Home / General / For a Bigger, Better Mezzanine [GUEST POST BY CARRIE SHANAFELT]

For a Bigger, Better Mezzanine [GUEST POST BY CARRIE SHANAFELT]

Comments
/
/
/
175 Views

As part of our ongoing discussion of issues of equity in contemporary academia, LGM is proud to present this guest post from longtime friend of the blog Carrie Shanafelt, a scholar of 18th century literature currently teaching at Grinnell College. Enjoy!

I began teaching college courses 14 years ago, which, considering I’m only 35, might sound impressive to anyone unfamiliar with 21st-century academic employment practices. Those first classes were a supervised part of my MA. But in 2003, when I moved to New York City for a doctoral program (in which fellowships were at that time reserved for second-years and above), I found employment as a genuine adjunct instructor, making $2500 per course. I was 23 years old, without a day of PhD coursework, and little more than a 100-page thesis to my name. The hiring process consisted of a walking conversation with an associate professor as she grabbed a coffee between classes. While many of the people who are hired this way might be perfectly qualified to teach college, I certainly wasn’t.

Compare this to the process by which tenure-track hires are made. Hundreds of applicants, most with PhD in hand and many with multiple publications, send extensive dossiers to committees who agonize for months over long lists and short lists, interviewing and re-interviewing at conferences and on campus, making offers, negotiating terms, and, finally, hopefully, creating a professional home for this person in whom they have already invested a year of work and imagination. Committees and applicants alike keep Tums in business as they make and announce heartbreaking, life-altering decisions.

For the freshman composition student, though, the outcome of both of these methods is the same. Her transcript will not indicate which of her instructors is finishing a third book, and which one scavenges for food on the way home. She will go from one classroom to the next mostly unaware of the difference, calling everyone “professor” no matter how they introduce themselves. Instructors are distinguishable to her because they are boring, funny, intimidating, helpful, or demanding—not because of the conditions under which they were hired.

It is tempting to chalk the adjunctification of college and university faculty up to money alone. That is, of course, what administrations always offer as the reason, so there can be no more discussion about it. Since that first adjunct position of mine in 2003, I began to feel that something didn’t add up. None of my new colleagues spoke to me as if I were a junior professional working my way through the tough lean days of youth. Most of them spoke to me, if at all, like I was a dog.

It wasn’t true at every college, or in the same amount from every colleague, but the harassment I experienced as an adjunct wouldn’t have been tolerated in any other workplace. I was mocked for my lack of familiarity with upper-class New York life, quizzed about my sexuality, sneered at that I must be wasting my students’ time. I learned to regret reporting academic dishonesty or threats of violence. My students called me “professor” out of habit, though I begged them to call me “Carrie,” because I knew how much it irritated my colleagues to hear that title conferred on someone like me.

The first possibility I considered, in tears on the subway, was that I was obviously and unusually stupid. I asked around, and discovered that other first-year adjuncts at certain schools were enduring similar harassment from senior colleagues. I heard about blatant racism, sexism, and transphobia, but mostly just a fog of contempt that seemed to follow adjuncts everywhere. If we’re so underqualified to participate in this glorious career for elegant intellectuals, I thought, then why did they hire us? You could throw a rock in Park Slope and hit five PhDs with publications. Why hire starving MAs and then mock them for being hungry?

Whenever one encounters a pack of sadists, it’s a good idea to back up and look at the institution that encases them. There they always are, right in the middle, squeezed by increasing demands from above, shoved sweatily down onto an underclass of hopeless, helpless, undignified workers. That underclass is not just the product of administrative corner-cutting or fiscal belt-tightening; it’s a management strategy to keep the faculty divided against one another.

When I was an adjunct, I had to suppress my rage whenever an assistant professor complained about assembling a tenure file, revising an article, or applying for conference reimbursement. I was sick to my stomach to hear associate professors complain about having to serve on curriculum committee or meet with advisees. My academic aspirations were not limited to mere survival. I was desperately jealous of my senior colleagues’ worst problems.

I didn’t realize at the time that their joylessness wasn’t just bourgeois ennui; it was as surprisingly bitter to them as it was to me. They really had once been young, and had fantasized about how great it would be to one day do the job of a college professor. But, at colleges and universities that heavily depend on adjunct labor for long-term teaching needs, the job of the tenure-track or tenured professor becomes ridiculously hard. Someone has to advise all of the students, sit on committees, chair the departments, review the curriculum, report to administrators, and—most time-consuming of all—hire, train, and supervise those always-already-fired adjuncts, some of whom are bumptious naifs (just me?) who seem to think an MA qualifies them to the same title as a career scholar. But what scholarship can get done with all those adjuncts to supervise?

