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Adjuncted to Death

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teacher11

You may have heard about the Duquense University adjunct who died in dire poverty in 2013. Well it’s happened again, this time to a long-term adjunct at Seattle University.

When visitors walked into the dilapidated boardinghouse where Dave Heller lived, the smell alone could transport them back to their college days.

“It smelled like grad student,” jokes Charlie Fischer, a friend. “Like years of boiled noodles and rice.”

Except Heller was 61 years old and a philosophy instructor at Seattle University. Yet he lived in a room in a tenant group house in Seattle’s U District, with nothing but a bed, a fridge and his library of 3,000 books.

When he died earlier this year from an untreated thyroid condition, Heller was making only $18,000 a year teaching philosophy on a part-time, adjunct basis, his friends say. That’s about one-third the median income for a single person in Seattle, and barely above the federal poverty line.

“He had a beautiful life in that he lived exactly what he wanted, which was the life of the mind,” Fischer says. “But it had a cost. It was sad to see how little value society places on what he did.”

Fischer, who teaches English on a contract basis at Everett Community College, wrote an account of Heller’s life and death in Seattle Magazine earlier this month. Heller was described as being part of the nation’s “invisible faculty” — part-time or adjunct professors who increasingly do the teaching work at colleges but who often are paid little better than the cleaning help.

The pay adjuncts receive is deeply immoral, not allowing people to live lives of basic decency. And while I have stated before that people should not become long-term, full-time adjuncts because it puts you in a position to be exploited, the problem is not with the person who wants to live the life of the mind (if teaching freshmen writing 4 sections a semester for your whole life can be called that), but an exploitative academic system that relies on cheap labor to do the dirty work of teaching while creating ever larger and more well-compensated administrative positions that effectively recreate the university as a corporation, with all the economic inequality that implies. Unions for adjuncts is part of the solution, but only a part, as it’s not like unions of part-time faculty have the ability to raise wages to something someone can live on, at least not without a lot of outside help.

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  • Murietta

    Two thoughts, as an adjunct: 1) Watching faculty stand around proclaiming how liberal they are while an actual exploitative labor condition unfolds around them and they do nothing (other than occasionally imply that if those people were good they’d have gotten a job) has been eye-opening, to put it mildly; 2) This is what will kill tenure, because when nobody has it, nobody is left to defend it. This is related to point (1) in the sense that, at least in my field, the way tenured and tenure-track faculty look down on adjuncts, and treat them as invisible, means that adjuncts are unlikely to lift a finger to protect faculty’s position. So I think would be strategic for faculty to use their own leverage to advocate for tenure for adjuncts — since this is likely to lead to adjuncts, who have numbers if not actual power, being invested in defending tenure as a system.

    • Murc

      Entirely anecdotal, but I have an understanding that a lot of academics really think tenure should be confined wholly and purely to people doing research and writing, rather than those are are simply teaching. Like, a guy like Erik should have tenure because he spends a great deal of time doing original research and publishing books and suchly. Someone who simply teaches a 4/4 load should not, because “tenure is designed to protect people doing groundbreaking researching and publishing ideas that might be unpopular or threatening, not people who just teach standard texts.” That is, they don’t regard it as a labor protection at all and object on… moral grounds I guess?… to it being treated that way.

      Not everyone thinks that way, of course, but its an attitude I’ve encountered. It seems to travel alongside people who sneer at the idea of a college or university providing mass education and organizing itself in order to support that mission.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        This attitude is very real, is almost universal among administrators (as suggested by the nearly universally non-tenure track nature of teaching-focused jobs), and is, as you suggest, a huge problem. Michael Berube and Jennifer Ruth recently published an important little book arguing for the creation of teaching-intensive, tenure-track jobs. I think such positions are essential for the future of tenure and of academic freedom…and, consequently, I think they are pretty unlikely unless a lot of folks (esp those of us with tenure) start fighting for them.

      • NewishLawyer

        But you also have small liberal arts colleges where this makes no sense.

      • Lee Rudolph

        I have an understanding that a lot of academics really think tenure should be confined wholly and purely to people doing research and writing, rather than those are are simply teaching

        because, of course, that whole “academic freedom” thing never comes up when people are “simply teaching”.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          In fact, the AAUP’s statement on academic freedom — widely seen as the gold standard — refers to “teachers” rather than “scholars,” “professors,” or “faculty.” Somehow many in the academia have forgotten the centrality of academic freedom to the endeavor of teaching itself.

      • Hogan

        moral grounds I guess?

        Aesthetic at best. Beautiful minds and all that.

      • ajp

        Leaving aside the labor protection angle for a second (not because it’s not important, just for the sake of argument) those people have a really dim view of teaching.

        Like, teaching is more than just standing up in front of a class and saying “The Civil War broke out in 1861. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Lee surrendered to Grant in 1865.” Like, what about teachers who want to teach ideas that are unpopular and threatening? Because all that research on unpopular/threatening ideas is all well and good, but is it not useful to protect people who “only” want to teach that stuff?

        • DrDick

          Sadly, far too many research oriented faculty hate teaching and view it as a distraction from their important work.

          • Murc

            Well, there’s nothing wrong with that per se. I loathe lots of parts of my job.

            Frankly, I’ve often been baffled at the idea you ought to do both teaching and research. They’re both necessary for the work of a university… but they don’t always have to vest in the same person. Among other things they’re wildly disjoint skillsets.

            • Lee Rudolph

              Well, there’s teaching and there’s teaching. Teaching able and interested students about what you’re also doing (or have done) research in is quite exciting to some researchers (but being in a seminar of one’s peers-in-skill can be even more exciting).

              I often regretted that I essentially never was able to do that: what I do research in requires, at the minimum, more background than a handful of undergraduates anywhere—or any undergraduates most places—can have, just because of the verticality of mathematics; and in my eight non-tenure-track years at universities with graduate programs in mathematics, I only taught two graduate courses, and (for obvious reasons) never directed a Ph.D. thesis. On the other hand, that regret was always tempered (and now is entirely overwhelmed) by the fact that I have never had to bear the responsibility for one my putative advisees’ inability to get a decent (or any) job. In the meantime, while spending long periods away from my job, I’ve had plenty of exciting encounters with my peers-in-skill.

              As Aimai put it, “being the only one in your field” and neither able to teach (advanced) stuff in your field NOR to get away to other places where your field thrives, “simply doesn’t” “provide a lot of stimulus” and is undoubtedly soul-destroying to many people who would thrive on even a little such stimulus. Teaching basics (or sub-basics), whatever its rewards (for some), doesn’t provide that kind of stimulus.

      • DrDick

        Oh hell, the university administration here is quite explicit about it. No tenure track without research and publications. On the other hand, the faculty here have in fact been fighting for the rights of non-tenure track faculty for quite some time. Everyone teaching at least a half time load (2.5 classes/semester) is a member of the union and currently gets full benefits and they are pushing for better pay and the possibility for merit raises. It has been a major issue for them for the last couple of years and there has even been some discussion of a teaching track tenure system.

        • Manny Kant

          5 classes a semester is a full load? Jesus.

          • Ruviana

            In what sense? Too little, too much? Five classes a semester if one is really teaching, with all that implies, is an incredible load, particularly if each course requires its own preparation (e.g., different topics).

            • Murc

              I mean, hell, that’s fifteen hours a week just in front of your students in the classroom.

            • Lee Rudolph

              I’m fairly sure that Manny Kant (like me) thinks “too much, far too much”.

              • Ruviana

                Thanks, I was hoping that was the case.

            • DrDick

              A lot of the adjuncts here teach multiple sections of the same intro level classes. Math and English rely almost exclusively on adjuncts to teach all the basic classes (of which there are dozens of sections).

          • DrDick

            For nontenure track. Most tenure track faculty have between 2-3 classes per semester.

          • gertrudesays

            In MA community colleges, for tenure-track and tenured faculty, yes–5 courses/semester (15 credits, 3 credits/course). And it’s brutal no matter what subject you teach (IMO especially anything that’s writing intensive, if you want to do a good job), and that workload breeds hacks and people who look for shortcuts and people who burn out early, but stay in the job because it’s a job, dammit, and they may have hoped for a life too, but at least there’s a job….

            • DrDick

              Tenure track faculty teaching 4-5 courses a semester also is not unusual in a lot of 4 year colleges with a teaching emphasis.

          • Prof.Nebula

            As a former adjunct who taught 7 to 9 courses per semester, plus 5 courses in the summer, and one in the winter session, five courses a semester feels like part-time to me. Of course it’s a lot of work, especially if you are teaching a bunch of 101-leveled and required courses, loaded with anywhere from 35 to 200 students each. If you are doing it for pay so low, no benefits, and no job security (even if you’ve taught at a place for more than 25 years), it’s difficult to feel sorry for the full-timers who get full salaries, benefits, may have job security (if tenured), and treat adjuncts as if they are an inferior form of kinda life.

    • Justaguy

      Yes, the complete lack of any solidarity that you find among tenured faculty shows how bankrupt academic radicalism is. My advisor was a “Marxist” labor theorist, who refused to even discuss the issue, insisting that if you had enough “passion” you would get tenure.

      • Lee Rudolph

        Ah. “Passion”, the anti-alienation; the magic ingredient by sufficient application of which the means of production will inevitably fall into one’s (passionate, though work-stained!) hands.

        Sounds like pretty orthodox Marxism to me, all right.

        • Malaclypse

          Green-Lantern Marxism is the purest interpretation of the dialectic.

          • Keaaukane

            Shouldn’t it be a red lantern?

            • Ahuitzotl

              didnt we just have that discussion?

        • I wrapped by passion in bootstraps and now I make $500K a year.

          • Lee Rudolph

            passion in bootstraps

            Is this the neoliberal version of Venus in furs?

            • Ruviana

              +1

        • Justaguy

          Yeah, I tried to point that out and started citing her own research to her. Things went downhill from there pretty quickly.

        • Thom

          Perhaps Lee Rudolph meant petty orthodox Marxism.

      • Prof.Nebula

        And only those who work hard will succeed. If you succeed, you must have done everything right. If you are an adjunct, you clearly did something wrong/lacked passion/are an inferior being.

    • Davis X. Machina

      The tenure-track bods — they’re next. They know they’re next. And no one’s sticking their heads above the parapet for anything.

      It’s not noble behavior, it’s probably not even maximally self-serving in the long run.

      But it’s not inexplicable.

    • ajp

      1) Watching faculty stand around proclaiming how liberal they are while an actual exploitative labor condition unfolds around them and they do nothing (other than occasionally imply that if those people were good they’d have gotten a job) has been eye-opening, to put it mildly

      Well, when the abstract collides with reality, it often shows people’s true colors. Ivan Karamazov nailed this one “it is one’s neighbors who one can’t possibly love, but only those who live far away . . . To love a man, it’s necessary that he should be hidden , for as soon as he shows his face, love is gone.”

      Also, and this is not just limited to leftists and liberals, a lot of the time political beliefs just seem like cultural posturing. I’ve known plenty of people who, say, are nominally pro-labor or whatever, but when the time comes to, I dunno, stand up for the cafeteria worker’s union at their local college, nary a peep is heard, and if there is a peep, it’s conveniently anti-labor. Etcetera.

    • FridayNext

      A few years back I participated as an interviewer and transcriber on an oral history project that documented the early years of the faculty union on our large research oriented state university. One of the things that was really mind-boggling to me is how, based upon an admittedly small sample, how poorly the politics of a professor’s research and writing scaled to their personal politics on campus. I read/heard some interviews of some pretty hard-line free market capitalist economists who were lifelong union members and were very vocal supporters of the graduate student union and for organizing the adjuncts. I also met some dyed-in-the-wool marxists and new left historians who railed against exploitation in third world countries and 19th century factories who were outright scornful of organizing professors, adjuncts, or grad students. I actual saw one sneer. You don’t see many actual sneers in real life.

