course without the PhD. Yes, this sounds harsh, but this is what professions do (e.g., doctors, lawyers, chartered accountants) to maintain their labor monopolies: though aspiring entrants can serve in any number of apprenticeship/assistantship capacities, they are simply not permitted to perform certain tasks/services without the full credentials.

The major problem here is that academic professional associations do not license their practitioners. There is obviously no social contract with the state, which is what medical doctors clearly have: the state grants them a legal monopoly over the provision of certain services, they agree to police and enforce credentials and licenses: if you practice surgery without a license, the state can – and I hope will – prosecute you. Leaving aside the question of state interest (and most of us would agree that the state has a compelling interest in preventing an amateur from performing surgery, but does not have a compelling interest in preventing an ABD from teaching an undergraduate survey), there is not even an extra-legal licensing system overseen by the various academic professional associations on behalf of their own members. Nor is there likely to be one, and I would go further and say there probably shouldn't be.

I believe the only real hope here is through something more informal: a campaign to link teaching to rankings and prestige, so that anything above a certain percentage of courses taught by non-PhDs and/or by part-timers, becomes a mark against a university, a sign of its inferiority.

I think it’s important to insist that such a movement would be (I use the conditional tense here because frankly, I don't see any such movement; to the contrary, I see a lot of resistance to the very idea that such a movement might be warranted) different than the attempts to unionize adjunct teachers. The problem with adjunct unionization is that it can only hope to achieve an amelioration of horrible working conditions (low page, lack of benefits) -- from really bad to not quite as bad -- without addressing the broader problem of deprofessionalization. Indeed, I worry that it might even contribute to the further deprofessionalization/proletarianization of academic labor: that is, that it might further institutionalize and confer legitimacy upon the existence of permanent underclass working outside the tenure track in a second tier.

So the problem I have with the way Benton has framed the issue (and admittedly his suggestions are tentative, he acknowledges that he is "torn," and is clearly not issuing absolute pronouncements) is that it seems to begin at the wrong end. The increase in adjunct teaching has undercut wages, yes. But now that these wages have been undercut, and as adjunctification continues, we are approaching a situation (in some cases and in some disciplines) where we might as well say, What an adjunct earns for teaching a course is not so much an undercutting of some other standard or normal wage but is actually the standard, set wage for teaching that course.

There are also a lot of issues here concerning why it is that adjuncts agree to work as adjuncts. I'd like to address this delicate and depressing aspect of the problem, but this will have to wait until I return from vacation (leaving tomorrow, return Sunday).

Let me add that I have singled out Mr. Benton's comment not because I am unsympathetic but rather because I am sympathetic to his perspective. But I want to insist that a movement to resist the two-tier academic labor system would have to be undertaken by full-time faculty. I don't expect to see such a movement any time soon.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:53 PM | Comments (21)

June 15, 2003

Oh, Sh*t: Marc Bousquet's Excremental Theory of Graduate Education (Part I)

'Teaching is a very difficult job and it needs to be a respectable middle class profession,' says Ann Marcus, Dean of the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University.

-- Marylena Mantas, NYU Dean of Education: Ann Marcus

'We need people we can abuse, exploit and then turn loose.'
--Dean Ann Marcus, NYU, on how to hire adjunct professors in the School of Education.
From a caputured e-mail.

-- Benjamin Johnson, Patrick Kavanagh, and Kevin Mattson eds., Steal This University: The Rise of the Corporate University and the Academic Labor Movement (NY: Routledge, 2003).*

If you feel you're being treated like sh*t, Marc Bousquet tells graduate students and adjuncts, it's because you really are the waste product that must be flushed out of the system.

A few months ago, in a post entitled "Adjunct as Activist: A Brief Introduction", I promised to write "two or three postings over the next couple of weeks" on this theme, and declared my intention of beginning with Marc Bousquet's "The Waste Product of Graduate Education: Toward a Dictatorship of the Flexible," Social Text 20.1 (Spring 2002): 81-104 [available online through Project Muse, subscription-only). This I have yet to do. I was, however, in the middle of writing something when my system crashed last Friday (and of course I lost the entry, which I hadn't backed up, so have had to start from scratch).

Unfortunately, the article is available online only through subscription (but for a shorter, more programmatic statement of some of the ideas developed in the "Waste Product" article, see this "Workplace Forward: The Institution as False Horizon"). Since the article is not readily accessible, I want to summarize what I take to be its main points, while adding a few thoughts of my own.

In my reading, the three main arguments are as follows:

1. There is no academic job market.
2. The purpose of PhD production is not to produce degree-holders for tenure-track jobs but to provide cheap non-degreed teaching labor.
3. The problems of the academic labor system can only be solved through collective action.

And since this entry has grown monstrously long and I'm not sure how to use the "extended entry" option (yes, I know, basic stuff, but I'm a bit of a Luddite: if I'm not clear on how it works, I'm afraid of messing it up completely), I'm going to divide my discussion into two entries. This entry deals with point 1 (there is no academic job market), the next post will discuss points 2 and 3. Let me say at the outset that I'm pretty much with Bousquet on point 1; that I both agree and disagree with him on point 2; and that I'm more than a little sceptical of point 3 (hint: this is in part because, as a Canadian, I can't help looking north of the border, where the same employment trends are occurring even though -- yes, Canada is different -- virtually all graduate student TAs and all faculty there are unionized).

1. There is no academic job market.

Bousquet begins by looking at the famous, or infamous, Bowen report of 1989, which projected "'a substantial excess demand for faculty in the arts and sciences' by the mid-1990s, with the consequence that early in the new millennium we could expect 'roughly four candidates for every five positions.'" To quote directly from the brief 1989 President's Report that William G. Bowen prepared as president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, "The results of recent research persuade us that there will be serious staffing problems in essentially all fields within the arts and sciences," with "very substantial shortages" of PhDs predicted across "the humanities and social sciences." So here we are in the early millennium, and as we've known since the mid-1990s, Bowen's estimates turn out to have been shockingly wrong. "What was wrong with Bowen's assumptions," asks Bousquet, "that he strayed so outrageously into fantasy?" In brief, Bousquet argues that

Essentially, Bowen's 'method' was to impose neoliberal market ideology on data that attest, instead to the unfolding process of casualization. Most egregiously, for instance, when confronted with data that increasing numbers of doctoral degree holders had been taking nonacademic work since the 1970s, Bowen ignores the abundant testimony by graduate students that this dislocation from the academy was involuntary and imposes the ideology of 'free choice' on the phenomenon, generating the claim that this ever-upward 'trend' shows that even more people will 'choose' similarly, with the result that he projects a need to increase graduate school admissions (to compensate for the ever-increasing numbers of people who 'choose' nonacademic work (p. 82).

To repeat: Bowen's data indicated that PhDs had been leaving the academy since the 1970s because there weren't enough full-time jobs for PhD-holders. Rather than take this oversupply** into account, he based his projections on the notion that since a certain percentage of PhDs will leave the academy, we must therefore produce even more PhDs to make up for the shortage created by those who leave. This is quite stunningly wrongheaded, and here I am in complete agreement with Bousquet.

Bousquet's analysis of the Bowen report leads him to a broader critique of the "neoliberal ideology" that not only underlies the infamous 1989 report but that also accounts for its "warm and uncritical welcome" within the academy. Characterizing this "vulgar liberalism" as "a kind of accidental neoliberalism produced by wildly inaccurate applications to higher education working conditions of dimly remembered chestnuts from Econ 101," Bousquet argues that the language of the "market" obscures rather than uncovers the reality of casualization in today's academy. While the language of the market "originally served as an analogy," he writes, " the terms hardened under neoliberalism into a positive heuristic," encouraging faculty to think of tenure-track job advertisements as the "demand" and recent degree holders as the "supply" for "an annual job 'market' overseen by professional associations such as the MLA (p. 83)."

For Bousquet, there are three related problems with this market heuristic:

i) It completely ignores the fact that a good deal of teaching is done by those outside the tenure track (graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, PhD-holding adjuncts and the like). Which is to say, it doesn't accurately describe or refer to the actual terms and conditions of employment in the academy, but rather takes one form of employment (tenure-track to tenured) and proceeds as though this were the one and only relevant category, even as this type of full-time employment is being replaced by low-wage, part-time positions.

ii) It therefore encourages the belief that "this 'overproduction' can be controlled 'from the demand side' by encouraging early retirements and 'from the supply side' by shrinking graduate programs," when "in the reality of casualization" the full-time positions of professors who retire are eliminated (or replaced by part-time positions), and when "reducing graduate school admissions does not magically create tenure-track jobs."

I'm with Bousquet on the first point, but not on the second. That is, I completely agree that if you overlook the process of casualization, you will be led to the optimistic conclusion that as full-time professors retire, full-time positions automatically open up for aspiring entrants to the ranks of the tenured. Not necessarily, and in many instances, increasingly, not at all. But while reducing graduate school admissions obviously won't automatically create tenure-track jobs, it will reduce the production of adjuncts. I think such a reduction is vitally important.

iii. It encourages faculty complicity with the two-tier labor system: "The 'job market' fiction has kept most faculty -- even unionized faculty -- as well as many but not all graduate students from a simple yet vital understanding: to address a political, social, and workplace transformation, it is necessary to take political, social, and workplace action (p. 84)."

Though I'm sceptical of the idea that the problems of the labor system really can be solved/resolved through collective action, I certainly agree with Bousquet that faculty have failed to recognize the threat of deprofessionlization:

The idea that the problems of the degree holder are problems of ‘the market’ and not problems for the faculty to address has mystified the degradation, deskilling, and underpricing of faculty work – when it is obvious that of course their working conditions will inevitably converge on the superexploitation of the contingent laborers working in their midst (p. 85).

"When it is obvious of course"? But of course it is not at all obvious, which is precisely the problem -- what is it about Marxism that encourages such locutions? The implied superiority in perspective rather irks me... However, it is not necessary to share Bousquet's neomarxist perspective in order to appreciate his analysis.

I particularly like Bousquet's suggestion that the "'job market' heuristic" might be replaced by "the heuristic of a labor monopoly" -- more specifically, that we should begin to see the academic labor system in terms of "a failed monopoly of professional labor:"

Monopoly control of professional labor generally reflects a social bargain made by professional associations that exchange a service mission with the public for substantial controle over the conditions of their work, generally including deciding who gets to practice...[Postsecondary] educators generally fulfill the service mission that constitutes their half of the bargain, and society in turn continues to grant them monopoly control over degrees, but the labor monopoly fails because degree holding no longer represents control over who may practice.

I believe the idea of a failed, or at least a failing, monopoly helps bridge the gap between guild and market. I don't think the academic employment system has ever been run along lines that might be described as free market. Instead, I see the academic professions as guildlike organizations that have failed to behave like guilds in the face of corporate managerial practices. As I put it in "Reshaping the Job Market" (yes, this blog is all about me: one reason why I have comments enabled is so that I don't inhabit an entirely self-referential universe),

I think the academic history job system now combines the worst of both worlds: it uses the language of the market to describe what is effectively an increasingly ineffective and unsuccessful guild system, and then tells those who are shut out of the guild to compete openly in a non-existent external market.

Indeed, one of the curious things about academia is that many of its members continue to use the language of the guild (graduate school as an apprenticeship, academic work as a sacred vocation) even as they enthusiastically embrace the language of the market (the job market, the notion of the productive scholar). An idea that has come up again and again on this blog is that today's university is neither fish nor fowl -- neither an old-fashioned guild anymore, but not -- or not yet -- a fully corporate animal either (see, for example, "Monastery or Market," based on Timothy Burke's "Monastery or the market?")

What, then, are the purposes of graduate school and PhD production in this strangely hybrid (part guildlike/part corporate-like) space we call the university?...

*Thanks to Thomas Hart Benton for this citation.
**Note: Bousquet would probably not allow the term "oversupply," but I'm sticking to it (more on this in Part II).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:45 PM | Comments (22)

June 14, 2003

The Adjunct Track: A Slow Train to Nowhere

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

-- Robert Johnson, "Love in Vain"

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

-- Kevin Walzer, "On adjunct teaching"

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

But have I loved in vain?

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

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

Stay tuned as my identity crisis intensifies...

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:38 PM | Comments (32)

June 03, 2003

1 in 5: Thomas H. Benton Explains Why You Shouldn't Go to Graduate School

'Remember,' I advise, 'that if you go to graduate school, you are contributing to the problem by making it less necessary for universities to hire full-time faculty members at decent wages. If you have a burning passion for Victorian poetry, you can probably satisfy this passion by yourself. Force yourself to read a few dozen academic books before deciding to dedicate your life to a subject. That is what one does in graduate school anyway. Most learning is unsupervised, independent, and onerous. Why pay or work according to an institutional timetable unless one needs an academic credential?'

-- Thomas H. Benton, "So You Want to Go to Grad School?"

Thomas H. Benton, assistant professor of English at a midwestern liberal arts college and recent recipient of the Weekly Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory), has an excellent column on how to advise undergraduates who want to go to graduate school. His recommended advice can be summed up quite simply: "Don't go."

He notes that

the Modern Language Association's own data -- very conservative and upbeat in my opinion -- indicate that only about one in five newly-admitted graduate students in English will eventually become tenure-track professors.

1 in 5. It is very important that aspiring graduate students know these numbers.

But as Benton knows, it's not enough to publicize and emphasize the bleak statistics. It is also necessary to expose the inaccuracies and half-truths -- the mythology, if you will -- that mislead young people into taking this destructive, and often self-destructive, path.