I don’t want to excuse or explain away unprofessional sadism in academia. What I’m arguing is that sadism is not an accident or a byproduct; it is what perpetuates the two-tier system that is destroying colleges and universities. In this excellent Chronicle essay, Jordan Schneider urges tenured and tenure-track faculty to join adjuncts in the fight for bigger, longer contracts—not out of altruism or even solidarity, but out of self-interest. A larger, more secure, better-fed faculty has more power in shared governance. They attract more qualified colleagues who don’t require constant supervision. They confidently share advisement responsibilities and collaborate on research and teaching. And best of all, they might, on good days, wake up feeling glad to be professors.

Currently, I’m in what might be considered the growing middle tier of academic employment, something like the role Schneider suggests for non-tenure-track faculty. I was hired in an open, national call, and gave a formal talk on my current research during a campus visit. My contract is renewed, with review, a few years at a time, as the need is not predictable or permanent, but I have a decent salary with benefits, the same course load as my tenure-track colleagues, and support for my conference travel and research. I don’t have advisory responsibilities, but I also don’t get a research leave. I sit on committees and support extracurricular activities as I have time and interest. But most importantly, I have a vote and I have dignity, because my colleagues see me as a peer.

The creation of the vast academic underclass is so often blamed on too many people going to graduate school, as if we are expected to reenact the climax of Jude the Obscure, and leave a note behind: “Done because we are too menny.” It is absurd to declare that there is no demand for college instruction when we have 23-year-old MAs teaching ten huge courses in a year. The problem is that many colleges and universities have ceased to treat the instruction of college courses as a profession worth supporting with a living wage. Fixing that might even help senior colleagues to remember who they dreamed of becoming when they applied to graduate school.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
  • J. Otto Pohl

    I know you hate everything involved with me. But, could you at least spell Grinnell College correctly not out of respect for me, but out of respect for Dr. Shanafelt.

  • Lee Rudolph

    Everything you say is spot-on.

    …I started to write more, but decided it wouldn’t be discreet.

  • Aimai

    I can’t say enough good things about this blog post. Its just perfect. I left academia…uh…20 years ago but could already see the shape of things to come. I saw it, thanks to my anthropological training and my speciality which was law and south asia, as a form of caste formation with one’s birth into the aste system coming somewhere between graduate school and first job. I could see already that if one failed at the first rung (getting a high prestige, tenure track job) the first time of asking. Let alone all the other hoops that needed to be jumped through.

    • J. Otto Pohl

      I suspect that the only solutions for academic caste are the same as Ambedkar suggested for Hindu caste. On the individual level one converts out of the system. On the greater level one annihilates the entire system.

  • Vance Maverick

    Good to hear from you, Carrie, and glad things are going relatively well. I don’t know the academic world, but I definitely like the idea that having passed through the ordeal into a more humane regime, one’s response should be to mitigate the ordeal rather than aggravate it for the next wave coming over the top. Labour is blossoming or dancing where….

  • Malaclypse

    I was mocked for my lack of familiarity with upper-class New York life, quizzed about my sexuality, sneered at that I must be wasting my students’ time. I learned to regret reporting academic dishonesty or threats of violence.

    Could this have to do with gender? I adjuncted in [small Catholic college north of Boston] from 1993-2000, and never had anything like that. Most of the TT faculty were genuinely supportive. The only things I faced were 1) low pay and no benefits, 2) one TT prof that was upset I was teaching upper-level courses, even though they were in fields she didn’t do, and 3) my office was also the department printer room. I didn’t face anything comparable to your list.

    My students called me “professor” out of habit, though I begged them to call me “Carrie,” because I knew how much it irritated my colleagues to hear that title conferred on someone like me.

    I was told not to let students call me by my first name, because I needed to keep social distance between myself and the students.

    Coincidentally, one of my ex-students is now someone I interact with at work, who says he feels weird now calling me by my first name. So 15 years after abandoning academia, once a quarter, I’m once again “Professor.”

    • Lee Rudolph

      I was mocked for my lack of familiarity with upper-class New York life, quizzed about my sexuality, sneered at that I must be wasting my students’ time. I learned to regret reporting academic dishonesty or threats of violence.

