Tuesday, January 16, 2007

 

Ask the Administrator: Why is Everyone so Crabby?

An occasional correspondent writes:

I've been reading along for quite some time and it
seems like a lot of your commentors are, well, unhappy
with their lot in life.

I teach high school right now. I absolutely adore my
job. I'm also finishing my dissertation, have an
article in press, have another in the works, and just
picked up a 58K grant. I do all of these things
because they're fabulously exciting to me. I work way
more than when I was a TT faculty member at a CC, even
if you only count my actual job. But, I wouldn't
trade it for anything else right now.

The adjuncts want TT jobs, the folks with TT jobs want
to actually have 'a month off with pay' or reduced
demands on their time or something so they can, well,
I'm not sure what exactly.

Your comment that you've not had a month off with pay
raised a whole set of comments where people seemed to
play 'one-up' and in the process made it really sound
like they don't like research or the publication
process.

I've always wondered about faculty and administrators
and perhaps you can address this:

How much do you really understand what the job entails
before you start?

If you've done it for a few years and you still seem
to dislike it so much (hi to your commentors) then why
do you keep doing it?

What barriers exist to you just doing what you want?
Heck, do you even know what you want?


I guess this is really two larger questions and you
can provide answers in the context of higher ed should
you like:

If you haven't done a job, how do you know what it
entails? (before you started deaning for example)

Once you've started doing a job how do you decide if
it's actually worth keeping? (as in, why do you keep
deaning...)

One of the lessons of blogging is that meanings, no matter how transparent they may seem to you, will be filtered through other people's experiences, even if those filters change the meanings completely. They won't be aware that they're doing it, though, and they'll blame you for whatever they're projecting onto you. Comes with the gig. (In that sense, blogging and deaning are similar.)

The line about a “month off with pay” is a pretty good example. It's a fair description of some people, and a real misreading of others. I know that, and I assume that others know that, too. Apparently, some folks took great umbrage at the line. If you've worked on different sides of the desk, as I have – adjunct, full-time faculty, and administrator – I know both how common those lines are and how complicated the realities they reflect are. (That's why I included it as part of the 'internal monologue,' rather than something to say in public. It's up there with snarky comments about people's clothes or politics. Most of us have similar thoughts from time to time, but we also 'know better,' so we don't express them. The line was an example of venting for comic effect, which assumes a certain basis of shared understanding between reader and writer.)

The larger point, though, is about discontent with one's lot. It's a great question, and one I think about quite a bit. Every dean's nightmare is the professor who basically retires on the job after receiving tenure. It isn't as common as the popular press seems to assume, but it happens. It's also true that some folks who are honestly motivated for the first ten or fifteen years of their careers get a little stale by twenty, and positively curdled by thirty. Given the deadly combination of high intelligence and heavy repetition, it's not all that surprising.

I think part of the issue is that we have a 'one size fits all' definition of what a professor is, even though different institutions have wildly different expectations. For example, High School Friend is an endowed professor of a physical science at an R1. For him, teaching is a very small part of the job – not quite an afterthought, but pretty close – and research is all-consuming. To a colleague at my cc, his teaching schedule would look positively leisurely, and in a very narrow sense, it is. But he works insane hours, since by his (and his university's) definition, research is where the action is. Professors at my cc have far heavier teaching loads, and with much greater repetition of preps (maybe 8 sections of Intro to...every year, plus two of whatever else), so the prospect of boredom is much greater. On the other hand, research expectations are minimal. In my observation, many of the senior, tenured people really do have a month off with pay at Christmas, and three in the summer. They defend it by saying, largely correctly, that they need it to stay fresh from year to year. (I know there's some truth to this because I did a few years as full-time faculty at Proprietary U, where we had a twelve-month teaching calendar with cc-level teaching loads each semester. After a few years, most of us were pretty fried.)

So which one is the 'real' professor? Both, and neither.

I worked with a colleague at Proprietary U who was constantly angry that it wasn't, and didn't try to be, Harvard. When I moved into administration, I made him a deal: don't be a pain in my ass, and you can use me as a reference to get a job you actually want. After a year, he decamped for a place more to his liking, to the relief of all concerned. Last I heard, he's doing quite well in his new digs, having found a college whose definition of 'professor' comes much closer to his own.