      The best explanation we could come up with is that in both cases you see a symptom of the intellectual disconnect between different types of unions. Academic unions are seen, rightly or wrongly as fundamentally different than those for stevedores or railroad workers. To the free market economist it’s okay to be in a union, because it’s not like we are disrupting the market of widgets, we are defending intellectual production. That’s different. To the marxist there seemed to me an almost visceral disgust with equating the “suffering” of a 21st century grad student with the suffering of a 19th century sweat shop worker. (plus a healthy dose of, you don’t need anything I didn’t have when I was a grad student) That there was something dismissive of “real workers” if you called both unions. Or something like that. Like said, this was the best we could come up with.

  • LuigiDaMan

    I work full time, so being an adjunct isn’t that much of a problem. But, for everyone else I see, they are stuck, working at Kent State University as adjuncts, ans ARE DISQUALIFIED TO HAVE A UNION ACCORDING TO THE DICTATES OF GOVERNOR JOHN KASICH AND THE REPUBLICAN THUGS OF THE OHIO LEGISLATURE FROM HAVING A UNION!!! Yes, you read that right. The Ohio Legislature made a law recently that specifically forbids adjuncts from joining any and all unions.

    I have tried to organize the adjuncts for a simple protest, but anyone can see where this leads. Kent State and its union, the AAUP, are presently at odds on a new agreement and are working under the old one. But, it doesn’t matter to us. We will still have little pay and no benefits.

    • cpinva

      “ARE DISQUALIFIED TO HAVE A UNION ACCORDING TO THE DICTATES OF GOVERNOR JOHN KASICH AND THE REPUBLICAN THUGS OF THE OHIO LEGISLATURE FROM HAVING A UNION!!!”

      um, I could be wrong, and I’m no lawyer, but isn’t that law unconstitutional on its face? it kind of violates the right of free association and all, doesn’t it? not that I think a law being unconstitutional out of the box would stop a republican gov. & legislature from passing it, just that I suspect their legal counsel probably advised them it wouldn’t withstand judicial review.

      • JonH

        I would guess it’s probably a ban on collective bargaining at state schools. Like, they can free associate and have a “union”, but it’d be impotent – try to do anything and they’d be fired (and probably barred from employment at any state school).

      • Joseph Slater

        My understanding is the following. First, Ohio law excludes “part-time” profs at institutes of higher education from its collective bargaining law, and that has been true for some time. This has long excluded many-most adjuncts. Second, in 2015, the Republicans tried, but failed, to get the law amended so that most faculty generally would also be excluded (as supervisors or managers, similar to the private sector rule).

        Third, while almost all public employees have a First Amendment right to join a union, one of the main the consequence of being excluded from the state collective-bargaining law is that the employer has no obligation to meet or bargain with unions of employees whom the law does not cover.

        • Davis X. Machina

          I blame Obamacare.

          You don’t want a union interfering in the sacred relationship between employer and employee any more than a government bureaucrat interfering in the sacred relationship between doctor and patient.

          • Hogan

            the sacred relationship between doctor insurance company call center and patient.

            Fixeded.

            • Ahuitzotl

              the sacred relationship between doctor insurance company call center and patient sucker.

  • Lee Rudolph

    All the news reports I’ve seen say that Lawrence Levine was an assistant professor at Umpqua; he was 67. I would be interested to know if he was, in fact, an adjunct. This quite interesting article doesn’t go into that, and makes it clear that Levine was living “the life of the mind” and (apparently) liked what he had settled into; but, as Eric points out, that’s irrelevant to the general problem.

    • ThrottleJockey

      Furman and Levine grew up together in Beverly Hills, California. After graduating from Beverly Hills High School in the mid-1960s, Levine moved to Oregon. He earned a master’s in creative writing at the University of Oregon. He moved back to California in the mid-1970s to teach creative writing at Pitzer College in the Los Angeles area.

      “Writing was his passion,” Weiss said.

      To me these are the 2 big take aways. Growing up in Beverly Hills, had he wanted to pursue big money, he certainly could’ve. But he appears to have given it up for–that word again–his passion.

      It reminds me of an old college friend who, all these years later, is still working as an adjunct, living in a cramped 1 BR, University-provided housing, and just barely getting by. If he and wife made more than $25K I’d be shocked–and this is in a big, East Coast city. In some ways its quite sad. He always wanted to be like his father, who chaired an English Dept for a large school. Here he was raised since birth to be an English prof and he can’t get past adjunct, much less faculty chair. :-(

    • Warren Terra

      I’ve seen reports that Levine was an assistant prof (here for example) and that he was an adjunct (here and many, many other places, including adjunct-activism sites; Google “Lawrence Levine umpqua adjunct”).

      It’s pretty clear to me he was an adjunct – that he gave his life to teach kids at a school that wouldn’t give him stable employment.

  • Jordan

    re: the image. My wife adjuncts at two different community colleges. The start of each semester is always incredibly stressful, because the possibility of having one of her classes cut and/or taken over by a non-adjunct faculty member would be bad, and having two dropped would be *really* bad.

    It hasn’t happened for the last few years (she is really good at her job and is well liked by the immediate supervisors), but even when it doesn’t it is still really stressful.

    Also, she likes her union at one of her places, although ya, more is required.

    • Prof.Nebula

      I’m now disabled, so my husband is the only one working now. He only adjuncts since his full-time employer went out of business in 2008. This year, he lost half his courses (from the higher-paying university), because departments are opting to use GTA’s instead of adjuncts, because they are paid from other university funds, instead of those of each department. Then half his community college courses have been cancelled, because they weren’t getting high enough enrollment for Physics 102 (which typically has low enrollment). If working/adult physics students want to continue on toward their majors, they are most likely going to other colleges as a result of frequent cancellations of the evening and summer courses. The college administration can’t figure out why enrollment has dropped…

      So my husband has had FOUR courses to teach all year, after teaching 5 per semester, plus 4 in the summer, in previous years.

      We’re not far from being those aging adjuncts who die in poverty.

      • Jordan

        Jesus, I am so sorry. We get by on my stuff plus my wife, who teaches six or five per semester, plus one or two summer ones. 4 for the year would absolutely destroy us.

        My wife does teach some online-only community college courses that doesn’t require anyone to move or anything. Maybe your husband could look into that? (Again, though, I am so sorry and that is terrible).

  • Crusty

    How exactly was he adjuncted to death? Did the untreated thyroid condition go untreated because he didn’t have health insurance? Did it develop as a result of malnutrition?

    • Vance Maverick

      What does it matter? Either way he was povertied to death.

      I would like to understand how he fell through the cracks of the health-care “system”, ACA etc. Not in the hopes of demonstrating that it was his fault, obviously, but to understand what more needs doing.

    • Justaguy

      Adjuncts live with constant job insecurity, because they only get jobs on a per-semester basis. There is an enormous amount of research showing a link between job insecurity and negative health outcomes, presumably due to the stress that it causes. It didn’t describe what thyroid disorder he had, but low energy, skin sores, and muscle pain, point to hypothyroidism – the most common cause of which is an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s Disease. There is a strong correlation between chronic stress and autoimmune disorders.

      • cpinva

        constant stress (from say, oh, I don’t know, maybe not knowing if you’re going to be able to pay the bills and eat, from one semester to another) literally fatigues the body, weakening all the body’s systems, including the immune system. people with weakened immune systems become more susceptible to disease, especially easily communicable ones. the disease itself then puts even more stress on the body, weakening it even more. you quite literally get stressed to death, if you don’t have a heart attack first.

      • ChrisTS

        When I was first diagnosed with both rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis, my doctor said (roughly), “Well, you’re not poor or living in an abusive relationship, so I’m going to guess heredity as the cause.”

    • Malaclypse

      Perhaps this?

      • cpinva

        that took me to a google search for mortality tables, is there something I missed?

        • Jordan

          That if you don’t make much money you are more likely to die.

        • DrDick

          Poverty kills.

    • Origami Isopod

      What part of “he had no money” is unclear here?

      • yet_another_lawyer

        That it had any causal connection with his death? He went to the hospital and had surgery. The article describes him as having to be persuaded into going to the hospital. He would hardly be the first person who had access to healthcare but didn’t go to the hospital until it was too late. A more detailed article would be needed to be sure, but access to healthcare does not seem to be the issue here, particularly post-ACA. That leaves us with a bankshot that “maybe his thyroid would be healthier if he had more money,” but that is purely speculative. Rich people die of thyroid problems at 61 too.

    • yet_another_lawyer

      Well, we have speculation and that’s a *kind* of evidence.

      This strikes me as a bit of an overreach. Dying at 61 of a thyroid condition isn’t exactly unheard of. There seems to be no evidence that his adjuncting had anything to do with it, or that the reason it went untreated is because he was an adjunct. This is, of course, independent of the argument that adjuncts should be better paid.

  • human

    Wow, some “friend” they interviewed for that article. He seemed to think it was all a big joke and/or a morality play about Living Your Dream. Fucking academics.

    • cpinva

      there’s nothing inherently wrong about “living your dream”, I just doubt seriously that anyone’s dream, even an academic’s, includes the constant possibility of starving to death due to poverty. hey, I could be wrong.

      • Lee Rudolph

        Hey, some people dream of being a hunger artist.

    • Ronan

      It can absolutely be a sign of affection to make such a comment after somebody close you dies, although an article is probably not the best place to make it. I dont see how that one comment makes you think he saw it as a ‘morality play’

      • ThrottleJockey

        See above. I have an old college buddy whose still clinging to his dream of becoming a professor even though after all these many years of trying its hard to see it ever working out. I admire his drive and stick-to-it-iveness. He has a couple of young kids and I admire him all the more for pursuing his dreams…So, yeah, I imagine I might say something similar trying to think positively about a shitty situation.

  • It’s frigging obscene that anyone would die of an untreated thyroid condition in this country. It’s like deaths from scurvy – A sign that just beneath the surface, this society is befucked.

    Research at Cal-Berkeley published in April found that 25 percent of the million part-time college faculty in the U.S. are so poor they are enrolled in a public-assistance program such as Medicaid, food stamps or welfare.

    USA! USA! USA!

    • Davis X. Machina

      The psychic wage is hyuuuuuuuge.

      • Psychic debt load is huuuuuuger.

        • DrDick

          Yeah. Try living in Chicago on less than $20K a year, like I did when I was adjuncting there.

        • Davis X. Machina

          I take the interest on it off on my taxes, though.

  • ArchTeryx

    I’ve seen this exact phenomena in STEM as well. When a tenured astrophysicist came to speak to our sci-fi club in Albany and repeated the oft-spoken myth that we have a shortage of STEM people, I mentioned I had a STEM Ph.D. and yet was unemployed with no income.

    His answer? Individual tragedies are inevitable, but the system works, as the best get jobs and the rest? Well, “individual tragedies” and all that. For all intents and purposes, he called me a loser to my face because I couldn’t find work as a scientist.

    I see this exact same mindset when it comes to adjuncts. They’re just the losers, the ones that couldn’t make the cut, so they deserve to be exploited. Academia has always been pretty heavily caste-based but these tenured faculty now have the exact same mindset as their corporate counterparts: IGMFY.

    • It’s the Field of Dreams approach. If you teach them, the jobs will come.

      Or more accurately, the system works, the jobs are out there, if your grades are high enough you’ll do okay.

