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Adjuncts

[ 215 ] March 12, 2015 |

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Let me start by saying that I’ve hesitated to write this post for a few days because I don’t want to come across as that professor who doesn’t get the reality of life for the armies of adjuncts who are teaching college classes. I’m not that professor. I know lots of people who are struggling through adjuncting right now. The job market in History is horrible and it isn’t going to get any better.

Tanya Paperny had a useful editorial in the Washington Post about what life is like for adjuncts. For most academics, this is no surprise–she was teaching at four different schools and not really making ends meet. Paperny eventually quit the academy and found other work. This last point is what I want to talk about. The one thing I don’t understand about long-term adjuncts is why people do it. Why let yourself be exploited like this? I do understand reasons for short-term adjuncting–trying to make a go of it in a particular place that you don’t want to leave, graduate students or newly minted PhDs gaining teaching experience, keeping your foot in the door in case something actually develops at one of these schools, etc. All very good reasons. But long-term adjuncts is a harder phenomena for me to understand. It’s not like this is glamorous or particularly rewarding work. Teaching 4 intro level college surveys is no one’s idea of what they want to do with their lives and while you might occasionally get the student where the light bulb comes on when you teach them, that’s a mighty rare moment at that level. And with all the grading and class prep–not to mention traveling around an entire metro area to make this work, there’s no time for any other part of the job. Forget research, forget keeping up with the literature in the field, forget participating in meaningful service or teaching activities in higher education. You are a grunt and you are treated like a grunt and there’s really no hope for the future to not be treated like a grunt.

I think so much of it is the idea that the person has achieved this degree and now wants to use this degree because they don’t want to see the time they spent as wasted. And I get that from a psychological standpoint. Making $20,000 a year on the other hand is actually wasting your life, or at least the earning potential part of it. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t get PhDs in History or English or the languages. Sure there are no jobs at the end of it, but at least you aren’t going $150,000 into debt to get the degree. You are just delaying your income potential (actually paying to go to graduate school in these fields is just insane and no one should ever do that). But continuing to delay that income earning for years after your degree by holding on by your fingertips to the dream of a tenure-track job is just a bad idea because pretty soon you have a lifetime of doing this and no retirement income. I just participated in a conference at the University of New Mexico that is part of an American Historical Association and Mellon Foundation project on finding alternative careers with the History PhD (UNM has had a tremendous placement rate both inside the academy and in meaningful jobs outside the academy–a rate much higher than schools that are more prestigious and basically equal to many Ivy League schools which is why the AHA chose it for this program). There are good jobs one can get with PhDs that aren’t teaching college freshmen. And they pay much, much better than adjuncting. But they also require reading budgets and working within a government bureaucracy or corporate world and I get why people don’t want to do that.

I’m really glad that SEIU is organizing adjuncts. I know many people within the labor movement hate SEIU, but what other union is going to put real resources into organizing a no-wage sector where returning union dues will be small? Almost no other union. I completely support the National Adjunct Walkout Day and I wish more had participated. Adjuncts should probably go on a general strike to force improvements in their conditions. But to be honest, most adjuncts should also quit their jobs and find something else to do. Working at Starbucks would pay just as well.

Don’t let yourself be exploited if you can help it.

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  • I don’t know any adjuncts, and I have been out of college for close to twenty years. So there’s the salt lick with which to take my comment. These people aren’t idiots, they have PhDs in their field and they are treading the path which their advisers have told them should at least lead to a liveable income in a relatively secure field. It’s probably harder for them to give up the dream of professorship and the identity as a scholar, than it is to give up the dream of home ownership or car ownership or health insurance and retirement.

    • Yeah, I think that is true of a lot of people.

      • Aaron Baker

        Yes, as I can attest. The simple fact is: I’ve never recovered from the loss of my full-time academic career–I’ve been permanently embittered by what happened. But scholarship and teaching were/are my vocation–even though my day job leaves me little energy to pursue either.

        So I continue to adjunct part-time. I love teaching, I love my goofy students–even though every trip to and from my community college painfully reminds me of what I lost.

        Another observation: the brute fact of the matter is that people who do something they love for a living are easy prey for exploiters. My wife, a preschool teacher (one of the BEST preschool teachers–she’s won two awards) worked for over twenty years at one school–and her salary never exceeded $30,000 a year. Her experience is typical for her profession.

        • “the brute fact of the matter is that people who do something they love for a living are easy prey for exploiters”

          This.

          • This, at least I have experience with. For the five I seasons I taught downhill skiing on weekends, I was lucky to even cover my gas money, never mind skis, uniform and food.

            • LuigiDaMan

              The truth is, Erik, that there are a lot of people who will jump into the adjunct business if virtually every adjunct at every college were to suddenly vaporize. I doubt the schools would miss a step. I work full time and therefore only teach two classes a semester. I have talked up organizing a union for some time (tenured faculty have one!), but no one wants to listen. A few figured that if they tried they would be fired. That is the kind of life people are living right now in the Republican Nightmare known as ‘Mericah. I think a strong union is the only course of action to lift these people out of poverty.

              • Yep and that’s what university administrations are counting on.

                • Jackov

                  Last time I had dinner with my friend, he relayed this story.

                  His department(STEM at a large regional state uni in a desirable location) was recruiting for three positions – a “regular” tenure track position and two others that he described as ‘marginal jobs.’ The committee offered the marginal jobs to people who had interviewed for the tenure track position and filled all three positions.

                  The chair was apparently surprised that people who sought the tenured position would accept the marginal jobs, so she asked all the professors who had not reached tenure yet what they would have done. My friend and ~8 others agreed, that if they had been at the job search for more than a year, they would have hoped for the tenured position but would also have accepted any of the three positions.

                  In the absence of both internal and external pressure, the academic job market is never going to improve.

            • JL

              The massive reliance of the rape crisis services sector on 1) unpaid skilled part-time labor, and 2) low-paid skilled full-time labor, both overwhelmingly provided by women and genderqueer people, is another example of this.

              I mostly don’t think that’s intentional exploitation. The money to have all that work done by people making decent pay just isn’t there (and if you got rid of the volunteers presumably there would be even less money to go around for the paid staff). But meanwhile, you have full-time workers, some with graduate degrees and professional licenses, making 35K in high-cost-of-living cities to do emotionally grueling work that leaves a nontrivial number of the people who do with psychological problems from secondary trauma or burnout. And a bunch of volunteers who are typically required to pass a rigorous application process, get 40ish hours of initial training/certification, do 3ish hours of in-service a month, and work at least a few hours a week, for no money at all.

          • Crusty

            True in so many fields, e.g., airline pilots.

          • FridayNext

            This absolutely explains the growth of unpaid internships in my field. I recently got an interview for a position at a large museum and they had 400 applications for that one position. People will do anything for a shot at a job, including doing professional work for free and calling it an “internship.”

        • Brett

          Same thing with acting. The Screen Actors Guild takes the edge off of some of the exploitation, but it’s still incredibly competitive and full of desperate people doing it and making little because it’s what they love to do.

        • Murc

          the brute fact of the matter is that people who do something they love for a living are easy prey for exploiters.

          You see this a lot in the creative classes. The entire reason screen and television writers have a union is because they know there’s a tremendous oversupply of people who have a burning need to produce content, and absent robust protections they’ll be treated like shit.

  • Malaclypse

    As someone who stopped adjuncting in my early 30s: it’s a hard fucking decision. It’s admitting you failed at something that was really important to you. And it is fucking hard starting over from scratch in a completely unrelated field at that point. As shitty a deal as adjuncting is, there’s a really good chance that starting over means a pay cut, at least to start.

    I was really fucking lucky – I had people that mentored me, to the extent that I made it from accounting clerk to controller in three years, despite no accounting coursework when I started. But at the beginning I was really scared. I remember thinking that there was a good chance that I’d exit my 30s alone in a basement apartment. And was it worth giving up academia, which I loved and still miss, if the end state either way was financial failure? And I was lucky – that assessment of odds I did when I made the decision wasn’t wrong, I just lucked out.

    • I definitely get being scared. Not so sure about the pay cut in reality though unless you are actually unemployed entirely. I think a lot of full-time adjuncts are actually living along in basement apartments in their 40s.

      • Malaclypse

        I was teaching 4 fall, 4 spring, 2 summer at 2.3K/course = 23K. The accounting clerk job, which I thought I was lucky to get, started at 11 bucks an hour, or 22.9K. But I had a degree of security adjuncting – had been there 7 years, had never once had a single session cut back.

        At the time, it felt a very risky move.

        EDIT: And I just remembered textbook farming. I could clear 2K/year tax-free on a good year with that. So definitely a pay cut.

        • unknownsample

          Sorry, this isn’t my world. “Textbook farming?”

          • Malaclypse

            Order a copy of every single textbook available “for evaluation.” Once a semester, book buyers come along and offer to buy stuff for maybe 15 cents on the dollar of list price. But your cost was zero. If you’ve ordered 50 Intro texts, you can clear several hundred dollars a semester.

            • The textbook market is so ridiculous. Because I teach at a large school, the companies send the textbooks to me. It would not be that hard for them to realize that I don’t even assign textbooks. But they keep sending them because that market is so profitable for publishers. I sell them back for beer money, but I don’t request them.

              Related–one of the most annoying things about teaching at a large school is that you get unannounced drop in visits from publishing house agents who can be very aggressive about asking you directly why you aren’t using their textbooks.

              • Lee Rudolph

                Publishing house agent! Now there’s a job where a Ph.D. could feel right at home!!

              • The Lorax

                Erik: I’m surprised you do this. At one time I was a junior faculty member who had trouble affording food at the end of the month. I had spent a great deal of time producing a textbook, and money from it helped ends meet (sometimes). But I know people selling desk copies affected my royalties, and that was money I really needed at the time.

                Maybe consider the author before you sell that textbook. If it’s someone who may really need the money from the text, think about holding on to it.

                • ChrisTS

                  Our faculty agreed some years ago to not sell evaluation copies. Instead, we give them to prison groups or oversees academies that need them.

                • Malaclypse

                  Our faculty agreed some years ago to not sell evaluation copies. Instead, we give them to prison groups or oversees academies that need them.

                  That’s interesting. Where I taught, I was told by the chair that, given how badly they paid adjuncts, textbook farming was something I should do. It was an informal part of the comp package. Adjuncts did get (often shared) office space, and we all had shelves lined with texts to sell.

                  And it is not to my credit that I never once considered the royalty issue. I always thought I was just siphoning off some publisher’s marketing budget.

              • Ruviana

                Oooh, maybe I can make you feel better. I teach at a pretty tiny school and 1) textbook publishers send unsolicited books to me, and 2) I don’t get the reps visiting me in person but they endlessly call and fill up my email. So they’re out there.

