Monday, April 18, 2011

Are You Getting Your Adjunct On? A Few Do's And Don'ts For New Members Of The Adjunct Army

Course by course, we build the nation!
Nick Parker's article about "The Adjunct Economy" in Boston.com is a must-read for anyone in a tenured or a tenure-track job, mainly because our lives are structured so as to obscure the way the majority of our fellow scholars live and work.  As Parker, who teaches at Babson College, notes, adjuncts dominate the academic labor force and have become the new normal.  In Massachusetts, there are over 19,000 adjuncts at work, "nearly 60 percent of the 32,000 or so faculty members in the state," Parker writes.  "When you factor in graduate-student teachers, who often lead the discussion sections in math and science courses, the figure tops 70 percent."

This isn't just a community college, or public university, issue.  For example, did you send your kid to Harvard to be taught by Nobel Prize winners? Think again. "At Harvard, adjuncts accounted for 57 percent of the faculty in 2005," Parker writes; "At Boston University that year, they made up 70 percent. And over the last three decades, the number of adjuncts employed across the country skyrocketed by 210 percent while tenure-track faculty hirings rose merely 7 percent."  Yes, things have gotten worse.  But even before the financial crisis, at Zenith we were approving faculty privileges for two and half pages of adjuncts (single spaced) at the beginning of every academic year.

If you are a newly minted (or not-quite hatched) PH.D. in the social sciences or humanities, you are most likely to be teaching as an adjunct in the fall (guess what?  post-doc is now frequently just a fancy name for "full-time adjunct.") You are also hoping to leverage this into what used to be known in the profession as "a real job."

Here are a few hints for you:

Do finish your dissertation/get your book proposal out/get an article circulating.  I know that you love, love, love teaching.  But guess what?  Everyone does, or claims they do, and it's still the people who finish things and publish them in prestigious locations who have a shot at a career in teaching, not the people who love teaching more than anyone else does, hold a quazillion office hours and over-enroll their courses.  Those of you who immerse yourselves in teaching during that first year out as an adjunct as if you were in a tenure-track job are doing something wonderful for your students, but are cheating yourselves.  The quickest way to remain an adjunct is to devote yourself to what adjuncts do:  teaching core courses competently and creatively to full, or over-full, houses.

Don't listen to senior colleagues who tell you that there will soon be a line in your field and that you are ideally positioned for it.  Gah! Every time I hear this -- and I have been hearing it for my entire career -- I wish I had a photograph of the Road to Hell, which is, I am convinced, paved with adjunct faculty who were fed this line.    The idea that you actually have some control over your fate is attractive, I know, but the fact is, in a two decade career I know exactly three people who were hired by a school they were teaching for as adjuncts.  I have, however, known dozens of people who have felt angry and betrayed because they were assured that this adjunct job was a stepping-stone to a bright future at that very same institution. Then, either no job was established in the field, or worse, someone shiny and new waltzed into the search and made them seem so Last Year in the eyes of the department. Strangely, this seems to happen to people in women's studies, ethnic studies, queer studies....there's a theme here, but I can't quite grasp what it is......

Never mind.  An adjunct job is an adjunct job.  It is temporary.  Don't forget that.  And if you have been hired as an adjunct at a very prestigious school it has the highest likelihood of being temporary, although it may be a nice wedge into a good job elsewhere.

Do move, or at least rent a room, if you must commute to a full-time adjunct position.  There is nothing more annoying than hiring someone to do full-time visiting work and then have them work essentially part-time because it isn't a tenure-track job.  Full time means 3-4 days a week, depending on the teaching schedule you are assigned; it means meeting with your students in office hours; and it means meeting with your students outside of office hours if they can't make it in the two hours you have decided you are willing to contribute outside of class.  It means not pestering people you barely know for rides to and from the train station because you got a visiting slot in Bumpuddle, RI, but you don't want to give up your apartment in Cambridge because you heard there will be a great job at MIT next year.

However, the other reason to establish a presence is that this is an opportunity for you to actually do your work in a community of scholars, and to wean yourself from your primary identification with your graduate school.  While it is foolish to commit yourself to them in ways that detract from your scholarship, a year in a department is potentially a year of new readers, new discussions, and new people to support your career.  How can they do that if you aren't there?

Don't get involved in student politics.  Particularly at small liberal arts colleges, particularly if you are faculty of color, or queer, or working class, students will be enraptured by you.  They will bring little projects to you like cats dropping off mouse carcasses at the foot of the bed at 3 A.M.  Don't get involved in their "fight" for ethnic/queer/disability studies, most especially if that was what you were hired to teach.  Why?  Because lurking behind your efforts is always the fantasy that you are creating a job for yourself and it's not true.  Also, you will make yourself noxious to your colleagues, many of whom may support the agenda at hand, but will have a better sense than you do of what the institution will and will not support.  Yes, there should be a permanent line in Martian Studies rather than a revolving door of adjuncts, and yes, it does say something about how Martians are marginalized in the university that there is not.  But it ain't your problem.