      There may be a different scheme envisioned for academic jobs but I couldn’t say.

      • Linnaeus

        It’s the academic version of the just world hypothesis.

    • NewishLawyer

      I’ve always thought that when people are talking about STEM, they are really talking about TE. Science maybe but it can often be too esoteric. Math is too estoeric unless one becomes a programmer or a quant in Finance.

      A friend of mine from undergrad has a PhD in STEM and seems to be in the research equivalent of an adjunct position. I forgot his exact title but he told me that there was a key word that said non-tenure tract.

      On the other hand, another friend of mine left working in Pharma to teach with her science PhD and I am pretty sure she is an adjunct.

      What I’ve seen people do is make this all about culture and geography and go on rants about biology degree holders who would rather live in big cities and work as bartenders than take a poorly paid science position in a rural state for something like the USDA or a state fishing/wildlife agency.

      • JL

        It’s become disturbingly common for biomed people, which seems to be one of the more glutted areas of STEM if you aren’t on the quantitative/computational/biophysics side, to go from postdoc to postdoc, three or four times, still seeking a permanent position. Not that there’s anything unworthy about postdocing, but it doesn’t pay much, relatively speaking, and is ostensibly supposed to be training, so a lot of faculty will claim that it’s not a “real job” and its holders shouldn’t expect to be treated like they have a “real job.”

        Math and physics people are becoming very in demand for data science jobs in industry, so there is that. I had a friend with a PhD in chemistry who lost his job several years ago when biotech had a sort of mini-collapse around here, and couldn’t find another job for about a year (fortunately, he did find one in the end and is very happy there, but it was quite stressful for him). Some fields of engineering do better than others.

        What I’ve seen people do is make this all about culture and geography and go on rants about biology degree holders who would rather live in big cities and work as bartenders than take a poorly paid science position in a rural state for something like the USDA or a state fishing/wildlife agency.

        I don’t think this is entirely wrong. Terry McGlynn, a biology prof at CSU-DH, has written blog posts complaining that there are a lot of PhDs who think that working at a teaching-oriented school where the students are mostly low-income students of color is beneath them, and then complain that they can’t find a tenure-track position. I have little doubt that he’s right about that. However, I also think that if someone would rather work as a bartender in a big city than a scientist in a rural area, that’s not wrong of them. It’s okay to prefer living in certain areas. Academia has really unreasonable expectations about mobility.

        • NewishLawyer

          Professor McGlynn is largely right but I think that this is too easy as an accusation.

          1. When I was thinking between PhD or Law School, one of my big factors was location, location, location. I decided that I did not want to end up at the University of Middle of Nowhere for a variety of reasons. Is it wrong to make this decision? People get very defense about geographical preferences and living.

          2. I imagine it is really hard to find mates and lovers if you are in a rural environment and young especially if it is a community that is very close-knit.

          2.

          • Origami Isopod

            I imagine it is really hard to find mates and lovers if you are in a rural environment and young especially if it is a community that is very close-knit.

            Especially if, say, you’re a person of color, you’re LGBT, or you’re simply much more progressive than the average in that community.

            • Thirtyish

              I imagine it is really hard to find mates and lovers if you are in a rural environment and young especially if it is a community that is very close-knit.

              Definitely. This was even my experience living in Denver, which, while not “rural” or “small-town”, is not what I would consider a major city environment (it’s no Manhattan, where I thankfully live now). And it was certainly my experience when I lived in a mid-sized Midwestern city.

          • Jackov

            McGlynn is likely speaking about his experience attracting potential faculty, who are okay with living in Southern California, for CSU-Dominguez Hills not for Podunk U. Hence his emphasis on the college’s profile – teaching oriented and minority/Hispanic serving – and not its location – urban hellscape with no water and too much traffic.

        • Density is important in Academia as in other kinds of endeavours. To be working in a city or university that is big provides a lot of stimulus for research and development that moving out to a rural area, perhaps being the only one in your field, simply doesn’t. I also don’t see why the corrective isn’t to raise the salaries of people (or give them more job security) to get them to come and teach/reasearch in your school. Why is academia immune from that piece of capitalist logic?

          As for adjuncts being “life’s losers” as someone was told upthread by the visiting scholar–they apparently are good enough to teach, multiple classes in multiple schools. Its not that they aren’t good at what they do, its simply that the university is able and willing to fuck them over and to steal their productivity without rewarding it.

          • Lee Rudolph

            Density is important in Academia as in other kinds of endeavours.

            I’ve certainly noticed that in the deanery.

          • Origami Isopod

            As for adjuncts being “life’s losers” as someone was told upthread by the visiting scholar–they apparently are good enough to teach, multiple classes in multiple schools. Its not that they aren’t good at what they do, its simply that the university is able and willing to fuck them over and to steal their productivity without rewarding it.

            I think this ties in with the waitress thread. Certainly, plenty of professors are male, but teaching is considered a “service” occupation; i.e., gendered female. “Anyone can do it.” So if you’re not doing research you don’t have the “life of the mind” (which is gendered male) to offset that.

          • JL

            Why is academia immune from that piece of capitalist logic?

            For public university academia, I assume part of the answer is “The state government won’t fund it.”

            • Bill Murray

              This is some of it. My University of Middle of Nowhere tries to pay about 80% of the average for all faculty in our general field.

              Also, being at the University of Middle Nowhere, we do get plenty of condescension from big research universities, particularly when trying for research funding

        • mds

          biomed people, which seems to be one of the more glutted areas of STEM if you aren’t on the quantitative/computational/biophysics side, to go from postdoc to postdoc, three or four times, still seeking a permanent position.

          Speaking from observation, even the more quantitative areas are not immune. Computational biology, for instance, seems to be following the lamentable trend of a few grant-heavy superstars getting permanent positions running a large lab of temps.

    • Individual tragedies are inevitable, but the system works, as the best get jobs and the rest? Well, “individual tragedies” and all that. For all intents and purposes, he called me a loser to my face because I couldn’t find work as a scientist.

      The handy thing about the “individual tragedies” dodge is the person making the argument never, ever, has to admit a system doesn’t work.

      See also “Conservatism can never fail, it can only be failed.”

    • AcademicLurker

      and repeated the oft-spoken myth that we have a shortage of STEM people

      Good lord. Anyone still pushing the B.S. “There’s going to be a shortage of scientists” line in 2015 should be fed to man eating sharks.

      It was garbage back in the 80s when it first cropped up, and it’s remained garbage ever since.

      • wjts

        Right. Like NewishLawyer says, when people talk about STEM jobs and a shortage of potential STEM employees, they’re focused on an extremely narrow subset of the fields in question and (I think) the lower levels of the workforce – things like lab techs and the like. Nobody’s clamoring to hire more evolutionary mycologists, cosmologists, or paleoclimatologists. One of my roommates is a newly-minted geology PhD. He works on a farm and picks up some hours at a neighborhood gardening store. I’m ABD in the primatology end of physical anthropology. I’m an adjunct.

        • DrDick

          A lot of it, I think, is that there are not enough STEM graduates who will work cheap. Employers want a massive oversupply to drive down the price of labor.

      • Derelict

        C’mon over to aviation! There’s a pilot shortage, don’tcha know. There was a critical pilot shortage back in the early ’80s when I graduated–it turned out that the industry defined “critical shortage” as “not enough pilots willing to work for $9,000/year.”

        Since then, there’s been a “pilot shortage” every five years like clockwork. You, too, can spend $60,000 or more getting hours and certificates that won’t get you a job. Feel the excitement as you sign on to tow banners up and down the beach just to build hours. And then the big day comes: East Bumstead Air (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Goliath Airlines) has a right-seat job for you that pays $18,000/year! (Look! Salaries have doubled in just 35 years!) You seniority number puts on you exciting and demanding routes like SYR-CLE five times a day. You can sleep in the crew lounge, and ponder the nature of life as you munch on a sandwich from the vending machine.

        • Linnaeus

          Paging Major Kong….

          • ArchTeryx

            I’ve had discussions (and commiseration) with Maj. Kong on this point. It’s especially ironic because my father couldn’t break into the pilot field himself when I was young, for reasons very similar to my own problems with being a bioscientist.

        • wjts

          The BBC Radio sitcom Cabin Pressure goes some into the travails of adjunct airplane pilots.

    • UserGoogol

      I’d say there’s a shortage of STEM but not a labor shortage of STEM. Science (but also, to be fair, the humanities) is a public good which contributes greatly to society’s well-being, but it’s precisely the sort of public good the private sector isn’t very good at supplying, and the public sector has been slacking in that area too. We need more STEM majors and also we need more jobs for them to actually be gainfully and usefully employed in.

  • Cheap Wino

    “. . . who often are paid little better than the cleaning help.”

    Yes, the uneducated cleaning help peons. They, of course, don’t deserve anything more than a life of poverty.

    • JonH

      They just need to apply themselves in their Copious Spare Time and improve their education. If they work really hard, maybe they can be adjuncts, making the same income while also paying off college loans.

    • Derelict

      I’m thinking this misses the point by several planet diameters.

      It surely would be nice if Americans could actually count on this country applying “a good day’s wage for a good day’s work” so that there are no working poor–whether they’re janitors or adjunct profs.

      Growing up in the ’60s, I knew men who had “menial” jobs. Our milkman, for example, made enough money delivering milk so that he could own a home and send his two daughters to college. If that job existed today, it would be part-time, minimum wage and no benefits.

      The janitor at my high school made enough money to own a home and take vacations in his motor home. Today, that job has been outsourced to a cleaning company that employs only part-time, minimum wage people–no benefits.

      How does it come to be that the greatest, wealthiest nation the world has ever known has become dedicated to being unable to pay living wages?

      • Cheap Wino

        The point was obvious. I was just pointing out how that bit of classism got slipped unnoticed into what was supposed to make a persuasive point. It turns the point from we should be paying people a living wage to we should be paying educated people a living wage.

        • ajp

          Exactly! I have the utmost sympathy for the adjunct in this story. But he was not more deserving of a living wage than a janitor simply because he was educated. No one is more or less deserving of dignity or a living wage because of their level of education. Period.

          I don’t think the author necessarily meant to be classist, it’s just a baked-in assumption among a lot of educated people I know. The “gets paid less than a janitor” is a pretty gross and classist comparison.

          Now, the article was about adjuncts, let’s not get sidetracked, yada yada. Best for the author to not have made the comparison at all.

          • At least the Janitor might have a chance to unionize.

            • Origami Isopod

              … really?

              • ajp

                The maintenance and kitchen staff at my alma mater had a decent union. I’d see op-eds in the campus paper from the Campus Rep for the Local XYZ about why students should support them renegotiating their contract because they cook their meals, clean their dorms, etc. I never saw something similar for grad students. But not all campuses are the same.

              • wjts

                Yeah. Support staff at the University of Chicago is unionized through the Teamsters, support staff at the institution where I’m currently an adjunct is represented by a couple of different unions. I had a conversation with one of our custodians one morning before one of my classes. He gets health care benefits, paid leave, tuition remission for his kids, and a 50-60 thousand dollar annual paycheck. I get a little over a thousand dollars a lab section, a library card, and a 10% discount at the bookstore’s coffee shop. I don’t begrudge the custodial staff any of what they get – they deserve it – but it does rankle that the university regards my fairly specialized and somewhat unusual skill set (which is ostensibly central to its educational mission – can’t train nurses without anatomists) as being worth so little.

                • DrDick

                  This!

    • ajp

      You beat me to it. I typed up an outraged comment without checking. Yes, as if people who perform manual labor are less deserving than those who perform intellectual labor.