The problem is not only that every bright and overachieving undergraduate tends to think, "I'll be one of the 1s, and not one of the other 4s" (which line of magical thinking is all too often actively encouraged and fostered by undergraduate advisors). There is also a more complex issue: namely, the fact that many people enter with the mistaken belief that they are signing on for another, more extended version of undergraduate education, a sort of "Grand Tour," as Benton puts it, that will give them the chance to explore new areas of inquiry and acquire a "cultural polish" without becoming personally invested in the profession:

'Also, remember that most grad students start out as dilettantes, thinking they'll just hang out for a few years on a stipend. But eventually they become completely invested in the profession, unable to envision themselves doing anything else. A few years can become a decade or more. Meanwhile, everyone else is beginning their adult lives while you remain trapped in permanent adolescence.'

I could, and probably will, say more about this in a later entry.

One topic that I have yet to address on this blog -- related to what Benton calls the "permanent adolescence" and to what I tend to think of as "graduate school as infantilization" -- is that of children: i.e., what happens to too many graduate students/adjuncts/unemployed and underemployed PhDs who want a family but who put it off for all kinds of complex reasons (the most basic of which is simply lack of financial resources). It's a grim tale, and another of those issues that nobody really talks about, at least not publicly, though privately I've often found that even the casual mention of certain keywords is enough to elicit some very sad stories from both men and women. In this area, I am one of the lucky ones, I breathe a sigh of relief when I realize how very fortunate. I know too many people who are not so lucky.

But more on this later. For now, I highly recommend Benton's essay, a must-read not only for would-be graduate students but also, and just as importantly, for the faculty who would encourage them.

UPDATE, 25 June:

I lost the last third of the comments to this post during a server crash a few weeks ago. Here is a google cached version of the comments, which I've just discovered. I'm particularly pleased to find the last comment, by Kelli, whose "Me, I'm writing a screenplay for Hollywood. Onward and upward, baby" has stuck in my mind ever since I first read it. Her comment in its entirety is worth reprinting here:

Wow! Is it too late to enter the fray? If not here are the thoughts of a recent Ph.D. from a top-ten humanities school, now at home raising the kids and paying hundreds/month in student loans.

1. Yes, I am quite sure I could have landed SOMETHING had I stuck it out.

2. However, how many sacrifices should otherwise intelligent people make for a career whose reward structure has been decaying rapidly over the past decade?

3. That's the question at its most basic, isn't it? What is this career worth? I have friends who quit because they could not live within 500 miles of their spouse, and others who have been married for years without ever living more than a summer together. I have friends who teach a couple of courses a year while managing the household, as their spouse comes ever closer to achieving tenure. Let's see how those marriages fare over time, shall we.

4. The numerous calls on this thread for "real-world experience" are absolutely on the mark. By the time you have Ph.D. in hand it is most likely TOO LATE. An exception is my husband, with a Ph.D. in ancient Near Eastern languages and religion (a top seller, that) who is now ensconsed in finance and makes excellent money. How did this happen? A window opened just enough in the gogo 90s to let him crawl in on the slimmest of qualifications and now, no one even notices the Ph.D. thing. This will probably never happen again, at least not in our lifetimes. This needs to be tattooed on the forearm of all those who insist on going straight to grad school.

Finally, there is a lot of pain in this thread, masked with good humor and fortitude. I wish you all well in whatever career you select or are cast into. Me, I'm writing a screenplay for Hollywood. Onward and upward, baby.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:31 PM | Comments (93)

History PhDs, Ten Years Later

Fresh-faced graduate students begin their quest for a Ph.D. certain that they are on a path to academic glory. Along the way, reality sets in. Friends and neighbors warn them that no one ever gets a job. Mothers worry that offspring will be teaching as part-timers for years.

... At the University of Washington at Seattle, the graduate school has created a survey that tries to track the career paths of the more than 3,000 students who have received its Ph.D.'s in the past decade. The survey, done mostly recently in 2001, provides a glimpse of where those doctorates have gone. About a third are tenure-track faculty members, 10 percent have non-tenure-track jobs, and about 20 percent have jobs in industry. The survey also drills down to the departmental level -- showing, for instance, that 55 percent of the 77 history Ph.D.'s covered by the survey have tenure-track jobs. Just 3 of those 77 hold jobs entirely unrelated to their doctoral degrees.

-- Scott Smallwood, "The Path to a Ph.D. -- and Beyond"

Here's an interesting report on "how a group of historians has fared, 10 years after graduation." Presumably these people received their PhDs in 1991. The academic job market in history has considerably worsened since then (e.g., 1999 saw a record number of history PhDs produced, without anything near a corresponding increase in tenure-track jobs).

Yes, this blog is gloomy. I need to lighten up with some fluffier topics. How about, "How not to be victimized at the cosmetics counters at Bloomingdale's" (hint: bring your toddler, that's as good as shouting "Back off, Makeup Lady!")

In the meantime, what I want to know is: Has Scott Smallwood been talking to my mother?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:22 AM | Comments (20)

May 30, 2003

Doctor Temp

Still, in a slow economy like this one, it can be difficult to land even an entry-level job. To those who feel stymied in their job searches or frustrated by the lack of openings, I recommend temporary office work as a strategy for breaking into a new field. Many graduate students are familiar with temping as a way to earn quick money during university vacations, but temping can also be a way to audition for a full-time job at the company of your choice. In fact, while some employers might resist hiring a seemingly overqualified Ph.D. for a full-time, entry-level position, they have no such qualms about hiring a Ph.D. in a temporary position.

-- Susan Basalla, "Breaking in as a Temp"

Susan Basalla, English PhD (Princeton) and co-author (with Maggie Debelius) of So What Are You Going to Do With That?: A Guide to Career-Changing for M.A.'s and Ph.D.'s, advocates temping as a way of entering a new field. The optimistic view of "conscious temping" is that, in Basalla's words,

all we need is a foot in the door. Once we're in the workplace, others realize that we learn quickly, have strong analytical skills, and are often excellent writers and teachers. We also have an unusually strong work ethic, although we tend to take it for granted.

No doubt this is sound advice, based on a realistic assessment of current employment trends outside the academy. It's rather less optimistic, though, than the main argument of So What Are You Going to Do With That?, which can be summed up as follows: "But, believe it or not, the same skills you need to success in academia -- researching, writing, and teaching -- will give you an edge in your job hunt" (pp. 4-5). Frankly, I guess I don't quite believe it, especially not after reading an account by one of the authors of this book in which she details her temping strategies.

So I can't help raising a couple of points of a more pessimistic character.

First, contrary to what some of the "leaving the academy" advice would have us believe, it seems clear that a PhD (a PhD in the humanities, at any rate) does not carry much weight outside the academy. And why should it, after all? As Jack Miles has argued, while "humane learning has many uses in the general marketplace," the "baroque peculiarity of American doctoral education produces an animal hyper-adapted to the baroque peculiarity of the American academic habitat" (the point is also made by Timothy Burke, who suggests that "most graduate study in academic subjects ... has no other use besides the reproduction of academia in its present institutional form.")

Second, it's worth repeating the point made by Miles and Burke and by some of the readers of and commenters at this blog: You don't need a PhD to take a temp job that might then lead to an entry-level position that might then lead to a career, you can do this right after college.

Now at some level (e.g., in terms of the unemployed/underemployed PhD whose rent is due) I think advice like that offered by Basalla serves a very useful purpose. Here's the deal: you may not be able to start even at the bottom, you may need to do temp work even to put yourself in a position to then apply for an entry-level job. So in pragmatic terms, I welcome Basalla's account, which is based on her own experience, which experience includes her own employment, "career workshops for graduate students" and the research and writing for a book on what to do with a PhD outside the academy. At some point (e.g., when the rent is coming due), there's no point in wringing one's hands in despair and wallowing in miserable thoughts of all that wasted effort and all those wasted years. If temping is your only realistic option, then what else can you do but choose temping?

But I want to emphasize that there's a bigger picture here, and that it's important to let people (especially current graduate students and those who are currently considering graduate studies in the humanities) know that this picture is not pretty.

Let's be honest about this: Hollywood is not recruiting English PhDs to work as screenwriters. And if you sign on with a temp agency (which is definitely a good idea if you don't have any other immediate options and the rent is coming due), well, let's be brutally honest about this and acknowledge that you will likely find yourself working as a secretary. As William Pannapacker put it in a letter recounting his role in the famous/infamous MLA showdown:

Last weekend, I spoke at the American Studies Association convention in Seattle on a panel called 'Organizing in the Trenches.'... I was the last speaker, and by the time I came to speak, I had lost my composure. I had just read Elaine Showalter's editorial in the 'MLA Newsletter' (Winter 1998) in which she compares the humanities to the sinking Titanic, and I was overwhelmed by a feeling of absolute betrayel by the leadership of my profession.

Instead of going right into my genre piece about using the disciplinary associations to organize disparate groups, I embarked on a rambling, monologue on my own experiences, which those who follow the MLA elections and the Chronicle's on-line 'Career Network' know something about. Incoherent as I may have been, this was the one speech I have given in which the audience was really with me--not just in the sense of scholarly obligation, but on a real, emotional level.

At a cocktail party later that night, older people came up to me to say that they think the MLA president has compromised many of the ideals she once had, even to feminism. A surprising number of people roughly my own age and status thanked me for what I said. Mostly women, they feel intensely the bitter irony of having wasted eight years of their lives in preparation for becoming secretaries to 26-year-old MBAs.

Well, that's grim. But I'll call it gritty realism, because it strikes me as a fairly accurate description of a grim reality.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:57 PM | Comments (34)

May 29, 2003

Sweatshop U?

Stephen Karlson of Cold Spring Shops raises some interesting questions with reference to some recent discussions (here and also here) on the academic job market:

...but is the research calling really the type of market in which a tournament is most efficient at identifying talent (and Cornell's Robert Frank has written some gloomy stuff about that kind of market) or is the job of teaching and grading really so burdensome that it has to be farmed out as sweated labor? Or has the enterprise of higher education mutated into a credentialling mill in which a University of Phoenix that produces no original thought sets the pace for the rest?

He also comments briefly on today's discussion (at this blog, over at SCSU Scholars here and also here, and at EconLog) on the economics of tenure and promises that a "rant comes later tonight."

One quick comment: when faculty find teaching a burdensome distraction from their "real" work, I think something has gone horribly awry. Of course it is not surprising that this is increasingly the case, given the increased demands of publication. But if I may speak frankly (and I guess I may, since I'm speaking on my blog), a good deal of what is now "produced" by humanities scholars is just shite. Not all of it, mind you, but too much of it. Quite simply, the "publish or perish" imperative pushes people to produce work before they are ready. In this respect, I think the fashionable gibberish of which critics often complain can be seen as a kind of shortcut and substitute for the type of thoughtful and well-considered work that scholars might produce if they had more time. Anecdotally speaking, I know of many scholars in my field who hardly look at the journals anymore, because there is so little worth looking at (for an interesting, and shockingly candid, exploration of this theme, see Timothy Burke's "Why Journals Suck"). But given the oversupply of candidates and the degradation of the job market in many humanities disciplines, it is all but inevitable that publication will carry greater and greater weight, for this is one area in which evaluative criteria can be based on something quantitative.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:19 AM | Comments (20)

May 28, 2003

More on the Economics of Tenure

King at SCSUScholars responds to the recent discussions on tenure (The Economics of Tenure and "Higher Ed in a Down Economy") with a post entitled "Thinking more about tenure," in which he suggests that "Tinkering with the system may be more costly than we realize."

"I suggested in one comment there [ie., here]," he writes,

that there's some similarity between working through the minor leagues in sports and working through graduate school to get to the tenure-track job. IA says that if so, people should be warned. Sure, but who will do so? The graduate schools, turning away business because they are looking out for you? The undergraduate advisors, who drew you into your studies to get someone good in their otherwise boring seminars? (Yes, students, we professors can get bored in a seminar too -- we don't like the sound of our voices any more than you do.) Is there anyone besides the aspiring graduate student in whose interest it is to be forewarned of the academic job market? Perhaps I'm being too simple, but I can't think of one.

I can think of at least one group other than aspiring graduate students: tenured professors, and more broadly, the members of any profession who have an interest in perpetuating the profession as a profession. In "The Economics of Tenure," I cite James Axtell (via Jason at No Symbols Where None Intended) as follows:

In 1987 the median salary of a Ph.D. in government was 10 percent higher than his academic counterpart, and in the private sector, 24 percent higher. Today [1998], the private/academic differential is 38 percent and growing, as academic salaries struggle to keep up with even modest inflation.

It is interesting to place Axtell's numbers alongside another set of figures concerning "Trends in Faculty Employment." According to the Chronicle of Higher Education's Almanac, in 1979 66 percent of faculty were full-time, 34 percent part-time. Twenty years later, in 1999 57 percent of faculty were full-time, 43 percent part-time. Assuming that Axtell's figures are accurate, it looks as though the stagnation in full-time faculty salaries has occurred at the same time as the growing trend toward part-time versus full-time faculty. Might there be a connection between these two trends?

I suspect that there is a connection. As the American Historical Association has finally recognized, "Everyone in the historical profession has a stake in ameliorating this situation. It is important to halt the erosion of tenure track positions, and where possible to increase them." That is, the trend toward the deprofessionalization of younger faculty does not only harm those faculty, but also poses a threat to the status of the profession as profession. The trend toward part-time over full-time positions over the past two decades constitutes a slow but steady erosion of tenured positions.