          • Lee Rudolph

            Selling the free “desk copies” that publishers send to everyone with an address (or a pulse) in the relevant department, hoping for their title to be adopted by said department. Publishers hate for faculty to sell them, and have tried to stop the practice, but they can’t, and there’s sprung up a very well-organized group of migrant harvesters used-textbook buyers who specifically search out such desk copies. (I get e-mail from two different ones several times each semester, and I stopped teaching—not to mention, getting paid—several years ago.)

            • The used textbook buyer job is one I don’t understand well but there are sure a lot of them.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        “Not sure about the pay cut in reality”

        Here’s the issue way too much of the time: overqualification is basically synonymous with underqualification these days, as both lead to the same result: you will have massive trouble even getting an interview, much less a job. It’s true for law school grads left standing at the end of employment musical chairs, and it’s true for MA/MS/PhD holders, too. For all of that education, you may as well have dropped out of the 10th grade for all the good it will do you in a 21st century HR department – or even worse, the screening software in that HR department. Despite the call from some quarters of the great versatility and earnings premiums associated with these degrees, they are at least as often as not a noose around’s one neck if one tries to leave that profession.

        • Malaclypse

          Yea, I should have been more specific – I got that accounting clerk job because I had known and been friendly with the controller there for years. Applying blind I’d have been well and truly fucked.

          • Unemployed_Northeastern

            If you have a graduate or law degree from your Harvards and Yales, you can probably pivot to something fairly lucrative. The big consultancies, for instance, have dedicated JD and advanced degree tracks – but they really are only for the handful of *best* (most prestigious) programs, because prestige is the currency of consultancies. With your graduate or law degree from, say, Northeastern, you can go be unemployed for awhile.

            • Lee Rudolph

              With your graduate or law degree from, say, Northeastern

              …just to pick an example at random, right?

              • Unemployed_Northeastern

                Totally. The law school’s FT, LT, license-required employment hasn’t cracked 50% since the new reporting standards were implemented, so I think it’s a good random choice.

        • mds

          Here’s the issue way too much of the time: overqualification is basically synonymous with underqualification these days, as both lead to the same result: you will have massive trouble even getting an interview, much less a job.

          Fucking word.

          • Unemployed_Northeastern

            It’s the story of my post-JD life, that’s for sure. I’ve been turned down for retail work. That’s a special feeling.

            • Orphos

              Late to the party, but I hear that. When Cosco or Whole Foods thinks you’re gonna rabble rouse, start a union, or just flat out leave after 6 months of work and so won’t hire you, it’s a rough scene.

              I was lucky; I had another income to rely on so that I could stop adjuncting long enough to get a few skills and some volunteer experience to make a credible run at another job. ‘Cause at least in my experience, they won’t even hire you at the gas station if you have a PhD. You need a credible application to a decent-but-not-good job at the not-quite-bottom rung of a new area, and a damn good story, in order to swap tracks after adjuncting.

              • Unemployed_Northeastern

                If you have a JD, lack the prestige to lateral into a field where it might be valued (consulting, banking, Big Fed, etc), here is why you can expect not to be interviewed:

                1) You have a law degree; why aren’t you in some downtown office tower making big money like all lawyers do? You must have something very wrong with you.

                2) OK, maybe the economy is bad now, but when it turns the corner, you are going to bolt to [insert the most prestigious firm a HR peon can conjure] and leave us in the lurch.

                2a) I just read Simkovic’s Million-Dollar Degree; obviously you can just get a six-figure job anywhere at any time regardless of economy or prestige of schooling, so why would you work here for $30k?

                2b) You have a law degree and therefore probably an ocean of student loans, so you will constantly be asking for raises.

                3) You’re an attorney, and therefore an asshole; I don’t want you in my office.

                4) You have a graduate degree and I do not; this makes you a threat if you work under me.

                5) I run a shady business, and I fear you and your law degree might tell my other workers how I’m screwing them over.

                It’s lots of fun.

                • Malaclypse

                  It isn’t even just at the JD level: Up until 2-some years ago, Mrs Mal had worked forever doing tech support for [large financial services company]. She did it for 15 years, and was awesomely qualified, for one specific software program that nobody else used. When LFSC decided to move her job to Singapore, it took 18 months of “you’re overqualified” until she found a horrible job that paid less than half what she made before, where she has no security, and is treated like shit.

                  Overqualified in your 40s is a bad position.

                • mds

                  Overqualified in your 40s is a bad position.

                  And I had just finished drying my tears, Mal.

    • Lee Rudolph

      It’s admitting you failed at something that was really important to you.

      You (generic; but probably specific too in this case) didn’t fail: the culture failed you. Really.

      • Right.

      • Malaclypse

        Thank you, seriously.

        But here’s the thing – it still does not feel that way, and sure as hell didn’t then. I mean, I knew people that made it, and I know that I was not flawless in grad school, so maybe I could have done something that would have made me succeed.

        It’s funny – I can easily see the role good luck played in recovering from academia. But it is not easy to see the role bad luck played within academia.

    • mds

      As someone who stopped adjuncting in my early 30s: it’s a hard fucking decision. It’s admitting you failed at something that was really important to you. And it is fucking hard starting over from scratch in a completely unrelated field at that point.

      Yup. It’s not just the faculty track, either. Got my shiny STEM PhD, got my grab bag of computer skills, and got stuck in a research computing support job that’s provided virtually none of the promised opportunity to get my name in on publications. But out of fear that moving on would make the PhD “wasted,” I’ve stuck with it far too long. Just yesterday, I did a quick core CPI calculation, and confirmed that my net pay is lower than when I started in real terms. So I’ve been trying to look around, which brings us to …

      The other part of the fear is that even as a comparatively recent hire, I was able to be selected and interviewed by my actual co-workers at the time. The first step in evaluating me was bringing me in to talk with people about how I could help them. For every application since, it’s been HR checklists, phone pre-screens, and multi-hour skill tests, so far with no success. So I’ve invested a lot of years and tears in the PhD and the subsequent “career,” and to a large extent it’s not that I’m unwilling to cut my losses, it’s that I’m feeling unable to. But hey, at least Target is hiring.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        Wait, what about the STEM shortage every talks about and therefore must be real and not an industry myth to get H1B caps raised? Surely you can go become king of Google, right? Or cure all the cancers?

        • postmodulator

          Careful, last time we had this argument, it got ugly.

          • wengler

            Not really. That one guy just was unwilling to realize what was true to him in Silicon Valley wasn’t true in the rest of the country.

            • postmodulator

              That’s sort of what I meant by ugly.

      • wjts

        For every application since, it’s been HR checklists, phone pre-screens, and multi-hour skill tests, so far with no success.

        I applied for a job as an autopsy technician at UPMC-Children’s a while back. I have something like five years worth of experience in human dissection, mostly on the teaching end of things but also doing some consulting work for the ME’s office. I can handle the emotional stresses of working with dead children. But I failed the Internet Personality Quiz some MBA in the HR department cooked up, so I never got an actual interview.

        • Lee Rudolph

          This is the first time in maybe 25 years that I’ve been prompted to recollect that my (very) late mother’s first job after getting her BA in Chemistry (from Ohio University, in the first coeducational class) was working for a pathologist making slides with a microtome.

          It’s depressing that someone with your obviously relevant experience—which surely can’t be that common?—couldn’t even get an interview. WTF was the quiz like?

  • postmodulator

    Bright news ahead for some faculty: Arizona Completely Abandons Its Community Colleges

    Yes, that’s a zero-dollar subsidy. In around fifty years we went from zero financial contribution from students being the expectation for public institutions, to zero financial contribution from the state.

    I wonder if the likely ethnic makeup of Arizona’s urban community colleges was a factor.

    • JFC

      • Monty

        Like KFC but with zero sin.

    • Halloween Jack

      I wonder if the likely ethnic makeup of Arizona’s urban community colleges was a factor.

      Plus the likely ethnic makeup of all the recent arrivals to the state, for whom higher taxes is like unto kryptonite to Clark Kent.

      • Brett

        That state always had a libertarian streak to its politics, although the power of the anti-tax fanatics in the Republican Party likely doesn’t help either. I remember they were by far the last state to accept Medicaid after it was passed in the 1960s.

        • mds

          Well, they’ve followed it up with largely un-accepting former Governer Brewer’s acceptance of the Medicaid expansion. You remember Jan Brewer, right? The sane, moderate one by comparison to the new incumbent? Which, no matter how low my opinion of a state I spent years of my childhood in has sunk, was something I wasn’t expecting.

    • wengler

      Watching Spring Training, with brand new shiny ballparks nicer than most pre-’90s major league stadiums, I can tell you where some of that money is going.

  • Monty

    The job market in History is horrible and it isn’t going to get any better.

    Maybe as a teacher, but have you ever considered rewriting history textbooks? There seems to be a lucrative market for that sort of thing. Just sayin.

    • postmodulator

      I assume the Texas School Board would distrust anyone with a PhD in history not granted by Liberty University. They might burn you as a warlock.

    • I’d feel like a hypocrite. I don’t use big textbooks anymore. They are expensive, they aren’t very good at teaching material, and I don’t want to make students buy them since everything on the tests, papers, and discussion sections comes from other sources (either my lectures or primary source collections). I do recommend one if students actually want it but I don’t even put an order into the bookstore because I can’t handle the guilt of making struggling students spend $70 on nothing.

      • nhradar

        Do other schools have textbook rentals? I’d been living mainly in Ivy League and flagship state school world all of my life, so was surprised when my wife’s directional state school required a course textbook that students rented from the bookstore.

        • Yeah, we have that here. I still don’t like making students pay for anything unnecessarily.

          • nhradar

            She was no fan, either. But it was required. I was sort of curious whether this phenomenon had spread, since it seemed kind of weird in the collegiate history context.

      • DonN

        You are so right. My older son is going through college right now mostly taking undergrad technical courses. Every term he is required to buy a bunch of books that make no sense. They largely cover programming concepts, basic computer science and data structures most of which haven’t changed in years. Others are language specific programming books. There are all sorts of resources available that are much better ranging from pretty well-designed web sites to papers to open source tutorials to in-class explanations to 100’s of used texts. I haven’t seen a single book in two years that was really necessary. The $$ total is usually a couple hundred dollars per term. It’s really irritating.
        DonN.

      • ChrisTS

        I have not required textbooks in years. Between photocopying and the Internets, I can get my students just about anything I want for them. I can also ‘fix’ translations of ancient phil texts instead of apologizing in class. I can add art, video, etc. It’s a hell of a lot of work, but it’s worth it.