  • Aubergine

    I’m sure the Office of the Vice Provost for Leveraged Outreach Synergies sent a nice bouquet to the funeral.

    • Lee Rudolph

      Repurposed from a nearby grave, I’m sure.

      • Linnaeus

        Hey, in times like these, we all have to do more with less.

    • Davis X. Machina

      His secretary sent it. He is over in Dubai helping to set up the new campus.

  • JL

    I’m with what you said in the older, linked post. I think the exploitation of adjuncts is horrible and that they should be unionized and should be paid a living wage and benefits. This story is horrible and reflective of something immoral and indecent, as you put it, in our society. I also think adjuncting long-term as your primary income is a terrible idea and many of the people doing it would be better off doing something else as their primary income (which doesn’t mean they can’t teach a class each semester as an adjunct if they love it! just that it shouldn’t be their main source of money!).

    I understand not wanting to give up the identity. But I think programs that socialize their students to consider that identity the only thing worth having/doing in life, if you’re intellectually inclined, and profs that stigmatize PhD employment outside academia, are doing their students a major disservice.

    Of course, if we fixed the conditions and compensation that adjuncts work with, it might be a less terrible idea to make your living as an adjunct, and the disservice that various programs do their students might cause less harm.

    • Justaguy

      It’s not a coincidence that the US has both the most rigorous PhD training and the worst working conditions for the majority of academics. You need to spend 8-10 years being socialized into identifying yourself as an academic in order to accept such low pay and precarious employment.

      • twbb

        I wouldn’t blame that 10 years alone; there is a certain amount of kool aid already drunk by the time they enter the program.

    • Brett

      The unionization of adjuncts should help in that regard, if it leads to better wages and working conditions. Unless they jack up tuition or somehow get the state governments to give them more money, it’ll pare down the number of adjunct positions (while probably driving up the number of adjuncting job seekers). Most grad students won’t be able to adjunct long-term – they’ll either get a decent adjunct job or get no academic job and move on.

      That might lead to a lot of grad student complaints about how they spent all this time and then couldn’t find any academic jobs, but the earlier they get out the better.

  • NewishLawyer

    I would have loved to been an academic but I saw the writing on the wall for this stuff when I was 25. The law school crisis made starting my career hard but I have done much better economically in the three and a half years it took before I got an associate position.

    I know a bunch of people in adjunct positions. The best universities do seem to offer some benefits and security based on seniority and other factors but I am not sure how many universities do this.

    The people I know who can be adjuncts and do okay have spouses/partners who are not adjuncts or they have finances from other sources.

    But all the economic upheaval that late Generation Xers and Millennials seem to be going through makes me wonder about a bunch of things:

    1. What are we going to tell our children when it comes to career stuff? We were largely told to follow our passions. Are we going to see people in my generation say “Pick something damn practical and screw passion?”

    2. Are we going to see a rise in the number of people who choose to stay childless because of finances?

    • Jordan

      As one of those, (2) is looking increasingly likely, and if it isn’t, then its absolutely (1). And we have 5ish post-secondary degrees between us.

    • ChrisTS

      My students’ parents have been yelling #1 at them for years.

    • JL

      Are we going to see people in my generation say “Pick something damn practical and screw passion?”

      As I think the two of us have discussed on here before, there has long been a large segment of US society, even at upper-middle-class levels, that said that. My alma mater had tons of children of such parents who were doing the best they could to walk a fine line – students who were hiding from their parents that they were majoring in physics instead of business, students who took double majors so that they could have one practical major and one that they actually cared about, students who were abused or literally cut off by their parents for changing their major (I knew someone who had this happen after she switched from computer science to electrical engineering) or taking the “wrong” classes.

      I would like my advice to my hypothetical future kids to be “Follow your interests, but if they aren’t practical in their own right, have a practical backup plan that you develop on the side.”

      • Lee Rudolph

        (I knew someone who had this happen after she switched from computer science to electrical engineering)

        That doesn’t even make sense if one accepts the terms of (1). “Computer science” in the sense of coding may be “damn practical” but so is “electrical engineering” in the sense of, well, electrical engineering; and while the top salaries of coders can be very high (maybe higher than the top salaries of EEs, though I am skeptical), surely the job prospects and compensation profiles of the two areas are both better than many other areas?

        PS: is CS is no longer part of the EE department at MIT?

        • Origami Isopod

          It may not have made sense because the parents in question were less concerned about “bang for their buck” than they were about having control over their children.

        • JL

          CS is still part of the EECS department, but it’s a different track. EE (technically, electrical science and engineering) is course 6-1, CS (technically, computer science and engineering) is 6-3.

          It didn’t make any sense to me either, but her mother was really emphatic that CS was the only acceptable major, that anything else would be unemployable, and was not moved by arguments like “But I’m still in the same department” and “But I’m not doing well in my CS classes and I don’t like them.”

          The student in question did manage to graduate (was one of the few able, after a long and painful process, to get the university to declare her independent for financial aid purposes), spent a while in industry working for a famous computer hardware company, got a master’s in EE, and is now a PhD student in neuroscience with a focus on combining neuro and EE. She also changed her name legally to the nickname given to her by her college friends, so that she would no longer have the name given to her by her parents. No post-college reconciliation there.

          MIT has some very control-obsessed parents.

          • Hogan

            She also changed her name legally to the nickname given to her by her college friends, so that she would no longer have the name given to her by her parents.

            Damn. That’s hardcore.

    • ajp

      I have done much better economically in the three and a half years it took before I got an associate position.

      You found an associate position? Congratulations, man! I myself am still doing per diem and contract work. Scraping together gigs is a bit emasculating, but it pays the bills and I am (very slowly) making contacts.

      I never really knew what my passion was-I liked writing but I was never naive/patient enough to move out to LA and eat shit for a decade for the mere *possibility* of being a modestly successful TV writer. So I went to law school, it seemed practical enough. Yeah, I’m scraping together gigs/sharing office space and trying to strike out on my own. But the gigs pay decently enough. I’ll never do any of the “prestigious” stuff, but what I get to do is interesting enough I guess. I’ve always been a reader-rear end auto collisions are pretty rote, but I can always read a good history book when I get home.

      For all my precariousness, I’m still in a better economic position than my friends who stopped their education after getting a B.A. in poli sci or history.

      Was law school a mistake? I dunno, to the extent that law never really interested me all that much I guess. But what else would I have done? Learn to code? Get an MA in accounting?

    • Yankee

      Capitalism is a very practical business. Trying to change society is pretty much impractical. If we are ever to do better as a society, it will be because people get passionate about social conditions. Blood of patriots and all that, not meaning armed insurrection but to start less holy worship of having your own house and lots of sushi.

      Not to overlook that Mr. Heller was (believing the link) happy. He had people to talk to that respected him, he had 3.000 books and the time to read them. One imagines that he didn’t treat his thyroid because he didn’t feel like wasting his life energy doing the necessary at County Medical. Would it be better for y’all if he burned himself out as a Financial Advisor?

      Not that I suppose most adjucts would be happy so, but Mr. Heller wins a Hero of Self-Actualized Labor medal from me.

      • ajp

        I’m all for people eschewing materialism and soul-crushing jobs in the name of doing what they love (especially living the life of the mind). My biggest vice is books-I have a bad habit of impulsively purchasing books on Amazon. Despite having access to the NYC public library system, which I should make better use of. As far as luxuries go, however, not that bad. Lucky for me, I *enjoy* cooking my own meals, so food is not a huge vice or expense.

        Books, taking long walks, hiking, swimming, cooking, cinema. Not interests that require desperately clinging to some Senior Vice President of Dynamic Synergy Leveraging job at Evil Inc. to maintain. Never wanted a particularly big place (although I wish I could afford an extra bedroom to use as a study/home office, but alas, New York). Never been a car type-if I lived out in the sticks I’d probably get a used Subaru or Camry.

        We all make our choices, and unfortunately we’ve decided that a person’s economic destiny is their own problem. We make do, some of us manage to find a way to live without buying into unsustainable consumerism and overwork. But I draw the line here.

        You “imagine” he didn’t feel like “wasting his life energy” “doing the necessary?” I “imagine” that, as much as hospitals suck, he would have preferred getting medical treatment and couldn’t afford it.

        “Would it be better for y’all if he burned himself out as a Financial Advisor?”

        No, you idiot. It would be “better” for “us all” if we acted like a civilized country and had a more just healthcare system. Or if universities paid their adjuncts enough to afford basic fucking medical care.

        • Yankee

          Well yes, it would certainly be better if the HR at Seattle University took a little interest, if they had a social work person to lend a hand. Maybe even a social work person supported by some public money. He should be eligible for care through the Washington State Health Care plan/Medicaid, if he swotted the paperwork. Sweedish Hospital also has its problems but they can treat thyroidism.

          Seattle University is not exactly Evil Inc, (although my kid who is finishing a master’s there tells me the graduate program is going down the evening/online-class hole). My point is that Mr. Heller – can you say his name? – is a poor choice for adjunct-oppression poster boy … it gave him an opportunity to do what he loved at a quality university despite minimal formal credentials.

          • ajp

            is a poor choice for adjunct-oppression poster boy … it gave him an opportunity to do what he loved at a quality university despite minimal formal credentials.

            Dying of a very treatable medical condition = poor choice for adjunct-oppression poster boy. Got it.

      • Origami Isopod

        Would it be better for y’all if he burned himself out as a Financial Advisor?

        False binary, party of one?

        • Yankee

          There are many paths to unhapiness, not so? … as Checkov remarked.

        • ajp

          Non sequiturs really add something to the comments, though.

        • ajp

          Yankee seems to think that any criticism of the system of adjunct labor that led Heller to die of a treatable illness somehow, I dunno, deprives him of his agency. That he’s some Nietzschean overman and any discussion of adjunct labor somehow insults his memory. I don’t know what he’s trying to get at but it’s completely incoherent.

          • Yankee

            “deprives [Mr. Heller] of agency” … Incoherent it may be but you seem to get the main point all right.

  • NewishLawyer

    Semi-related, I find that it is very hard to convince people in older generations that something bad happening is structural over cyclical.

    I worked as a freelance lawyer for 3.5 years after graduating law school and had a few bouts of under/unemployment. I largely did much better than many other freelance lawyers because I was largely direct hire.

    When I would complain or theorize about structural changes to my parents (especially my mom), they would have none of it. To them, this is the same as it ever was and my mom recalled being laid off as a teacher during the 1970s and how my dad took a while to find his first law job and his first law job paid less than his teaching position.

    The problem seems to be that most people accept that life is hard and there are very few straight forward career paths and lots of people have obstacles and set-backs. I don’t think my parents meant their position out of malice. Nor did the other lawyers and judges I met who said “When I graduated law school, the only way to get experience was by going into firms and saying ‘I will work on your loser cases.'” On the other hand, people who graduated from my law school in the 1980s and 90s said that you were kind of a dolt if you did not graduate with five job offers.

    So maybe my parents were right and I am now on a solid path to a career. In which case, all my complaining and whining could be met with a “See? Weren’t we right?” O the other hand, structural changes can take decades before they are really apparent to the majority.

    • Crusty

      I think its just human nature that people can’t see these changes. It relates to a lot of things- parents don’t want to see that the world their children live in is tough or tougher than the one they lived in, various things like that. Occasionally, people understand these things in very localized ways. When I was a young, entry-level prosecutor, I made $40 something thousand. An old guy defense lawyer who used to work in the same office told me its a shame what they pay us, he said when he was there, the salary was $11k, but he was able to buy a nice house in a nice neighborhood for $25K. He recognized that the idea of buying a similar house in a similar neighborhood for a little more than double the salary in this particular geographical area was absurd.