Certainly, there are some grievances that unite the entire profession: low pay relative to the length of training, indifferent and/or ill-prepared students, and the general crappiness of the market. Paradoxically, given the 'universal' aspirations of the term 'university,' there's also an epidemic of provincialism. I don't mean it in the geographic sense, but in the generic sense: whatever my unspoken idea of higher education is, is right, and everybody else is an ignorant jerk. Since relatively few people hop between different tiers of higher ed as full-time employees, there aren't that many who can really bring a comparative perspective to bear. Given relative inbreeding and, in many cases, an extended lack of hiring, local myths can attain 'unquestionable' status, even while being badly wrong.

I suspect that crabbiness is worse now than in the past, since a relative lack of opportunities (esp. for non-stars and at the entry level) often forces people to choose among options they didn't have in mind when they started. Had my original plan held, I'd be a tenured Associate Professor of (my discipline) at Oberlin by now. Life didn't work that way. It's hard to take ownership of one's career decisions when the available options are so few and so flawed. The sense of powerlessness, I think, contributes to the level of crabbiness.

There's also a real lack of felt options for many academics who tire of academe. By the time the fatigue sets in, it's late in the game to start over again. Maybe you have kids to support, a spouse who's tired of waiting for you to get your #%*! together, or just an impatience to get on with it. For a burned-out but tenured English professor at a community college, in his fifties, making 80-90k, what else is out there? Most of the realistically-available options would involve massive pay cuts, thereby making them unrealistic. (That's the paradox of the academic salary structure. The hardest-working years are usually the lowest-paid.) Some fields have the luxury of being able to move back-and-forth between industry and academe, but the evergreen disciplines largely don't.

Why do I keep deaning? A whole bunch of reasons, but the one I keep coming back to is that I don't trust many other people to do it. Too many academics have absolutely no idea of the realities of running an institution, and too many business-types have absolutely no idea of the realities of higher education. I believe – I'll cop to a certain arrogance on this count – that I have the training, the temperament, and the taste for it, and that relatively few people do. That's not to say that I don't get frustrated – regular readers know all about that – but the frustration is because I actually care about higher ed. If I were only in it for the money, I would have picked up a finance degree and left by now. I want to see higher ed done right, and I think I can make my best contribution to that via administration. I'm a good but not spectacular teacher, and a competent but not prolific researcher – my wheelhouse is in administration. That makes me a rare bird, but that's okay.

Wise and beneficent blogosphere – any contributions to a general theory of academic crabbiness?


Comments:
First, I think that what you note DD in this passage is dead on:

"I suspect that crabbiness is worse now than in the past, since a relative lack of opportunities (esp. for non-stars and at the entry level) often forces people to choose among options they didn't have in mind when they started. [. . .] It's hard to take ownership of one's career decisions when the available options are so few and so flawed. The sense of powerlessness, I think, contributes to the level of crabbiness."

I'll add as an asst. prof on the t-t in an evergreen discipline, for whatever this is worth, the following. I think that when I'm crabby, it has to do mainly with the sense of heightened expectations in all areas of performance that my generation of academics faces. Since I arrived at my job a few years ago, they've upped the research requirements, cut back on travel money, eliminated university-wide support for faculty research, and there are some who would very much like to add a fourth tenure category. I teach a 4/4. It's difficult not to be crabby when my senior colleagues seem to have absolutely no clue about the pressure that junior faculty are under to produce in so many different areas. I also think that this pressure to perform makes my experience inherently different from the experience of a high school teacher who is getting a PhD on the side. I'm not saying that high school teachers don't work very hard (obviously they do) but at least in comparing my experience with the experiences of my friends who are high school teachers, it is much more possible for them to leave work at work, to grade during free periods, and to have a "life" outside of the job. This means that they seem to have more freedom to use their time outside of the classroom to pursue their passions - whether that is pursuing a PhD or rock climbing or whatever. There is something intrinsically different about doing research because one WANTS to and feeling pressured to do research on top of everything else that is required. Even if one "loves" what one researches, "loves" teaching, "loves" service, that doesn't mean that one won't become crabby when one is under what seems to me to be pretty constant pressure.

This isn't so much a problem of not knowing what one is getting into when one chooses the career path - it's more a problem related to having known what the career path was 10 years ago and those expectations continuing to intensify.