    • Matt_L

      Textbook writing is not that lucrative, at least not in history or any of the social sciences outside of economics. If you write a good history textbook with widespread adoption, you might clear enough money to pay for four years of public university tuition for one of your kids (not including room and board, books, fees, etc).

      Economics pays a bit better, but you won’t get rich. The speakers fees for being a right wing freemarketeer economists are a much better racket. Being Niall Ferguson pays well.

      • Lee Rudolph

        any of the social sciences

        Two of my colleagues wrote a psychology 101 textbook; they got about what you describe. But according to them—and they’re well-informed and well-connected—there are at least half a dozen such textbooks that have netted their authors’ a million or more, year after year. The author of one has given a lot of that money to his (horrible right-wing church-affiliated) college. Another has retired but keeps up with the updates. And so on.

        But of course that doesn’t confute your point.

        • rm

          Writing a textbook is like recording music. A few will get rich, some will get a modest income, and most will just do it for the fun of it.

  • LeeEsq

    Many people are only suitable for one type of job. If I couldn’t make a living as a lawyer, I’d really have no idea what I would do for my daily bread. The tempo and nature of lawyering is just the right fit for me. For people who are adjuncts and stick with it, they might face a similar dilemma. They are just not sutited for any other line of work but teaching and because of the nature of their PhD or just the fact that they got a PhD, do not want to teach at bellow the college level. If you have a PhD in philosophy, speciality Aristotle, and are only fit to be a teacher by temperment than what else can you do?

    • Honestly? I’d say that most people in the 20th century did not find personal fulfillment through work but they did find other ways for personal fulfillment. If you can’t find anything else at all, find something that pays a bit better. And maybe teach one evening course or online course to keep that part of your life alive. It’s one thing to say that you can’t imagine doing anything else when you are making $100,000 a year (not saying that’s what you make but some lawyers do anyway). It’s another when you are making $20,000.

      • Honoré De Ballsack

        If you can’t find anything else at all, find something that pays a bit better.

        Easier said than done these days. FAR easier.

        • Yes, although it is worth noting that almost any other full-time job will actually pay a bit better.

          • Brett

            Hell, most of the full-time staff jobs at the university will pay better than $20,000/year, and they’ll have benefits. I’m including stuff like being a cashier in the university’s cashiering department, or a front-clerk clerk in Financial Aid.

            • Yep.

            • Manny Kant

              But those jobs won’t hire you if you have a PhD, because they assume you won’t stick around.

              • Moondog

                Would it be terribly wrong to lie by omission on a job application about one’s Ph.D.?

      • Brett

        Most adjuncts are doing that already, working another job while teaching a class or two. That means there’s probably some self-selection at work with the rest – they really love teaching and really want to keep trying for the tenured slot (and as others point out also fear what might happen if they drop out of it in their thirties).

        The adjunct unionization should help with some of that, assuming they can get multiple courses. A major boost in per-class adjunct pay is going to draw in more people to teach a class or two. We’ll see.

      • Richard Hershberger

        “Honestly? I’d say that most people in the 20th century did not find personal fulfillment through work but they did find other ways for personal fulfillment.”

        This. I scratch my academic itch by researching and writing about the history of early baseball. You can plug my name into Google Scholar and find it. It would be lovely if someone wanted to pay me to do this, but in sad reality I have a day job. More power to those lucky few who get paid for doing what they love, but it is unrealistic and expect this, and no reason not to make the time for what you love anyway.

        • Linnaeus

          Sometimes I think that we are, to some extent, returning to an older model of scholarship wherein scholarly-trained people do it as an avocation or do it as a job that is secondary to their primary one. There’s new terms for it, e.g., “fractional scholarship”, but it’s the same thing.

          • Moondog

            There are probably enough zillionaires around now to revive and expand a system of patronage for scholars

            Like in that Foxcatcher movie.

    • Vance Maverick

      Well, it’s a lucky thing that your one kind of job turned out to be available in the time and place you were living! What if you had been born to be a haruspex?

      Seriously, every kind of work, including creative work, is an accommodation between the individual and a created environment. Good on you for accommodating well. Not all are so lucky. But thinking we were born for our work is one of the chains holding back the adjuncts we’re talking about, and I hope they can face the problem without that illusion.

      My move out of academe was easy because I was in a field with a broad, well-lit offramp into a lucrative industry. And I still beat myself up about it today, like ScrewyCanuck below. I can’t imagine what people who have gone further in less “marketable” fields are going through.

      • Honoré De Ballsack

        What if you had been born to be a haruspex?

        The preferred term these days is “economist,” and they now use mathematical models instead of sheep livers.

        I was also once in a field with a broad. She had the most well-lit offramp I’ve even seen.

  • ScrewyCanuck

    I made the decision to abandon adjunct work when it became clear to me that there would be no tenure-track in my future. The move earned mixed results. The variety of jobs I’ve held since then have seldom challenged me, nor have I felt I was making a lasting contribution to my society. Despite the respectability of a normal salary, old friends from academia feel sorry for me, as if I’ve failed to live up to my potential or gave up too soon. I certainly feel that way myself on occasion, despite the financial security.

    I should also point out that there were unexpected side effects: my self-confidence collapsed like a cartoon soufflé. I lost my skill at public speaking, and the process to get back to being a self-actualizing human being has taken almost as long as earning my two graduate degrees.

    I think there’s a bit of battered spouse syndrome prevalent among those who persevere, one reason I don’t judge anyone who chooses to stay. We tend to look at our profession as a calling, or a kind of family, not an industry that will exploit you. It is tempting to explain away the indignities and exploitation, and to blame yourself for any lack of success. Furthermore, most departments do a fine job of convincing you there is no other life, or work, outside of the field. Bind that to the ‘good old days’ talk from your mentors about how they found their jobs, and it’s easy to put your shoulder to the wheel and keep working your ass off. Funny how, when you’re overworked, it’s easy to wake up one day and realize you’re middle aged.

    • “Furthermore, most departments do a fine job of convincing you there is no other life, or work, outside of the field”

      And that’s what needs to change within the academy.

      • Aaron Baker

        What needs to change, Academy? Provide full-time work for everyone you train, instead of abandoning them like so much garbage by the road.

        • Though let’s remember here–the biggest issue is not with the academy, it’s with the state disinvestment in higher education and declining budgets (as well as administrative choices of course). So you can say that those big bad history and English programs are evil for putting out PhDs–and maybe you are right–but the real bad actor here are state legislatures and governors.

          • Even in a hypothetical world where college education was still priced at the levels of the 1960s and 1970s, where entry level professoring jobs were plentiful and available at a living wage, there still needs to be a better, more palatable, way to earn a living with an advanced degree outside the academy. One professor over the course of a career can train up dozens or hundreds of newly minted grad students capable of replacing that professor, but unless the field of academia is expanding, there won’t be dozens or hundreds of tenure track positions opening up. So does academia consciously filter the level of grad students it trains to the number of expected positions plus some fudge factor or does it continue to train up everyone who wants to learn and can get financing and blame the students for their failure to get a tenure track job?

            • mds

              So does academia consciously filter the level of grad students it trains to the number of expected positions plus some fudge factor or does it continue to train up everyone who wants to learn and can get financing and blame the students for their failure to get a tenure track job?

              In the life sciences, it’s the latter, with the added element that grad students and postdocs nowadays provide cheap staffing for the huge labs of a university’s superstar researchers.

            • mpowell

              No single program can fix this program. I’d say it’s just up to the department to be honest to people coming in.

      • drwormphd

        Speaking from what is admittedly anecdata at best, I think it is changing (I finished my PhD in 2011.) Doctoral programs have been (as usual) slow to respond but you are starting to see career panels and support from students choosing to leave academia. There’s more emphasis on internships, resume-worthy summer jobs, and learning coding and other digital skills; who knows whether or not this stuff is effective but it’s a sign things are changing. Because you’re absolutely right, a PhD is a good credential for a lot of jobs, and there’s no reason to think you’ve failed if you don’t land a TT line.

        Also, FWIW, we were told not to take adjunct jobs because they would never lead to real jobs; they’re kryptonite on a CV, apparently. (Visiting professor and fellowships, good; adjunct bad.) I don’t think that’s fair of course, but it makes sense, sadly.

        • I would be pretty mad if I was on a hiring committee and someone knocked a person out because they had adjuncted. But then I’ve never been on a hiring committee so I don’t know how often this happens.

          • Pat

            Hiring committees get so many applications that the slightest thing off expectations gets you hammered.

            • ChrisTS

              This. “Why hasn’t s/he had a full time position or a post doc?” Into the out bin.

          • Josephine

            I’ve been on a bunch of hiring committees and I’ve never heard anyone hold a history of adjunct work against a candidate. In fact, with the job market being what it is these days I think most of our candidates have spent some or a lot of time as adjuncts. In order of decreasing importance we look at the cover letter, the teaching statement, the research statement, the employment history (mostly to see if there are questionably abrupt departures from TT positions), and then the letters of recommendation. This has been mostly in third-rate small liberal arts colleges, so YMMV. I think every hiring committee I’ve ever been on has understood tacitly that people need to eat and if they spend time adjuncting there are almost certainly good reasons for that.

            • The Lorax

              I’ve been on lots of hiring committes, too. If anything we look favorably on adjunct experience.

            • ChrisTS

              This is sane and decent. Sadly, my experience is that adjuncting – at least for more than a year – is regarded on par with having been denied tenure elsewhere.

              • Mike N.

                Had a similar experience on an academic blog I don’t follow any more. Academics were telling people not to adjunct after getting a PhD so that they would appear as “fresh” as possible. Because addings skills is apparently less important than . . . something importanter.

        • FridayNext

          This was getting to the point I came to make, so I’ll make it as a reply, though the thought started as an independent point.

          First: I have 20 years of experience in museum work. I am finishing my dissertation in history when I am not commenting on blogs. I started adjunct career to teach museum studies to undergraduates and graduates, it was a second job for me. It might become a first job for me someday, who knows?

          In both my careers I met a lot of adjuncts both the pt and ft variety. Some of the ft did teach at 2 or more schools had been doing it a long time. My sense was from the ft long-timers is that one of the main reasons they did not drop the road scholar lifestyle is that they had no idea how to get or keep a job outside of academia. Indeed, a couple had never lived or worked outside of academia ever in their lives. Maybe a restaurant gig here or there, but nothing substantial. Moving from one to the other is about fear, yes, but it is also about skills, experience, and temperament and all they know are academic. I remember once getting into a conversation with one about the difference between a cv and a resume. She was 30 and had no idea a resume doesn’t drone on for 5 pages with every committee and paper listed. None. There are other differences that could fill a book or seminar, some petty and some profound, but they are different and many lifelong academics just don’t have the right skills to break out, or at least have the awareness to know they need different skills and the confidence they can learn them.