Do expand your view of what you are willing to do to work in higher education, keep your scholarship going and build a rewarding career.  Most institutions are subtracting full-time faculty and adding administrators:  it's the cold, hard truth.  Many administrators also teach, and it is not beyond reason that a person with a high scholarly profile who has stepped off the tenure-track might end up with a terrific and interesting job.  Instead of obsessing about all that time you "wasted" in graduate school preparing for the tenure track job that doesn't exist, have lunch with archivists, people from the grants office, university press editors, deans, media and oral history project directors, and the people who do co-curricular planning.  You don't need tenure to have a secure or rewarding life in academia.  What tenure does is make a lot of decisions for you, and leave you free-ish to do your writing.  But although the tenure-track job holds out the potential for security,  it also places constraints and burdens on you that other jobs do not.  It is worth thinking about whether the advantages of such work are really worth what you are putting into the project of finding a job as a scholar-teacher.

Don't get angry about being an adjunct.  The real problem right now is that education is in chaos.  It seems pretty clear that there is no commitment among private or public institutions to return to full-time labor, and this situation is unlikely to get better in the time frame you need to establish a life and a pension plan.  Be clear about why you have decided to teach adjunct and what it has to do with moving forward in your life project. Rethink this continually, and be entirely selfish in the decisions you make. Anger at others -- your undergraduate mentors for "lying" to you about graduate school (they may well have, but what did you want from it?); your graduate mentors for not having enough influence; your current employer for exploiting you (because people aren't exploited in other professional occupations, I guess) -- is unproductive and pointless.  Anger, IMHO, is often a symptom of a deep-seated shame about not having succeeded in a tangible way, and a strategy for deflecting that shame onto others because it is too darn painful.  You need to address this if it is so, because you have nothing to be ashamed of.

Anger in itself is not a terrible thing, and appropriately directed, it can lead to constructive action.  But inappropriately directed, it can cause you to start acting like a crazy person over time, which diminishes the possibility that you will acquire allies to help you move your career forward in any way at all.

Do join the union if there is one.  You think you aren't "like" those other people?  Oh yes.  You are.

62 comments:

Anonymous said...

Everything you say is exactly right. And here is one more point: often the faculty in your department and university are not your friends. I'm a proud union officer (and tenured full professor and former adjunct) and often I hear my tenured faculty colleagues complaining about how hard the union fights for the adjuncts in our union and for our affiliated graduate student union. (We ignore these complaints by the way). It is a class thing--the faculty worry abou their retirement benefits; the adjuncts worry about eating. Whenever I hear complaints about academics being on the left I chuckle a bit.

Historiann said...

Great advice. My department is one of the many that are now the "new normal" adjunct majority. I want to emphasize your point about not counting on an adjunct position to turn into a TT offer--x1000. In fact, in all but a few rare departments any more, I think adjuncting for a department raises the bar a candidate needs to clear if they apply for a TT job in that department. It stinks and it's not fair, but that's the way it is. Institutions do not reward loyalty. I'll say it again: institutions do not reward loyalty. They reward displays of your market value--i.e. getting attention and job offers from other institutions.

In order to maximize the chances of moving out of adjunctville, candidates need to conduct aggressive national and international job searches. You'd be surprised how many fewer job applications we get from scholars out here in flyover land. (We still get far too many applications from perfectly qualified, well-trained, and interesting people, but your chances of landing an interview are better than if my insitution were within 50 miles of a major East Coast city or Chicago or LA/SF.)

Hanging out waiting for that perfect job to open up on the commuter rail lines from Boston or New York will only increase your chances of being a permanent adjunct.

Jonathan said...

Terrific advice, and virtually all of it true (I think). I would disagree with only the claim that: "post-doc is now frequently just a fancy name for "full-time adjunct." I don't think that's right either in letter or spirit. No matter how teaching intensive, postdocs always come with salary and benefits, whereas adjuncting does not. (If I'm wrong about this please say so.) Moreover, a post doc still has some element of achievement for a vita, whereas adjuncting (alas) really doesn't.

BlackDog said...

Thank you for this. Spot on. I printed the first rule and pinned it to the top of my computer as I labor along on the diss whilst adjuncting.

In our last job cycle, I watched two colleagues who (a) claim to hate teaching and (b) trash talk their undergraduates at every opportunity get work at small liberal arts colleges. That was quite the wake-up call.

Anonymous said...

Good advice -- except maybe the "don't move" one, where I think you sound overly mocking and derisive. I imagine it's pretty typical for adjuncts to think something along the lines of: "If the institution has no commitment to me, why should I commit to the institution?" And this is a totally rational thought to be having. It would be sort of slavish and pathetic NOT to be having such thoughts. By transitioning to contingent labor, universities are all but guaranteeing a labor force with no local institutional or communitarian commitments.

Anonymous said...

Another problem with the "don't move" piece of advice. If networking within a "community of scholars" is, as you say, so important to the budding academic, then isn't Cambridge a much better place to do this than, say, rural Connecticut? Don't forget, adjuncts are mostly very poor. Unlike the full-time professor, they don't have the savings or departmental resources to jetset around the country going to conferences. If you have a place to live in Boston, then going to lots of academic conferences becomes vastly easier. You mock this straw-man adjunct who's hanging around Cambridge waiting for a "job at MIT." Well, chances are this straw-man is actually doing the smart thing. They might not get that MIT job, but at least, in this environment, they can network work their way into some unexpected academic opportunity -- whereas at Zenith they'd just be trapped.

