An update of a post I made two years ago before I decided to go all in and get my MA and PhD:
Lunch time and my thoughts turn to all of my friends who are independent scholars. Many of them are working as adjuncts. A few have a longer term contract as instructors, lecturers, etc. They are joined to, an appendix in, our post-industrial education complex.
All of them are working like folks in any other job in the USA: with no long term security.
To be fair, even in the corporate world, very few people have any kind of security. A salesperson who hawks diverse computer analysis programs to track financial trends or supply chain needs and makes $200k a year with bonuses has no more real job security than somebody who works at McDonalds. The difference is that in return for not having any security, that corporate functionary gets paid very well.
The neo-liberal state of the Market under the aegis of global corporate capitalism rewards risks very well. But some places are not known for taking the big risks. I suppose this is a way of describing academia. In order to protect those who do take risks (called academic freedom), a few protections are put in place. One of these is tenure.
The fact that society at large figures ALL academics have some kind of tenure says how much most folks don’t really understand the structure of higher education.
Tenure means that you cannot be fired but for the most extreme circumstances. Those granted this sinecure are called “full faculty”, they are conjuncts rather than adjuncts; they are joined with the post-industrial education complex.
Having this job security aspect in place makes for a quite stark disparity between those who have tenure and those who have none.
To help a few people catch up, I post here links to a few pieces. The first is from the perspective of an anthropology student about to get her PhD:
In most professions, salaries below the poverty line would be cause for alarm. In academia, they are treated as a source of gratitude. Volunteerism is par for the course – literally. Teaching is touted as a “calling”, with compensation an afterthought. One American research university offers its PhD students a salary of $1000 per semester for the “opportunity” to design and teach a course for undergraduates, who are each paying about $50,000 in tuition. The university calls this position “Senior Teaching Assistant” because paying an instructor so far below minimum wage is probably illegal.
In addition to teaching, academics conduct research and publish, but they are not paid for this work either. Instead, all proceeds go to for-profit academic publishers, who block academic articles from the public through exorbitant download and subscription fees…
It may be hard to summon sympathy for people who walk willingly into such working conditions. “Bart, don’t make fun of grad students,” Marge told her son on an oft-quoted episode of The Simpsons. “They just made a terrible life choice.”
Read the whole article at The Closing of American Academia
This short blog entry wonders why folks might continue down a road that appears so unrewarding and harsh. The comments are interesting:
Path dependence and sunk costs must be powerful forces. Why? Because I cannot imagine why people would continue to teaching as adjuncts, making, on average, $2700 per course. This means that to make a meager wage of $30k per year, one has to teach eleven classes.
Read the blog and comments at The Adjuncting Mystery
The last is from the WorkPlaceBlog:
With roughly 40 percent of academic positions eliminated since the 2008 crash, most adjuncts will not find a tenure-track job. Their path dependence and sunk costs will likely lead to greater path dependence and sunk costs – and the costs of the academic job market are prohibitive. Many job candidates must shell out thousands of dollars for a chance to interview at their discipline’s annual meeting, usually held in one of the most expensive cities in the world. In some fields, candidates must pay to even see the job listings.
Given the need for personal wealth as a means to entry, one would assume that adjuncts would be even more outraged about their plight. After all, their paltry salaries and lack of departmental funding make their job hunt a far greater sacrifice than for those with means. But this is not the case. While efforts at labour organisation are emerging, the adjunct rate continues to soar – from 68 percent in 2008, the year of the economic crash, to 76 percent just five years later.
Read the full article at Academia’s Indentured Servants
Now I guess I will go finish my lunch hour and ponder this a bit more. Welcome any thoughts from my brothers & sisters throughout the Ether.
- Adjuncts and Alt-Ac? (insidehighered.com)
- The Altac Chronicles, A Break in Our Regularly Scheduled Programming: Altac Will Not Save Us (wordsaremygame.com)
- Getting (Un)Stuck in the Middle (insidehighered.com)
- Class Segregation in Academia (everydaysociologyblog.com)
- Ph.D. students rethink the tenure track, scope out non-academic jobs (newscenter.berkeley.edu)
- The Neoliberal Assault on Academia (alternet.org)
- Reform the PhD system or close it down (phdscam.wordpress.com)
- Humanities Unbound: Careers & Scholarship Beyond the Tenure Track (scholarslab.org)
- Labor of Love or Cheap Labor? The Plight of Adjunct Professors (onlinecolleges.net)