          I, too, see a shift in how department’s are dealing with this issue. The faculty in my department has certainly embraced the inevitably that their PhD grads will likely find jobs outside of academia. But the people who make decisions in my department don’t really know much about outside professions themselves, so most of what they have done so far is developed partnerships in other schools and departments like Museum Studies, Historic Preservation, and Heritage Tourism. (Which is great and they should have done this decades ago) But they themselves don’t know much about the subjects or fields because academia, as far as I can tell, has not historically rewarded with hiring, tenure, and leadership positions those faculty who ply their trade in the public sphere. This, too, is changing, but I think it will be awhile before these changes become embedded in the profession and widely accepted.

          • And one of the problems is that the people least able to train PhD students to get jobs outside the academy are professors because they got jobs inside the academy.

            • Pat

              And those same professors have a both a strong personal bias towards their proteges becoming academics, as well as a professional bias, because they get rewarded for placing scholars in jobs.

              • Lee Rudolph

                because they get rewarded for placing scholars in jobs.

                Expand on that, please. I understand (on the basis of no personal experience…) how a Ph.D. advisor might feel great personal satisfaction at an advisee’s good jobs (of course, conversely, I always imagine—probably wrongly—that advisors feel terrible about their advisee’s bad jobs, or dropping out of the field entirely; one of the ways I console myself for never having been a Ph.D. advisor is telling myself that I don’t have to feel any such guilt). But I don’t know of any source of exogenous reward; at least, I’ve never heard of people getting (say) raises for having successful students.

                • djw

                  It’s a status thing, primarily. (Status is the coin of the realm, and can be helpful in securing more tangible rewards.) The same way publishing in the field’s #1 journal is a boon to one’s career more than publishing the exact same research in a second tier journal.

                • Srsly Dad Y

                  To be crass about it, I’m told that often your cadre of students will dutifully cite your seminal works in their published papers, making you appear au courant in the field.

                • Pat

                  I have heard that NIH R01 renewal applicants are scanned for whether they have placed post-docs or graduate students in jobs, which is evidence of their ability to train. I know that it’s a factor in getting training grants (T32’s) renewed.

                  The NIH doesn’t want to give departments training money if all their applicants leave science.

                • Lee Rudolph

                  To be crass about it, I’m told that often your cadre of students will dutifully cite your seminal works in their published papers

                  I have been very fortunate, in that several cadres of other peoples’ students (some of which “other people” I have never even met!) dutifully cite my seminal works in their published papers. In fact, one or two of those students are now far enough advanced in their careers that cadres of their students are dutifully (etc.).

                  Depending on the day of the week, the weather, and other variables, this can make me feel either slightly or considerably compensated for never having supervised doctoral students of my own.

            • FridayNext

              Absolutely. One of the ongoing frustrations for me personally as a returning grad student is that even though I have 20 years experience in history museums, I still have to take a back seat and publicly defer to the opinions of full professors with loads of awesome scholarship but only consulted on one exhibition 10 years ago or once wrote an article on Civil War memory in a local historic house.

              • Nick never Nick

                That’s part of what being a student is — deferring to the people who teach you. Why study if you don’t want to do that, or choose to study mentors whose skills you don’t respect?

                • FridayNext

                  I do respect their skills, expertise, and even wisdom in the area they actually have experience and accomplishments. I trust to be mentored by them because I in fact DO respect those skills and knowledge.

                  But why should skills and accomplishment in one area (in this case historical research and writing) automatically transfer to unrelated or tangentially related areas (running a history museum)? Having skills in one area does not mean you have skills in another.

                  How frustrated would they be if they came to my field to learn the latest in museum administration, and then I made them sit and defer to me in areas where they are more accomplished and expert? They’d storm out in a huff, and rightly so.

                  But I understand that this is how much of academia works. So I quietly put up with it. But it is very frustrating.

                  ETA: My favorite part of this dynamic is when junior faculty half my age try to lecture me on how “real life” is like. Yeah, thanks for the tip.

        • djw

          That’s going to vary a great deal by field, but I think it might also be a function of a blinkered worldview at PhD granting research universities, where there’s a tendency to conflate “tenure track jobs” with “research intensive tenure track jobs”. In my department (which hired me, and I’d taught around 20 adjunct courses), which is more teaching focused (but not exclusively so; we’re still expect to produce research and have some decent support for that), all things being equal a new PhD who’d only taught as a TA or maybe one course in their PhD granting department would be looked upon much more favorably, all else equal, had they adjuncted a few courses, especially if they had compelling syllabi and good evaluations to go with that experience. (Indeed, the one and only time we wanted to interview someone with only TA and no independent teaching experience, we got some pushback from the Dean’s office about it.) I have no idea of that advice is bad in your field, but I suspect it might be, especially if you’re interested in more teaching oriented tenure track positions.

        • DonN

          I’ve tried to get companies I’ve worked at to look at taking graduate interns from other fields who’ve had even a small amount of programming and train them. I think it would be a great way to both get more women into the field and bring new ideas from fields outside of the typical disciplines from which we hire. To say it has received a lukewarm reception is an understatement. People value their own training way more than they should.
          Don N.

    • Linnaeus

      Furthermore, most departments do a fine job of convincing you there is no other life, or work, outside of the field.

      I noticed this a long time ago, and I’ve been beating the drum for this to change among my colleagues ever since. As one who will, Lord willing, have his Ph.D. in the next year or so and who is 99% likely to be working outside of academia, I think it’s important for future holders of graduate degrees to be able to consider lines of work other than teaching at a college or university.

      I think the bias against this even shows up implicitly in terms like “alt-ac” or “alternative careers”. In other fields, they’d simply be called “careers”.

      • FridayNext

        THANKS FOR THIS!

        I thought about posting this, but figured I spewed up enough words elsewhere in this thread. But I agree 100%

        I admit I have no data for this, but a lot of people in the “alt-ac” world don’t like be referred to as someone’s safety profession. It’s condescending. It reminds me of the old saw I used to hear when I told people I decided to major in history, “Well, if nothing else you could always teach.” Except now it’s “Getting a PhD? Well, if nothing else you can always work in Public History, if you have to.”

        And I once retorted to someone at a conference who referred to “alternative careers” that many of us just call them careers and that academia was our alternative. I am still not sure if I got the stink-eye or the evil-eye in return, but it was not good.

    • Srsly Dad Y

      Screwy Canuck, my sympathies. I experienced a similar persona crash when I messed up my career path about 5 years ago (this was my fault, no debate), and in truth, only a lucky recovery in circumstances has helped me climb back within shouting distance of the old me.

  • Nick never Nick

    I was born in 1970, my father was an English professor. That was the best job in the world back then — you taught whatever you felt like, the syllabus was one page long and completely lacking in measurable Learning Objectives, the department chair was another prof who’d gotten tired of doing research and agreed to take on the chore of making sure the library committee was staffed, you did whatever you wanted all day long and had the summer off and hung out on campus which was the only place where you could go to see weird old movies. The job paid enough that he could buy a house, support his entire family, and save enough to put my sister and I through college with no real dent in his savings. One time we spent a year in Europe on a Fullbright. I grew up thinking that I would never be anything other than a professor.

    Then I went to grad school in anthropology in the early 90s and didn’t care for it as much as I thought . . . and didn’t see my fellow grad students getting jobs . . . and realized that if you like but don’t love a subject, doing research in it is a real chore. So I quit, it wasn’t easy — but I believe that a lot of people have internalized the idea that there is no better life than being a prof. And if they love what they do, I believe that they’re right. How can you give that up? Even if universities aren’t culturally what they were back before the Internet, they have a vibe that other things don’t.

    I still struggle with my deep belief that a working life should be completely free during the working day, and that the summer should be a vacation.

    P.S. A lot of people who go into academia don’t think in terms of ‘lifetime earning’. When you have tenure and a well-paying job, you are basically insulated from financial issues. I never thought about such things, growing up.

    • Nick never Nick

      I guess I’m saying that there is a class element to academia. This is obvious now, but when I went to college, I was amazed that all of my friends didn’t understand how the university worked, or how grad school worked, etc. They came from families that ran businesses or stuff, which I didn’t understand at all.

      • Lee Rudolph

        you taught whatever you felt like

        I don’t think that’s ever been really true in mathematics departments; with very few (but not zero) exceptions, even superstars in superstar departments have had to teach “service courses” (cookbook calculus, for the most part) since at least the 1960s (and from all I can tell, also up to the 1950s—there may have been a decade or so postwar when that wasn’t so, but I’m not betting the house on it). And calculus (even cookbook calculus) can, to some extent, be interesting to teach, but it’s really not something anyone has been doing research in for a long, long time (again, with a few tiny exceptions).

        The stock photo Eric chose is really odd, in that respect; the Frustrated Teacher is teaching what is certainly an upper-level math course (group theory at a minimum, and I’m guessing homological algebra) that I cannot imagine ever being taught by an adjunct (at least, not of the Exploited Adjunct class: I can, barely, imagine that a retiree who knows that sort of stuff cold might be successfully solicited, by a college with a few ambitious undergraduates and a small mathematics faculty lacking members who are interested or particularly competent in homological algebra, to teach such a course for a pittance, once in a blue moon).

        • It’s not like proper stock photos are always easy to come by.

        • Nick never Nick

          I know it’s an exaggeration — but, say, you get the survey of American lit course dumped on you one semester, you still got to choose what you taught within it. English isn’t sequential in the same way mathematics is.

          Also, one thing I didn’t mention above is that in my father’s generation, academics weren’t superstars. His friends were just a bunch of people who liked what they did and got PhDs with the expectation of getting jobs. They went to grad school in an expanding job market.

          • Lee Rudolph

            I wasn’t disagreeing that in lots of subjects, certainly including English, professors often can teach what they like—even (to an extent) what they’re actually working on. I was just complaining that I essentially never got to do that. (Even in Ph.D.-granting departments, most professors only get to teach actual courses on their research once every few years. As you say, mathematics is sequential in a way that many subjects aren’t.)

            • To put this in my experience, I teach environmental history once every two years and I have never taught labor history at URI.

              • Joseph Slater

                I can only assume that’s because it’s not offered. . . .

                • We have a labor historian senior to me. In fact, we have 2 labor historians senior to me so who knows when or if I’ll ever teach it.

          • AcademicLurker

            English was one of my undergraduate majors, and I can recall that the American Lit. survey course was a very different experience depending on who taught it. When I took it the thread throughout the course was the radical tradition in American Lit. Beecher Stowe, Dos Passos, Baldwin, Ellison & etc. In retrospect I’m not quite sure where The Rise of Silas Lapham fit in with that group.