Why do I keep doing it? Because ultimately I do "like" my job - but that doesn't mean I don't find things in it to bitch about. And yes, I get crabby when I feel like administrators act like I'm not working my ass off, but that doesn't mean that I'm so miserable I want to change careers. At the end of the day, I'm still excited by what I do, but let's be real: it's a job, and while it's a job that is deeply rewarding to me, no, how "fabulously exciting" it all is does not compensate for some of the issues related to working conditions - even for the tenure-track, not to mention adjuncts - in this profession.

Sorry for going on and on in this comment!
 
It struck me that the high school teacher's ability to pursue a PhD in their free time ought to be highlighted in Dr. Crazy's comment. In a lot of ways, it seems that the High School teacher is in more of a 9-5 (or 7-5) schedule, with similar expectations.

Personally, doing a 5/5 at a CC in Philosophy and trying to write a dissertation on the side is plenty of challenge... although, if I were making 80-90K like the CC English faculty you mention, it might be worth it.
 
You and Dr Crazy are right on in terms of why college profs can be awfully cranky-- I especially agree with Crazy's comment about upping the expectations, constantly, most often without a subsequent raise in pay.

That said, I would just add that I was *astounded* (and yet not) that people got so cranky about your "month off with pay" line. I thought that line was very funny, like the rest of the piece.

Even if one IS spending that entire time doing work-related activities (which I would doubt, given the number of my colleagues who spend that time traveling, with family, etc.), one is doing them, usually, AT HOME, while drinking coffee, and playing with the cat, in pajamas (me, not the cat). At least I am. To me, that's a bit different --and far more desirable-- than being required to show up at an office, fully clothed, for a set amount of hours.

I was amazed that people took such offense at that-- even when I have countless faculty talk to me daily about their elaborate plans for travel and their gardens over the summers, long visits with their grandchildren over Christmas, etc. It's like nobody wants to admit that this job, hard as it is, has an awful lot of perks.
 
I'm not sure why it's so surprising that some of us felt umbrage at the "month off with pay" line. In the context of DD's posting, the line was part of the internal dialogue of an administrator, and suggested that deep down the administrator assumed the holiday break (from teaching) was a vacation (from work) for all faculty. The "month off with pay" line only exacerbates the stereotypes of faculty that sometimes exist in adminstrators (and vice versa, since I do both). Those stereotypes from both sides do far more harm than good. I enjoy reading this blog, and I recognize that it's a blog and not a series of public pronouncements for which DD has to take Dean-responsibility (and that's the pleasure of the blog for all of us, DD included). Yet, you can't utter a line that suggests all faculty are living it up -- whooey! -- on vacation with pay and just brush off responsibility for the line by saying, "These folks are just crabby."

In my original comment, though, I should have mentioned more. I love all the work I did during the break. I love the job, even though it often requires over-work to be done properly. I suspect that some of the others who commented, and are tenured or tenure-track, love the job, too. Deadlines are a pain; but if you have a deadline, that means you have an editor and, eventually, an audience. This kind of situation can only be good for you, and for your students.
 
My two cents:

My wife teaches high school English and I teach English at a moderatly selective liberal arts college. The differences:

1. She works much longer sustained hours (she's essentially "in class" from 6:30 (bus duty) to 5:00 (after school activities). As a faculty member at a Liberal Arts College, even when teaching 4/4, I've seldom had to be in one place from 7-5. She also has cafeteria duty, meetings with parents, cops, councilors, principals, superintendents, and students, field trips, etc.
2. During some years she has had up to seven different preps in one semester.
3. Average class size is 38 and often over 45. (Try teaching drafting & revising to that).
4. She now has state and federally mandated tests.
5. She works several weeks longer than I do (her winter break has dwindled over the past several years to below two weeks; mine is still a cozy four).

That said, she does enjoy her summers, although much of them are given over to obtaining CEUs, which means taking classes or attending conferences &c.

I must say, it really irritates her when I complain about how hard I've had to work.

[Note - I'm generally a crabby academic for two reasons - one, no one in our little piece of heaven here seems to care at all that I busted my ass to get my degrees, get tenure, write books &c.; and, two, most everyone else I work with is bitter and crabby and I generally find the tone of the room...]
 
DD Says: One of the lessons of blogging is that meanings, no matter how transparent they may seem to you, will be filtered through other people's experiences (...) In that sense, blogging and deaning are similar.)