And then there's the fact that your advice would lead to adjuncts changing towns literally every time they change contracts. That's insane. How on earth is an actual human being supposed to maintain life relationships under such conditions?

Yeah, so the more I think about it, the more this actually seems like terrible advice.

Historiann said...

Anonymous 9:26 makes a decent point, but that may only apply in the specific case of Zenith v. Cambridge, in the case that one attended grad school in Cambridge and already has a lively, established community there. I lived in Cambridge, Mass. after not having attended grad school there, and found the Boston-area community of scholars rather difficult to penetrate until I made a friend in my field at Harvard and she introduced me around.

In most cases, it's not an option *not* to move, so in that respect TR's advice is sound. Bloom where you're (temporarily) planted isn't such terrible advice, although I admit that it sounds a little dissonant with the advice to apply for other jobs everywhere and not to expect loyalty or consideration for adjuncting.

Anonymous said...

I agree with almost every word of this except for the last point, which I sort of half-heartedly agree with.

It is absolutely true what the state of the state is in higher ed, and the adjunctification and casualization of labor. But like most struggles that revolve strongly around axes of wealth, privilege, class, and the other usual suspects (race, gender, age, etc.), structural injustice is an enormous factor.

I cannot see how any faculty, adjunct or not, can look at the enormous allocations devoted to subsidizing athletic programs in American universities, compare that to the regard for scholarship and labor, and avoid intense, searing anger. (I am not opposed to college athletics or sports; quite the contrary, I love both, but I am opposed to the political economy of athletics programs in American universities).

As you say in the post, this is very much righteous anger, and I think it can be a positive force to avoid internalizing the shame and stigma that is so often directed at the vast majorities who mostly because of the structural injustices are unable to secure a TT job. Anger should be appropriated where it belongs, and by channeling it at the grievous injustices which combine to devalue labor and concentrate wealth in the hands of a relatively few persons, many of whom are only remotely connected to teaching and scholarship, it could conceivably be a powerful means of self-validation.

IMO, if you are not outraged, you are not paying attention, and some righteous anger on the part of adjuncts, or those of us like myself who are astonishingly fortunate enough to have landed a TT job, is not only appropriate but perhaps even obligatory. No?

New Kid on the Hallway said...

I think "do move" is excellent advice, actually, if your gig is with a liberal arts college like Zenith, or a place that similarly values "community" and "collegiality" and what not. Such schools get very snippy if they feel you think you're "too good" to live on/near campus. And such institutions can provide great experience in being part of an academic community, and learning how to be a full-time faculty member.

But I don't think it's as important if you're at a bigger, more anonymous place (AKA the vast majority of institutions). I VAPed at 2 such places in big cities, and honestly, even if I had wanted to hang around and be part of the community, it would have accomplished exactly nothing, given the complete lack of opportunity for adjuncts to interact with the rest of the department. At those schools, no one would have had any idea where the hell I actually was living. At one of these schools, the dept chair explicitly told me that I should feel free to come in, teach, hold office hours, and leave, because they weren't paying me enough to expect me to do service and otherwise be part of the community. To some extent I would have been a chump putting my eggs in that basket, rather than using the time to publish and network more broadly.

In such situations, I don't think where you live makes a lick of difference. If you can foster a good relationship with the chair who hired you (often, simply by not causing any problems), that seems to me as much as you can ask in such positions. You're better off networking in other ways.

(I think, too, there's a big difference between adjuncting and VAPing. If you're a VAP, institutions are more likely to incorporate you fully into the department for that year you're there, especially if you're temping for someone who's normally an integral part of the department. Adjuncts teaching one or two classes don't usually get such treatment. People should adjust their behavior accordingly.)

New Kid on the Hallway said...

(Oh, I also meant to add: I do think that yes, adjuncts should often expect to move every time they change contracts. Yes, this is really tough on human relationships. Getting an academic job and maintaining human relationships in a particular community are goals in fundamental conflict. Hopeful academics need to figure this out early.)

Anonymous said...

Excellent, excellent advise.

Anonymous said...

New Kid on the Hallway @ 9:47:
"Move every semester" might make sense according to the logic of the job market, but it's not humane advice. It's like "advising" a stressed out student to take more crack so they can study harder (which I assume TR would never advise, and hopefully she'll come around on this "moving" issue).

Tenured Radical said...

Um, moving is not like smoking crack.

And it's just advice, not a rule. The part of the advice you dropped out is "or get a room."

Janice said...

Like Historiann, I know a lot of qualified people overlook "undesirable" situations such as my own. The year there were searches with identical requirements, one at southern Ph.D.-granting U and ours at northern M.A. granting U? We had about 1/3 of the applicants they did with, presumably, a fair bit of overlap.

If you really can't stomach the thought of moving to the boonies for a VAP or t-t gig? Your odds for even making the short list just went from 1/30 to 1/100 or 1/500. That is, if we even have a job to offer ever again!