        • cookbook calculus

          It was the Cheerios-box partial-differential recipes that gave me nightmares.

          • Pat

            How did you integrate the muffins?

    • JL

      This brings up something that I’ve been wondering about – how many aspiring academics are second-generation (or third, or fourth) academics? Is it really so many? I come from plenty of class privilege and I know it, but my sister (in the humanities) and I (in the sciences) are first-gen aspiring academics. Our dad is an actuary (who originally wanted to teach math but left that track for financial reasons), our mom is a lawyer, neither of our stepparents went to college.

      I used to assume that few aspiring academics were the children of a professor just because there aren’t that many professors out there, how common could that situation possibly be, but I’ve heard people bring up the multi-gen factor a number of times in conversations like this one, and now I wonder if it’s far more common that I realized.

      • Mrs__B was a third-generation academic before she left that world four years ago. I’m fairly certain she never intended to be anything else.

        • JL

          Whereas I didn’t intend to be an academic until I’d spent a few years working in industry after college. I went into college intending to be a premed, which lasted less than a year (I would probably enjoy being a full-fledged doctor, but I did not enjoy being a premed and would not enjoy being a medical student or resident, and that’s a long time to be miserable if there are other things you can be happy doing).

          (I spent a while wanting to be a PhD-level researcher in industry, and working toward the goal of getting into a PhD program so that I could pursue that, and there are still settings in which I’d enjoy that. But a bad experience that really underlined how little autonomy some industry researchers get and how much that can suck, persuaded me that I really would prefer to do science in academia rather than in most of the corporate world. Plus I got very disillusioned with DoD contractors, for both political and professional reasons.)

          • Lee Rudolph

            Plus I got very disillusioned with DoD contractors

            Based on the model of you that I’ve constructed from your posts here, I’m wondering how and where you ever managed to get illusioned with DoD contractors in the first place!

            • JL

              *laugh*

              Roughly, “While I want us to stop having so many wars, I’m not a 100% pacifist, and it follows from any not-100%-pacifist worldview that we should have some sort of military, and if we have a military it should have good tech. Plus, the DoD is just where most of the physical sciences money is, and there’s a long history of DoD-funded work becoming useful for civilian purposes. At least I’m working for something beyond making my bosses richer by making toys for the affluent or arcane software tools for other people who make software tools, like a lot of my friends have ended up doing. There’s some social benefit to this work if we can just fix our foreign policy to not use our military and its resources so irresponsibly.”

              It helped that the stuff I worked on was nearly always really basic-researchy, except for the job that was mostly “software to make sure satellites are recognizable by our systems and not crashing into each other in space.” This would have been a much harder justification to pull off if I’d been working directly on weapons or something. Working on a new technique to speed up supervised machine learning without compromising accuracy, or on robots that can reconfigure themselves without human input to get around environmental obstacles, did not feel the same as working on the F-35 probably would have. My politics were also not quite as left when I first graduated from college as they are now – I was closer to mainstream liberal.

              One of the things – there were a few – that cemented my desire to get the hell out of that world was finding out that social network analysis, which my first officemate out of college worked on, was now being used for intel-gathering against domestic protesters. When I first took that job I thought the social network analysis project looked like a fun intellectual problem and was sad that I didn’t get assigned to it. Four and a half years later I was relieved that I hadn’t been.

              In all honesty, though, the ethics of STEM work as currently funded and supported in this country is really hard. In the physical sciences it can be hard to find funding for applications that aren’t defense, because the DoD really is where all the money is. In engineering, you can get out of defense and go work on industrial robots…except oops, now you’ve put a bunch of factory workers out of jobs! The normal corporate software world is full of ethical problems and companies doing evil. There’s the life sciences side of things, but pharma and agriculture aren’t exactly free of ethical concerns, to put it mildly, and also there aren’t anything like enough jobs for all the people looking for life science industry jobs anymore. It upsets me in general how so many brilliant and well-intentioned people that I know have ended up either making toys and gadgets for the rich, or in work with obvious ethical problems – not because they’re bad people, but because they were good at math and science and that’s the kind of work that our society is set up to track brilliant people who are good at math and science into.

      • Pat

        I think there’s a training aspect, because the kids of professors absorb the mindset associated with being a successful prof. However, at least half of my colleagues are childless, so that reduces the pool somewhat.

      • Nick never Nick

        I think one thing people forget, after several decades of academia being defunded, is that ‘professor’ used to be a job that someone could realistically choose and prepare for. There didn’t used to be as many grad programs, so if you got into one, you either made it (got a good job in the good schools) or didn’t make it (became a prof in a second or third tier state school). In both cases, you were a prof. That was before my father’s time, back when academia was more of a closed social class.

        In his day, there were a lot of jobs; but if you didn’t get one, well, the community college system was ramping up, and with a PhD you came close to having your pick, there.

        Now tenure track jobs are rare and go to outstanding candidates; community college jobs are close to requiring PhDs and people fight for them; and even adjunct positions have a huge amount of competition. The Internet has opened up job competitions to everyone, so where it used to be if you lived in Durham you would have an ‘in’ to the local schools, that’s not true anymore. Everyone who wants into the club has to compete with everyone who has a computer, and as classes become increasingly online, there isn’t even going to be a geographical component to hiring. A career where being a superstar is the entry-level qualification isn’t a career that can realistically be chosen.

      • Linnaeus

        Somewhat tangential, but this reminds me of an online conversation (on my Twitter stream) between several black graduate students and recent Ph.D.s who remarked that their black colleagues seemed to react differently to the jobs situation in academia compared to their white colleagues. From their perspective, their black colleagues, though certainly troubled about the jobs situation, were more amenable to the possibility of working outside of academia and many of those colleagues had made some contingency plans to do so. Their white colleagues reacted with a much stronger sense of shock, dismay, and despair.

        Their tentative explanation for this difference was that their black colleagues had more experience dealing with this kind of adversity and that finding a side hustle, so to speak, was an important life skill for black Americans that many learn early. Their white colleagues were probably facing for the first time in their lives a systemic and seemingly immovable obstacle to their plans and goals and were still learning to come to grips with that.

        Now, this discussion was certainly impressionistic in nature, but I thought this was an interesting take on the situation.

      • NewishLawyer

        A friend of mine is a second-generation academic at least and he is lucky and not adjuncting. Another friend who is adjuncting is a second-generation academic as well.

        Others not so much. Some come from professional parents who believed in cultural capital. Others are the first in their families to attend college.

        When I was in law school, lots of us had lawyer parents and grandparents. Some went on to work with their parents.

  • But to be honest, most adjuncts should also quit their jobs and find something else to do. Working at Starbucks would pay just as well.

    Don’t let yourself be exploited if you can help it.

    Ah, yes, because one program in New Mexico does a decent job of finding non-academic jobs for their PhDs, everyone should find work outside of academia. And hey, working in government, working at Starbucks, it’s all the same.

    I’m an adjunct in the CUNY system. I’m a member of my union, get regular step pay raises, and have health insurance and a pension. If I didn’t have all of those benefits, then maybe I wouldn’t stay in academia—the pay, raises and all, is still lousy, and course scheduling can be unpredictable. As it is, I work a second job (at an academically-related non-profit) to make ends meet.

    It is not optimal, no. But I love teaching, and the kick I get from being in the classroom matters to me. I’ve also worked retail (bookstore) while adjuncting, and while you state that “working at Starbucks would pay just as well” (a contestable claim), you neglect to note how demoralizing it can be to work in the service industry. It’s not just about status (although it is also about status) but also the sense that the work matters.

    It should also be said that a big part of the reason I’m an adjunct is that I got the job. I’ve applied for a fair number of non-academic positions, but no luck. I’m trying really, really hard not to get too upset by your admonition not to let “yourself get exploited if you can help it” by focusing on those last five words, but guess what, there’s a limit to one any one worker can do to help herself. It’s about as useful as telling someone to “pull yourself up by your own boostraps—if you’ve got ’em.”

    Finally, what are you doing about the hiring of adjuncts and the conditions under which we labor? Does your department hire adjuncts? How much do you pay them? How much support do you offer to those who do want to teach? And given the bad academic market, how much have you cut your entering graduate classes, and how well do you inform those who you do admit that they’ll have difficulty getting academic jobs? Do you recommend that they instead get MAs so they can get out on the non-academic market and earn all of that money?

    Don’t let yourself exploit others, if you can help it.

    • Our adjuncts are unionized but I would tell them the same thing. We don’t have a PhD program and aren’t contributing more people to the mess.

      And while there are limits to what one can do to stop themselves from getting exploited, someone with a PhD actually has a lot less limits. Someone with multiple degrees has access to some power and can clearly do a lot of things. It’s not like you are laboring as an undocumented worker in an illegal Los Angeles sweatshop here. I’m most certainly not saying that making a transition is easy and the job market is terrible in almost everything. But I will also say that there was a time when I thought I was for sure on the way out of academia–I had taught in a visiting position, that was ending, and the job market was of course awful. And I made the conscious decision not to adjunct at all because I wasn’t going to do this work for that little money.

      If people love college teaching that much and find teaching the same survey courses over and over that rewarding and is basically OK with not making any money, obviously then go for it. We don’t all have to make the same choices.

      • But if we do make the choice to remain, then we deserve what we get.

        There is something to that. I know the conditions under which I labor (which does not include teaching survey courses)—the low pay, the uncertainty—and stay anyway. I don’t care to portray myself as a victim.

        But you are awfully dismissive of the difficulties one encounters when someone seeks to leave. I’ve been told point-blank not to bother applying for a position because “they don’t hire PhDs” or that I’m “overqualified”. You make it sound as if the advanced degree is some kind of golden ticket when in fact it can clog up one’s job prospects.

        Finally, saying that most workers over the course of the 20th century didn’t love their jobs so suck it up is both true and completely in sync with what those workers have been told by bosses over that century. And no, I’m not “laboring as an undocumented worker in an illegal Los Angeles sweatshop”, but then, I never claimed I was; frankly, that claim is similar to Dawkins’s “Dear Muslimah” letter: if your situation isn’t the worst in the world, you’ve got nothing to complain about.

        Finally finally, it’s good that your department doesn’t have a PhD program. I hope you are vigorous in discouraging students from pursuing those PhDs elsewhere.

        • No, if you choose to stay I hope you have a union or join a union and go on strike and demand change. I still wouldn’t make that recommendation to you to stick with your job though.

          Also, I am totally Richard Dawkins in this debate.

          • Lee Rudolph

            I look forward to your “Dear Adjunctia” open letter!