Fair enough. I always saw blogging and adjuncting as similar. Toiling in obscurity, no pay to speak of, and no one gives a rat's shiny hinney about my two cents. What torques me are those in the field blithely unaware of their own horse hockey. I do not for a nano-moment believe that high school, TT, Deandom, or Ivy-land is neccesarily the province of milk and honey. But I do take issue with those who dismiss the "unhappy" voices of adjuncts who lack health insurance, steady pay, job security, an office, colleagial respect, etc. Say you teach upward of ten classes a year? That was last semester over here. Polishing up that dissertation in your spare time? Define "spare time" for all of us (TTs, Deans, adjuncts alike). All I ask is that you consider for a moment that another's world might be different. Instead of asking, "Why all the bellyaching? Get another gig." Consider that flippant advise does nothing to address an exploitative system that remains fundamentally flawed. My leaving solves little for others. But, as adjuncts, raising our collective voice loud enough and long enough might change that math.
 
I think you need to distinguish between crabbiness and venting. Venting keeps you from exploding. Crabbiness is general ill-will.

Blogs and comments allow for what I would call "productive venting" in the sense that you can get some good advice and different perspectives on things that can help with problem solving. (Thank you DD.)

Blogging and posting comments is also cheaper than therapy....
 
There are probably as many reasons to be crabby as there are crabs... But reading over these comments, I wanted to add (or maybe to emphasize) the ANXIETY. Wearing pajamas all day can be great, but it can also be a sign of depression, or even madness... As professors, we've put ourselves into situations that scare the pants off us. Writing and research are terrifying as well as exciting-- teaching is often scary, too-- and wearing pajamas all day may be a sign of comfort, but I think it can also be frightening-- there's always a a nagging question about slipping away from the "normal" world...

To be honest, I don't have much patience with our collective anxiety--and I get particularly annoyed with my own. But I think it is anxiety, rather than discontent, in my case anyway. We'll never change the basic causes for this: it's a scary job. But we can certainly work on changing some of the contributing factors: economic fairness may be an inmpossible goal-- but every step toward economic equity will help us focus our anxieties where they really belong--on the daunting tasks of research, writing, and teaching.
 
not to be too upbeat, but I'm not feeling crabby these days. I did take work on my vacation -- actually excited about the new course. I know I'm new to the tt position, and if I were looking for work this spring, I'm not sure it would have been in academics. however, in my 7th year teaching here, I'm just really happy to be doing something I enjoy. I'll probably be crabbier when I do something for the 25th time, but I suspect that I'll be on the lookout for a way to keep it fresh. (yea, I know, it's the beginning of the semester and I *did* have a four week break).
 
I guess I'll weigh in with an adjunct's perspective. First, the notion of a "month off with pay" is unfathomable to me. For me and most adjuncts it's a "month off *without* pay," and given that most of us live month to month, a month without pay can be devestating. I spend the entire Fall term preparing for what will be the month off *without* pay -- it takes that long to be able to save enough to get through the month. Remember, too, that this month off comes with the added financial burden of the Christmas holidays. In preparing for the MOWOP (month off without pay), one needs to take this into account -- or be really good at making Christmas gifts, which I'm not. It also comes at a time when utility bills begin to sky rocket because of Winter heating costs.

The more affluent may scoff at this, but on an adjunct salary, ones pesonal budget *is* this tight.

And just for the sake of disclosure, I am not a kid (I'm in my early 40's). So this is not a temporary state of affairs, or a romaticized rough patch on the way to something better. There is no better that will be coming my way. This is it. Also, becasue some assume adjuncts are this rag-tag bunch with partial degress, or permanent ABD status, or whatever, I have a Ph.D. from an R1. I've published, and even edited a book. However, because I need to teach twice the number of classes per year that a t-t faculty member teaches, which will garner me around half of what they make, research has fallen off the radar.

So let me be clear. To the tenured class's 3/3 load, I teach 6/6, and earn half their salary. Actually, the situation is even worse because I routinely teach 3 classes over the Summer. Again, this earns me around half.

Now, to the question 'well, if you dislike it so much, or are so poorly paid, why don't you just get another job ... this is America after all." Uhh ... yeah. There seems to be an assumption, particularly among the more affluent, (and this includes non-academics) that there are jobs everywhere and one just has to choose which one they would like. I have no idea where people get this impression, but it's simply not the case. Perhaps, like Reagan in the 1980's, they just casually open the help wanted pages and see ad after ad and think, "see, there are jobs all over the place, what are they griping about?"