      • Linnaeus

        My dad, at age 23 and with a high school diploma, could afford a house (the one I grew up in and that he still lives in). Hard to see that happening much today.

    • Linnaeus

      Class position would affect one’s perception of structural change. People in certain professions are buffered from structural changes and hence may not see them as soon as someone in a different position for whom the ramifications are much more immediate.

      [As an aside, this is why the recent spate of “failure is good” pieces leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Yes, failure can be instructive and I’m all in favor of making the most of a bad turn of events, but for some people the stakes are higher if things don’t go their way.]

      In my family, the idea that someone with post-secondary education and/or training could be doing worse than they did (in their jobs that didn’t require it) was completely baffling. About 15 years ago, when I told my dad what I was making in my then-job, his response was, “What? After your education and experience that’s all you’re making? That’s a fucking joke.”

    • Justaguy

      This is definitely the case in academia. Grad school is hard for almost everyone, so every tenured professor can point back to the difficulties they faced and attest that they had what it took to overcome them. At a department meeting last year an older faculty member went on about how difficult it was to live on his $10k a year stipend in the early 1970s, and another professor empathized with adjuncts by pointing out that her first job was a visiting professorship gig that paid only $30k in 1984. Neither of them seemed to be familiar with the concept of inflation.

      So, it is easy for them to fall back on “Kids these days” feeling entitled, rather than looking at the structural changes.

      I’ve even had professors explicitly reject looking at the job market in terms of large scale institutional structures. That is, to put it mildly, odd coming from the mouths of social science professors.

      • Srsly Dad Y

        I like doing these —

        $30,000 in 1984 = $69,539.59 in 2015
        $10,000 in 1975 = $45,243.16 in 2015

        • Justaguy

          Yes, and both of them were making more than the median household income at the time.

    • LeeEsq

      We don’t know if this is structural rather than cyclical. My personal leaning is towards the structural but the trends have been having for such a short period of time that it could be cyclical. The reason why I’m going for structural is that the global supply of labor is very big for all sorts of tasks. Even with skilled positions that require a lot of training, you probably have more choice of potential employees as employers than you did during the 1970s. The Cold War was still going strong and the post-INA immigration was still getting started. This limited the amount of labor available at a global level.

      • Justaguy

        It is clearly structural. The last time there were more job openings than new PhDs was in the 1960s. Since then you see two trends – the increase in the number of classes being taught by adjuncts and the increase in the percentage of budgets going to administrators.

        The trend has been going on for 50 years, it’s just gotten very bad recently so people outside the ranks of adjuncts have started to pay attention.

        • Jackov

          Bowen Report Update:

          Facing the dire consequences of a projected .83 candidates per open teaching position, brave and insightful college administrators across the country united to creatively destroy academic employment. Their bold unleashing of synergies, allowed universities to triumphantly overcome the projected shortage of “faculty members” that once threatened the college experience of upper class students.

    • I think there’s two things going on here.

      1. Parents really have no way of knowing what things are going to be like, or are like, for their kids. My parents had–probably still have–ideas about what kinds of employment are achievable and/or stable that are based on one data point, at best, or on their own parents’ ideological predilections, many of which ideas would probably be (rightly) hooted at by many here. I’m sure the same is true of me.

      2. There are a variety of narratives about what the job market is like, and what a career path should look like, that may have been largely accurate at one time, but no longer are. A big part of most of these seems to be that there are lots of jobs and the only thing that stands between job-seekers and those jobs is the right coursework, plus a minimalistically sensible attitude. Obviously, there exists some people who are always going to land on their feet; that’s not because they made the right decisions, necessarily, or because they had just the right family background–it’s a combination of some of those things, and a lot of luck, and so on. Conversely, there are some people who aren’t going to do well, and it’s going to be possible to point to something in their lives, for some of them, and say, “see, that’s why you don’t want to be like those people.” But this is just another form of argument by anecdote.

  • Crusty

    Is there something unique about adjuncting and/or teaching that makes it or the people who do it different from the life choices that 99% of the world makes where they say there are certain things I’d like to have in life, this particular career path isn’t affording me those things, I will do something else instead and while I may not be as passionate about it or I might downright hate it, I will enjoy other aspects of it, such as the money it pays me that I can in turn use to pay for goods and services?

    • Justaguy

      Experience as an academic doesn’t translate well into non-academic jobs for non STEM PhDs. There’s also a sense among employers that you’re overqualified and underexperienced for most positions.

      • DrDick

        Right. Most places will not even talk to you about a nonacademic/research job if they see you have a Ph.D.

        • Lee Rudolph

          The Family Ex-Linguist was lucky that the temp agency she registered with (when she gave up her tenured position at a University of California campus) was willing to overlook her Ph.D., and that most of the skills (though of course not the domain-specific non-skill knowledge) that had been useful to her both as a researcher and a teacher in linguistics could actually be shown—given half a chance (which she got)—to carry over very usefully to back-office jobs in, first, the IRA department of a small regional bank, and now the accounts payable department of a large regional hospital (both of which hired her as permanent staff after a couple of years as a temp; she left the bank only because it was acquired by a Texas mega-bank that eliminated her department entirely).

          There is no general lesson to be learned from this anecdote, except that luck (with the temp agency) really, really helps.

          • There’s always becoming a realtor.

            • Lee Rudolph

              Note that I specified “back-office” jobs. There was a reason for that.

              • Really? I thought everybody was suited to becoming a realtor, if they tried.

    • NewishLawyer

      Hm. Just theorizing.

      It is probably a combination of being a bit of a romantic and being a bit of a nerd.

      I certainly get this. I still have plenty of daydreams/fantasies where I am a grad student and/or professor at an idealized Northeastern college or university with a picture-perfect college town (small yet artsy and sophisticated) on a perfect October day. I think these fantasies are rather nice. There is something thrilling about the idea of being able to spend days at a seminar table and in the library and say “I get paid for this.”

      The nerd part is that they might just really like school as an end to itself rather than a means to an end.

      • Justaguy

        It’s not really romantic in that most people I know who have been adjuncting for several years realize that they’re not going to get a tenure track job. After 3-5 years on the job market, you don’t really have that much of a chance.

        Grad school socializes you to think of your self-worth in terms of your academic research. This leads many people to view dropping out as a significant personal failure. But more importantly, you only think of your skills as applicable to academic research. It is difficult for many of my friends who are adjuncting to think of how their skills might translate to a nonacademic setting.

        Then there’s the way your life is structured. You take jobs on 10-14 week contracts, and work really long hours. When are you supposed to apply for jobs? If you leave your class in mid semester, you’re screwing over the students, and you don’t have the time and energy for a job search during the school year anyway.

        • NewishLawyer

          I meant that people choose academics for partially romantic reasons.

          There are also just people that are not corporate and we don’t know how to deal with them. My Neoroscientist friend is the child, husband and brother of doctors. Maybe he could have become a doctor but I can’t see him putting on business attire and working in finance or marketing and dealing with meetings over accounts payable. This is even as he cut off his long hair from undergrad.

          Likewise, my Chem PhD friend was able to work in Pharma but I couldn’t see her going into the business side of things.

      • JL

        Northeastern…perfect October day.

        Off-topic (and trivial), but this made me laugh as I freeze my ass off in my living room. October so far this year has been a rather obnoxious reminder that most October days are anything but perfect in the Northeast, or at least this part of the Northeast.

        That said, as a grad student, I do sometimes have the same sorts of fantasies you’re talking about, about being a postdoc or professor at Western Massachusetts and the colleges out there, except without the “perfect October weather” part. Close enough to still be able to see my Boston friends sometimes! Pleasant college towns! Cheaper than here! So I get that. I’m aware, though, that it’s a bit of a myth, even though by most accounts and my own limited experience the relevant towns are in fact very nice. Also, being in academia for now, I’m aware of the bad things about it as a balance to the fantasies, and I’d think adjuncts would be far more aware of the bad things than I am.

        • Yeah, the first cold days in October always make me miserable, and I’m not even from someplace especially warm.

        • Origami Isopod

          October is “perfect” if you’re going outside to enjoy it. Indoors, though… it’s not quite cold enough that you really want to turn the heat on, or (in terms of the plumbing) need to. So you wear extra layers and put on a baseball cap and put slippers over your socks and just deal.

        • Lee Rudolph

          Close enough to still be able to see my Boston friends sometimes!

          Even Worcester and/or Fall River, as it happens, can be too far to see one’s Boston friends sometimes.

          Hell, at my age, I’m finding that even Jamaica fucking Plain is too far to see one’s Boston friends. (But I’ve got my Senior Charlie Card now, and am anticipating a field trip to exotic Kendall Square or Chestnut Hill any day now! Not to mention an excursion [probably in a car] to Porter Square for Loomis’s dog-and-dead-pony show this coming Tuesday.)

          • JL

            Sadly, I’m going to miss Loomis in Porter Square. I have a meeting for the volunteers and staff of the domestic violence agency where I volunteer, which I would be willing to skip except that I’m supposed to run the meeting this time. So I will have to wait for next time. Boo. I’m genuinely curious to meet Loomis and Boston-area LGM commenters in person at some point, and the only one who I already have met in person is Aimai.

            Jamaica Plain is not the most convenient place for me to go to (I’m out near the Cambridge/Watertown/Belmont border these days), but it’s where at least 50% of the activists that I work with live, so I have to go there semi-regularly. Though I am seeing increasing recognition that always holding events where a huge portion of involved people live is a barrier to increasing diversity.

            • At this point, I think I can get there by 7, not sure whether to drive there or park at Alewife.

        • ajp

          Ah well, de gustibus and all that. I love winter. It’s my favorite season. I find winter purifying and conducive to work. Of course, I am fortunate enough to be able to afford heat and warm clothes, and I work indoors.

          But I just love feeling cozy in my coat. Taking a brisk walk. No putzing around in the sun, I get work done (always had a higher spring semester GPA in college and law school). Cuddling with your mate. Wool. Handsome scarves and hats. Boots.

          I don’t much like snow or ice, but I love the cold. I grew up in South Florida but I love living in New York in the winter. I went to college upstate and enjoyed winter there too. Winter just suits my temperament.

  • ajp

    part-time or adjunct professors who increasingly do the teaching work at colleges but who often are paid little better than the cleaning help.

    This sentence really bothers me. Not necessarily because of the writer, but because it seems to be some sort of default barometer. He makes as much as a janitor! As if someone who performs manual labor as opposed to intellectual labor is any less deserving of a living wage. Now I know, the article is about adjunct faculty and not the cleaning staff. But, the people who clean classrooms and dorms and cook meals in the dining halls also get screwed by universities, and that’s part of the conversation about universities and labor, not some tossed-off comparison like “he barely makes as much as a janitor.” Well, it’s an outrage that the cleaning staff barely make above the poverty line too! Better off to not mention the cleaning staff at all than use them in a tossed off comparison.

    • CD

      Yes. Indeed they don’t even get the dignity of being called “janitors” in the Danny Westneat piece, just “cleaning help.”

      From Dickens’ _Hard Times_

      In the hardest working part of Coketown; in the innermost fortifications of that ugly citadel, where Nature was as strongly bricked out as killing airs and gases were bricked in; at the heart of the labyrinth of narrow courts upon courts, and close streets upon streets, which had come into existence piecemeal, every piece in a violent hurry for some one man’s purpose, and the whole an unnatural family, shouldering, and trampling, and pressing one another to death; in the last close nook of this great exhausted receiver, where the chimneys, for want of air to make a draught, were built in an immense variety of stunted and crooked shapes, as though every house put out a sign of the kind of people who might be expected to be born in it; among the multitude of Coketown, generically called ‘the Hands,’—a race who would have found more favour with some people, if Providence had seen fit to make them only hands, or, like the lower creatures of the seashore, only hands and stomachs—lived a certain Stephen Blackpool, forty years of age.