Anonymous said...

TR, your position on the moving issue COULD be "department faculties need to understand that it's unhealthy for adjuncts to be constantly uprooting themselves, all for the sake of a little pocket change. Therefore, unless the job description specifically requires the adjunct always be on campus, we should not use the professional carrot and stick to pressure them into uprooting themselves."

Instead your position is "how DARE they ask me for a ride to the train station. I guess they must not take the 'community of scholars' very seriously." I'm disappointed. This is exactly why so much of the anger (see your final bit of advice) is being directed at tenured faculty, rather than at administrators (where it should be directed).

Anonymous said...

Also, TR, you say it's "just advice." Fine. But it's clear enough from your post that YOU are the one negatively judging those adjuncts who dare to hold on to their connections in other places. YOU'RE the one who feels offended by this practice, even though this practice is a totally rational labor response to a short-term, low-wage job contract. It's your air of indignation at these adjuncts that I find alarming.

Anonymous said...

I am an adjunct turned VAP and I think a great deal of that transition had to do with the fact that I do go to athletic events. I eat in the dining hall. I attend speaking events on campus. I walk my dog around campus. I volunteer for any kind of call for volunteers on campus. I'm out there and part of the community. Everyone says the job market is much about "fit" so I am practicing those skills of "fit." I also teach and research and grade and write. I have office hours and advise students as much as a non-advisor can (or should). Even if a TT job is not in the cards here, I do hope that a strong letter of recommendation is at play here. So yeah, I live near my school, I think of it as MY school, and I wear the t-shirt.

Adjunct said...

While I applaud prominent tenured folks (radical or otherwise) paying attention to these issues, I find some of this post a bit condescending.

And your position on the moving issue, it seems a little hypocritical in light of your "Ice Storm" post (2/2/11):

"The assumption is that those who can get to work easily set the norm; the rest of us are deviant to a greater or lesser degree, and in danger of revealing ourselves as slackers. This norm was set back in the 1940s and lasted until the mid-1970s or so. It was set prior to the emergence of two career couples, the employment of people of color at Zenith, working mothers, parenting fathers and the ability of GLBT people to find, and live openly in, heterogeneous, progressive communities. Zenith has many virtues, but it doesn't accommodate any of these things well, either as a school or as part of the small city that it inhabit."

Anonymous said...

I see the value of living in the community of scholars/teachers/people who populate your school. It is a great way to make new friends and colleagues -- and friends matter in this business! And you can get useful feedback on teaching, writing, and what it means to be a good "fit" in any academic institution.

But I also recognize that it isn't always doable or desirable -- because living in a larger community (larger as a relative term in contrast to the actual school itself) is not always easy for queer or LGBT people, single people, people of color, parents (single, married, cohabitating, etc.), "sandwich"ed people who care for aging parents and children, people with different physical or mental abilities (that may or may not be visible), and so on. To suggest that anyone uproot themselves for a year, year to year, might be untenable for a number of people, for a number of reasons. Someone on a one-year appointment simply may not be able to move, even to rent a room. Hell, lots of people commute to their tenured and tenure-track posts simply because of family considerations, economic realities, social and cultural needs, and other things. Geographical distance may be unavoidable, but even more, it can be good and can make someone a better colleague in the long run.

Of course, I suppose all of these things have to be balanced with the appeal of living the life of the mind.

That said, this is great advice for all of us.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I'd second Historiann's point: your employer does not reward loyalty. If they can keep you around indefinitely for $3500 per course, they will. Decide where your "take this job and shove it" point is in advance (one year of adjuncting? Three? Twelve?), then stick to it. Be enough of a member of the department that you get some good letters, but not so much that you can't do the other things you need to do to give yourself a chance to move up and out.

And before you sink too much of your emotional and professional capital into this, read some of the things that currently employed TT people are bitching about. I'll be that you've rolled your eyes and wished you had their problems. Fair enough. But note that even that much greener grass is rapidly getting parched.

Tenured Radical said...

I still think that the moving issue is overblown: get a grip. My point was that if hired for a full-time job, you should deliver -- and not behave like a put-upon little princess.A full time job is not "pocket change" and when you pay a full-time salary, a person should work full-time, despite the fact that they are not being promised a decades-long career.

The politics of resentment move me not at all -- but you know what? Don't move for that full time job. Don't even find a place to spend the night, and god forbid you should give anyone the notion that you will really do a good job if given the opportunity. Treat your employer with the contempt it deserves, and when your contract hasn't been renewed and you don't have a T-T job or a revised dissertation, flip them the bird and go hoe to your cool urban pad and know you were right.

Anonymous said...

On the "moving" issue: aren't you overlooking the fact that frequently people are commuting to several different institutions? Clearly, they can't rent more than one apartment or room.
Now, for _my_ first VAP after finishing the dissertation, I moved 2,000 miles to be a temporary leave replacement. Did it help me in the long run? Not that much, which is why I'm leaving the profession.

jim said...

The most important point:

Don't stay an adjunct. Give yourself a deadline. If you're still adjuncting at the deadline get out of academia.