            • Ronan

              *chuckle*

        • JL

          I don’t read Erik as saying that if your situation isn’t as bad as that of an undocumented worker in a sweatshop, you have nothing to complain about. I read Erik as saying that you have more decision-making power – whether that’s to seek something else and have a plausible shot at success, or to stay because you like your job in spite of all the shit that it would be nice to change about it – than someone in that sort of situation. And that if you go for the latter, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t complain about the shitty parts.

          • Pat

            Nonetheless, it’s useful for us to discuss the shitty parts. People have to think about a problem before it can be addressed, and as obscure as the comments section of a blog can be, it does serve that purpose.

            At some point, I believe the feds will have to step in to regulate how higher education is delivered, just like they did for medical care. It may take another two decades, but it will happen.

      • MCofA

        Unionized is good, but it’s far from the “Wash my hands of responsibility” cure-all that you imply in your one-sentence response. I was unionized at my previous adjunct position and it was significantly more exploitative than any job I’d had previously. The union was doing its best, but its negotiating power with the university was limited because of the job market and the relative lack of buy-in among the teachers.

        If you’re going to ask the “why do you let yourself be exploited?” question I think it behooves you to answer the “why do you let yourself participate in exploitation?” question quite a bit more fully. When and how have you advocated for living wages and full benefits for the adjunct faculty in your department and at your university? For their integration into the university community as full citizens and stakeholders?

        For me, I’ve continued because my expectations remain high and because of that feeling of failure. I got a PhD from one of the top schools in my field and all my colleagues have gotten TT jobs. That means that I have some reason to be hopeful, but it also makes me feel all the more a failure when I measure myself against the folks who were my colleagues. Still are in some broad sense.

        It’s exceptionally difficult to quantify the unknown. What are the odds of a TT job? Are they 10% or 30% or 60%? What would it cost me to take the risk of leaving the market and what are the odds I would find something that paid as well or better than that TT job, and that provided me with a similar sense of satisfaction? I don’t know. At some point soon I’ll have to take the leap and say I quit, but there is a lot of both emotional baggage and practical uncertainty in that decision.

        • How do I participate in the exploitation of adjuncts precisely?

          • Malaclypse

            Have you even once established a dictatorship of the proletariat? You Didn’t. Even. Try.

          • MCofA

            I am not continuing this conversation. You asked for personal stories that are traumatic to relate and have offered no vulnerability yourself in return. Cheers.

            • I didn’t actually ask for personal stories.

            • Lee Rudolph

              It may be difficult, but I am confident that the LGM commentariat at large will be able to bear your withdrawal from this conversation with fortitude.

              • MCofA

                I shouldn’t have participated in the first place. I realize that in retrospect.

                I like this place. I comment sometimes. I saw a post that struck a deep personal nerve and responded based on that exposed nerve. As I read the post, I felt personally hurt and invoked. I should have let it go, but that’s why I didn’t. It was a bad idea because this is the internet. I learn.

                I know signing off and then signing back in is about as “internet” as it gets. And so is getting angry and being all morally upright about it. So, there I am. On the internet.

                • Nick never Nick

                  Your post was fine — but instead of assuming that someone else was participating in exploiting adjuncts, you could have asked them if they thought their participation in the tenure game was exploitative, or fleshed out your opinion in another way, rather than just assume it’s the case. It’s certainly not a widely-held viewpoint, personally, I don’t blame tenure-track profs for the university’s administration, and I think it’s OK for them to comment on it.

                  I sympathize with you — when I was dropping out (I hated grad school), I had to finish a certain milestone to get my master’s degree. I was worried that I wouldn’t, and not doing so would make me bitter and unable to enjoy life once I was free of graduate school. From what you say, it sounds like completing a PhD but not getting a job is a hundred times worse. But, that doesn’t mean that Loomis can’t have opinions without sharing vulnerabilities.

                • Moondog

                  Easy to see why Erik’s post would hit a nerve. Some of the statements are condescending at best:

                  “Making $20,000 a year on the other hand is actually wasting your life, or at least the earning potential part of it.” (No, the “or at least” does not make this statement OK.)

                  “You are a grunt and you are treated like a grunt and there’s really no hope for the future to not be treated like a grunt.”

                  “Teaching 4 intro level college surveys is no one’s idea of what they want to do with their lives”

                  And the advice, basically “get a job” — is this coming from a tenured academic who has never held a genuine bullshit 9-to-5? Does he know what being a “grunt” really means? I’m asking.

        • Linnaeus

          For me, I’ve continued because my expectations remain high and because of that feeling of failure. I got a PhD from one of the top schools in my field and all my colleagues have gotten TT jobs. That means that I have some reason to be hopeful, but it also makes me feel all the more a failure when I measure myself against the folks who were my colleagues. Still are in some broad sense.

          This is one of the real problems I see with academic culture – it can be very harsh to people who leave that culture, either by not completing their degree program or by completing it, but doing work other than a tenure-track teaching & research position.

          And that absolutely needs to change. Not doing what one is “supposed to do”, either in a graduate program or after it, does not make one a failure. It took me quite a while to convince myself of this (and some of those feelings of failure still crop up every now and then) even though I had advisors who were entirely supportive of the notion that I could be something other than an academic, so I can imagine how much harder it is with less supportive faculty.

  • Crusty

    There is something very difficult and dehumanizing about looking for work in a different field. If you have a Phd and have adjuncted for a couple of years, you might be in your early thirties? Maybe younger, maybe older. And while you’re most certainly bright, and a capable writer, moving into another field, employers will view you as having no skills, even if you could do whatever they’re about to hire a 23 year old to do better. Looking for a job is basically like going before employers, who don’t at all understand that you have accomplished something in your life, and getting naked in front of them and asking them to judge you. I’m not surprised that many avoid it.

    • Nick never Nick

      Yep, I kind of disagree with the contention that a PhD gives you power — it does, but at the same time, it leaves you vulnerable and potentially pathetic, with some of the worst associations of ‘poor’, ‘desperate’, ‘overspecialized’, ‘unrealistic’, and ‘tried but failed’. People who have PhDs but no job don’t FEEL powerful — they feel like wretches. I’m hiring a new person for community outreach right now, and I don’t want PhDs (some have applied); a person with a PhD is a person who, at some level, wants a different job than I can give them.

      I don’t need to go into why I quit a PhD program here, but I will say that I have found life with two master degrees easier to imagine than life with a single PhD and no tenure track job.

      • JL

        I’m hiring a new person for community outreach right now, and I don’t want PhDs (some have applied); a person with a PhD is a person who, at some level, wants a different job than I can give them.

        Meh. I’d be genuinely happy doing a lot of different things, some of which require a PhD (scientific research as a PI in academia or industry, teaching college, doing science policy with the government) and some of which don’t, or would require a different graduate degree (community organizing, politics, disaster EMS, therapy, anti-violence advocacy, master’s-level computational bio work in industry). I think it’s a mistake to assume that your PhD-having applicants don’t really want the job. Wouldn’t that be something to figure out in the interview stage rather than the initial cut stage?

        • Nick never Nick

          Most of the PhDs who apply are living far away, Toronto or Vancouver. Someone who is drastically overqualified, and thousands of miles distant, is someone who is desperate — and if they’re desperate, there’s a pretty good chance that they aren’t actually interested in my job so much as any job. I’d rather have someone local whose qualifications are good but not exceedingly great, who can grow into the position.

          • RabbitIslandHermit

            I’m not really disputing anything you’re saying here, but I hate hate hate how you can’t apply for distant jobs without being seen as desperate. How people manage to move anywhere without some highly in demand skill, someone to stay with, or a bunch of savings to eat up while job hunting is beyond me.

        • Crusty

          “I think it’s a mistake to assume that your PhD-having applicants don’t really want the job. Wouldn’t that be something to figure out in the interview stage rather than the initial cut stage?”

          I agree. Let’s accept that most people aren’t getting personal fulfillment from their job, rather, they have a job they can tolerate and that allows them to support the rest of their life. Some people like teaching history, everyone likes eating, and buying clothes for their kids.

          Employers always seem to want to look for passion or dedication, no matter what the position. I’ve always wondered why, I have a family, I have bills to pay, I like eating at restaurants, going to movies, paying my bills, buying books and stuff and will work my ass of to keep myself in a stable situation where I can continue to do those things is not a good enough answer to why someone wants a particular job.

          I mean, how else would we have janitors, insurance salesmen, receptionists, cashiers, etc.

          • JL

            Yeah, there is also this.

            “Why do you want to work here?”

            “Well, you see, I really want to pay my rent and be able to afford health insurance and food, and you guys gave me an interview.”

            I get that there are some fields – fields that are particularly grueling in various ways, where people who don’t enjoy the work are likely to burn out hard within a year or two – where it really does help to love what you’d be doing. I don’t think that applies to most fields, though.

            • BubbaDave

              I’ll just leave this here.

    • brewmn

      As a law school graduate that never practiced, I still get the question as to “why didn’t I become a lawyer?” despite graduating from law school in 1997. Even though I have a stock answer at the ready, the question still stings a little every time.

      But, if they’re really interested in discussing why I didn’t become a lawyer further, I just start channeling Campos and explain how abysmal the employment prospects are for law grads in their chosen field of endeavor, and that I’m happy to be making a decent living in spite of having massively overinvested in a legal education.

  • Crusty

    I’m not an academic, but I’ve wondered, what is the academic view on becoming a high school teacher after one determines that a tenure track university position is not in the cards?

    While I realize its almost a completely different job, i.e., research and publishing isn’t really part of it, it seems to me that there might be a lot of advantages. For one thing, your education and teaching experience won’t be discounted the way it would if you were looking for work in other fields. I know in certain premium suburban school districts they love having phd’s. The benefits and stability are way better than adjuncting.

    Do people do this?

    • Going into high school teaching was my plan if I didn’t make it. I was actively pursuing that path when it all worked out for me in the end. But I went far enough to actually visit high schools, speak to a really nice public school in a wealthier area of Cleveland, and observe private school classrooms.

      • Lee Rudolph

        a really nice public school in a wealthier area of Cleveland

        John Marshall? James Ford Rhodes? Inquiring ex-Clevelanders want to know!

        Or by “Cleveland” do you mean “greater Cleveland”?

        • Honestly, I don’t remember anymore. I think it was in Cleveland proper, way out on the east side.

    • Matt_L

      Yes, and with a PhD you can also have a shot at going in to High School teaching at private schools which pay better than most publics. The privates also look for PhDs to staff jobs like ‘head of program’ or department chair.

      The key with high school teaching, or any other job outside academia, is you have to know where to look and learn how to speak the lingo. This is not always easy or obvious. You need to know how to translate your skills from academia into the skills the employers say that they are looking for. It also helps to have friends, family, and acquaintances in the field you want to transition into. You need a ‘native guide’ to help navigate the new terrain.