King argues that a multi-tier academic labor system is an efficient form of "price discrimination:"

One point about the economics of this is that two-tier or three-tier pricing -- a tenure track, a non-tenure, full-time renewable track, and an adjunct track -- does at least produce more jobs than would exist with a single track. Any principles of economics book will teach you that you get more efficient solutions with this type of 'price discrimination.' And with it comes more classes, more students, and more education. That's a thing worth having. Certainly some PhDs will lose the tournament for the tenure track, but their willingness to work without tenure or part-time produces something of real value.

It is quite true that the use of more adjuncts allows universities to offer more courses to more students. Given the cost-effectiveness of this trend, the danger, as I see it, is that entire professions become thoroughly, if not completely, adjunctified. If full-time English faculty, for example, agree to a system in which the part-timer teaches an English course for $2,500, at what point does the administration decide that the teaching of an English course is indeed worth no more than $2500? While King's analysis seems to presuppose some sort of equilibrium (the continued existence of a tenure track alongside the adjunct track), the trend in some disciplines is in fact away from the tenure track and toward the adjunct track.

The other query I would raise: while King's suggestion that "tinkering with the system may be more costly than we realize" is no doubt a valid concern (who knows what would be the unintended consequences of tinkering?), it seems to assume a good deal more power and agency on the part of faculty than is probably the case. I believe that tenure is now under attack. The public does not support it, and neither do significant numbers of university administrators. Though faculty teaching at elite, private insitutions are probably safe, those teaching at publicly funded schools are not. Without an active effort to halt (if not reverse) current trends toward part-time faculty, it is difficult to see how adjunct-heavy disciplines can maintain and defend the continued existence of a tenure track.

King responds to the above with a new entry entitled "Productivity and the Professoriate."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:33 PM | Comments (17)

May 26, 2003

The Economics of Tenure

In a new entry called "The Price of Tenure," Jason of No Symbols Where None Intended suggests that the academic labor system at the University of Phoenix "arguably puts the lie to an argument that is sometimes advanced in defense of tenure: That it saves the university money." As an example of this line of defense, Jason cites James Axtell as follows:

. . . the relative economic security of tenure also lowers academic salaries from the competitively higher salaries of comparably educated professionals in government and industry. In 1987 the median salary of a Ph.D. in government was 10 percent higher than his academic counterpart, and in the private sector, 24 percent higher. Today [1998], the private/academic differential is 38 percent and growing, as academic salaries struggle to keep up with even modest inflation. If colleges and universities dropped the tenure system for short-term contracts and necessarily competitive salaries, the American price tag for higher education would skyrocket. As it is now, professors pay for tenure out of their own pockets, and not with loose change.

Jason notes, by the way, that Axtell relies on Richard B. McKenzie's "Why Professors Have Tenure and Business People Don't."

What's interesting is that the historian Axtell, writing in 1998, had apparently failed to notice that many colleges and universities were in fact moving from tenure-track to short-term contracts, and that the "necessarily competitive salaries" that ensued amounted to very low wages indeed. As for that 38 percent differential between private sector and academic salaries, I would suggest that one reason for this growing gap is precisely the oversupply of PhDs who will sell their teaching labor to the university at a very cheap rate.

I'm not an economist, of course, nor do I play one on this blog. But I am increasingly inclined to believe that in their attempt to resolve "the serious problems presented by the increased use of part-time/adjunct faculty at institutions across the country," professional organizations such as the American Historical Association would do well to avail themselves of the expertise of an economist or two. They needn't go for a Milton Friedman, I'm thinking more along the lines of a Brad DeLong.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:48 PM | Comments (20)

May 23, 2003

"A Conspiracy of Narrow Interests"

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang engages in "some kind of self-plagiarism" (it's okay, Alex, the AHA no longer adjudicates in cases of suspected plagiarism) to expand on a comment he made here. His expanded comment on the academic job market can be found at his own blog, and is well worth reading.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:22 AM | Comments (2)

May 22, 2003

Only Mad Dogs and Englishmen and Underemployed PhDs?

"The Invisible Adjunct raves and foams at the mouth upon encountering Laura Vanderkam's 'System Wastes Ph.D. Brainpower.'"

So writes Brad DeLong with reference to my "Tough Love for PhDs" post. Egads! Maybe I need to crank down the volume: I'm coming off as an absolute nutter. The academy did this to me. (I wonder if I could cop a plea using this as my defense? "Formerly mild-mannered and law-abiding history PhD driven to the brink and beyond by the vagaries of the academic job market..."). Though indeed, Brad DeLong says he's raving and foaming, too, and he has tenure at Berkeley. As he points out:

it's not enough for the 35% of humanities departments that give their prospective students the straight poop to do so, for the prospectives will say, '1/3 of us will get tenure track jobs? I'm good at academic pursuits, so that must mean that the odds for me are pretty good.' They don't think--or most of them don't think--Wait a minute, everybody else here is good at academic pursuits too. I've been in the top quarter of academic distributions all my life, but I have only one chance in four of being in the top quarter of this one.

I agree that this is not enough. Graduate programs in the humanities need to take the next, admittedly painful, step and limit their enrollments to more realistic numbers. Some of them need to shut down altogether. Otherwise, the proletarianization of humanities faculty will continue to intensify.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:29 AM | Comments (10)

May 21, 2003

Robert Reich Warns Against Graduate School

Both the AccidentalAdmin at the Financial Aid Office and King at SCSUScholars are linking to this opinion piece by Robert Reich:

This spring's college graduates are entering the worst job market in 20 years. With few good jobs on the horizon, many graduating seniors think it is time to get an advanced degree. They should think again.

....But the market value of advanced degrees is unlikely to rise enough to make the investments worth it, especially after the supply of people with such degrees expands. Even before the economy foundered, the median take-home pay of lawyers and doctors was dropping, and many newly minted Ph.D.'s couldn't find university appointments.

-- Robert B. Reich, "Get a Job"

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:14 PM | Comments (0)

May 20, 2003

Toughlove for PhDs

The world has worse tragedies than Ph.D.s driving buses. Still, this mismatch between professorships available and Ph.D.s granted is a colossal waste of brainpower sorely needed elsewhere. Universities that glut the doctorate market bear much responsibility for the situation. But graduate students aren't blameless.

These men and women have chosen to spend years training for jobs that don't exist by accruing knowledge no one will pay for. The most devoted to their passion may decide that's all right. But the 'starving Ph.D.' phenomenon is here to stay. Even the ivory tower can't save anyone from that reality.

...Even enlightened students, however, delude themselves into thinking they can buck the laws of supply and demand. In graduate school, they experience the rare privilege of devoting themselves fully to learning what they love while being paid a stipend, however small, to do so. Having escaped reality once, they don't expect to encounter it again.

-- Laura Vanderkam, "System wastes Ph.D. brainpower"

Okay, okay. I get it now, I really do. I now understand that

there is no market for [my] product. When you choose a career path with no market, you have to love it enough to do it for free. Chances are, you'll do it for close to that much of the time.

I can assure that I am now well familiar with "reality," and I am willing to plead "guilty as charged" -- and without even mentioning the fact that you talk of "the system" while blaming the individual -- if you will just promise to stop lecturing at me.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:40 PM | Comments (27)

Shipwrecked; Or, I Need Another Chance

Warning: This entry is in me-zine mode.

Pa send me money now
I'm gonna make it somehow
I need another chance
You see your baby loves to dance
Yeah yeah yeah

-- Neil Young, "Cinnamon Girl"

Ship of Dreams. Ship of Fools. I am Shipwrecked, and I've washed up in Adjunctland, and I'm wondering what to do.

Rana at Frogs and Ravens has a post on "one of the problems with being a job market 'failure.'" (permalinks bloggered, scroll to Friday, May 09). It's the problem of "So, what are you doing next year?" Which is to say, the problem of what to say, of how best to explain oneself. Oh yeah.

I gave up trying to explain myself to my family. The subject became taboo, one of those areas about which we tacitly agree to maintain an awkward silence. Until I rewrote the script. Since I have a husband and a child, and my husband has a job and my child is young enough that his care and feeding is in itself a job, I let them think that that's who I am now, and oh yeah, I do a bit of teaching on the side. For pin money? Yeah, sure.

We went to a party a few weeks ago, it said "black tie" on the invitation so I sent my mother a picture. Look, said that picture, Here I am and here is my life: I live in New York, and I have a husband (an American!) who is a lawyer, and look how we go out dining and dancing and see how I look in my black silk party frock. Yeah? Well, yeah. It's all true enough in its way, though it all adds up to a lie. But never mind. My mother thinks I look "classy," she notes with approval that I have lost all the baby weight and says she will show the picture to all her friends. In truth, I think I look awkward and ill at ease, and the lipstick is all wrong, too dark and dated, but so what? I know my audience. I come from the class (lower middle class? or upper echelon working class?) that wants to have "class." I know my lines, fuck yeah, and I feed them their lines, too. And never mind that I am lying because, frankly, it's just easier this way. My parents never understood the Ph.D. thing anyway, that's something they never really got. I put myself through college, and then I went to graduate school in the States on a scholarship (a scholarship! well, that sounded "classy" too, and for a while my mother could think of me as a Scholarship Girl), and then something went wrong, some plot twist that I had not anticipated. So maybe my parents were right all along? because I don't get it anymore either, and now I wonder if I ever did.

Anyway, it works for them, but it doesn't work for me. I wake up at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat, thinking shipwreck, drowning, wreckage, ruin and failure.

I almost drowned when I was 6 years old. My body panicked and so did my thoughts, but curiously enough, some part of my mind embraced a calm fatalism. It all happened so quickly but it seemed like ages, and finally some part of me gave up and thought, "I hope I go to heaven" as my arms and legs were desperately flailing. And then someone saw me and I was saved. Though my mother had nightmares for months afterwards: "all I could see were those little hands" she said, hands that frantically grasped at nothing. She saw them in her dreams, and I sometimes see them too.

So I guess I do know the difference, and I realize that I am not drowning. And I suppose I am not really shipwrecked, either. What I need to do, I think, is to revise and rewrite my own script -- not the one I give my parents (that's easy, I am ashamed at how easy) but the one I give myself, the one that plays through my head (and that's not so easy, because I am a tougher audience: my husband says I am too hard on myself and he may be right about that too). So enough. Get me rewrite! I've had done with this story and I want a new script.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:59 PM | Comments (17)

May 19, 2003

A Market Solution to the History Job Market Problem?

I am a 33-year-old historian with three monographs (published by Cambridge University Press, Greenwood, and Rowman & Littlefield), a forthcoming six-volume edited series, and scores of book chapters, refereed articles, book reviews, paid speaking appearances, and the like to my credit. Moreover, with an M.A. in intellectual history and a Ph.D. in economic history, I have taught a variety of courses in history, economics, and evolutionary psychology at three research universities, a state college, and two private colleges.

Alas, I remain a member of the academic underclass.

-- Robert E. Wright, "A Market Solution to the Oversupply of Historians"

Here's an interesting proposal from an economic historian. He is the author of Origins of Commercial Banking in America, 1750–1800 (Rowman and Littlefield, 2001), Hamilton Unbound: Finance and the Creation of the American Republic (Greenwood, 2002), and The Wealth of Nations Rediscovered: Integration and Expansion in American Financial Markets, 1780-1850 (Cambridge University Press, 2002), and co-editor (with Richard Sylla) of the 6-volume The History of Corporate Finance: Development of Anglo-American Securities Markets, Financial Practices, Theories and Laws (Pickering and Chatto, 2003). Publish and perish? When this article appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education (in April 2002) he was "a relatively well-paid freeway flyer." I really hope he has since found a tenure-track position, though it wouldn't surprise me to learn that he had not.

Wright seeks to explain the history job market with reference to "a few common-sense microeconomic concepts." I don't know much about economics, micro, macro or otherwise. Most historians don't. I wonder if this is why we find ourselves in such a mess? We speak of a job "market," but do we understand what is generally meant by this term?

Is there a job market for academic historians? Or is it a market of a particular type: a labor monopoly that has gone awry (or that has gone the way of all labor monopolies, I suppose some would argue)? Or should we rather speak of a job system?

I don't know.

I think I now have at least a rudimentary grasp on the supply and demand thing. There are too many history Ph.Ds chasing after too few tenure-track jobs. In other words, there is an oversupply. Some argue that there isn't really an oversupply of PhDs, but rather an undersupply of tenure-track jobs. They argue that there is sufficient demand for Ph.Ds to teach history courses, but that this demand is now being met by adjuncts and part-timers. Thus the problem is not not so much "economic" as "political": the profession or the professoriate does not have the will or the power to insist on tenure-track instead of adjunct and part-time appointments. There is probably something to this, but I still think it is related to something that should be called an oversupply: it is the production of a surplus, I suspect, that has weakened the bargaining power of faculty. We have cheapened the value of the history Ph.D. by producing too many history Ph.D.

Anyway, Wright -- who is committed to market analyses -- diagnoses the problem as follows:

While the average salary for new tenure-track assistant professors in history, around $40,000 per year, is modest given the demanding nature of the job and the many years of training it requires, the salary is, in fact, higher than necessary to attract qualified applicants. We know that is the case because it is quite common for an advertisement of a single tenure-track job opening to attract several hundred serious applicants. With rare exceptions, every tenure-track offer made in history is accepted.

And he recommends the following solution:

The solution is clear. The salaries for new assistant professors should be lowered until the number of qualified job applicants (not the number of new Ph.D.'s, which is just a subset of that group) and the number of job openings become more equal.

According to Wright, lowering the starting salary would give rise to the following advantages:

Departments could afford more tenure-track historians, which would reduce institutions' dependence on adjuncts; and search committees could no longer reject qualified applicants for frivolous reasons. New Ph.D.'s would have more freedom to speak their minds, because they would be more in demand -- thus increasing the profession's diversity. Finally, fewer new students would enter graduate programs in history if they knew their future earnings would be low, thus preventing an overabundance of history professors in the future.