I needed some extra money one time and so applied for very low level jobs - dishwasher in a restaurant, janitor in an office building, security guard. Funny thing, no one would hire me. With a Ph.D. in an evergreen discipline, they assumed (rightly) that I was going to stay for about three weeks and then quit. So, I tried for some clerical office jobs, and met with the same result. And this time, I wasn't going to quit. I figured if I could get into some low level office job, I would get benefits and a salary, and if I need to supplement the weekly income, I could teach an evening class or two. But the irony struck again: they wouldn't hire me for the clerical job because I was "over qualified." And when I asked, "well, do you have any senior management positions available for which I would be qualified," they called security and escorted me out of the building.

(okay, that last bit isn't true, but you get my point)

Here's the rub. Short of returning to school to earn a masters in some vocation or non-academic profession, most adjuncts are trapped. To get out, they either have to return to school to earn a professionally applicable MA, or be an auto-didact in some professional field. One requires funds, the other time -- two very scarce commodities for an adjunct.

"What about teaching high school?" See above.

I really like my job. I love teaching. What I dislike are the conditions under which I labor. In my own case, I would willingly give up tenure for the sake of a decent salary, an average degree of job security (e.g. year to year), and health benefits. (I can't recall the last time I saw a doctor)

I realize this is a controversial and relatively unpopular position these days. But from my position, and at my age, I would happily accept the trade off. Also, I'm not too worried about academic freedom. I mean really, what am I going to say that will upset anyone that much? Politically, I'm on the left, but I still doubt I am ever going to proffer a position so controversial that it would require the protective shield of "academic freedom." And to the slippery slope argument, all I can honestly say is my need for a stable job, liveable income, and health benefits outweighs these concerns.

I admit that I no longer care about research. I once did, but now I see it simply as a requirement that one fulfills on their way to tenure. One's article on x, or their book on x, y, and z has a brief moment in the light and then goes into the pile with all the rest. Now before I get flamed for this view, let me also say that I realize that while in the process of writing articles and books, a tenure-aspiring academic views research differently. And had I gotten a t-t job back when I was still in the running, I may have thought differently as well. (I've been out of a grad. school for too long, I'm apriori disqualified for t-t now) But ultimately, I think it's difficult to argue that for all but a few, academic research fades into the archives of past issues and out-of-print lists.

So this returns me to my intial view: research is a requirement to be completed on the way to tenure, and tenure brings paid Summer's of gardening and traveling with the kids. There's nothing wrong with this per se. One can still be a productive professor, a great teacher, a good colleague, etc. And one can still be an author while gardening and travelling and getting together with friends. Given 4 months off during the Summer, and/or sabaticals, one can probably garden *and* write.

As I said above, I would willingly abandon Summer's off, sabaticals, the whole nine yards, for the level of income and job security that most office clerks are given. Here's something I think every day. The wonderful woman in the department office who basically runs the place, and who has an Associates degree, earns more money than I do, has full health benefits, and has better job security. (the chair will not be telling her we have to cut back next semester because enrollments are lower than expected) That's a sobering realization.

Sorry if I've gone on too long.
 
Second Line? I empathize with you a lot, and I have a suggestion: do another career at least part time. For your own mental health and future security, you need it.

You seem to be mentally trapped in a place where you feel that you're screwed where you are, and you can't get out. I was exactly in that state of mind a few years ago, and it's horribly corrosive. Breaking out of it is very important.

As many longtime readers of this blog have heard at one point or another, I'm a soft-money researcher in the sciences. Back then, I was a post-doc, which is where young scientists tend to get stuck in the holding pattern. I had not gone to a particularly competitive grad school and didn't have enough publications under my belt yet, so it was going to be hard going breaking out of the pack, and I was rapidly approaching my sell-by date. I was feeling pretty darn sorry for myself, too.

Then, my lab hit a funding glitch that would force me down to half pay. I had to choose between taking an offered post-doc position with a funded lab, trying to find a teaching-only faculty gig (not a bad choice, but not why I went into science in the first place), quitting entirely and changing careers, or trying to use the situation to do something more unusual.

I had a moment of clarity and decided that putting in another round on the post-doc treadmill was not what I wanted, even though I liked the PI in question, and we're still friends. I was tired of feeling like a victim.