      • Crusty

        I always thought it was the opposite (at least in NY state)- that public schools (union protection and all) actually pay way better than private schools where they can hire a recent liberal arts grad with no teaching license.

    • Malaclypse

      It also depends on your field. I was teaching sociology, and there’s not a lot of demand for that in high schools (or at least there wasn’t back then).

    • rm

      Some states make it easy to get a HS job with a Ph.D. and get a teaching certificate in the first two years. In other states, you would have to go back to undergrad and take all the College of Ed courses for a second degree that comes with a teaching certificate.

      I had two job offers, from an MA-granting regional state U, and from a HS. I wish I had taken the HS job because I would not have had to move, which turned out to be financially tough. The college job also paid less, but stupid me, I thought it would rise faster. Then salaries began contracting for the next few decades.

    • jeer9

      Faced this choice as well when I returned to school in my mid-30s: whether to plug away at my graduate English studies in the hope of teaching at the college level (and received quite a bit of encouragement to go in that direction by advisors) or take the more readily available position with a local HS. The fact that I’d just recently married and we were starting a family made the practicality of the choice a fairly easy one.

      And no regrets, either, especially when the adjunct life seems a pretty miserable condition (knew several peers who chose that route, shuttling across town from the Cal State to the JC or from one county campus to another at low pay with no benefits). While there are stereotypes about HS instruction that seem to scare off/not provide enough prestige for certain candidates, CA public school teacher salaries are quite generous in comparison with other states or even a university position.

      Dealing with Common Core and the standardized testing regime is a major headache, but at least you’re receiving a fair wage and the full support of a union.

  • RPS

    I’m a little late to this party, but one option for adjuncts who love to teach is to make the jump to high school. I earned a Ph.D. from a top university with great placement stats, but my family circumstances (geographic inflexibility, long time to degree) meant that I wasn’t going to be one of them. Adjuncted for a little bit, but then went into high school teaching. It’s true that I don’t have research support or long summers off, but adjuncts don’t have that, either. And I have to deal with parents and various other annoyances of high school teaching. But I get to do what I love–teach history–and get paid decently for it. (Not all high schools pay equally well, of course, or have the same working conditions. But it’s probably a better option for more Ph.D.s than give it a shot.)

  • I’d like to speak up as a member of a privileged class that is not the subject of Erik’s post but is in the middle of the issue in some ways. I’m an adjunct by choice, teaching my professional specialty. The reason that I am asked to do this is that there is no degree program in this country (and only one in the world) in my specialty, so there are no tenure-track faculty teaching it. I’ve taught one or two classes per year since 1999.

    People in my position have a responsibility to support the full-time adjuncts who are the topic of the post. If the school where I teach were to have a union certification vote and I qualified to vote, I would vote for the union, even though I am personally in no need of its services. I would pay whatever dues were required of me if the adjuncts were unionized, but I don’t think I would vote within the union because the matters at hand should be voted on by those whose lives are affected. I have told friends in positions similar to mine that they damned well should vote to certify and otherwise support adjuncts at the schools where they taught. There is an unfortunate tendency for people like me to empathize with the school administration rather than with the other adjuncts.

    • ChrisTS

      You are a fine, fine bear.

      • I doubt that. But I can tell the difference between the haves and the have-nots.

  • D. C. Sessions

    Far too much of postgraduate education is conditioning students to believe that anything other than a tenure-track position in an R1 constitutes “failure.” Too many of the comments above reflect that.

    Fortunately, none of my offspring succumbed to that particular bait. $DAUGHTER wanted to do research in child and maternal health, and is now doing just that — as a State epidemiologist.

    One son wants to work on free-electron lasers. Not much of the work on that is going on in academia anyway, but industry is spending billions on it. Nice research budgets!

    The other son has a passion for optoelectronic systems. Same story as his brother. Not many universities have bleeding-edge exotic semiconductor fabs.

    So they’re all happy. If the itch ever strikes to teach, they can. They probably won’t though — too much like taking food from the mouth of the poor schlub on the corner with a sign: “Will teach for food.”

  • Denverite

    I know a good number of humanities adjuncts. Most are married and mainly rely on their spouse’s income for support. They teach because (a) they like it and (b) the $3k per class (or whatever) is mainly just spending money.

    I also know several law school adjuncts. They teach because (a) they really like it and (b) they feel it gives them a credential that helps boost their resume. (In fact, I’ve been told that there’s actually a pretty competitive market for those adjunct spots at the local law schools, and they primarily consist of judges, high profile government attorneys, etc.)

  • bassopotamus

    I think the 3rd paragraph basically hits the nail on the head: it’s basically the sunk cost trap. “I’m not getting those 8 years of my life back, so I’m going to use this degree even if I’d make more as a barista.”

    This is brutal, but I really think that many fields need to close 1/3-1/2 of their grad programs. There is just a massive oversupply of PhDs in fields where academia is the main career path (full disclosure, I am a social scientist and would apply this just as much to us). Chemistry or Physics PhDs have plenty of non academic opportunities, but a PhD in Sociology/Poli Sci/History/Philosophy etc is about useless outside of the university.

    When I was an undergrad, my university actually went so far as to stop accepting new grad students in one of our traditional subfields because the job prospects were so bad. I think quite a few 3rd and 4th quartile grad programs really ought to look at their placement rates and think long and hard about whether it is ethical to continue offering degrees.

    • A History PhD is not useless outside the academy. There are a lot of different career tracks one can take with a History PhD, especially if that is designed with the idea that you probably aren’t going to be teaching in the academy from the beginning.

      • bassopotamus

        Ok, It was a bit of hyperbole :)

        I think your second point is really important though, and maybe a work around for my nuclear option. An awful lot of programs I’ve been around are pretty bad at preparing people for non academic careers (I promise my poli sci PhD as I was trained is pretty close to useless outside of the academy). Perhaps being up front with people about career options, and tailoring more of a program to the non academic side would better serve some people and cut down on the massive oversupply

    • Lee Rudolph

      A surprising (to me; also, to me, disgusting) number of psychology Ph.D.s end up teaching in business schools. Some historians, too.

      • burritoboy

        actually, thinking about teaching in business schools is a reasonable idea. I was thinking about it as a Poli Sci grad student. I had already been researching / writing about leadership-esque topics anyway and talked to some other folks with a Poli Sci doctorate who had gone on to B-school academe. They generally thought it was a good move, especially considering how bad hiring for Poli Sci is. I eventually dropped out of Poli Sci and went on to get my MBA, but it was on the forefront of my mind for a while.

        It won’t work for everyone, but B-school faculties have a lot more backgrounds than most people expect. At my B-School, there was a sub-department entirely filled with psychologists and another entirely staffed by sociologists. And this was an extraordinarily high-ranked institution, sometimes classed as the top business school in the world. I know a number of people who have advanced poli sci degrees who are teaching, mostly happily, at lesser ranked b-schools.

    • Crusty

      Most people, including white collar workers who sit at desks in nice offices, have a jobs that has very little to do with any particular degree. Phd’s can get those jobs just like anyone else, so long as they’re willing to play the game.

      • postmodulator

        They could if modern HR departments didn’t screen them out as overqualified.

        • Crusty

          That is an extremely important point.

      • bassopotamus

        Of course, but it is a lousy investment of time, energy and debt. I’m sure I could go write TPS reports in a cube somewhere, but I don’t think the boss would have found me any more appealing with a PhD than a BA.

    • postmodulator

      I think quite a few 3rd and 4th quartile grad programs really ought to look at their placement rates and think long and hard about whether it is ethical to continue offering degrees.

      I suggested this a few weeks ago and it wasn’t terribly popular. I think the argument was, hey, it’s not like they guaranteed anyone a job.

    • D. C. Sessions

      Chemistry or Physics PhDs have plenty of non academic opportunities, but a PhD in Sociology/Poli Sci/History/Philosophy etc is about useless outside of the university.

      Can’t speak for the others, but the CDC hires a lot of PhD sociologists because the research methods map very well into epidemiology.

      Outside the box? Maybe, but hey …

  • Murietta

    I like Nick above was a faculty brat, and had a serious misapprehension about the modern academic life. I never really worked outside the academy. But I also knew partway through my graduate career that I in no way wanted to go for the tenure track. I spent a couple of years adjuncting full time, until I realized that that was a fool’s errand — not just because the pay was low, but because the programs were always looking for fresh meat (this is in the Bay area, where PhDs are thick on the ground). You’re just fodder for them, and while you can always lose your job, you can’t really take control of finding more work. It’s a trap.

    I say I knew this, but taking control of it was still very difficult, even in that circumstance. I think it’s really important to understand how demeaning the experience of the full-time adjunct is — you are scrambling all the time simply to hold onto what you have, while people that should have been your colleagues refuse to look you in the face (that literally happens — tenured and tenure-track faculty behave abominably toward adjuncts, all the time. No one in business has ever treated me as badly as T and TT faculty at places where I adjuncted). I had the good fortune to have good friends from college who were in the tech world, and who gave me some opportunities to freelance. I began to take an entrepreneurial approach to my adjuncting, and seized control of it. I now teach only a couple of courses, for high-paying programs, and balance it against a freelance career in both corporate and academic communications (writing and editing). The adjuncting is reliable income while the freelance goes in waves; it works. BUT — I still had to fight my way through my friends’ and advisers’ disappointment and my own depression at the way people treated me EVEN THOUGH the tenure track was not what I wanted. I can’t imagine how crushing that is for people who really wanted to go that route and invested a decade-plus in getting there. And I had the benefit of a network prepared to introduce me to the world of business, which academics are often truly ill-equipped to enter. The key to getting out is networking. Not everyone has that; it’s another way that class plays a role.

    Here’s a PSA: if there are any adjuncts reading this who do want to move on, you need to go check out versatilephd.com . It’s a resource for people getting out of academia, everything from how to switch a CV to a resume to how to apply for government jobs. The community answers all kinds of questions, and they have career panels. Get thee there, stat.

    • Nick never Nick

      This might be my upbringing, but I think that it’s important to recognize that back in the day, from the 1960s up until the 1980s, being a university instructor was simply the best job around. It still had some of the cachet of ‘public intellectual’, in a time before knowledge and libraries could be grabbed through a computer. It had liberty in that the university had been widely opened, but hadn’t been professionalized by administrators and managers. It was a position that you got to define yourself, in a period when a lot of people were redefining things. You were part of a community that was at the apex of some of the best parts of society.

      It is probably stupid of me to try and put my finger on the difference, since I was just a kid and probably didn’t understand my father’s job entirely — but I always felt that he WAS a professor, and that identity basically defined the almost complete freedom he had. People who are hired today are expected to produce what professors produce, which is defined learning deliverables, etc., and they have a management structure above them that checks on these. Are all those changes bad? Not at all, his department was filled with deadwood. But at the same time, there’s something to be said for deadwood, and the basic freedom and dignity that goes with getting to be deadwood, and doing a competent, but non-spectacular job.