      Could this have to do with gender? I adjuncted in [small Catholic college north of Boston] from 1993-2000, and never had anything like that.

      It would have been very surprising if you had been mocked for your lack of familiarity with upper-class New York life.

      • dl

        lol!

        More seriously, it’s pretty shitty that a place as rich (I assume) and prestigious as Grinnell is hiring non-TT people.

        • carrieshanafelt

          Wealthy liberal arts colleges do tend to hire NTT people like me in cases like mine in which a faculty member is serving in an administrative role or is taking a brief leave for research or childcare. I’d say this is about as nice a life as any NTT person can have, which is why I advocate it as a model. (a) It’s out of necessity in a small college where coverage of courses is disrupted by even a single course release. (b) The pay is truly decent, and the contracts are written a year or two at a time, not by semester. (c) Health care, moving, and research benefits support my non-teaching expenses. (d) I am not held to the same administrative responsibilities of my TT peers, nor am I barred from them if it is my choice to participate.

          I’m not saying I wouldn’t rather be working toward tenure and paying a mortgage on a permanent home right now. Of course I would. I’d get a dog, too. But as a model for the genuinely short-term hire, the visiting assistant professor role is a very good and fair one.

  • Mike Lommler

    I am reminded of how inadequate I felt when I was teaching Comp. 101 as 22 year-old M.S. student loaned over to the English department because I could write a little. They called us TAs but we outright taught the classes.

    One of the things that thrills me about my current graduate assistantship is that I don’t have to teach.

    • Lee Rudolph

      One of the things that thrills me about my current graduate assistantship is that I don’t have to teach.

      That thrilled me about my graduate support (1969–1974), too. (What didn’t thrill me was that the reason I didn’t have to teach was because the teaching assistanceships—in distinction to the research assistanceships like I had—were still good for a draft deferment, and thus reserved for the people they really, really wanted, like my college roommate.)

      Unfortunately for me (and, I am afraid, far too many of my future students) that meant I didn’t learn to teach. (Not that teaching MIT undergrads would have done anything to prepare me for the last 25 years of my teaching career.)

      • Mike Lommler

        If there’s one thing was my year of teaching experience was good for, it was that it taught me just how little I knew about how to teach. I now take a greater interest in how people learn things. I don’t teach now, but I do coach my school’s ultimate frisbee team and think my previous failure as a teacher has made me a much better coach.

  • Turkle

    I’ve always called adjuncts “Professor,” because I thought that was just polite. They are, after all, teaching at the college level. Is this improper? Have I been grossly blundering this whole time? What should I use instead?

    • J. Otto Pohl

      It depends on the institution. In British style universities only a very small elite of faculty are actually professors and the rest are mere lecturers or senior lecturers. This latter group is to be address only as Dr. and never as Professor.

      • TribalistMeathead

        This latter group is to be address only as Dr. and never as Professor.

        Assuming they hold a doctorate.

      • Don’t forget Readers like me.

        Also, this is changing. Oxford, for example, converted to US style titles.

    • Hogan

      I didn’t spend six years in evil medical school to be called “Mister,” thank you very much.

      • Linnaeus

        Were I to teach again, I would actually eschew such honorifics as “Doctor” and “Professor”. My first name is fine, and if the appearance of overfamiliarity is a problem, then “Mister” will do nicely.

        • TribalistMeathead

          It was one thing to address my theater professors by their first name, particularly when one appeared in the cast of a play I was in, but no, I wasn’t calling any of the others by their first name.

          And maybe it’s because I don’t hold any honorifics (other than BMF), but if I was entitled to one, I would use the hell out of it.

          • Linnaeus

            I observe that particular social norm when addressing others in the academic context (unless it’s already understood between us that it’s not necessary). I just wouldn’t observe it with respect to others addressing me.

        • I use my first name with all my students and other colleagues. This is pretty ubiquitous in my school. I will use “Dr” occasionally when eg correspondence calls for it.

        • UserGoogol

          I am terrible with names, so I very much appreciate that you can just call your professor (or otherwise titled teacher) “Professor” and it won’t sound like you’re going out of your way to not say their name.

          It probably would have benefited me if I had learned more of my professors’ names in college, but still, I like the option.

          • Lee Rudolph

            Well, you could adopt Professor Parsia’s stated method, which seems to be to call all his students and other colleagues “Bijan”.

            • And they all love it!

              They all pronounce it wrong, natch.

              And I’m a Reader, not a professor!