      • Linnaeus

        Well, it’s Danny Westneat. The fact that a story like this would show up on the pages of the Seattle Times and that the principal subject of the story would get a sympathetic hearing is itself an accomplishment.

    • DrDick

      I generally agree with your larger point, but it does seem a bit absurd that someone with a Ph.D., which is a job requirement, is paid the same as someone with a high school diploma or less in the same institution, especially when it is a college.

      • ajp

        I see what you mean, and I’m sympathetic to it (I have lots of friends who have been kicked in the teeth by the shit academic job market) but it seemed like a needless swipe at the working class.

      • nihil obstet

        But as soon as you start thinking it’s absurd that those people should be paid as I am paid, you’ve thrown open the door to “it does seem a bid absurd that someone who only has to teach undergraduates is paid the same as someone who has to publish and direct graduate dissertations.”

        • DrDick

          I do not think anybody, certainly not me, has said that people who “only teach” (I know a lot of tenured folks who cannot do that, actually) should be paid the same as those who also do research and publish. I was only saying that you should be paid according to the specialized skills required for the job. Now if the comparison had been to a master electrician, I would not have said anything. Also, not everyone who is non-tenure track “just teaches undergraduates.” I am a non-tenurable lecturer, but I teach a full range of courses from intro to two graduate seminars. I also advise grad students and have graduated as many Ph.D.s as anyone in the department (I also have publications and did a lot of research in the past), but am paid significantly less, after 17 years, than new tenure track hires.

          • nihil obstet

            The point is that there are always reasons with which the organization justifies significant differentials in pay and perqs. Lengthy and expensive credentialing processes insist on the value of “specialized skills”. There are other valid measures of value. I think it’s a mistake to be concerned about whether status differences are reflected in pay.

            • DrDick

              I think it’s a mistake to be concerned about whether status differences are reflected in pay.

              Not if you have spent a lot of time and money getting those credentials. It is also not about “status”, it is about the time, effort, and money expended acquiring the necessary skills. It applies equally to a master electrician, or carpenter, or a Ph.D.

          • twbb

            ” I was only saying that you should be paid according to the specialized skills required for the job.”

            Why? It seems an arbitrary determinant. It makes more sense to pay people based on the demand for their services; considering that English PhDs have a huge supply but a low demand, what’s the point in paying them a subsidy over what the market will support?

            If you want to make pay decisions based on a less market-driven determinant, it seems far more just to pay the janitor more than the PhD because the former’s job is far more unpleasant and repetitive. Morally shouldn’t we compensate the janitor more for that? Why should the PhD get the easier, more interesting, more prestigious AND higher pay?

  • asifis

    While I sympathize with jobless PhDs, as a disorganized, undisciplined, semi-educated 60 year old who has had a good life working in the trades while dreaming about what I could have done if I was capable of long term focus, I am envious of their credentials, and the traits that made them possible. I can’t help but think that they could rake some muck in their field, since they have no career to threaten, and there is no field without muck. Create an independent research project that doesn’t need a lot of fancy equipment. Our society is going to need new institutions, and they will be built by individuals.

    • Origami Isopod

      Our society is going to need new institutions, and they will be built by individuals.

      No. They’ll be built by people working collectively.

      • An Institution of One.

        I can’t help but think that they could rake some muck in their field, since they have no career to threaten, and there is no field without muck.

        There is also no food and shelter without money. The PhD with no career in his/her field is unlikely to have free time for PhD-oriented muck raking since s/he will be working.

        [????]

      • asifis

        Absolutely. There seem to be many highly educated unemployed people. They could find each other and work collectively on something that really needs doing, especially since so many of the “real” jobs they’re likely to find will involve creating profits for others, and probably not so much in the way of social good.

        • Origami Isopod

          Yes, I’m sure they’ll all be happy to do this while foregoing shelter, food, and other things that are just too petty for the Brave Souls Building Our New Institutions to ask for.

          • Hogan

            Nah. Social/political organizing is one of those jobs that’s so incredibly easy anyone can do it in their spare time. Even people with no spare time.

            • Lee Rudolph

              Social/political organizing is one of those jobs that’s so incredibly easy anyone can do it in their spare time.

              Isn’t that in Alinksy’s One Weird Trick (That The Bosses Don’t Want You To Learn)?

            • asifis

              I first read OI.s response as foraging rather than foregoing, maybe because my kitchen is full of wild apples my wife’s making into sauce. I know it’s obnoxious to give advice, especially worthless advice like “start a company”, “write a book” “start a revolution”, and I deserve the scorn. That said, Hogan’s sarcastic comment about how easy organizing reminds me of the origin of my thoughts. PhDs have already demonstrated the ability to do something really hard. It’s people like that that we need organizing, and at least in my community the people doing the organizing are quite ineffective and so annoying as to discourage the involvement of others in their efforts.

              • Hogan

                It doesn’t actually follow that if you can do one difficult thing, you can do some other difficult thing. And organizing without a support structure other than other organizers (no fundraisers? no dues-paying members?) is very difficult indeed.

                I’m ABD in an English program, and I’ve worked around the edges of organizing. The ABD part was easier; if those were my two choices, that’s what I’d go back to.

              • Tyro

                the people doing the organizing are quite ineffective and so annoying as to discourage the involvement of others in their efforts.

                “Organizing” requires tireless effort constantly dealing with people and balancing off everyone’s needs and interests. I went into research because I wanted to make my dreams happen and put my ideas into practice. I’d be a terrible organizer, because my immediate reaction when someone has a different need/interest that needs to be acknowledged is, “you should stop having stupid ideas.”

          • ajp

            And then Bob Avakian will be elected President and…The Aristocrats!

    • BaaBaaBlackSheep

      Implicit in seeking graduate credentials is a belief that success is bestowed by institutional approval. Acceptance into a program, a tenure track position, and publication are all external validation granted by gatekeepers. Muck rakers reject the approval of the well positioned and established as a measure of success.

      • twbb

        Yep. Academics are self-selected to seek approval, jealously safeguard their reputation, and in many cases for poor social skills. Most make poor organizers.

  • DAS

    while creating ever larger and more well-compensated administrative positions that effectively recreate the university as a corporation

    OTOH, even if we eliminated half of our administrators at our university, we still would be very, very dependent on underpaid adjuncts to do much of our teaching. The only way we lessen our dependence on adjuncts is if we faculty either (a) take a big pay cut so there is more money to hire full-time faculty (perhaps as “lecturers” who do not need to do research to get tenure/promotions) or (b) we increase our teaching loads and/or increase class sizes so that way we can teach all students without having to rely on adjuncts.

    Personally, I cannot afford to take a pay cut: even with the amount I’m making, I can barely afford a decent middle class lifestyle and my apartment maintenance, etc. costs are not going down. As to increasing my teaching load either by teaching more classes or larger classes, I am already up to my neck in grading. At best what would happen is that I would have to stop giving lab reports and other grading intensive assignments, which would mean my students (juniors and seniors) who don’t already know how to do scientific writing would never learn.

    I guess one (partial) solution would be for us full time faculty not to do any research (so we could teach 4+ courses a semester), but even ignoring the fact that I took this job under the understanding that as long as I kept publishing, I’d have release time to do research, if I am not doing research, that would mean students who are interested in topics there is no time to fully cover in class wouldn’t have an opportunity to explore them in a laboratory context. Also, since research experiences are a way in which students can distinguish themselves, by cutting out research at university’s such as mine (second tier state institution), you’d be creating increasing inequality as students at fancier institutions (who are by and large from better socio-economic backgrounds) would have a chance to do research while students at my uni wouldn’t have the same chance.

    • ajp

      I am not too knowledgeable about universities so this comment was edifying. Of course, it’s easy for me as an outsider to speak in absolutes, but it seems to me that if you can’t employ adjuncts without paying them a decent wage, you shouldn’t employ them at all. But then, I know some people for whom adjuncting, much as it sucks, is all they have, and without it they’d be up shit creek with a turd for a paddle.

  • BaaBaaBlackSheep

    “paid little more than the cleaning help”

    Did I miss the outrage somewhere in the last 132 comments that anyone in the richest country in the world is living on starvation wages without proper medical care or is the real issue that intellectual work is more valuable than manual labor?

    • JL

      Yeah, you missed it. Two subthreads of people complaining about the classism in the “cleaning help” comment, plus other comments talking about, for instance, how anyone dying of something as treatable as a thyroid issue is a sign of something profoundly wrong with society.

      • BaaBaaBlackSheep

        Thanks- I found ’em. I read halfway down before skimming out of frustration. It’s still BS that those comments emerge so far into the discussion.

        • Crusty

          Where were you? Maybe all the other righteous souls were out doing the same thing you were?

          • BaaBaaBlackSheep

            I was at the club working on my swing.

    • Crusty

      Yes, you did miss it. Both were mentioned several times.

    • ajp

      What bothered me above and beyond the comparison itself, was the nomenclature. The “help”? Who wrote this article, Ann Romney?

  • Warren Terra

    There is something odd (if hopeful) about this story running in Seattle magazine, a ludicrous glossy aspirational lifestyle magazine more likely to advise people on how to spend this sad victim of society’s monthly wage on an ottoman than to consider their plight.

  • Crusty

    Maybe getting a little bit off topic here, but is there a point at which an academic department should stop granting phd’s and taking on candidates if the graduates aren’t getting jobs in the field other than lifelong adjunct gigs that don’t pay enough for acceptable housing, nutrition and medical care? I mean, it isn’t quite the same as law schools taking in students for whom there will be no law jobs, because presumably the departments giving out these degrees aren’t getting fat off student debt (let’s hope), but still, is it ethical to pump out phd’s that have little to no chance of getting a decent job?

    • Linnaeus

      This is a question that’s raised every so often, with the implied answer being that graduate programs need to reduce the number of students they admit. The problem is that colleges and universities depend a lot on (cheap) graduate student labor for teaching and research. So if they stop admitting those students, they then have to find a way to replace that labor.

      • Crusty

        Adjuncts!

        • DrDick

          Even adjuncts do not work that cheap!

        • Linnaeus

          Eh, I’m a little skeptical as to how many adjuncts you’d be able to attract to do the jobs that graduate students typically do. What would be the more likely result, IMHO, is that departments would just eliminate the positions and adjust their courses to reflect that, e.g., no discussion/recitation sections, probably fewer assignments and exams, etc.

          On the research side of things, you’d hire the replacements for graduate students as postdocs and research budgets probably won’t allow for that.

      • Warren Terra

        Also:

        1) Is the practical approach really the right one? Must we deny people the chance to pursue the life of the mind because we’ve already filled a quota based on projected employment?

        2) Even practically speaking, must the answer be fewer PhDs? What about more and better employment? For example, as reasonably well paid, over-qualified high school or prep school teachers? Obviously this might mean more ambitious schools paying their teachers more – but that wouldn’t be a bad thing.

        • DAS

          Where would the money come from?

        • Crusty

          Re 1), I’d say yes. There are a number of ways to live the life of the mind besides phds. To paraphrase some schlocky cliche that I’m sure appears in undergrad brochures everywhere, my undergrad degree “prepared me for a lifetime of learning.” To the extent that the phd is held out as a professional degree, offering the mere opportunity to obtain one to anyone who wants one doesn’t seem to be founded on any good reason. Professor Campos writes about law schools that admit students that have little chance of passing the bar. That they might want to learn about law is not a good reason for these institutions to exist.