I have to say I am sceptical of this solution (though I am with him 100 percent on the need to cut down on the number of new students entering history graduate programs).

I'm just not convinced that lowering the salaries (which are already relatively low) would have the desired effects. Could departments then afford to hire more tenure-track historians? Or would the money simply go elsewhere? That is, would university administration simply take the money saved on salaries and put it into faculty recruitment in other departments, new buildings, technology upgrades and the like?

Would this really tend to raise the value of history PhDs, or would it rather tend toward a further devalution? Given the two-tier system, and the way the existence of a bottom tier is already devaluing the top tier (ie., through the elimination of tenure-track in favor of adjunct and part-time positions), would lowering the salaries at the top tier help to bring about the desired adjustment? Or would it rather have the effect of further widening the bottom tier and narrowing the top tier so that history faculty go the way of the adjuncts at the University of Phoenix -- i.e., all in one tier, and that tier one of low-wage contingent labor?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:12 PM | Comments (14)

May 11, 2003

"Consumer Protection": Statement by AHA/OAH Joint Committee on Part-Time and Adjunct Employment

"Everyone in the historical profession has a stake in ameliorating this situation. It is important to halt the erosion of tenure track positions, and where possible to increase them. It is equally important to improve the working conditions and lives of part-time/adjunct faculty and their ability to support student learning."

-- AHA/OAH Joint Committee on Part-Time and Adjunct Employment Press Release

The American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians have recently formed a permanent Joint Committee on Part-Time and Adjunct Employment. This committee has recently issued a statement with the following five recommendations:

1. the inclusion of adjuncts in "the collegial relations and communications of their departments;"

2. accurate statistical reporting by history departments on their use of adjunct faculty;

3. the recognition of standards for the "appropriate proportion for courses taught by adjuncts" (they recommend an absolute maximum of 20 percent for 4-year institutions, and of 30 percent for research institutions);

4. a pay scale for "part-time faculty [that would ] be set at a minimum of 80 percent of what a full-time faculty member of comparable training and experience would be paid for teaching a course at that particular institution;"

5. and finally, since none of these recommendations are enforceable, they recommend that "history departments should undertake to meet these standards and will be commended for substantial progress and good practices in the AHA and OAH newsletters."

The above is a start (it comes rather late in the day, but it's a start nonetheless). Implementation of any of the above recommendations would be good, implementation of all of these recommendations would be even better. But given budgetary constraints, how are history departments to implement such recommendations? To do so, they would need the cooperation of university administrations, and how are they to secure such cooperation?

What I find promising is the following request, which comes at the very end of the statement:

"Additional Request for AHA Council Action:

The AHA/OAH Joint Committee on Part-Time and Adjunct Employment requests that the OAH Executive Board/AHA Council vote on the following action. We believe that this action has potential for moving for change in many places and without major long-range organizational effort.

That the OAH Executive Board/AHA Council contact all college accrediting organizations and all journals and media that list colleges and universities by various criteria and ask them to include the following information in their reports:

- number and percentage of part-time/adjunct faculty

- number and percentage of courses taught by part-time/adjunct faculty

This is a matter of public information to which prospective students and their families are entitled as a matter of consumer protection."

This I like. Here I think they are on the right tack. I suspect the only way to change things is to make this "a matter of consumer protection." This means that students and their parents are consumers, of course, which suggests that education is a product. Am I not therefore buying into the very commodification of education of which I so often complain? Yes.

I honestly don't see another way. Universities have a vested interest in continuing with business as usual, increasing their reliance on adjuncts while doing whatever they can to make this reliance invisible to parents, students, accrediting organizations and the public at large. It is very probably the case that the only effective way of pressuring them to stop the erosion of tenure-track positions is to make this reliance on adjuncts visible to the tuition-paying students/parents/consumers who currently do not understand just what it is they are paying for.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:13 PM | Comments (1)

May 10, 2003

"Funny Money": Graduate School Tuition Waivers

In the comments to "'Eggshead Unite': Against the Union-Busters at Penn," reader JT says what I was trying to say, but says it much better than I could:

"[The] 'tuition waivers' are most certainly 'funny money,' if you mean by that a price that could not be supported (successfully charged) if exposed to the free market. An entity like a university can conduct all sorts of internal shennanigans with its budgets which have nothing to do with economic realities. To claim that an extended 7-year (or whatever) program which leads a promising young student to experience ever lower economic expectations, as non-science PhD programs do, is worth something like $20-30k per year is ludicrous on its face. (We are just talking about economic considerations here.)"

Quite right. It's one thing to take out huge loans for law school or medical school, quite another to take out such huge loans for graduate school. I can't imagine many people would be willing to do so. And I can't believe there would be many financial institutions willing to participate in this kind of lending: You want $20-30k per year to do an English degree, and your prospects for employment are what...?! -- This has "loan default" written all over it. In other words, the tuition waiver that is often defined as a huge benefit (you don't need more money to live on: look at that 25,000 dollar we just gave you) is meaningless outside of this closed system. Eliminate the waivers and you would no longer be able to attract candidates to these graduate programmes.

JT also says, "if you think the university is too corporatized, you ain't seen nothing yet." Unfortunately, I suspect this will probably prove an accurate prediction.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:38 AM | Comments (8)

May 07, 2003

"Eggheads Unite" (Against the Union-Busters at Penn)

"We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters, though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate. To violate this combination is every where a most unpopular action, and a sort of reproach to a master among his neighbours and equals."

-- Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chap. VIII

"Michael Janson, a tall, well-mannered University of Pennsylvania doctoral student, seethes about the modern university: beholden to corporate donors, enthralled by corporate-management strategies, all too willing to exploit the workers -- including its own graduate students -- who make the place run. With a gracious, raised-right humility in his brown eyes, permanent-press khakis and a fashion-free haircut, Janson makes an unlikely radical: he looks like someone whose life will work out fine if he just keeps showing up. But for more than two years, Janson, a budding political scientist, has played David to the University of Pennsylvania's Goliath."

-- Daniel Duane, "Eggheads Unite"

Well, it's the same old, same old. Workers want to form a union, managers want to prevent workers from forming a union.

Deputy Provost Peter Conn thinks it "makes no sense" that "an Ivy League graduate student researching Edmund Spenser is to be identified with a sanitation worker.'" It's funny how the very mention of "union" is enough to elicit such candid expressions of class snobbery and class anxiety. But this is the Ivy League! We're not to be equated with -- gasp! -- sanitation workers. There is Spenser, and there is garbage, and we must not confuse our categories.

Quite. Let us not confuse our categories.

As I see it, there are employers and there are employees. Sometimes their interests will nicely coincide, and sometimes they will not. Increasingly, they do not coincide. And of course it's not very nice when they don't.

I'm not even going to bother with the apprenticeship argument, at least not at the moment. This entire blog is an argument against the relevance of apprenticeships and guilds and the like. I wish it were otherwise. I'm only joking when I say I want to start my own online university; I am appalled by the spectre of the University of Phoenix. I wish it did make sense to talk of apprentices and guilds. Unfortunately, it does not.

Penn's president disagrees. Penn's president Judith Rodin, who makes "more than a million dollars a year if you include other corporate-board fees" (the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that she received the handsome sum of $808,021 in pay and benefits during the 2001 fiscal year), and who has "publicly referred to herself as Penn's C.E.O.," insists that the corporatization of the university is ''completely spurious.'' She speaks of "nurturing" and "nourishing." But (well, what do you think they pay her for? believe you me -- and I say this as both an invisible adjunct and a mother -- you don't get $808,021 per annum to "nurture" and "nourish") she is apparently a skilled hand at union-busting:

"Brought in by the trustees in 1994 in part to trim the staff, Rodin infuriated Philadelphia's working class by appointing the management consultants Coopers & Lybrand and eliminating more than 3,500 positions -- breaking a decades-old union in one instance, simply by moving the Penn Faculty Club across the street to the new DoubleTree hotel."

I won't argue that unionization is the panacea for all ills. Nor will I deny that it might create new tensions and problems. I will point out, however, that graduate teaching assistants at Canadian universities and at a handful of American universities have been unionized for some thirty years. And I will assert my support of the principle that workers have the right to enter into collective bargaining units if they see fit to do so. Never mind what management wants to call them: hands or apprentices or sanitation workers or what have you. There are employers and there are employees, and if you don't think the employers have a union of their own, you are, in the words of the inimitable Smith, "as ignorant of the world as of the subject." Or perhaps not ignorant, but something worse than ignorant.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:59 AM | Comments (15)

May 05, 2003

Where the Adjuncts Have Equal Status

"Kathy Sole, who teaches English on the Seattle, Washington campus is happy at Phoenix. Everywhere else she taught, Sole felt like an 'outsider.' As an adjunct she was at the bottom of the hierarchy, far below administrators and tenured faculty. Professors would hold parties without thinking of inviting adjuncts, or convene meetings without seeking the advice of their part-time colleagues. Sole always felt 'her status as an adjunct to be inferior to that of the full-time faculty.' But Phoenix is different. Nearly everyone teaches part-time. No one has tenure, and, aside from a few administrators, no one has rank. The result, Sole believes, is an egalitarian university where 'all faculty members have equal status.'”

-- Chris Cumo, "Phoenix Rising"

The other day I asked the following question in the comments section to the entry "What Ever Happened to Scholarly Conversation?"

"The democratization of higher education (the enormous expansion, the opening up of the university to women and minorities both as students and, to a lesser extent, as faculty members) pretty much coincides with the trend toward corporatization. Is the commodification of education the price we must pay for its democratization? I don't think there is a necessary and inevitable link, and yet I can't help wondering whether there isn't some sort of link? This puzzles and troubles me."

(Wow! Talk about a me-zine. Yes, this is a "vanity site." I'm just going to keep linking back and forth to my own entries and comments.)

Anyway, here's one answer to my question. Behold the University of Phoenix, an egalitarian university where all faculty are treated equally, which is to say, all faculty are treated equally badly. Chris Cumo reports that of the 12,000 faculty members that the university employs, all but 250 are adjuncts.

There's been a lot of talk lately about the two-tier academic labor system and what to do about it: policy statements have been issued, proposals put forth and debated, and so on. But the University of Phoenix is way ahead of the game: they have discovered an easy solution through the elimination of the top tier.

Interested in learning more? Give them a call at 1-800-MY-SUCCESS. (Dear God. For this I went to graduate school?)

The adjuncts don't make much money, but the university is turning profits:

"Phoenix 'makes one hell of a lot of money,' says Director of Academic Affairs Jonathan Edelman of the Western Michigan campus in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Apollo Group, which owns the for-profit university, earned $1.1 billion in 2002, according to T.D. Waterhouse. During that same year, its stock rose 6.71 percent to $43.58 per share at year’s end. The Apollo Group expects to earn between $1.31 billion and $1.315 billion in 2003, and projects earnings between $510 million and $515 million for the University of Phoenix."

Well, now that I've got a handle on this blogging thing, I think I'm finally ready to get with the programme. I've had done with such old-fashioned notions as the history profession as guild, academic work as quasi-sacred calling, the university as a protected space offering an alternative to the values of the market. It's high time I signed on with the forces of corporate innovation. But I don't want to teach for $1000 a course. No, I'm starting to think big: I want to start my own online university.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:26 PM | Comments (12)

May 03, 2003

"Make Sure that the Faculty There Are Not All Dead"

"Before choosing any program, make sure that the faculty there are not all dead. Anecdotally, at least, it appears that some schools with excellent faculties do not have any non-dead faculty members. And some programs with exceptional faculties -- like the Apostles of Galilee -- simply have no track record, as of yet, for immortality. See the listing of Prominent Faculty Who Are Dead in Part II of the Report. (Of course, this advice does not apply to students seeking admission to the Sixth Circle -- see below.) (TH)"

-- from The Lighter Report, a parody of The Philosophical Gourmet Report (which already seems self-parodic in its ambitions: so a parody of a parody?)

Via the comments section to my entry on Anxiety and Insecurity, Ted Hinchman of diachronic agency directs us to an important source of practical information for prospective Ph.D. candidates in philosophy. Though specifically aimed at would-be philosophers, who face the daunting task of selecting from amongst such world-class programmes as The Sixth Circle of Hell, the University of Texas at Austin, and the School of Zeno and Chrysippus, this no-nonsense guide offers a wealth of advice that might also be applied more broadly. Indeed, I've been so concerned on this blog to advise people against entering humanities graduate programmes in the first place that I've neglected to provide much-needed words of wisdom for those who will insist on following their scholarly lights down the well-worn path to academic proletarianization. Take, for example, the following nugget:

"Students should also beware of 'masthead' appointments -- big names that show up on paper but rarely in person. Soon after Oxford advertised the appointment of John Locke, for example, he skipped town for a series of leaves (1665-6 in Brandenburg; 1667-1675 in London; 1675-1679 in France; 1683-1689 in Holland). Some of his orphaned advisees are still trying to schedule their dissertation defenses. (DH)"

My inside sources inform me that Thomas Hobbes' advisees fared even worse, largely because they had enrolled in a programme that lacked official affiliation, but also because their mentor had too many enemies at Oxford. Some of them lost their heads during the Rump Parliament. Please be sure your graduate programme of choice has been officially accredited by the proper authorities.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:20 PM | Comments (1)

May 02, 2003

Unpaid Helpers

"At 8 a.m. each Thursday, he meets for an hour or so with his assistants. The men among them wear ties to the meetings, as they do for classes and discussion-group sessions; the women wear slacks and blouses. No one wears jeans or tennis shoes. Mr. Halgin treats his assistants not like the unpaid helpers they are, but like colleagues. At the meeting, every TA gives a status report on the discussion groups. The businesslike atmosphere strikes a positive chord with the assistants."