          • Linnaeus

            And that’s fine. But I wouldn’t expect or insist that someone call me that unless she or he prefers to do so.

          • Manny Kant

            As a “professor” who’s been called “professor,” I can tell you that, in fact, being called “Professor” does sound like you’re going out of your way not to say their name.

      • Ronan

        I’d go with ‘dude’

        • TribalistMeathead

          One of my poli sci profs preferred “magnificent bastard.” He was definitely one of the more interesting human beings to walk the earth.

          • Ronan

            I had a secondary school teacher insist I call him God for a number of months. I assume because he didnt like me much.

            • rea

              Fortunately, here in America that doesn’t happen, due to separation of church and state.

        • wca

          Myself, I think the world would be a better place if all teachers were granted a pro-wrestling style nickname and the appropriate entrance music each time we walked into a classroom.

          • Malaclypse

            In hindsight, I’d choose “Darth Mal” and the Darth Vader theme.

            • Woodrowfan

              you realize that movie was made before the current crop of freshmen were born, right? ;)

          • J. Otto Pohl

            I have dibs on AC/DC’s Back in Black.

            • Woodrowfan

              dibs on Stabbing Westward “Violent Mood Swings”

              • rea

                “Enter the Sandman”–hey, it worked for Mariano!

        • Lee Rudolph

          Sexist pig.

          • Ronan

            That could be a little too contentious.

      • Actually, in some specialties in the UK,
        getting back to “Mr/Ms” is the goal. Surgeons and ophthalmologists, I think.

        • J. Otto Pohl

          Yes, my eye doctor in London was a MR.

        • Morat

          IIRC, surgeons have always been Mr./Ms, going back to the days when physicians were university trained gentlemen who were above doing manual labor, but surgeons were gauche enough to actually use their hands to do things. And were apprenticed to masters, at least outside London. They were like blacksmiths or coopers, handy to have around, but definitely hoi polloi.

          The same sort of anachronistic class thing perpetuated the barrister/solicitor distinction. Solicitors (and attorneys and proctors in the other courts) were “in trade”, i.e. took money for service. Barristers (and serjeants), who do the arguing in court, were isolated until fairly recently from this by the fiction that they received honorariums (i.e. voluntary gifts) from solicitors rather then got paid. Which meant that if a solicitor didn’t pay, the barrister couldn’t sue…

          • Emma in Sydney

            Bizarre reverse snobbery exactly. When you finally pass the final surgeon’s exams in Australia, having already been a medical doctor for some years, the way you find out is that the examiner addresses you as Mr/Ms, instead of Dr.

            American universities sound dauntingly formal. In my undergraduate years in Australia back in the distant 1980s I called all my lecturers and professors and supervisors by their first names, except for one who was thought to be eccentrically formal and insisted on being called Dr Ritchie (he also wore an academic gown when lecturing, Oxford-style). When I taught at university myself in the 1990s, all the students called all the lecturers and professors by their first names. Anyone who insisted on ‘Professor’or even “Dr Surname” would be advertising that they were a pompous git in an Australian university.

          • SV

            I’ve also heard the explanation that ‘once upon a time’ there were few civilian surgeons: they were mostly in the Navy, and held a certain rank (lieutenant, perhaps, or a more specific position) on the ship, and that rank was traditionally addressed as Mr X. Can’t remember the details…

    • Woodrowfan

      “Professor” is fine, unless they tell you otherwise.

      • I’m a one-class-per-year adjunct and being called “professor” makes me extremely uncomfortable. I’m okay with “N,” with “Mr. B,” with “Mr. Kotter”…but I’m not a professor. At best, I’m an instructor.

        • Woodrowfan

          The students call me Professor, or Dr. or Mr. I’m their teacher, not their buddy or peer, so I want the title. “Dr W” is OK too. For anybody else though, first name is fine. Other employees of the university are my coworkers and peers–students, not so much.

          I can’t read “Mr Kotter” without thinking it in Horseshack’s (sp) voice though. :)

          • I’m not a Dr. so that’s out. My qualification is that I’m a Professional Engineer, but I’d just as soon that no one calls me “Pee.”

            My students are all masters level and they tend to be older, so while they’re not my peers in that setting they are also (thank god) not teens.