      • Not to mention publication pressure was so much lower then. This isn’t really an issue in my department, but I have seen departments where the biggest hardasses about tenure and publication were old men who never published a thing and made it to full professor anyway.

        • Lee Rudolph

          Google suggests that Logan Wilson, in The Academic Man: A Study in the Sociology of a Profession, may have coined the phrase “publish or perish” in or before 1942.

          The prevailing pragmatism forced upon the academic group is that one must write something and get it into print. Situational imperatives dictate a ‘publish or perish’ credo within the ranks.

          Certainly I had heard the term in the early 1960s, before going to college, in a milieu essentially empty of college-educated adults other than my post-elementary schoolteachers (and entirely empty both of college teachers and of Ph.D.s); it was in the air.

          I agree that publication pressure has increased, but I’m not entirely sure it really “was so much lower” in the 1970s. Probably there’s quantitative data out there somewhere, but I don’t know where (or how good it’s likely to be).

          • Nick never Nick

            I’m sure that you’re both right. Probably some of the emphasis on publishing came when university instructors became professionals instead of upper-class hobbyists, and it increased since the 1970s when the job market collapsed. I bet in the 1940s people were looking back on the good old days when they were gentleman-scholars, just like today you can look back on the 1970s as a time of freedom and minimum responsibility.

        • Denverite

          In the couple of fields I’m familiar with, at least in some departments, entry level hires often will have superior publication records to tenured faculty. In other words, senior members on the hiring committee will be evaluating candidates who managed to publish more in five years than the academic managed in in three or four decades.

          • burritoboy

            I had actually published four pieces (and a book on a completely unrelated subject) before going to grad school. Not saying I published more than senior faculty members, but I can certainly see where I could have been in the situation you describe above if I had continued my grad studies.

  • DTW

    Why I am a long-term adjunct:
    I like to teach. I love being on a college campus and having access to all of the resources of a university. I like teaching independent “adults.” I love getting three days off a week and sleeping in much of the time. 50 hr work weeks with a flexible schedule are easier for me than 40 hr 9-5 weeks. I like that I have zero administrative responsibilities. I actually like that I don’t have research/writing responsibilities.

    Sure, there are viable alternatives, but not easy ones (seriously, Starbucks is your suggestion?? Of course other jobs are available–just look at all the help wanted signs in windows blah blah blah– for me the whole point of teaching is not to have a corporate 9-5 job. A retail job would be even worse). If I had an easy transition to a different career job that I might like (say, a museum curator), then I would do it. Most rewarding careers have their own specific career tracks that require more qualifications than simply an advanced degree in a sort of relevant field. It’s a lot of work finding a niche job that actually is a legitimate option.
    Private high school jobs, at least where I live, aren’t easy to get (not like tenure-track jobs, but available jobs attract dozens, often hundreds, of highly qualified candidates. Also, even more than adjunct jobs, high school jobs are easier to get fresh out of school, as many high schools are reluctant to hire teachers who don’t start at the bottom rung of the salary scale, especially if their experience is not in private high school teaching). And you have to deal with children. And parents. And work 7-4 5 days a week.
    Public high school careers here are noble, but truly terrible. Pay is good, but the conditions are abominable.

    • Crusty

      Let’s cut to the chase- what kind of money do you make? What kind of other income sources do you have? Do you own or rent your home? Will you ever be able to retire? What do you do for health insurance? If you wanted to have a child, could you afford to life somewhere where that child would have a room and a safe school to attend? Could you afford childcare for said child?

      • DTW

        I usually teach 10 classes a year and earn a little more than $45K. Modest benefits (decent health care, very very little retirement). No kids. Obviously, everyone’s situation is different. I suppose it’s a luxury that I have few enough obligations to be able to work a lousy job without HAVING to find something more lucrative or stable.

        And these sorts of practical calculations and decisions are part of most people’s thought processes. I know Eric means well, but I’m frequently irritated by the amazement of non-adjuncts (How can they stand it!! Don’t they know they’re victims!! Etc.). Most adjuncts know the deal. As with almost any job, most of us keep doing it because we’ve weighed the options and decided that the good outweighs the bad, or that however bad adjuncting is, it’s better than the alternatives, or for those in truly bad job situations, maybe there are no viable alternatives.

        • Crusty

          Thank you for sharing.

        • Linnaeus

          Most adjuncts know the deal. As with almost any job, most of us keep doing it because we’ve weighed the options and decided that the good outweighs the bad, or that however bad adjuncting is, it’s better than the alternatives, or for those in truly bad job situations, maybe there are no viable alternatives.

          And that’s fine, IMHO – I mean, if it’s the best situation for you or anyone else right now or in the foreseeable future, then I wouldn’t gainsay your doing it.

          I do think, though, that it’s worth considering work other than adjuncting and I do think there is a powerful cultural animus against doing that in academia. To use myself as an example, I was at an academic conference a couple years ago and I was talking with a faculty member whom I knew from my MA program (before I went on to another school for the Ph.D.) and he was asking me what I was doing. I told him that I was working on my Ph.D. (still) and that I was working for a consulting firm to support myself. He looked at me with a bit of skepticism and said, “but you’re not going to keep doing that, are you?” I said that I would for the time being at least and possibly after I finished because, for me, it was better than adjuncting. He said “well, okay” in a pretty dubious tone of voice and we went on to another topic. And that wasn’t the first time I ran into a reaction like that.

          • Crusty

            The proper way to respond to that is to brag about your up to date credit card bills and your late model car.

            • Linnaeus

              Neither of which I have, actually, but your point is well taken.

              • Crusty

                I don’t have them either.

                • Linnaeus

                  To clarify, my credit card bills are not up to date nor is my car a late model one (it’s 20 years old, as a matter of fact). That said, my situation was worse before this job and few other available jobs at the time would have improved it.

  • junker

    I am a full-time professor at the satellite campus of a major state school. I don’t have anything close to tenure and my contract is year to year, but I am very lucky in that I have a 3/3 load with little research requirement and make more than I would if I adjuncted those 6 courses, and get benefits. I mostly lucked into my position because it’s through the school in which I got my PhD. The other day I was in our mail room and noticed that the mailbox columns had a label above each indicating whether those boxes belonged to full-time faculty or adjunct. I realized that there were four times as many adjunct faculty here as full-time – 25 full-time versus 125 adjuncts who teach regularly enough to require mail. This is at a campus that services around 3000 students total.

    In my experience at least a few of the adjuncts here are semi-retired older faculty who do the job to supplement retirement income, or to get out of the house. Most however are like me – with advisers who don’t have much practical advice on getting a tenured job other than “try harder,” because our advisers got their positions at a time when it was much easier to get into the academy.

    • Nick never Nick

      There’s not much advice that is relevant towards getting a tenure-track job — besides ‘try harder’ — because the obstacles are structural.

      • junker

        Yeah, I don’t have a problem with that. What I meant by that comment was that most of the faculty I know who have been tenured for a while seem to be ignorant of those obstacles, and act as though the only thing preventing their students from getting tenure track jobs is a lack of effort, or an unwillingness to toil away in post-docs from here to eternity, etc.

        I know a couple of fellow students who dropped out of the academy altogether, moved into non-profit work, and left behind advisers who were incredulous that they would do so instead of continuing to try for a TT job. This is because most of these advisers seem like they don’t understand how much it’s like smashing your head against a wall.

        • Thing about this is that the tenure-track job market has basically been bad since the mid 70s. But those who sneak through, whether in 1985 or 2010, often think their experience is normal and, of course, well-deserved. The people they knew who didn’t get TT jobs are either forgotten about or judged as undeserving. So they don’t understand how the 99 percent of the academy operate.

        • SgtGymBunny

          Speaking of structural obstacles, how long are tenured faculty hanging around??? Anecdotal perspective: I work in the registration office at a grad school, and it is not unusual to come across the name of current a tenured professor on a transcript from the 70s.

          Perhaps because of the small nature of our individual academic programs, a lot of our professors essentially built their little fiefdoms and seem to be in no hurry to turnover the reins. And these programs are small–one full-time faculty, who normally is the director; sometimes two with the other acting as an Associate Director or something. Then a rotating staff of adjuncts, typically working professionals rather than PhDs. Granted, we get a new dean every 5-10 years, so I suppose some of them are waiting for the big ticket. Unless they’re superstars with offers at bigger and better schools, the tenured profs don’t really seem to be retiring (or dying), so I can see how there really doesn’t seem to be much room for adding to the ranks of TT profs… But why this could be the case at larger universities and colleges is odd.

          • burritoboy

            My old college just lost a couple profs who had been teaching there since the early 1950s. When I say lost, they died. One had graduated from the same college in 1939. Neither had retired at the times of their deaths. One was in his late eighties, and the other was in his late nineties. Both had published books within the last ten years, and were actively teaching. (Admittedly, the older guy was only teaching 1/1 by the time he died. They didn’t want to push him into retirement, I guess.)

            • The problem with blaming old people for not retiring is that administrators just won’t replace them. In the next 5 years, we will lose 4-5 faculty members to retirement. I’ll be surprised if we get to replace more than 1 of them and shocked if more than 2. Administrators are taking those positions and giving them to the business or nursing schools.

              • burritoboy

                You’re correct, of course. Just answering SgtGymBunny’s question. The old alma mater did replace both those lines, actually, but that’s often unusual.

              • SgtGymBunny

                You’re right about the unwillingness to replace outgoing faculty. We did have a couple of faculty heads leave. But apparently the search committee process is really, really, really long… So we have a couple of “acting” directors here and there, who is often the director of another department if there is no other faculty within that department. An informal marriage of convenience because there were always mutterings of merging programs that were too similar and too small to be their own separate departments. But we have gained a few Executive Specialists and Generalists… whatever the hell those are…

            • Crusty

              Death is what deans refer to as a strategic budgeting.

  • Hunky Jimpjorps

    I’m a relatively recent (2013) engineering PhD, where in my experience the stigma against “alt-ac” is relatively low compared to other fields, since universities actively court engineers with industry experience to become faculty rather than relying on the PhD-to-postdoc-to-TT pipeline.

    Even then, there’s still a kind of palpable disappointment to leaving full-time academia (I have a full-time industry job in my concentration, and adjunct one class a semester at a CC, which my advisor is supportive of, but always comes with a tacit “but I wish you’d at least keep publishing something so you can come back eventually”). I have difficulty imagining what it’s like in a field where working outside academia is actively discouraged and considered failing.

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