-- Thomas Bartlett, "Big, But Not Bad"

Big but not bad? Frankly, I'm sceptical.

The "unpaid helpers" to which this article refers are undergraduate TAs for Professor Richard P. Halgin's "Abnormal Psychology" course at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a huge lecture class that enrolls hundreds of students.

I've no doubt Professor Halgin is a fantastic lecturer. This article reports that "he plans each 75-minute session almost to the minute, from opening remarks to closing comments. Yet the lecture does not feel canned. Mr. Halgin's delivery is casual and conversational, as if he were chatting with a friend. He does not, under any circumstances, wing it." And I'm sure he knows his stuff inside out: he's been teaching in this area for thirty years, and he is the author and co-editor of several works in abnormal psychology (the Chronicle provides a brief intellectual biography here).

But I must confess I'm a little concerned about the following:

"Given the budget strictures of many colleges, it's unlikely that most professors can hire a flotilla of TA's. Indeed, at UMass, Mr. Halgin's department provides just two graduate assistants for his course. Because two is nowhere near enough, he recruits 15 undergraduate TA's, all of whom have already passed the course with an A or a B. Each one also has to fill out an application form, write a short essay, and provide letters of reference. Mr. Halgin gets three applicants for every position, despite the rigorous process and the lack of pay. (The undergraduate TA's do get three hours of course credit.)"

So having passed the course with a B might qualify one to work as a teaching assistant? Well, I hope the grading standards are rather higher than any I've come across lately. In my experience, a B is ... hmm, how do I put this? Remember how, a few years ago, the fashion mavens declared that gray was the new black? It didn't last, of course, these trends never do, so there are a lot of gray cocktail dresses lying crumpled in a heap in the back of women's closets (black is always black, ladies: never mind the fads, get yourself one good black dress and you won't go too far wrong)... well, I think B is the new C. Or just about. It is average to slightly above average. But this is the humanities I am talking about, and of course I cannot speak to the field of psychology, where the grading standards might be much more rigorous.

Anyway, the point is, these undergraduates are working without pay. They do get course credit, of course. But I can't help wondering whether they wouldn't be better off taking courses for course credit? Though perhaps not. Teaching is, after all, an intellectually challenging endeavor, a "learning experience," to adopt the current jargon; more pragmatically, the TAship is presumably a good line on a resume. Still there is that business of not getting paid. They work for the university, and the university does not pay them. I'm going to pull out an old-fashioned word here -- it's a little bit musty and fusty, but then, I'm a little bit old-fashioned about these things, out of touch, I suppose, with the new world order -- and I'm going to call this exploitation.

Just for the record: as an undergraduate I too worked as a TA. The university paid me. But this was in that country to the north, where there are labour laws to protect against such exploitation.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:54 PM | Comments (22)

April 28, 2003

An Update from "Doctor Outsider"

The other day I posted a link to Michele Tepper's "Doctor Outsider." She updates her account here, assuring us that, so far, her story has a happy ending. Further evidence in support of the shocking and heretical notion that there is life outside the academy. This blog entry entitled "The Droves of Academe" is also worth reading.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:44 PM | Comments (0)

April 26, 2003

"Doctor Outsider": A PhD on Leaving the Academy

"I shift my weight and launch what is, by now, a practiced speech. 'Well, rather than stay here and do a lectureship next year, I'm going to try my luck in new media — you know, Internet stuff'....
She puts a comforting hand on my shoulder and looks deep into my eyes. 'Don't worry. You have to keep plugging away, but I know you'll find that academic job eventually!' And with one more reassuring shoulder pat, she is gone. I gaze after her in disbelief, and I feel another headache coming on."

-- Michele Tepper, "Doctor Outsider"

Here is a very interesting and provocative essay by an English Ph.D. (you can visit her blog here) who made the very wise decision to leave the academy rather than spend years "plugging away" in the hope that she might "eventually" land that tenure-track job. Not surprisingly, Tepper found that her attempt "to build a meaningful professional and intellectual life outside the academy" was "consistently denied, denigrated, or ignored" by those who chose to remain within. Her essay examines the "unexamined elitism and unwarranted defensiveness" behind such opposition.

This is well worth reading, and I'll have more to say about it later, but for now, must attend to that other dimension otherwise known as my real life...

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:37 PM | Comments (0)

April 25, 2003

Should Virgil Starkwell Have Been Promoted to Full Professor?

"The university had hired Starkwell in the late 1960s, when faculty jobs were plentiful. The story goes that the dean at the time drove around to the big graduate schools in the Midwest and the Northeast, offering jobs to anyone with a pulse and a dissertation nearing completion.
Of course that's not what actually happened: There were real faculty searches then, just as there are now."

-- Dennis Baron, "Promoting Late Bloomers"

Virgil Starkwell was hired back in those halcyon days when there was a chicken in every pot and a tenure-track position for every Ph.D. who wanted one. Ok, so the dean didn't really drive around to graduate schools handing out tenure-track jobs to anyone whose vital signs were good and whose disseration was three-quarters finished. And of course there never actually was full employment for Ph.D.s within the academy: the golden age was never that golden, golden ages never were. Still, once upon a time, during the boom of the late 1960s, "faculty jobs were plentiful" and one of those jobs went to Starkwell.

Virgil Starkwell is the subject of the latest in a series of columns on tenure review that Dennis Baron is writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education. (I blogged about Baron's Alison Porchnik case here; we now learn that Porchnik did win tenure despite her failure to "shift the paradigms" of her area of specialty.) This is an interesting and even, in its way, an entertaining series. Baron offers an inside view of the many (the very many) perils and pitfalls of the tenure review process, and he does so with wry humour. He also displays a sense of decency that some of us worry is in rather short supply in today's academy. In other words, Baron is not only the chair of an English department, he's also a mensch.

Starkwell managed to get tenure, Baron explains, just about the time that standards for tenure were tighening up (they are now much tighter still: though I don't know firsthand, of course, my numerous sources inform me that the standards for tenure now hold junior faculty members in a vice-like grip). But he seemed destined to become one of the "'lifetime' associate professors, stuck at that rank for the rest of their careers." He was, Baron writes, "one of several department members hired in the golden years whose research seemed to stall out after he got tenure." In short, Starkwell didn't publish. But neither did he perish. Instead, he become "a solid department citizen." Though he was, Baron concedes, "a little retro perhaps, when it came to new turns in the curriculum," he was "always a beacon of personal integrity," who could be relied on to "deal fairly and efficiently with colleagues and students" and who had "managed to head just about every department committee as well as serve in a number of key administrative roles."

One day, "after 20 years of scholarly doldrums," Baron recounts, "like Rip van Winkle awakened, Starkwell burst through his writer's block." He started publishing: peer-reviewed articles, a scholarly reprint of a poet's work, a monograph with "a second-tier university press." And then, "with a service record that was legendary, a revived scholarly career, and retirement not too far off," Starkwell decided to try for full professor.

Not suprisingly, objections were raised. Among the questions asked by the review committee were: "Why now?... Why not wait to see whether this burst of energy would be sustained? Did we really want to promote a consistent underperformer?" While some were willing to reward Starwell's "new productivity" with "a handsome raise" that might spur him on to continue, they worried that "promoting him would cheapen the title of full professor."

With the help of a sympathetic dean and a couple of external reviewers, Baron managed to push through Starkwell's promotion. Virgil Starkwell is now a full professor.

Should he be?

Not that I have any say in this or in any other matter relating to faculty hiring and promotion (if I did, you can be sure I would vote to give myself a tenure-track job), but I'm inclined to say Yes, they made the right decision.

Of course I am well aware (only too well aware: welcome to my blog) of some of the problems this type of case raises. And of course I am bothered by just such problems. A Starkwell hired a generation later, it's fair to assume, would not be coming up for promotion to full professor, because a Starkwell hired a generation later would never have made it to the level of associate. Publish or perish? Yes, and what's more, in today's academy it is also possible to publish and perish. There are academics on the margins who have published more than Starkwell published during those twenty years, and who have even published more than Starkwell came out with after his scholarly awakening. I personally know a few of them, perhaps you do too.

Is it fair that someone who didn't publish for twenty years now makes it to full professor while others who publish -- and who do so without the very real and material and psychological aids of an institutional home, an office, the help of support staff -- cannot even make it onto the tenure track? No, it is not. It is patently unfair: the two-tiered academic labour system that is now firmly entrenched within the university is an unfair and an unjust system.

But there are systems and then there are individual cases within those systems. And it hardly seems fair to penalize an individual for these vast systemic problems. Not when he has been a solid citizen and a "beacon of personal integrity" for twenty years, and has then topped it all of with a late but no less impressive flurry of publication. Moreover, not giving Starkwell a full professorship probably wouldn't do much to redress the job problem: since he would still be there as an associate, refusing him a full professorship wouldn't open up a tenure-track job for a junior scholar.

Then again, I have to wonder: are there adjuncts teaching in Starkwell's department? Well, it's looks as though there might be. It's hard to know for certain, of course, when dealing with such thorny and delicate issues. Many departments are rather shy about their reliance on part-timers, they like to hide their "extra" faculty, which is where we get our invisible adjuncts. But certainly there are quite a few "lecturers and instructors" (look under "People," then look under "Lecturers and Instructors") in addition to the regular faculty (in addition? well yes, adjuncts -- though it looks as though a good deal of teaching is done by these "lecturers and instructors": at what point should we say that the regular faculty are in addition to the adjuncts?). Anyway, some of these additions are obviously graduate students, so we won't count them. Marc Bousquet would say we should count them ("The myth is you work for four or five years as an apprentice, then find a full-time job," Bousquet said. "The reality is that you work 10 to 12 years as a part-timer, then find another line of work.") I'm pretty sure Bousquet is right about this. Cary Nelson, too, would undoubtedly say that we should count them, and Nelson is in fact a regular faculty member of Starkwell's department. But for the moment, let's not count them: Let's agree to the agreeable fiction (it is highly agreeable, though alas! largely a fiction) that these Ph.D. candidates who teach so many courses are serving an apprenticeship that will allow them to move up through the ranks from the lowly grind of graduate student life to the lofty heights of full professorship. Still, even taking out the graduate students, it looks like there might be a few, perhaps more than a few, post-Ph.D adjuncts teaching in this department. And what are they publishing, I wonder? And how much are they being paid to teach those courses? (actually, I don't wonder about this one, I already know the answer).

So it's all a bit of a muddle. Virgil Starkwell was hired under one set of rules, and then the rules changed, and though he spent years not following the new rules, he did make a 20-year contribution of another sort before making a real and apparently successful attempt to catch up with the new rules. And then there are the adjuncts, and another set of rules altogether. I'm still inclined to think they did the right thing. But I can't help thinking about the adjuncts.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:48 PM | Comments (0)

April 24, 2003

"Thanks for Helping Out": An Adjunct Explains Why He Quit

"One short interaction with such an administrator prompted me to get out of teaching for good. Near the parking lot one day, I introduced myself to the president of our community college. 'My name's Matt Hall,' I said. 'I teach English here part time.' Our president looked at me and said, 'Thanks for helping out.'
Helping out? I watched as he got into his brand-new Lexus and drove away..."

-- Matt Hall, "Why I Quit Adjunct Teaching"

I sometimes complain that the Chronicle of Higher Education's coverage of academic labour issues is altogether too optimistic. But here they have published an essay that speaks to some of the grim realities -- and that captures some of the fundamental absurdities -- of adjunctification, and with wit and humour. A must-read for adjuncts.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:02 PM | Comments (5)

April 17, 2003

James McPherson on the "Old Boy Network"

"My own path to Ivy League employment, by contrast, was ridiculously easy. One day in 1962 the chairman of the history department at Princeton phoned my Hopkins adviser, C. Vann Woodward, and asked him if he had a 'young man' to recommend for an instructorship (then the first rung on the tenure-track ladder). Woodward recommended me -- I don't know if he even had to put it in writing -- and Princeton offered me the job, without a real interview and without having seen any dissertation chapters. This was the infamous 'old boy network,' surely the most powerful instrument of affirmative action ever devised."

-- James McPherson, "Deconstructing Affirmative Action," Perspectives, April 2003

Damn. We used to joke about this kind of thing in graduate school. But I thought the stories were fictions, or at least grossly exaggerated and highly embellished accounts that did express a fundamental truth about the differences between the generations, and more specifically about the diminished expectations of our own. Turns out at least one of the stories that circulated was factually true.

McPherson is a history professor at Princeton and current president of the American Historical Association. His reflections on affirmative action are worth reading.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:59 PM | Comments (14)

April 12, 2003

Still Thinking About Graduate School in the Humanities?

I could have been someone
Well so could anyone
You took my dreams
From me when I first found you

-- The Pogues, Fairytale of New York

Sometimes, the rhetoric of economic self-sacrifice that prevails among teachers reflects what the old Marxists called 'false consciousness.' There is an artificially constructed 'supply-demand imbalance' between faculty positions and qualified candidates. So, in the desperate competition for academic jobs, wages can be lowered and benefits eliminated (with the questionable promise of a 'real' job later). Seeking to preserve their dignity and enhance their status, many teachers come to believe that their unrequited toil is a form of good citizenship or even spiritual devotion. The intensity of their rhetoric is often in direct proportion to the degree of their exploitation.

-- Thomas H. Benton, "Should We Stop Fooling Ourselves about Money?"

Ah, the old Marxists. I miss the old bastards. I really do.