          • CD

            I don’t see how you have met WT’s point.

            People make their own damn choices, and some of them are bad choices. In any field. It’s not like they’re being grabbed off the street and press-ganged into doctoral programs. I think we would both agree that you want reasonably demanding admissions requirements.

            But it’s very hard, I can tell you from long experience, to tell who is going to be successful at the point they’re applying to grad school. Some of the very brightest people I know didn’t even finish their dissertations. Success in grad school and academia has as much to do with resilience and adaptability as obvious brilliance or early academic achievement. I know several folks (including me) who were fairly marginal grad school admits, and did OK.

            You also have a collective action problem, no? How many Ph.D. programs are there in, say, English? Are you going to get them all to cut back 10%?

            I would agree that programs should publish placement rates, and I have certainly known cases where people went into grad programs with poor understandings of how higher ed employment works.

            • Tyro

              People make their own damn choices, and some of them are bad choices. In any field.

              The consequences of majoring in sociology as an undergrad are fairly minimal. Humanities Ph.D. programs require a minimum of 7 years of your life (in many cases as many as 10) for a field that has no jobs for all but an elite few at the other end, with an environment that provides few if any opportunities for those who aren’t going to get TT positions and a field that actively derides those who leave academia. So this is a field that is setting up most of its entrants for failure.

              • CD

                a field that actively derides those who leave academia

                This is nuts. I can think of at least four excellent people in my grad cohort who took non-academic jobs because they could do more interesting things in those jobs than they could as an academic, and in some cases make pots of money. Nobody derides them.

                • Lee Rudolph

                  Nobody derides them.

                  Depending on how they “make pots of money”, I’m willing to deride them.

                  Give me a pot of money for myself, and I’ll even deride all of them at once!

                • Linnaeus

                  I think it depends on 1) the field in question, 2) the institutional culture in which the graduate program is situated, and 3) the attitude of the student’s advisor. In my department, there is definitely a tacit understanding that one is being trained for academic employment and that any other employment (with some exceptions) is evidence that you fell short somehow. This is changing, which is good, but at a slower pace than I’d like.

                • CD

                  I agree that attitude is often there, Linnaeus. Advisors are often interested in reproducing themselves through you, in extending their influence via their students.

                  But I would suggest that with any institution, you have to figure out how to use it but not be used by it, to be in it but not necessarily of it. Employers will also try to manipulate you, no? Thinking back maybe the best skill I took to grad school was ten years working, including with some really difficult bosses.

            • Crusty

              That one marginal grad student somewhere might turn out to be good is not a good reason to crank out hundreds more that will not. There is a cost.

              • CD

                “Crank out” is the wrong metaphor and it’s stopping you from thinking clearly about this. People *seek* admission.

                What I tell undergrads considering Ph.D. school:

                (1) unless you’re getting a free ride or close, don’t start a Ph.D. program — a free ride meaning a TAship that carries a tuition waiver and at least a tiny stipend. Aside from not taking on more debt, a TAship means that the program is investing resources in you.

                (2) if the programs you most want turn you down and you get only into marginal ones, think really hard.

                But most importantly,

                (3) if you’re the median grad student, you are giving up close to a decade of your life to get a doctorate. Only do that if the knowledge and abilities you will gain are worth the time you will give up. Do you really *want* to spend years on end mastering a literature and a methodology. Don’t assume you will float into academic employment because it’s a crapshoot.

                I hope everyone hears something along those lines. But beyond that, I think people should be able to follow their dreams. I’m not gonna make people’s decisions for them.

                • Crusty

                  From the point of view of the student, its about following dreams.

                  From the point of view of the institution, department, individual professors doing the teaching/advising/signing off on the dissertation. If you are giving out a specialized degree that will not allow someone to realize their dreams, how are you different than a snake oil salesman?

                • CD

                  If you are giving out a specialized degree that will not allow someone to realize their dreams

                  Huh? First, for purposes of academic employment the Ph.D. *does* allow them to pursue academic employment. It’s basically a union card.

                  When I’m on a Ph.D. committee my goal is to help the candidate do the best work possible, and I will do whatever I can to set them up for professional success. And while I don’t work with many, those I’ve worked with have done well.

                  Again, I said “follow” their dreams. Realizing dreams is a matter of being good, of perseverance, and no small amount of luck. You can be good and fail. This is life.

                • Crusty

                  Why not let them fail at the admission stage, instead?

                • CD

                  Many do.

                  Once again, though, these are grownups who have to be trusted to make their own choices.

                • matt w

                  Once again, though, these are grownups who have to be trusted to make their own choices.

                  I don’t get the paternalism argument as it applies to PhD admissions. It’s not as though a department that decided to admit fewer candidates would be interfering with the rejected candidates’ interaction with some third party. The department is committing serious resources to the candidates. Isn’t the department also responsible for its own choices–including the choice to admit many more PhD students than will be able to get jobs? Why not raise the admissions standards from “We’re pretty sure that the candidate will, if all goes well, be able to complete the PhD” to “We’re pretty sure that if the candidate will, if all goes well, be able to complete the PhD and get a decent job”?

                • CD

                  It’s a fair question. I really *hope* most programs have higher standards than

                  “We’re pretty sure that the candidate will, if all goes well, be able to complete the PhD”

                  and are competitive enough that they can choose among many applicants with that minimal qualification.

                  But I’m gonna resist the idea that you can look at an applicant file and predict job market success 8 or 10 years hence. People change significantly during the course of their doctoral work, and their interests shift. Markets shift. People reveal unexpected capacities or develop unexpected blockages. (Though maybe there are some technical or natural science areas in which applicants will already have done significant research at the baccalaureate level, and you do have a track record to go on.)

                  I’d push the point even farther: my experience is that when committees try to work on the basis of guesses about future success, they become relatively conservative in their choices, and less likely to admit people who are not white, who are gender non-normative, and so forth. Such candidates are more likely to be admitted if you are working from what they have actually done.

                • CD

                  … FWLIW, when I started grad school I didn’t even *want* an academic job. I wanted to return to international NGO work. I told them that. Maybe I was an idiot, but I genuinely wanted the knowledge and skills, period. I also wanted something that particular program could provide that no other program could.

                  So the anti-paternalism argument is that you have to assume people are grownups, and take their expressed desires at face value.

        • Tyro

          Must we deny people the chance to pursue the life of the mind because we’ve already filled a quota based on projected employment?

          Yes. If the “chance” to succeed at that life is approaching zero, then the gate is closed.

          There are two models of professional gatekeeping: one, like medicine and dentistry, has a limited number of spots open, and you either get admitted to one of those spots, or fall below the threshold and accept that you will not enter that profession. The other model, in law and academia, is to allow that everyone who has the desire will find admission to a program somewhere and force them to fight over the available crumbs.

          In the same way lots of law schools need to be closed, lots of Ph.D. programs need to be closed.

          Not everyone can be an astronaut or a fighter pilot or a navy seal or get a Ph.D. in English. That’s just the way it goes.

          • Warren Terra

            You seem to have accepted the notion that a PhD is a professional qualification akin to a law or medical degree, or a commercial driver’s license. I would prefer this not be the case, and I’m not convinced it is, or at least needs to be.

            • Tyro

              It’s certainly NOT akin to a liberal arts undergraduate degree which is (supposed to be) highly transferable to any field.

              The needs of academia– that is, the need for researchers and instructors with doctorate-level qualifications — is far, far lower than the number of Ph.D.s being churned out, and those Ph.D.s are being produced to fill the needs of the existing professors (ie, as TAs and research assistants) rather than the needs of the universities and other research/academia institutions that could use them, throwing people out into the street with an essentially worthless piece of paper. That’s academic malpractice.

              And we see the results are the same as law school– academics and professionals in the industry extolling the non-professional value of the degree in terms of how it teaches you to think and could be used for anything.

              Adjuncting is the doc review of academia. Though doc review might pay better.

              • CD

                It’s a highly specialized research degree. I think that’s WT’s point. It’s not like a standard professional degree or, obviously, a liberal arts degree.

                There *is* a certain disconnect. A relatively small number of grad students are so brilliantly excellent at research that they will get jobs on the strength of that. Most of the rest of us figure out that we’re not in that league, notice that most academic jobs emphasize teaching, and grab opportunities to teach and get mentorship in teaching. You have to figure out how to get training in two different things at the same time. But FWIW (I’m actually reviewing job apps right now) you’d be surprised how many pull that off. In fact the average quality of teaching portfolios has risen markedly over the last decade.

          • Linnaeus

            I have to say I come at this issue feeling quite conflicted.

            On one hand, I’m sympathetic to WT’s argument about affording people the opportunity to pursue an intellectual career. When I was admitted to graduate school, I was in a difficult position in my life and it really felt like a way forward. So off I went. Things haven’t turned out quite as I’d thought they would, but I can’t definitively say that I made the wrong choice, either. I’m sure I would have figured something out at the time I chose to go to graduate school, but it was very unclear at the time what that would be.

            On the other hand, I do have to wonder if reducing the size and number of graduate programs is going to end up happening anyway. I strongly support training graduate students for careers besides academic ones (to their best ability to do so), but that will only go so far. Having people devote so much time and energy to something with little opportunity does seem like a serious waste of talent (which reminds me of the book The Last Professors, in which the author says at one point that Ph.D. graduates are effectively waste products of their programs).

            So, I don’t know. It’s a sticky wicket for sure.

        • Justaguy

          “Must we deny people the chance to pursue the life of the mind because we’ve already filled a quota based on projected employment?”

          Yes, we should. Out of my PhD cohort 3 people dropped out, 2 are adjuncting, 2 have tenure track jobs and I’m in my 4th year of a chronic illness due to the stress created by my department’s brilliant plan to enroll more students than there were TA gigs for and not give anyone advanced warning.

          My department rationalizes over enrolling students by pointing to the 2 that got tenure track jobs. But, is it worth destroying my heath so that they could follow their dreams? If they’d just not let me in, I’d have done something else with the past 8 years and would be doing fine.

          • Justaguy

            Or to put it more clearly, a certain number of people who want to pursue a career in academia aren’t going to be able to make it work. What is the most humane point to cut them off? Should we cut them off at the point where they’re applying for grad school, or wait until they’ve invested 6-12 years of their lives, working long hours and living in poverty? I’m sure some people are really disappointed when they don’t get in to a PhD program, but that’s nothing compared to what can happen in underfunded PhD programs and adjuncting.

    • Brett

      Adjunct unionization should help with that. It’ll raise the wages (and costs) of adjunct positions, making it so that grad students either get one and prosper – or don’t get one, and move on out of the academic field. It’ll make it much less likely that they limp along in academic poverty, hoping for a better gig down the line.

    • Lee Rudolph

      is it ethical to pump out phd’s that have little to no chance of getting a decent job?

      It’s easy for me to say no, it’s not, given that I’ve never had a chance to run that pump. I think that most individuals who participate in the pumping process as Ph.D. advisors are prone to believe (sometimes in the face of a lot of evidence to the contrary) that their advisees will get a (somewhat) decent job. What’s more insidious (I suspect), and what goes more directly to your question about departmental decisions, may be the situation of people who don’t have any, or many, advisees but like to teach the occasional graduate course; such a person (I, again, suspect) might simultaneously be more aware that most of the students won’t get decent jobs, but less conflicted because those students are being advised by someone else.