    • carrieshanafelt

      I should admit that, as a Baptist who was raised to distrust earthly hierarchies, I prefer my name rather than titles, even though “professor” is part of my current job title. Walt Whitman preferred his students to address him as “Walt” too. Many students don’t feel quite comfortable with “Carrie,” and they call me “Shanafelt,” or “Dr. Shanafelt” if they’re into fanciness. I don’t tend to find in my case that addressing me by my name results in disrespect because I’m a relatively young woman, but I totally understand that many women colleagues prefer the title for that reason.

  • I’ve been grievously misled. There was nothing here about the proper construction of handrails at the edges of mezzanines.

    Otherwise, great post.

  • Manny Kant

    Yes, absolutely. Most of my adjuncting has been done since earning my PhD, and I’ve never experienced the kind of cruelty and disdain you describe, but the existing system is just awful. If a substantial percentage of university teaching is going to be done by people not on the tenure track, the only way to make this acceptable is to treat those people like actual professionals and pay them a middle class income to do it. Pretending like you’re saving tenure by treating adjuncts like shit is unconscionable.

    • djw

      Pretending like you’re saving tenure by treating adjuncts like shit is unconscionable.

      This is a key point. The more tenure becomes a rare, special high-caste attainment more college instructors can never hope to attain, the less worth ‘saving’ it becomes. Treating adjunctification and the hollowing out of tenure as two separate problems may work in some short-term strategic contexts, but in the long term it’s a strategic and moral nightmare.

  • sy

    This post makes me proud to once have sat next to you at the dinner of a regional sub-ASECS meeting, Carrie. It was the table where the lavishly decorated emeritus Ivy League professor brought a bottle of wine and then ostentatiously shared it only with his half of the table. Which wasn’t us. In LA I hope I have a chance to buy you a drink.

    • carrieshanafelt

      Oh hi there! Yes, let’s catch up in LA, for sure.

      • Lee Rudolph

        LGM: where ASECSuals come to hook up!

        (I like the notion of a lavishly decorated emeritus professor, too.)

  • Woodrowfan

    I rejoined academia after a career elsewhere and went from adjunct to term to TT. I’ll be up for tenure about the time I turn 60. And yeah, I ran into a few jerks like you describe Carrie, even though where I teach is not exactly an R1. (is there an R5?) The other faculty were fine, but my Dean didn’t like to talk to Adjuncts. Fortunately that Dean is gone.

    The rudest I was ever treated was when I was an adjunct at a satellite program for a snooty state u. It shall remain nameless except to note it was founded by a certain red-haired author of the Declaration of Independence. The TTers there were consistently rude and condescending. So I make sure that I am as helpful, supportive, (and non-condescending) as I can be to our adjuncts…

  • dporpentine

    There is probably nothing more grating in the world than listening to an academic talk about the hard life of acadmicizing. “Only now, at 35, do I have a job where I receive essentially no direct supervision and where for successive years I know I’ll be doing exactly what I was trained to do and wanted to do. You tens of millions out there who live at the moment-to-moment whims of corporate levers and stupid bosses while also doing work you hate, please pity me!”

    Yes, the academic caste system is terrible.

    Yes, various structural qualities of American universities demonstrate a positive contempt for teaching, though there are many, many individuals and departments out there that do what they can to recognize the skill and intelligence needed to teach.

    But ye gods, people. You have no idea how pampered you sound when you talk about what you do.

    • Malaclypse

      You do understand that, for everyone who gets a TT job by 35, there are 200 or so who either 1) drop out of academia completely, and need to start a brand-new career from scratch in their 30s, or 2) adjunct forever with low pay and no health coverage, right?

      • dporpentine

        Yes. And?

        • Malaclypse

          And kicking people making well under 30K/year is not how you do solidarity.

          • J. Otto Pohl

            My life goal is to make 30k a year before I retire. But, currently I am only at about half that. So it is not likely that I will make the goal.

    • JL

      There is probably nothing more grating in the world than listening to an academic talk about the hard life of acadmicizing. “Only now, at 35, do I have a job where I receive essentially no direct supervision and where for successive years I know I’ll be doing exactly what I was trained to do and wanted to do. You tens of millions out there who live at the moment-to-moment whims of corporate levers and stupid bosses while also doing work you hate, please pity me!”

      What does that version of academic complaining – which I agree can be grating – have to do with a post about the experience of being sexually* and otherwise harassed at work while having abysmal pay and no job security?

      *Pretty sure that in many states being quizzed repeatedly about your sexuality can be considered sexual harassment.

  • Pingback: Tuesday Night Links! | Gerry Canavan()

It is main inner container footer text