My introduction to the old Marxism was the "Introduction to Political Science" course that I took during my first year at university. The professor (whom I now realize was either an advanced graduate student or an adjunct lecturer, but at the time I knew nothing of academic rank and hierarchy...would that I had remained in this state of innocence!), the professor was a young, but not too young -- say early thirtysomething -- Marxist from the old school. He was smart, he was articulate, he displayed flashes of wit and occasionally of brilliance, and he spoke with withering scorn of the mystifications of bourgoeis ideology. And all of this in a German accent. Be still my heart. Of course I had a crush on him. I can still see the diagrams that he furiously sketched out on the blackboard: base and superstructure, the Canadian class system, the whole rotten-borough system that was rotting to the core. He went at that board with anger and eloquence, chalk to chalkboard as though launching a campaign: the words rang, the chalk dust flew, and my heart thrilled to the attack. Talk about sublimation.

But I digress.

On to part II of my ranty-flavoured "Thinking about Graduate School in the Humanities?," in which I betray my bourgoeis heart. Petit bourgeois am I in upbringing (a topic about which I may blog in future), bourgeois am I to the core.

So then:

In my opinion, the application forms for humanities Ph.D. programmes should carry the warning: "Enter at your own risk." The fine print should read: "The risks include poverty, shame, humiliation, and clinical depression." You will of course find no such warning on the graduate-school application forms. And incredibly enough, even at this stage in the game, you may still encounter tenured faculty members in said programmes who refuse to even consider the very sensible proposal of limiting graduate-school admissions in order to address the problem of an oversupply of academic job candidates, and who justify their position with such nuggets as, "Well, nobody's forcing them to go to graduate school." The more fools they. And the more fool you if you don't ask yourself some pretty tough questions before you sign on with them.

Now, when I entered grad school 9 years ago, the tenured faculty members who were actively recruiting and encouraging new entrants should have known that many of these aspiring members of the profession would not find jobs. But let's cut them some slack. Let's grant them the somewhat dubious claim that they didn't realize what was going on in their own profession right under their very noses. Today they do know. Nobody can now claim not to know what are the dismal prospects for employment in the humanities. And yet there are many humanities faculty who still refuse to limit entrance rates to their graduate programmes. What does this suggest about these "professions"? To me it suggests an impulse toward professional suicide. A course here, a conference there, another grant proposal due today, another article due tomorrow, the games must go on, the life of the mind must run its course...But make no mistake: we are in sudden death overtime, with only ten minutes remaining.

Now let me try to explain just why it is I think you should think twice (no, thrice) before embarking on a Ph.D. in the humanities.

A humanities Ph.D. takes many, many years to complete. The pursuit of this degree involves an enormous investment: not just financial (e.g., salary foregone) but mental, psychological and emotional. And entry and/or attempted entry into the profession places you in a peculiar sitatution, wherein you experience a strange combination of the conditions of both alienated and unalienated labour. The conditions of alienation are bleak enough, and they are real: low wages, unemployment, under- or sub-employment, genteel poverty, exploitatation, and ramen noodles. For more on this theme, I recommend you spend some time perusing the pages of workplace: the journal for academic labor.

At the same time, if you have the passion and the interest to stick it out and finish the degree, you will probably also experience a kind of unalienated labour. You're not punching a time clock and putting in X number of hours to earn X number of dollars. No, no, you have your "work," and your work becomes an important part of who you are. You will develop and deeply internalize an identity as someone who does/as someone who is this work. You are your work, and your work is who you are. Well: I've punched a time-clock, and I've completed a Ph.D., and I'd like to let you in on a dirty little secret: unalienated labour is not all that it was cracked up to be by the old Marxists. A bit of fishing, a bit of criticism,... well, it's just not like that. You don't go fishing. Or at least, you don't go fishing very often. And when you do go fishing, you can't really fish, because you're too busy fretting about the criticism you should be doing instead: "Why am I fishing?! I should be criticizing!"

And if upon completion of your work, you fail to find a position (and this is a very real risk), you will experience it as a personal failure, and you will view your own person as an abject failure -- and this, no matter how much you know about the structure of the job system, the ratio of candidates to jobs and so on.

Now, if you were looking at a programme that took one or two or even three years to complete, it wouldn't be such a very bad thing if upon completion you couldn't find employment in your field. Granted, it wouldn't be a great thing; it would probably feel awful for a while and you would no doubt have some regrets about having spent those one to three years in pursuit of a degree that would not actually give you a reasonable shot at employment.

But how much worse to spend five or six or seven years! At a time when you could be building a viable career, and also creating a life for yourself (which might involve marriage, maybe having a child or two, possibly even buying a home or at least moving into a half-decent rental), you are toiling away in relative poverty, perhaps accumulating debt, and living under conditions of massive anxiety and insecurity. You must delay and defer so much of what many people (perhaps including yourself? be honest, now) would consider a decent, liveable life, and without even a reasonable chance that it will all be worth it in the end. And I'm not talking about fame and fortune, the pursuit of filthy lucre and lots of it, but just the basics of a modest middle-class life: say, a living wage with health insurance. Be still my bourgeois heart.

Does my desire for a modestly middle-class life betray a lack of real passion for my subject and field? Perhaps so. Certainly, I didn't always see things this way. Alas, I now shudder at the mixture of naïveté and arrogance that motivated my decision to pursue a doctoral degree in history. When I first entered graduate school, I was fully committed to what I thought of as "the life of the mind" and didn't pay much attention to such sordid practical concerns. Or at least, I tended to repress all nagging doubts and questions. But I gradually came to realize that this wasn't enough, that this would not do. That though I had no interest in becoming rich, I simply didn't want to spend the next 20 years eating ramen noodles and living in a one-room apartment.

And where I had once rather looked down at those who were busily pursuing jobs/careers/marriages/family out there in the real world while I engaged in something loftier and more pure... Well, let me conclude this overlong entry by saying two things: First, if I had to do it over again, I would not go to graduate school; and second, I try hard, really hard, not to hold it against those undergraduate professors of mine who encouraged me to go to graduate school and who actively discouraged me from going to law school because I was "too smart" for a legal career. Ach. I was smart enough, I suppose, in the booksmarts way, but it turns out I was actually rather stupid: not smart enough, that is, to not listen to such silly advice.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:40 PM | Comments (21)

April 10, 2003

Adjunct + Dystopia = ?

You seek new monsters from the world new-found?
New ways of life, drawing on different springs?
The source of human virtue? The profound
Evil abyss? The void beneath all things?
Read here what's traced by More's ingenious pen,
More, London's pride, and Britain's first of men.

-- To the Reader [of Utopia] by Cornelis De Schrijver

Adjunct + Dystopia = Adjunctopia

My fellow adjuncts,

I'm not trying to bring you down. I'm just trying to bring you and me and all of us around to a keener sense of an underlying reality. "The void beneath all things."

Behold the void that fills the void:

"For Adjunct Professors,

Adjunctopia is changing the way experienced professionals enhance their careers...
Adjunctopia + you = less effort + better career"

Well, it's some sort of job listing clearinghouse designed to match up potential employers with potential adjunct employees through the use of a "database." I suppose they might have some basis for the "less effort" claim, but a "better career"? I guess "better" in the sense that it would allow you to view yourself in the light of an adjunct-entrepreneur, a dynamic career-enhancing professional who knows how to make use of the new e-tools that define synergetic overachievement?

But not too dynamic, not too overachieving. Check this out:

"At Adjunctopia, we know that our human capital is our most valuable asset. As a result, we focus our efforts on working only with the best and brightest.
If you are a highly talented individual with an overachieving personality, get riled when your boss says, “No. It can't be done,” and you truly want to change the world, then we are interested in you!
Email your resume to
Important Note: If you're interested in opportunities at colleges and universities, this page isn't for you. Instead, you should register as a candidate by clicking here.[emphasis mine]"

Got that? If you are an adjunct, this page is not for the likes of you. But never mind. Your own page is a click away. Click here and register now.

But I'm wondering who is their target audience? Who amongst present and future adjunct faculty would need to be reminded that most insitutions "require you to have at least one advanced degree:"

"You might have no experience teaching in a college or university setting, or you might be a leading researcher [!?]. It doesn't matter. Please note: Most institutions require you to have at least one advanced degree."

"It doesn't matter," says Adjunctopia. They promise to "eliminate the pain":

"Eliminate The Pain

Over the past 30 years, colleges and universities have increased their reliance on part-time and adjunct faculty instruction. The use of adjunct faculty in higher education continues to grow as the number of people looking to further their education increases. Life-long learning may be considered merely a buzzword today, but it is quickly becoming an imperative."

I like that bit about going from buzzword to imperative. They come so close to admitting they are the void beneath the void. But there's something else here that deserves a moment of scrutiny, a half-truth that constitutes a lie. "The use of adjunct faculty in higher education continues to grow as the number of people looking to further their education increases." This suggests an inevitable causal link: more students leads to increased reliance on adjunct faculty. But this leaves out an important part of the equation: more students plus lack of funding and decreased support for education leads to increased reliance on adjunct faculty.

Adjunctopia also offers "new" and "unique" services for employers (and "at pricing plans that fit [their] budgets"):

"We're tailored specifically to your industry to eliminate the static of unrelated professionals. Our profiles are targeted specifically to professionals interested in teaching at colleges and universities, so you won't get phone calls for insurance jobs."

Well, you know, if *I* were looking for a job in insurance (and, uh, maybe I should be), I know the first move I'd make would be to call up the chairs of some academic departments to ask if they had any openings. I bet academic chairs get a lot of these phone calls. It's about time someone did something to eliminate this "static."

You too, my fellow adjunct, can become an Adjunctopian. But I'm curious: Can a company really make any money with this scheme?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:35 PM | Comments (2)

April 07, 2003

Earn Your Degree Fast!

"When you purchase pursue your degree through AIU's online campus, your classroom is as close as your Internet connected computer. No need to rush to class right after work, spend your weekends inside a classroom, or put your life on hold. At AIU Online, class starts whenever and wherever you log in. You can participate at any time of the day or night and have the same great experience...
....Whatever your situation, AIU can take you to the next level of education and opportunity, at your convenience."

-- "Virtual Class," an unsolicited email sent to me by American InterContinental University Online

When I received this spam from the American InterContinental University Online, my finger paused over the delete button. Oh, I knew I should trash the message immediately, but (it's like picking at a sore, I suppose), I just had to read on. So I clicked on the link that shouted "Visit For Your NO COST information."

I have visited the online university, which bills itself as "A Modern Virtual Campus with a Brick & Mortar Pedigree," and I now offer the following traveller's account for the edification of my fellow adjuncts. Never let it be said that I haven't done my best to bring you up to (hyper)speed on the latest teaching opportunities for those who wish to join a team which "[creates] incredible synergiesfrom which remarkable success and overachievement is produced."

Do you want to become an online faculty memberof the AUI Online? You are but a mouseclick away from submitting your application, which should include the usual elements -- cv; cover letter; transcripts; references; statement of teaching philosophy (philosophy? that has rather an antiquated ring, but I suppose it is part of the "brick and mortar pedigree" to pay homage to the dead) -- along with something they call "datasheets," to be obtained how and where and why I cannot say. There's no mention of salary rates on the website, but they boast an impressive line of benefits: Flexibility (again, the early-modern putting-out system); Add to Your Experience; Networking with Others. Description of the requirements for employment is just the standard blather, though with the additional requirement of willingness and ability to master the principles of Fourth Dimension Learning (TM). If you are selected for one of their exciting employment opportunities, you will be required to "attend an online orientation, hosted on our Virtual Campus," for which you will almost certainly not be paid. After successful completion of this virtual (dis)orientation, you will then "teach" courses designed by their own "internal course development staff, [who] work with subject matter experts to develop all courses in-house, [so that] online faculty have more time to teach, coach and interact with students." In other words, prefab syllabi to ensure a standardized course delivery system.

Teaching I know. But "coaching" and "interacting" in a virtual dimension? This they did not tell me about in graduate school. Ah well, there's a lot they didn't tell me about in graduate school.

But let's stay positive, shall we?

If the AIU Online website is offering an accurate representation of its student body, you will also have the satisfaction of knowing that your students look like Banana Republic models. You know the look: casual elegance with a slight hipster edge, the "new neutral" tones with clean, uncomplicated lines. Not that you will ever meet any of these beautiful young people in the flesh. But you can imagine them in your virtual classroom. In so doing, please conceive of at least one exceptionally good-looking female student who is very, very blonde and at least one exceptionally good-looking male student who is a very dark-skinned African American. Imagine the two of them sitting next to one another in order to highlight the harmonious contrast. Very chic, very cool, very Banana Republic. Of course these two students wouldn't really be sitting next to one another, each would be attending class from the privacy of his or her own home, perhaps thousands of miles away from one another. But you may fantasize and synergize as you please: the virtual university is everywhere and nowhere.

There is more. For example, among the amenities it lists is something the AUI Online calls "an award-winning Cybrary." But I find that I am having trouble with my synergy. (I am redundant. Aren't I too young to be so very redundant?). So I will have to leave you to conduct your own online exploration, but not without offering this final word of warning: The Webmercial is a must-see, but please don't watch it if you are in a "down-and-out-in-the-academy" mood.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:27 PM | Comments (6)

What is a Visiting Assistant Professor?

Job advertisements supply direct and concrete evidence of the current state of the profession and also offer hints and clues concerning the profession's future (or perhaps lack thereof).