There is a definite taint to being an adjunct. Search committees understand a year or two. They may well regard a year of adjuncting as a plus: when put up in front of a class, you won't run screaming from the students, the students won't run screaming from you. But adjuncting for too long raises doubts: no-one else wanted this person, why should we?

Tenured Radical said...

Anonymous 4:42 -- why would a full time person be working at several institutions? Ze is full time: that would denote one job.

Anonymous said...

Jeepers creepers. About as "Radical" as Don Chafin, I'd say.

Dan said...

You lost me somewhere around "deep-seated shame."

Anonymous said...

Notorious PhD @ 3:38:

Not hard to see why the grass on the other side turns out to be yellowish. There's the tenure pressure cooker, of course. And there's also this transformation of the one-time PhD/adjunct into pure management. I imagine the ideological and political conversation process is physically and psychologically grueling (though apparently quite effective).

T said...

Yah, the advice clearly says, in bold literally "full-time adjunct position," which means full-time. From what I've heard around and on the anonymous jobs blog, several people have gotten TT jobs after having good recommendations from one-year gigs (whereas they didn't get tt jobs their first time out). The best way to get a good letter is to be a good citizen--which is what the 'move' advice helps you to do.

TR isn't suggesting that you find an apartment somewhere miserable and then commute 3 hours to different campuses, she's suggesting one relatively clear way to become part of a community (when it's difficult to do that).
hmmph.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:32 here: fine IF the job is full-time, but certainly not a requirement. Adjuncts who are getting anywhere from 1-5K per course are hardly full time. Hell, that's not minimum wage. And it isn't "get a grip" about living conditions in some shit town just so you can be near colleagues who may or may not employ you next semester/year (that goes for tenure-track folks as well). There's more to life than suck-it-up, fingers-crossed-I-hope-they-love-me-really-love-me. That's where we need to get a grip -- most academic institutions aren't located in desirable places. And I don't mean on the Bos-Wash corridor or sandy California beaches: I mean in places that are hospitable to "the rest of us." And colleges wield a lot of influence and could do more to make towns and cities livable -- and many do. There's a lot of space between "give 'em all you got" and "little princess" and people have to negotiate real shit in their lives that may make it difficult to uproot from one place and move to another. Real colleagues get it. But to say that we just have to "get a grip" sounds a bit too much like "let them eat cake."

I know where Zenith is located, and while I'm a fan of steady habits and the land that loves them, I would probably choose to live elsewhere, at least in New Haven.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:42 here.
OK, I sort of take that back. TR did say " a full-time adjunct position." But that's ignoring the fact that people who do not technically count as full-time (i.e. they are forced to take several jobs in order to survive) are, in terms of their own lives, full-time. Overtime, actually. So my point still stands. And, @Anon 5:40, we're in total agreement.

Anonymous said...

I think the reason everyone is harping on the "move" advice is because it's so contrary to the rest of the advice in the post. You say to not over-commit yourself to the job, not to listen to the people who tell you it might turn into something else, and to prepare yourself to get the hell out of Dodge. But oh, by the way, you should definitely move to the geographical location of the place that has hired you for a pittance and has no loyalty or commitment to you. Moving is incredibly disruptive, particularly if you have a partner and/or children, and it commits you in financial, practical, and relational ways to the place that has hired you. So yeah, I don't get it. And I don't bitch at people who ask for a ride to the train station, even if I barely know them. Who knows, maybe they didn't want to tear their partner away from their career and their kids away from their lives for a crapshoot career.

Anastasia said...

This whole discussion is incredibly condescending except that it illustrates what I've learned about loyalties. Tenured folks may be sympathetic but they are not your allies.

Tenured Radical said...

Well, good luck to all of you -- particularly on the keeping things in perspective department.

Anonymous said...

I am anonymous 8:18 (ok, that sounds like something from a reeeaaaaly bad novel). I was perhaps too quick to speak and not open enough to listening in my previous post. I am genuinely curious about what motivates your advice to move, because to me it seems to send mixed messages--maybe I'm not understanding? Should the adjunct move because it's an inconvenience to the institution and his/her TT colleagues if s/he doesn't? Or is there really a benefit to the adjunct that outweighs the difficulties involved in moving? Are TT faculty truly invested in helping an adjunct along in her/his career and research? Is this something that you do? You make a sarcastic jab at the naivete of a person who dreams that some position will open up at MIT (honestly, it's a straw man argument--who really thinks that in this economic climate), but is it not more naive to commit yourself to a town where you have even less chance of securing full-time, stable employment? These aren't rhetorical questions; I'm genuinely interested in your perspective. It's very pertinent to my decision-making process right now.

Anastasia said...

I think I have decent perspective on this, actually. I take everything senior folks say with a grain of salt (including this), even when I want to believe them. I have a book contract. I got a peer-reviewed article out and accepted last year while adjuncting. With the exception of moving, which I would not do, I've actually followed this advice pretty much to the letter.

But I don't think you're in a position to give this kind of advice without it coming across as condescension because of the position you occupy relative to an adjunct.

Anonymous said...