      Certainly there can be perverse institutional incentives for maintaining Ph.D. programs in fields where decent jobs are very rare. For instance, at my university of last employment, all tenure-line faculty in the (few) Ph.D. granting departments taught fewer courses per year than those in the non-Ph.D. granting departments, but the administration would grant further “course relief” (one fewer course per year) to Ph.D. advisors only if the advisor was supervising 6 or more theses! (This may have changed in the past few years, and no doubt super-well-connected people may have been able to get the rules discretely bent; but it was certainly the policy for at least the last 10 or so years I worked there, in, as previously whined, a non-Ph.D. granting department.)

      • Justaguy

        My university administration is pressuring departments to increase PhD enrollment because it brings in more funding from the central state university administration. Individual departments go along to get along, with the understanding that failing to do so would make them a lower priority for new faculty hires.

        • Lee Rudolph

          My university of last employment is (in its stock phrase) a “small private research university”, so increasing Ph.D. enrollment does not bring in more funding. (Well, there are ways that it could, not good and some downright evil. But they haven’t gone there, yet. [There seems to be more money in master’s degrees, in its particular playing field. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to teach in such master’s programs. Most of the instructors for most of the master’s programs are … oh, I’ll stop there.])

    • LeeEsq

      The legal difference between a university and a college is that universities award advanced degrees like masters, PhDs, juris doctorates, and company in addition to bachelor’s degrees. They can’t stop graduating PhDs because they would no longer be universities under the legal definition.

      • Crusty

        What is the significance of the legal definition?

        Let’s suppose a university has a school of arts and sciences, a business school and a school of social work. The English department stops giving out phd’s, not having placed a graduate into a tenure track position in ten years. So what? The rest of the school has to close? They lose funding? I don’t get it.

      • Malaclypse
    • Ronan

      These are very smart, well informed *adults* who are taking a risk to follow a ‘passion’. This is a good thing. I cant imagine that if I, random non American internet commenter, know about the oversupply of PhDs in the US, then they dont.
      I dont think you need less grad students, you need (1) better pay for adjuncts (2) better career guidance and links to outside academia employment for this extrememly well educated group. People with postgraduate degrees are still very likely to be in employment in some capacity, and paid well above the median household income.

      http://persistentastonishment.blogspot.ie/2011/05/six-graphs-answer-questions-about-phd.html

      There is nothing wrong with going for something and not getting it, why should we take that oppotunity away from people ?

      • Tyro

        These are very smart, well informed *adults*

        I disagree with you there.

        why should we take that oppotunity be away from people ?

        The same reason not everyone gets to go into astronaut training. The same reason we need to close law schools.

        Why are there so many people insistent that we have to churn out as many PhDs as possible?

        • Crusty

          “Why are there so many people insistent that we have to churn out as many PhDs as possible?”

          My sense is that the people who run and teach in departments that shouldn’t bother having phd students don’t want to actually admit that that is the sort of department they teach in.

          There may be some other perverse incentives too involving funding and whatnot, but I think that’s a big part of it.

        • Ronan

          How do you know they are churning out ‘as many as possible’? Who said anything about ‘everyone’ ? You havent even begun to make the case that the amount being ‘churned out’ (which is tiny) is too much, except that there arent enough jobs *in academia* for them. That isnt the only measure.

          • Tyro

            there arent enough jobs *in academia* for them. That isnt the only measure.

            I’ll concede that there may be jobs for them in think tanks. Maybe some other research institutions. But other than that, obviously not.

            • Ronan

              Oh for Christ sake. For your argument to work,( that the opportunity to do a phd needs to be seriously curtailed because the consequences for the candidates are so awful) , you need to , you know, actually prove the case that the consequences are awful. The only consequence you have is that they can’t get academic jobs. No surveys on phd satisfaction , no statistics on post phd employment , just some general disgruntlement directed towards a vaguely defined academic establishment . Not even a serious examination of the practicalities of grad school training , an argument for a specific amount of grad students that should be accepted , a guess at a tolerable “failure” rate. You don’t have an argument

              • Crusty

                I will cite to our very own Justaguy- “Experience as an academic doesn’t translate well into non-academic jobs for non STEM PhDs. There’s also a sense among employers that you’re overqualified and underexperienced for most positions.”

                And our very own DrDick- “Most places will not even talk to you about a nonacademic/research job if they see you have a Ph.D.”

                In any event, you seem to forget what brought us here- the dead at 61 adjunct professor whose bed, fridge, 3000 books and ramen diet could no longer sustain him. We need surveys on phd satisfaction to see that a program where this is a likely outcome for a substantial portion of the grads isn’t acceptable?

                • Ronan

                  The adjunct situation is a different question

      • Crusty

        By the same token, what’s wrong with my hanging a shingle for my fortune telling business? The people that come in and pay me would be adults, and they might get something out of it, e.g., amusement or a lucky guess?

        • Ronan

          I have no idea what your point is, but on a literal reading then yes, people who might go to your fortune telling business are adults and shouldnt be due a refund.

          • Crusty

            The question is not whether they’re due a refund, the question is whether it is ethical for me to set up the enterprise in the first place. Do you see the difference? Someone may want to go to grad school. That’s ok. That’s different than someone wanting to maintain their own position by holding out the possibility of a teaching position when they know that no such possibility exists.

            • Ronan

              Yes , it is ethical to be a fortune teller. If you truly belief youre phsycic

              • Crusty

                In this analogy, the fortune teller knows that he is not psychic.

                • Ronan

                  If the fortune teller is lying , and the customer believes the lie , but the lie provides comfort , then probably unethical but serves a greater good.
                  If the customer knows the fortune is a lie , but chooses to go along with it , then I’d say prob not unethical , but a little foolish

      • Justaguy

        The bottom fell out of the academic job market around 2008, so looking at a 2006 survey of people with PhDs isn’t particularly helpful.

        • Ronan

          The bottom fell out of everything in 2006. You could have got a trade , instead of going to grad school , and lost your job. Worked in a bank, lost that. So on and so forth. It isn’t as though the non grad school choice our hypothetical student could have made was destined to be much better . And the stats still show that someone with a phd is still less likely to be unemployed and more likely to earn considerably above the median wage.
          The assumption seems to be that there was some ideal alternative path our hypothetical grad student could have taken , full of fulfilment and money and emotional satisfaction , where they would never regret not taking that chance at a phd. Such a world doesn’t exist. I have love for all the struggling grad students out there, and wish y’all the best for the future, but Jesus let’s get some perspective

          • Justaguy

            Sure, someone with a PhD is less likely to be unemployed, but the employment status and salary of someone who got their PhD in the 1980s or 1990s says nothing about the job prospects of someone entering a PhD program today. Things might very well be crappy all around, but the fact that job prospects are bad doesn’t make spending 6-10 years going into debt for a degree that won’t get you a job a good idea.

            • Ronan

              I never said going into debt was a good idea. Going into debt in a lot of circumstances isn’t a good idea. I never even said going to grad school wax a “good idea”. I was saying that the rhetoric that these students are the unfortunate victims of a deep con is wrong , and that taking the chance at a phd even if you don’t end up with an academic job , and without meaningful debt, is basically an alright position to find yourself in.
              Anyway, as I said to tyro , if there was some sort of specific policy prescription being offered I could probably find avenues of agreement , but at the moment it’s all “everyone can’t be an astronaut ” or analogies to fortune telling, and what not

              • Justaguy

                They are the victims of a con – faculty routinely misinform students of their post-graduation job prospects. They give them an unrealistic sense both of their prospects of finding a tenure track job, and of their academic training translating into non-academic settings.

            • Ronan

              Just fwiw, justaguy. I didn’t mean to aim the “get some perspective ” comment at you specifically. It was said generally . I’ve Only just re read your comment above so I’m sorry if it came off as blasé. Having said that I do stand over the rest (though need to go to bed now , so won’t be back for a while )

    • Cheap Wino

      It may have already been discussed in the responses but I can tell you that academic departments have very little interest regarding to what degree their graduates, Ms or Phd, are employable. All — and I cannot understate the degree to which all means all — the emphasis in graduate education is focused on admission numbers.

      I’m a graduate admissions officer at a medium/large state school. Our reputation is okay — tier 1 graduate research school — but not elite or even ‘backup in case I don’t get into an ivy’ level. Top 100ish. From that viewpoint I can say that the post-graduate success possibilities of admits is of zero concern institutionally. Zero. Not that individual instructors aren’t personally invested in their student’s success, but institutionally it does not rise to the level where it is a factor whatsoever. There just isn’t enough immediate return on investment that might make it a factor in how we approach recruitment. It is all about getting students in and paying those nice, graduate student level tuition rates.

      So, addressing your concern about “. . . taking on candidates” I can say that the structure of graduate education (assuming my school is reasonably typical) isn’t set up to face that question. Caveat emptor and all.

      • Crusty

        Are you an officer with a particular academic department or just in the “graduate school,” because while the may be the approach of an “admissions department” I don’t think it is the approach of the actual professors in an academic department. For one thing, students develop relationships with those professors, particularly their dissertation advisers and those are the people that students stay in touch with and “network” with and ask for recommendations during the job search.

        • Cheap Wino

          Right, I’m with the grad school itself. As I said, I think individually professors are, for the most part, invested in the success of their students. But the university is putting pressure on departments to admit (and recruit) and that pressure comes with no focus on student success at all. For instance, we admitted a ton of Social Work students, so many that the student teacher ratio might affect accreditation. This is a field that, while the country (and the area) needs more and more of them, there just aren’t going to be jobs out there for these grads. And what jobs there are will not pay well at all, little enough that repaying two years worth of grad level loans will be a major struggle. Not to mention that they will be competing with grads from psych and counselor ed. for the few actual jobs to boot.

  • Woodrowfan

    I gave up a good job to rejoin academia. I spent several years as an adjunct, then was lucky enough to get a TT spot at the same school. I feel like I won the f-ing lottery given the odds. I’m still making 1/2 of what I would be making if I hadn’t switched careers, but the lower stress level may make it worth it.

    • twbb

      I took an 80% pay cut to become a PhD student and haven’t regretted it a day; the stress level and lifestyle is so much better.

  • kayden

    That story about Margaret Mary was heartbreaking. I have a good friend who is an adjunct professor and teaches several classes but recently had to start practicing law on the side to make ends meet. It’s a shame how we don’t value our teachers/professors.

  • dr. fancypants

    Interesting–are adjunct salaries typically decided on a department-by-department basis, rather than across-the-board?

    I adjuncted in the math department for three years at Seattle U. While we had a heavier course load than the tenure-track profs (we were on a 2-2-3, they were on a 2-2-1), adjunct pay in the department was enough to get by on–$40k plus benefits.

    • wjts

      Were you formally classified as an adjunct or a lecturer?

      • dr. fancypants

        My title was “adjunct professor”.

        • wjts

          Huh. In my experience, adjuncts are paid by the class and there’s no formal semester-to-semester guarantee of future employment. Non-TT positions with longer-term contracts plus benefits are usually called as lecturers or something similar. When was this, if you don’t mind me asking?

          • dr. fancypants

            2006 through 2009.

            Our contracts were on a year-to-year basis, but there was generally no question that our contracts would be renewed–there was always a need for warm bodies teaching the low-level math classes.

            • DrDick

              That sounds more like what most places call a “visiting professor”, for which the salary would be about right.

    • DrDick

      That is set by the administration. I have also never heard of an adjunct making that kind of money.

      • Malaclypse

        Tufts used to pay north of $4K/course back in the 90s.

        • wjts

          Pitt pays $1000/credit hour, so three to five grand a course. But no benefits and no formal job security.

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