Here's a recent advertisement for a position as Visiting Assistant Professor:

"The History Department at Miami University invites applications for a visiting assistant professor in American History for the 2003-04 academic year. Any specialty of U.S. history is acceptable, but preference will be given to 19th century U.S. and/or women's history and/or race and ethnicity. Duties include teaching both halves of the U.S. history survey and upper-division specialty courses. Ph.D. in hand by date of appointment (August 19, 2003). Send letter of application, c.v., evidence of teaching experience, and letters of reference to the address below. Screening begins April 15 and continues until position is filled."

Ok, that's straightforward enough. For whatever reason, this department wants to hire a one-year replacement. Perhaps their regular 19th-c. American historian is going on sabbatical; perhaps it is a female faculty member who has been "irresponsible" enough to contribute to the continuation of the species; perhaps the 19th-c. American historian recently retired or is about to retire, and the department does not yet have the go-ahead (approval plus funding) to conduct a tenure-track search, but still has to meet student demand or curriculum requirements for courses in 19th-century American history. They will hire a recent Ph.D. who is currently unemployed or underemployed to do the work of an assistant professor. They will pay this person much less money than they pay a tenure-track assistant professor, but this amount will still be far more than is the current rate for "adjunct" teaching, and they will probably throw in a few of those benefits (eg health insurance) of which adjuncts can only dream.

Given the dismal state of the academic job "market" in history, this is not a bad gig. Certainly, it is far better than adjunct teaching. By the way, this department's decision to hire a "visiting assistant professor" rather than an adjunct assistant professor should not necessarily be attributed to their kind hearts and keen sense of responsibility to the profession. Such decisions generally have a lot to do with access and availablity. In an urban area, where unemployed and underemployed PhDs are a dime a dozen, a department will usually hire adjuncts to fill in their teaching gaps, because this saves them a lot of money. But the department of an undergraduate college in a small town that is isolated from PhD-producing research universities will not have access to a pool of cheap teaching labor. And they couldn't possibly induce people to move to the town for the purpose of adjunct teaching: the pay rates are too abysmally low. Instead, they must rely on a "visiting assistant professor," which is to say, someone who will hold a full-time but limited term (most often a one-year) contract.

Now here's another advertisement for a position as Visiting Assistant Professor:

"The University of North Florida seeks to hire a Visiting Assistant Professor with a specialty in modern history, to begin in academic year 2003-2004. This is a non-tenure earning position. The person hired must be able to teach both small and large-lecture sections of the second semester of our western civilization course, as well as upper level courses in the area of specialization. Candidates must have completed requirements for the Ph.D. before the contract begins. Teaching experience and evidence of potential for teaching excellence are required. Send complete dossier, including a letter of application, curriculum vitae, graduate transcripts, and three letters of recommendation to the address below. The search committee will begin considering applications on March 31. The search will remain open until the position is filled. For more information visit our Web Site. UNF is an Equal Opportunity/Equal Access/Affirmative Action Institution."

Notice anything different? Of course you do. This department is not looking for a one-year replacement, someone to fill in for the year 2003-2004. The position begins the year 2003-2004. When does it end? Impossible to know from this advertisement, but I find it interesting that they need to emphasize that "this is a non-tenure earning position." Everybody (at least everybody who would be reading this advertisement) already knows that a "visiting assistant professorship" is a non-tenure track position. A visiting assistant professorship is a full-time but temporary (usually one-year, sometimes two-year, ocassionally three-year) position. Kind of makes me wonder. For how long, exactly, is this department planning to pay host to its "visiting" assistant professor? Longer than one year, clearly, for it begins but does not end in 2003-2004. For two years? Three? Five? Permanently? I have heard of a new phenomenon whereby the term "visiting assistant professor" is used as a euphemism for "semi-permanent to permanent full-time non-tenure track position at half the salary of a regular tenure-track professorship." I may be wrong, of course, but I think this advertisement may offer a concrete example of this new variation on the ongoing indirect attack on tenure.

My husband is after me to go to law school. My husband is probably right. Off to practice logic games for the LSAT.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:00 PM | Comments (6)

April 06, 2003

Adjunct as Activist? A Brief Introduction

"Having gone through the transformation, over the past 2-3 years, from a demoralized, depressed adjunct barely hanging on to his career to an assertive, angry activist who's won some respect from both administrators and tenured faculty (along with higher pay and benefits, thanks to collective, union action), and knowing that some of you are just beginning this process, I'd like to offer my summative perspective and advice."

-- Larry Kaye, "How to Become a Successful Activist"

A few weeks ago, I posted some of my thoughts on the "adjunct as entrepreneur"model. Arguing that the adjunct instructor is in no position to act as pedagogical entrepreneur, I suggested that the attempt to recast part-time, low-wage work as a form of entrepreneurship is little more than a compensatory fiction. I might have added, I suppose, that, though regrettable, it is not at all surprising to see the development of a new deformation professional in response to the deprofessionalization of academic teaching. For the moment I don't have much more to say about this deformation, which strikes me as both ineffably sad and almost comically silly.

Next up on my agenda is the "adjunct as activist" model, which I think deserves more serious and sustained attention. But though I don't dismiss it outright, I have to say that I view the "adjunct as activist" ideal with a good deal of ambivalence and a certain degree of scepticism.

On second thought, I guess I do have one more thing to add about the "adjunct as entrepreneur" idea. The idea -- to put it bluntly and perhaps not entirely fairly -- gives me the creeps. It makes me think of creeping through the corridors of academe, Uriah Heep-like, in a posture of sham humility, mouthing the pieties of one's betters, perhaps even going them one better ('who wants a full-time job in the academy? all that committee work and those endless dreary faculty meetings! no, no, I'm fine, thanks for asking, why no, I don't need health insurance, never sick a day in my life, why yes, I have read the university's mission statement on the pursuit of excellence in research, teaching, faculty development, student retention, alumni relations, and parking lot maintenance, excellent plan, excellence all around and I for one am fully committed to the pursuit of all-round excellence, and no, I don't need an office, I'll hold office hours in my car, no need for old-fashioned amenities like offices and support staff when you're on the cutting edge of efficiency, it's all about economies of scale, by the way, in the production of your commodity, in short, these are exciting times for educational entrepreneurs and I'm just darn lucky to be here'), all the while keeping a sharp eye on the main chance...except that there is no main chance, no Agnes Wickfield, no partnership in the firm, nothing but more part-time low-wage teaching, unless one tries to carve out a niche as adjunct "coach" and consultant, or perhaps turns one's sights toward a career in college administration. But if I don't want to be an 'umble charity school pupil, I'm not so sure I want to be an angry young man either. Did I spend so many years, first in graduate school, then in postdoctoral research, and devote so much of myself to teaching and research and writing, only to be told that I must now mount the barricades and storm the edifice that for so long I have considered my second home? "False consciousness," replies the adjunct-activist, and not without good reason. What kind of home is it, after all, that could make me feel so little at home? Anyway, I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this ambivalence, and I'm almost certain such ambivalence is a major obstacle to activism.

It will probably take me two or three postings over the next couple of weeks to work through the sources of my scepticism and ambivalence and try and figure out whether or not I should be this sceptical and this ambivalent. I plan to start with Marc Bousquet's "The Waste Product of Graduate Education: Toward a Dictatorship of the Flexible" (Social Text 20.1 [2002], 81-104; available online through Project Muse, but access requires subscription), which will be the focus of my next "adjunct as activist" entry. Bousquet's article is smart and provocative and a little bit infuriating, and it challenges me to think harder about the complex issues surrounding academic employment and academic restructuring. As such, I think it will serve as an excellent point of entry.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:47 PM | Comments (1)

March 13, 2003

Reshaping the Job Market?

In a recent letter to Perspectives (the newsmagazine of the American Historical Association), Alexandra M. Lord of the United States Public Health Service says some important things that need to be said. I wonder if anyone is listening?

As Lord points out, "Year after year, Perspectives seems to be publishing the same articles on the current academic job market and the poor prospects which confront most new PhDs. Judging by the trends of the last few years, it seems highly unlikely that the academic job market will improve this year or anytime in the future." Lord is irritated by this narrow focus, and so am I.

I am especially irritated by Perspective's tendency to trumpet an infinitesimally small increase in the number of job openings as a sign that the job market is improving. See, for example, "Job Market Report 2002: History Posts Gains Despite Economy;" "Job Market Report 2001: Openings Booming...but for How Long?;" and "Odds for Applicants Improving, According to Survey of Job Advertisers." Note the titles of these reports, and then read the reports carefully with a close eye on the numbers: it doesn't take an advanced degree in statistics to spot the discrepancies between the optimism of the titles and the pessimism of the figures cited. I would also recommend Russell L. Johnson's very useful 1998 Job Market: A Realistic Appraisal), which Perspectives declined to publish.

Alexandra M. Lord wants Perspectives to take another, "more aggressive and more varied" approach to the job problem: Instead of "discussing minute differences in the number of jobs each year," she writes, "Perspectives needs to initiate and publish studies and information on historians who work outside of the university. Although rarely discussed within academia, there are incredible opportunities for historians in policy positions, business organizations, and a variety of other fields—but this information as well as the pleasure nonacademic historians have found in their jobs is never openly or seriously discussed in Perspectives." I think Lord is exactly right about this. The "job market" for academic history is bad, has been worsening for almost a decade, and will probably get even worse before it gets better (if it ever does get better, and it won't improve until those who are in a position to do something about it actually start doing something). Many history PhDs are simply not going to find full-time employment in the academy and will have to look elsewhere. Why not take an active role, Lord asks, in "[placing] historians in business, government, and other professions"?

Lord's proposal is not another version of "a Ph.D. in the humanities can serve as preparation for a wide variety of careers outside the academy," which I discussed a couple of weeks ago. That is, she does not say something like, 'Let's continue to train people very narrowly for academic careers that many of them will never have, and then at the end of the day tell them, Your training has somehow or other served as preparation for a variety of unspecified pursuits about which we can tell you nothing.' Instead, she makes the connection between academic and non-academic job markets and points out that the development of non-academic job markets for historians would help not only those historians who must look outside the academy for employment but also those historians who remain within:

"Moreover, if we educate historians about job opportunities outside of the academy, we can reshape the job market. Scientists can and do command higher salaries and lighter teaching loads because university administrators recognize that scientists have job opportunities outside of the university. If historians can introduce a similar form of competitiveness into the history job market, opportunities, salaries and teaching loads may shift."

This is very different from the current laissez-faire "You've got your Ph.D., now go find your own parachute" approach. And for me, it helps to clarify what I now see as a crucial point about the academic history job market: namely, that the academic history job market is not a "market" at all but is rather a failed labor monopoly. Indeed, I think the academic history job system now combines the worst of both worlds: it uses the language of the market to describe what is effectively an increasingly ineffective and unsuccessful guild system, and then tells those who are shut out of the guild to compete openly in a non-existent external market. And the only way that this job system could become a "market" in any meaningful sense, I believe, would be through the development of a real, identifiable alternative market for historians outside the academy. Legal academics have such a market, as do some scientists working in some fields. And of course, historians will never command the salaries and benefits that law professors can command, because there will never be the equivalent of the Manhattan law firm as an alternative career path that the historian foregoes in order to work in the academy. Nevertheless, there could and should be another, albeit somewhat more modest, market for historians, and I think Lord is absolutely correct to suggest that the AHA should be doing much more to develop and promote such an alternative.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:39 PM | Comments (0)

March 12, 2003

Adjunct as Entrepreneur?

Jill Carroll has been writing a column ("The Adjunct Track") for the Chronicle of Higher Education for over a year. Though she offers some useful advice on such tricky dilemmas as how to hold office hours without an office, the framework within which she chooses to view the issue of adjunct teaching strikes me as incredibly naive and highly misleading.

Basically, Carroll proposes to replace the "paradigm" of adjunct as exploited low-wage worker with that of adjunct as entrepreneur. As the Chronicle put it in a feature article published in August 2001, "Jill Carroll wants adjuncts to think about themselves as entrepreneurs selling a product to a client." Carroll teaches 12 courses a year at three separate campuses -- and "that doesn't count the continuing-education classes or the literature course for convicts on probation" -- and now earns $54,000 a year. She is, the Chronicle tells us, "a small-business success story."

The keys to her success? The keys are both practical and psychological. "The key, she says, is to develop courses like products: Systemize their production until you can reap the benefits of economies of scale. Make them classes you can teach over and over, without mountains of preparation each time." But successful enterpreneurship begins with a positive attitude: "It all starts with how you think," she says. "I know it sounds very pop psychology, sounds like Oprah. But it's true."

Yes, that does sound very pop psychology. And I'm afraid such pop psychology does not meet my criteria of what could reasonably be considered as "true." Kind of reminds me of that "don't sweat the small stuff and it's all small stuff" stuff. Sure, some of it, probably a lot of it, is small stuff. But it's not all small stuff, and just saying that it's small doesn't make it small.

In her latest column, Carroll reiterates her approach as follows:

"Finally you can pursue the entrepreneurial approach, which is the one I have advocated in this column. It's worked quite well for me and for lots of other adjuncts working in larger cities. This is as much a psychological strategy as anything, in that it chooses to view adjuncts as freelance workers who sell their services to different clients within their market.
Even though we don't set our own rates or get to charge kill fees, approaching the adjunct situation within this paradigm is fruitful for the new possibilities it creates. You hustle up as much work as you can in your area, always improving your quality of service (teaching, grading, whatever), becoming ever more time-efficient and skilled in your work so that you can shoulder more clients, and earn more money, without going insane."