1. Adjunct is not the same thing as contract faculty, and I really wish people would stop conflating the two. I have a multi-year full-time contract. I am not in the tenure system. I am contract faculty. I used to teach a course here and there part-time (in addition to my full-time non-teaching job). I was an adjunct back then.

2. I work at a large public research university (let's call it Whipping Boy U for the fetish some news sources make of regularly bashing it) with a unionized faculty. The protections for contract faculty at WBU are among the best anywhere -- they include minimum salaries and maximum course loads and, yes, I shit you not, a teeny tiny measure of job security. Presumptive renewal of contracts after two years of full-time service (provided the position is not reallocated to a tenure line or completely eliminated). Many contract faculty have realized that taking on the primary undergraduate advising role makes their jobs unattractive to tenure stream faculty, and therefore boosts the job security under these provisions.

3. I love our union.

4. You, tenured and tenure-track folks, should love a union like this too. The more expensive the contract faculty are, the less the savings to the administration, and that is (part of) how the shift to a majority non-tenure faculty gets slowed. We're still cheap, of course, but not that much cheaper than the average assistant prof.

5. You, adjunct or contract faculty not-by-choice, should love this kind of union as well. You might even find, as many of us have, that being on a long-term contract, focusing on teaching and service, is actually preferable to that publish-or-perish thing.

6. The underlying problem is structural, of course, and it doesn't go away until you all -- you tenure stream folk with a voice and a larger stake in the future of these institutions -- start acknowledging that contract faculty are often excellent instructors, who take on the service crap you're not interested in (because we actually like undergrads, many of us), and perform important functions for the universities/colleges we work for. Faculty who focus on teaching (and service) rather than research serve a valuable role. And of course, we're not going anywhere (as a class) anytime soon. Learn to love us and work with us, and we'll all have better jobs.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Anonymous 11:00 - of course it's not humane advice. The academic job market isn't humane. I don't know why this particular inhumane reality is so much worse than anything else about the job market. It seems odd to me to get bent out of shape about the expectation of moving in the context of this post when the job market require people to be willing to go anywhere.

Tenured Radical said...

I think what is interesting is the way commenters locked on to about ten words in a 2k plus post and went berserk. "Moving" is not a symbolic gesture here, nor is it a mandate (a second possibility would be renting a room a couple nights a week, and of course there is no need to move if you live close enough to show up regularly.) The idea is that if you are an adult, and have been appointed to a FT job ( salaries for such, even as adjuncts tend to run considerably higher than a grad school stipend) that you show up at work and act like a scholar. I don't think of doing the job you are paid to do as much to ask -- or taking care of your own transportation, like grown ups do, as opposed to treating your new colleagues like grad school mentors. I am as well versed as anyone in the state of the job market, but anyone who is putting in a grudging effort at a full time job and doesn't make the effort to network & use the position to develop their career is thinking with the wrong side of hir brain.

And btw: I am used to people ranting on this blog w/o reading carefully, but some of you.......

Anonymous said...

New Kid on the Hallway 9:26:

I'll use the same analogy again: college admissions.

It may be the case that college admissions has become so inhumane that high school students have to pop pills to pull all-nighter after all-nighter and keep their grades up. But just because that's the inhumane reality of hyper-competitive college admissions doesn't mean you should ADVISE high school students to pop those pills.

TR brushes this comparison off (at 11:02), but living in fear of having to change locations every semester is absolutely terrible for one's physical, emotional and psychological health. It strikes me as sociopathic not to at least acknowledge this human reality.

Anonymous said...

TR @ 9:33:

It's the condescending tone, bordering on sneering disgust.

It's something I've seen you do before, incidentally, when discussing academic workers whose professional position is less secure than your own:

http://tenured-radical.blogspot.com/2010/12/tell-us-about-your-dissertation-and.html

Not telling you to stop or anything. Just saying, that's why people went "berserk."

Anonymous said...

Tonight, I quit my last adjunct spot to take an administrative job that makes use of my degree but is outside a university. Degrees from Yale, masters' from another Ivy, time off w kids, and almost done a PhD at a state school.

TR is right about VAP positions: Work is work and must be done well. Right too on considering other kinds of academic posts that will allow you to advance your work, which is what I'm doing.

On anger: Lord knows, I try, but it's hard. Tenured faculty too often treat adjuncts like scabs, a fact I struggle to intellectualize and not take personally.

The problem is that the university labor movt is so fractured. It serves only the most privileged workers. Bill Cronon's NYT op-ed was symptomatic of the problem. It was pablum analytically (thesis: Walker's problem is that he isn't Wisconsin nice) but got all this love because he's a made man.

How much consciousness of real workers did any of the regular faculty marching in Wisconsin have? They love their own perks, like tenure, but would they march for hotel workers or the undocumented, or adjuncts, if their own privileges weren't threatened?

Anonymous said...

I don't think pointing out the inherent contradiction is going berserk. Out of one side of your mouth you speak of the dangers of devoting yourself to a job that common sense tells you is a dead end, and out of the other side you express your frustration that people aren't devoted enough. I'm actually not much of a whiner. My adjuncting puts a roof over my kids' heads and food in their mouths, which is more than I had at times as a kid, and more than billions of people across the world. But knowing that others have it worse and that I'm not alone in being exploited doesn't make it hunky dory. Nor does it incline me to network with people who are condescending and clueless.

Universities get what they pay for. If Zenith is paying its adjuncts a living wage, providing decent benefits, and offering some level of job security, then expecting devoted full time work in return is reasonable. Otherwise, TT faculty are going to have to suffer the indignity--shudder--of occasionally being asked for a ride to the train station.

P said...

"show up at work and act like a scholar."

This just makes me laugh. Speaks volumes.

Tenured Radical said...

The charges of contradiction -- which are not infrequent from my critics -- speak volumes about a public culture that is structured around irreconcilable binaries. It is not a contradiction to caution people against over-committing (emotionally, practically) to a teaching post at the expense of scholarship, and urging them to take pains to do it professionally while moving ahead in their scholarship. Nor is life necessarily a choice between moving frantically from place to place every semester and having a permanent home where one can stay in comfort for as long as one likes. Similarly, no one is "forced" to self destruct to gain entrance to elite schools: plenty of people get into elite schools without harming themselves, and plenty of people develop their best intellectual capacities at places that are not exclusive at all.

I mean, really. No wonder Congress is in such a mess if this is where young intellectuals are at. And yes, this is an unambiguous reproof. Pull yourselves together.

As for condescension, it's all in the eye of the beholder, isn't it? For example, I perceive many of these anonymous commentators as self-righteous, obnoxious, whiney and basing their critiques on dubious, highly selective readings of the text. But I am equally sure that you do not perceive yourselves that way, or you wouldn't do it.

See what I mean (see howls of outrage from the masses below.)

Tenured Radical said...

Commenters: attend to comment policy in sidebar or risk deletion.

Christopher said...

The problem with moving from some urban location to Bumble Fuck for a one-year FT gig isn't that one would leave behind their nurturing community of scholars etc. The problem with moving is that it will remove one from a viable locus of adjunct employment after the one-year gig is done.

I realize some will view the one-year gig as a stepping stone to tenure track, either there or elsewhere. That's nice. But as anyone who has been around the block once or twice can tell you, banking on that is quite the game of chance.

I live in a large east coast city, though the only relevance of that fact is that there are umpteen colleges and universities here. I've even been hired for the occasional temp FT gig around here. But the rub is that while I had the one year gig, I didn't give up my adjunct jobs. The one year gig was a 3/3 and paid $46k. Except, I'm used to 6/6 and even 7/7, so 3/3 was a snap. I kept 3 of my adjunct gigs, and pocketed the $46k plus another $18k, give or take. Nice. Plus, the FT gig provided health insurance, and so I made sure during that year to have every test known to medical science done. I'm good. For now.

The more salient fact, though, is that when the FT gig was done, I still had employment. Yes, it was back to the adjunct pool, but that's certainly better than nothing.

I suppose folks could call me out for gaming the system. Right. Go for it. Sue me, or something ...

I really wanted this post to be about what I thought was TR's best point, which was the one about anger. I know of the anger TR speaks about and it can be paralyzing. It's toxic to the point of being debilitating, and it's a bad way to live -- if it can even be called living. Indirectly, I suppose what I have said does speak to the issue of anger insofar as it explains how I've made peace with my lot in life.

Academia for me is a job. Nothing more and nothing less. The thing is I can make more money as an adjunct teaching a 6/6 or 7/7 load than I can outside of academe. I'm not sure if that's sad or ironic. Ultimately, I don't really think about or worry about it all that much.

One piece of advice TR didn't offer, but which I will is this: if one is foolish enough to go to grad. school in a humanities discipline, for fuck's sake, take some paralegal courses, or do what you need to do to acquire a (non-academic) desirable skill set. You know ... just in case.

Anonymous said...

The anger might be useful if it's fuel for more research and writing.

Christopher said...

Sorry to post again, but there was another point on which I wanted to comment. TR says that being in residence is that "this is an opportunity for you to actually do your work in a community of scholars, and to wean yourself from your primary identification with your graduate school ... a year in a department is potentially a year of new readers, new discussions, and new people to support your career."

With all due respect, I disagree with this. New readers? New discussions, and best of all, new people to support your career? Perhaps you teach in the one place left on earth where the tenured and tenure track faculty are cool like that. (and I'm not being snarky here) My advice to any would be adjunct or one-year temp hire is duck and cover and stay as far away from the tenureds as you can. Generally, they are not your friend. They do not like you and they really do not want you around. And what they really don't want thrown in their face is that you may be every bit as talented, engaged, insightful, and even productive as they are. That would ruin the illusion of academic hiring as a meritocracy.

The one and only person with whom you want to make nice nice is the chair. If where you are teaching has an army of adjuncts and a small battalion of temp full time hires, then the chair at least will get it. And by "it" I mean they will understand the reality of academe and its hiring practices in ways the rest of the faculty will not. Plus, when all is said and done, the chair is the one who butters your bread insofar as they are the one who will give you sections. So yes, show yourself to be an active scholar and an engaged teacher to the chair, but only the chair, and leave the rest alone. They don't want to know you, and in general they don't care about you.