I think this "adjunct as entreprenuer" strategy is nothing more than a compensatory fiction. It is, as Carroll admits, largely a psychological strategy. Yes, you are marginalized, underpaid, unsupported and exploited, Carroll concedes. But instead of allowing this to make you feel bad about yourself and your position (because it will otherwise make you feel very bad indeed, and you might even find yourself "going insane"), you should redefine yourself as a freelance worker, calling yourself an entrepreneur who delivers a "quality product" to a growing base of "clients," and finding a basis for self-esteem and self-fulfillment in the "skill" and "time-efficiency" with which you deliver your product.

Problem is, as Carroll finally admits in this latest column (and I think this is the first time she has made such an admission), the adjunct is not really -- indeed, not at all -- in a position to behave like an entrepreneur: "Even though we don't set our own rates or get to charge kill fees," she concedes. Well, that's a pretty big concession. That pretty much qualifies the notion of adjunct as entrepreneur into the region of sheer fantasy. As Keith Hoeller (Cofounder, Washington Part-Time Faculty Association) pointed out in a letter to the editor in response to its August 2001 article,

"If Professor Carroll were in fact a self-employed entrepreneur with years of professional experience, she would be earning $200,000 a year and not $54,000. She would set her own rates and allow enough to purchase her own medical and retirement benefits; cover her transportation costs, office rent, phone bills, and marketing and promotional materials; and set money aside for periods of unemployment. She would also write her own contracts -- and include hefty cancellation penalties" (Letter to the Editor, Chronicle, September 14, 2001).

Indeed. For all practical intents and purposes, the adjunct is a low-wage worker without benefits who can be hired and fired at will. So in what way can the adjunct be an entrepreneur, except in his or her own mind?

Anyway, is this what teaching should be about? The delivery of units of quality service (lecturing, grading, and etc) by freelance workers with no real stakes in the curriculum, the department, the institutions in which they work? And if this is ok, then why have tenured faculty at all? Why not abolish tenure, eliminate all but a few full-time positions within any given department (cannot entirely eliminate full-time positions, must keep a small permanent base of adminstrators/overseers), and have the bulk of teaching done by part-timers ("free-lancers")? I believe this is the direction in which we are moving, and I suspect there are legions of university adminstrators who would love nothing better than to speed up this process. Call me old-fashioned, but I think this is not a good thing. My problem with the growing use of adjuncts is partly, I will admit, motivated by self-interest: I don't like to be marginalized, underpaid, unsupported, and exploited. But part of it stems from a real concern over the future of higher education, and what the shift from full-time to part-time positions signals about this future.

But I suppose a part of me has to give Carroll her due: in attempting to redefine low-paid, contingent labor as an enterpreneurial strategy, she exposes the commodification of education and the corporatization of the university to sometimes brilliant (though often absurd) effect.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:28 AM | Comments (4)

March 10, 2003

Ghosts in the Classroom?

Ghosts in the Classroom (Michael Dubson, ed.), a collection of essays by adjunct faculty, has been on my must-read list for several months. According to one (Canadian) reviewer, these "tales of the American part-timer reveal pain, sadness and rage," but "the overwhelming feeling that I got from reading this set of stories was bitterness." Which is why, I suppose, I am not quite ready to read this collection. I am trying to move "beyond bitterness," I suppose, and I must confess that I not always successful in the attempt. Perhaps immersion in such a collection could help strengthen my (sometimes weak and wavering) resolve to get out of the academy before it's too late? But at the moment, I fear it would only contribute to a sense of sadness and futility that inhibits rather than enables positive action. I don't know.

One thing I do know: I am not a ghost in the classroom. A ghost in my department? Yes, absolutely. I am invisible to most full-time faculty and also (and in practical terms, more importantly) to the staff who run the office, many of whom can never seem to remember who I am and what is my business and even what is my name. Does it sound too sad/bitter/melodramatic to say that I die a small death every time I feign a brisk cheerfulness as I explain to one of the secretaries in the office that I am So-and-So who needs you to please unlock the door to Office Number XXX so that I can hold the weekly office hours for which I am not paid? Something inside me feels like dying when that happens, and yet of course this is small matter, and just a tiny little "death" that is not at all a death, and something that would barely register on any just scale of human injustice and human misery. So yes, that does sound too sad.

And so I remind myself that I am not a ghost in the classroom. My students see me and know me. And when I am teaching I am fully alive and fully visible.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:07 PM | Comments (2)

March 02, 2003

An Online Adjunct Advertisement

I wonder if the future of academic history can be glimpsed through advertisements for online adjunct teaching positions? Here is a recent example, taken from the Chronicle of Higher Education's online Career Network, where one can find many more advertisements in the same vein.

Devry University Online, the advertisement reads, "invites applicants for history adjunct position." The position "offers the capability to work from any home office in the United States." Any home office?! Well, that's quite an offer, no? But isn't it the job candidate who would offer such a "capability" to the employer/university? Ah well, why be a stickler for details? Moving right along, we find that the requirements for this exciting employment opportunity include an MA in History and "a minimum of 5+ years successful teaching experience." For "successful teaching experience," you may substitute "positive teaching evaluations from students whose grades were inflated." Now is it just me, or is there not something profoundly depressing about the idea that someone who had been teaching for five or more years would be desperate enough to apply for such a position?

Nice to know that Devry University Online is an Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity Exploiter (er, Employer). But they left out one crucial detail, almost a prerequisite for an academic job announcement these days: that is, they forgot to mention that the university is fully committed to the pursuit of excellence.

Off to polish my CV.


When I question the notion that the university is offering the adjunct teacher the "capability" to work from a home office, I am not merely being snarky.

Think about it: The university pays the adjunct a wage to "teach" (if we may use that term to apply to this brave new world of online pedagogy) X number of units to X number of students. Since the adjunct does this from his or her own home, much of the overhead cost of running the course is effectively transferred from the university to the adjunct teacher -- ie, from the employer to the employee. All of the costs of running an office -- heat, electricity, telephone and internet connection, wear and tear on equipment and the like -- are absorbed not by the university but by the adjunct. The adjunct cannot bill the university for these expenses. Indeed, the adjunct's wages for the "teaching" of an online history course will not even suffice to keep body and soul together, never mind covering the overhead costs of the endeavor.

So the employer enjoys the advantages of little to no overhead, minimal investment in fixed capital, and extreme flexibility in its workforce (adjunct teachers are paid by the course and are hired and fired at will). Electronic sweatshop? No, I don't think we've advanced quite that far in the economic restructuring of the university. Sounds more like the proto-industrial putting-out system that characterized the early modern textile industry. The sweatshops came later.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:50 AM | Comments (3)

March 01, 2003

Ph.D. as Preparation for Nonacademic Careers?

Call me bitter and disillusioned and downright cranky (no, really; go ahead: you won't be telling me anything that I don't already tell myself), but I am really tired of hearing the following platitude:

"A Ph.D. in the humanities can serve as preparation for a wide variety of careers outside the academy."

To which I always want to reply: Uh, no, you've got the whole thing ass-backwards.

Perhaps you meant to say something like, "If you are capable of completing a Ph.D. in the humanities, then you are also capable of preparing for a wide variety of fields outside the academy." True enough. I won't argue with you there.

If you have the brains/talent/stubbornness or whatever to read a hundred books or so in a few specialized fields, take and pass comprehensive exams in those fields, pursue intensive research on a topic of your choosing, write a three to four hundred-page narrative/account based on that research, all the while perhaps preparing classes on topics about which you know little to nothing, advising students, grading papers and exams, writing conference papers and grant proposals and so on ... well, yes, if you have the brains/talents/stubbornness or whatever to do all of the above, then you surely have the brains/talents/stubbornness or whatever to pursue any number of other careers in the big, wide world beyond the academy.

But to say this is not at all to say that whatever it is you are doing in the academy can be seen as a useful "preparation" for the myriad of other things you could be doing instead. I doubt very much that it is a useful form of preparation. I rather suspect that a more useful (and infinitely less painful) mode of preparation would involve skipping the academy altogether (do not pass go, do not collect $200) and moving directly into the relevant nonacademic field.

As a kind of pep talk for people like me (i.e., underemployed Ph.D.'s working as adjuncts, finally facing the brutal reality of the job "market" in their field and realizing that they need to get the h-ll out of the academy), I suppose I can meet the above statement halfway. But as a justification for business as usual (i.e., 'let's continue to recruit people into our graduate programs even though we know they'll never find full-time work in the academy; after all, they can always find work afterwards as ... well, as something or other, Hollywood screenwriters or something...; can't think of anything too specific, but the Ph.D. must surely serve as preparation for a wide variety of nonacademic careers'), I find it intellectually specious and morally bankrupt.

End of rant. Now where is my toddler? I need to remind myself that life is pretty darn good in spite of the academy.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:45 PM | Comments (7)

"Bacchanal of the Bespectacled"

I made the mistake of reading the New York Observer's account of the annual meeting of the Modern Languages Association (MLA) just before attending the annual meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA). Ouch.

It is perhaps a little too snide, but mercilessly funny and frighteningly accurate. The article describes the meeting as "a jittery orgy of power, insecurity and angst" and has great fun with the extreme (and extremely absurd) gap between the literary fat-cats at the top of the profession and the desperate job-seekers at the bottom. Much the same could be said of the AHA, except that historians are a lot dowdier than literary types, so don't look for "bright prints and chunky jewelry" at the historians' annual meeting.

Thomas H. Benton's (or perhaps William Pannapacker's?) account of the MLA is also funny, and I think a little more humane in perspective.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:17 PM | Comments (0)

Thinking about graduate school in the humanities?

Don't do it. Do yourself a favor and do not go to graduate school in the humanities. No, not even if you burn with a passion for your field of study that will not be denied. You can deny it, and in my opinion you should.

Now, obviously it is your life and your future, and only you can decide on the path you choose to take. You are of course free to accept or reject my advice as you see fit.

But if you are bound and determined to go to graduate school, please do some research first. Talk to as many people in your field as you can -- and not just to tenured and tenure-track faculty members and to pre-ABD graduate students but also to graduate students who are nearing completion and -- perhaps most crucially -- to those who have recently completed the Ph.D. Do some research on your field, and on the specific schools/departments/programmes you are considering. In terms of the specific departments, try to get statistics on their placement rates. This won't be easy and may not even be possible, because many departments (my own included) do not keep accurate records and present highly misleading information in their promotional literature. But certainly you can find general information on the job "market" in your field. Take a good, long, hard look at the numbers, and keep this figure in your head as you contemplate your future.

As I see it, the humanities "professions" are failed, or at least failing, professions. They have failed to secure the most basic requirements for their continuation as professions. Indeed, in my opinion, no profession that treats its aspiring/junior/entry-level members the way they are treated in the humanities deserves to be called a "profession" at all. And unless they make some radical changes, and soon, I doubt very much they will survive much longer as viable professions.

Now, if you do the kind of research that everyone should do before signing on for graduate studies (please note: I did not do this kind of research, much to my regret), you will probably come across an argument (if I can dignify it with that term), or at least a response, to the current employment problem that goes something like this: Granted, the job market is not great, but nobody is forcing anyone to go to graduate school and, after all, nobody should feel entitled to a job.

And of course it is true that nobody should feel entitled to a job, because nobody is entitled to a job. But I ask you to consider the nature of this response very carefully indeed before placing your fate in the hands of those who would respond in such an irresponsible fashion to a serious employment problem in their own profession.

There are not many other professions/guilds/associations/unions in which the senior members would make such a reponse to an employment problem that had reached the magnitude of the job crisis in the humanities. There are not many other professions/guilds/associations/unions that would stand idly by and allow entry rates to so greatly outnumber actual positions, and that would allow -- indeed encourage -- the widespread use of cheap, contingent labor. While academics tend to be smart, some of them very smart, people, until very recently many of them failed to grasp a basic point that would have been readily apparent to an illiterate silkspinner in medieval Lyons: if you allow the use of cheap, contingent labor, you will depress the wages (salaries) and degrade the status and working conditions of your guild (profession) members, and you will fail to maintain your labor monopoly. Let me emphasize: There is something deeply, structurally wrong with a profession that allows and even encourages the use of cheap, contingent labor.

Well, the grass is always greener, of course. And I am well aware that it's not as though completion of a professional degree in other, nonacademic fields guarantees the degree holder a job. But in most other professions requiring an advanced degree, the gatekeepers to the profession do make an effort to keep entrance rates in line with actual or projected available positions. They don't always get it right, of course, but at least they do try. And not because they are kinder, gentler souls than academics, and are thinking things like, "Gee, wouldn't it be awful to encourage bright, idealistic young people to waste a good portion of their adult lives in a fruitless pursuit?" But rather because they realize that if they allow the market to be flooded with an oversupply of aspiring entrants, they will eventually hurt themselves because this situation will damage the profession as a whole.

Now, let's allow that in any field or profession there might always be more aspiring entrants than actual positions. And let's grant that not everyone who completes a given degree is a worthy candidate for full employment. And let's further concede that some degree of competition for scarce resources can be a good thing. How much competition, and how much scarcity? What percentage of unemployment or under-employment is acceptable? It really is a question of degree.

10 percent? Yes, fine. It seems reasonable to suppose that perhaps 10 percent of those who jump through all the hoops and complete all the requirements might not be suited to full empolyment in their chosen field. 20 percent? Well, perhaps. But here I would start to ask some questions about the profession. 40 percent? Now here we have identified a real problem. Greater than 50 percent? Well, now we are looking at a failed or at least a rapidly failing profession.

"Well, nobody's forcing them to go to graduate school." True enough. And nobody's forcing them to not go, either. But if you are considering graduate studies in the humanities, I entreat you: please take a good look at the numbers and think carefully about the meaning and significance of these figures both for your own future and for the future of your contemplated field.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:37 PM | Comments (2)