I do tend to agree with "anon 7:42," the very first post in this thread, when they say "the faculty worry about their retirement benefits." Anon 7:42 may be overly cynical, though. The tenured and tenure track faculty also worry about their committee work, their upper-division seminars, their newly commenced writing projects, along with the new addition to the kitchen they're having done, and where they'll be summering. Oh, and the kids, they probably worry about how the kids are doing. So I'd include these along with the retirement benefits. But that's just me.

Alan Trevithick said...

Some good advice, but I'd like to add that you should be wary of taking advice about anything other than organizing for your rights and for a decent livlihood. Folks who claim to know for insatnce about getting a "real" job usually have no practical advice-how could they? Check out New Faculty Majority for support and ideas for organizing. As article nicely points out, the scene is chaotic-look at cringingliberalelite.com for report on recent higher ed collective bargaining mtg.

Scholasticamama said...

Caveat to my post - I didn't read everyone else's comments - I'm in my 15 minutes of lunch in-between class and office hours.

I'd just like to say - YES!! I am a second-year faculty who came from 10 years as an adjunct faculty. YES - you are correct in your assessments. Our dept has a policy that they must look at adjuncts as equally as anyone else (sad that it needs a policy, n'est pas?) and in the last 4 hires, 3 have been from visiting/affiliate faculty. I also think we should hold discussions for moving from adjunct to TT - there was a significant amount of changes I had to make, not the least of which was feeling like I was a full-citizen. Thank you for your words!

Tenured Radical said...

Scholasticamama: Congratulations! That's really terrific. I hope they gave you credit on your clock for time served!

sptc said...

On moving and commuting, don't the various comments pro and con apply to everyone, not just to adjuncts?

And, doesn't this post just summarize the standard advice we get in graduate school?

And if so, are there ever times when that advice doesn't apply?

Especially now, with fewer and fewer tenure line positions open?

I don't know. I guess where I differ with the post is that I read it to assume that there will be real jobs for those who play their cards right. I think where a lot of adjunct "anger" comes from is, they've been given this advice in situations where it doesn't apply, and where organizing would in fact be more appropriate.

profacero said...

Still thinking about this. When does good advice not apply? In the first round, I took the official best of the tenure track offers I had although of all the offers it was the least interesting to me personally. The offer I wanted was a 3 year VAP they swore would go
TT. I liked the people and the city and wanted to take it, but didn't since one is not to believe such promises; I feared ending up in the adjunct pool. But the guy who they hired when I turned them down, did have his position turn into TT as promised. And, it was a major metropolitan area, one would make many contacts. So I say on everything, go with your gut.

Anonymous said...

I think TR is right on here. Don't take it as condescending if you're not tenured or TT, but as a cruel reality.

I think folks really need to pay attention--as TR constantly insisted--to the context of the post, which refers to a full time visiting position. That's fundamentally different than any other position short of full time.

I think one-year (or longer) visitors need to be protected, but they should also use the time to expose themselves to another environment in order to learn, for example: whether they really want to work at type X institution, how well they balance full-time teaching with their writing and research, what types of non-teaching, non-research issues higher education faces (fundraising, recruiting, accreditation, etc.) and so forth.

Use the position to learn about work in academia, which will hopefully help make for better letters and better interviews. Maybe they're limited, maybe they're in crappy places, too (where so many of us actually live our lives), and maybe you decide to get out in the end.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little late to the conversation here but I think all of this is great advice for adjuncts.

What I want to add is that I've seen this moving issue potentially be a serious factor at the tenure-track level as well as the VAP level. I'm posting anonymously because I don't want to identify any institution here.

I've just observed a tenure candidate get denied tenure and I hear it was based on how s/he only showed up for the minimum, as s/he was commuting here from Big City for all hir assistant professor years. Few people knew hir, few people ever saw hir around campus, and while the official reason for denial was lack of adequate scholarship, the unofficial word on the street is that s/he didn't get tenure because s/he was basically absent from the community.

Life is a balancing act, right? We all have our priorities but we need to be open to reconsidering them when we need to. I'm not all the jazzed to be living in Bumpuddle (pop. 5000) but I won't try commuting from Big City at least until I get through tenure. Even TT people need to know the value in demonstrating commitment to the job and the institutional community.

Z said...

Well, I think actually the last part of the post itself applies to tenure track jobs, too. I've opted for academic rather than non academic jobs several times because of the expectation that I should prefer academia no matter what.

david shorter said...

Amen!!!! I've been heralding much of the same advice in my department (as the grad adviser) and I'm always met with disapproval. My colleagues feel I'm no longer fighting the good fight and become right wing (when I tell my students not to get caught up in local battles at the expense of doing the important work that secures jobs). Here is an interesting post by the way: http://www.thenation.com/article/160410/faulty-towers-crisis-higher-education?page=full

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Anonymous said...

I love the way Tenured Radical offers sage advice to those off the tenure track while collecting her full-time tenured salary, first at a university in Connecticut and now at The New School.

If Tenured Radical were truly radical, she would kiss the academy goodbye!

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