While I could have found a non-scientific job, I decided to take the drop to half-time pay, write grants and papers like a maniac, and kick-start another, completely unrelated career at the same time. This was exhausting, difficult, stressful, and not hugely remunerative at first. It was also intensely liberating.

OK, fast-forward to now. I have been back full-time as a scientist for two years (the grant-writing worked), and was promoted last May to an assistant-professor equivalent. The position is not tt, but it suits me just fine; I like the flexibility. I teach a little, do a lot of research and writing, and have more fun than is actually allowable by law.

I'm also co-owner of a computer consulting business, and I am having to turn away work in my other career (Web design; I'm an autodidact) because I have to sleep sometime. The pay is actually better than my scientific salary.

OK, I work 60+ hours a week, for not super-high pay. But both jobs are challenging and fun, even when a Web client is spacing out on me or it's 48 hours to the grant deadline. They are also flexible as to time, so if I want to work until 10 PM one day and then do three hours the next, that's fine. I get the fun of teaching without the grind. I work with intelligent, interesting people who know things I don't. I get to buy a snorkel and fins as a business expense! And, if I decide to leave academia, the business experience I've been picking up will stand me in very good stead. My life Does Not Suck.

I don't know much about you. Don't know your discipline, don't know where you are. Here's what I do know:

1)You teach a 6/6. Therefore, your job is inherently modular. If you find something to do for 30 hours a semester at $50 an hour, you can do a 5/5 or a 4/5, as you like. Most other folks don't have this flexibility. And yes, freelance work pays this much or more, and I don't live in a major city, either.

2) All academics have skills that are applicable to the business world, even if it's something like freelance copyediting. If you've written peer-reviewed papers and edited a book, as you say you have, you're golden. You might not be able to get a FT job doing it right off the bat, but there's a lot of contract work out there that pays well by the hour.

Heck, if you're physically up to it, try something more off-the-wall, like high-end ornamental landscaping. An ability to draw on the liberal-education parts of your degree can be unexpectedly useful.

3) Above all, don't go for the obvious, low-level punch-a-clock jobs. They will make you even more depressed. And don't just keep doing the same-old, same-old, 6/6 adjunct grind. You're not happy now, and it's not going to get better unless you change something.
 
Second Line's comments are very sobering. I would urge him or her to google the archived blog Invisible Adjunct and look for links to resources like WRK4US a list-serv for ph.ds looking for jobs outside of the academy. There has got to be something better for you.

I thought that most of the discussion on the EA post turned on the very low pay that DD's cc offers to adjuncts. DD, what is the going rate for substitute teachers in the public schools in your area? I checked last night and here, if I subbed 28 times (equivalent to the 28 class meetings of the course I regularly adjunct,and I recognize that high school subbing is a very different thing and an all-day commitment,) I would make $2100. So I am $800 ahead by adjuncting. I think that the pay of substitute teachers (60 college hours required, no teaching certificate) provides a floor for adjunct pay).

The larger question of what would be an more equitable system was unaddressed. I've been thinking about it alot but haven't come up with anything. I'm taking the semester off from adjuncting to write and already the dean is emailing me about teaching in the fall! blah.

I do think that powerlessness is a big part of the crabbiness and level of complaint in academy. The only people I know who rival long-term adjuncts in terms of unhappiness are new t-t assistant professors at R1 schools! I've known several who have walked away. Rising expectations are a part. At the R1 where I got my degree, faculty said openly that the level of work that they needed for tenure 20 years ago would not even get them hired today. I've been on hiring committees as a grad student where we hired brand-new ph.ds who had already published a book as grad students with a contract for another one based on the diss research! Two books for tenure is now nearly the norm (plus dozens of book reviews and numerous articles). And the pay today for those brand-new ph.ds won't get them a house or a lifestyle anything like the salaries of 20 years ago. And then for all of us there is email from students!! I'm not teaching this semester and it is such a relief not to have to field emails from students several times a day. I hadn't realized what a drain it was on my time (and how it often increases anxiety).

You also get people who love research and writing who come on the job market in years where most of the jobs are at 4/4 teaching colleges, a recipe for unhappiness. Folks who only want to teach at the college level have a hard time getting the degree at all. Plus the lack of control over where one works, the difficulty of two academic career couples, etc. there's lots of unhappiness at every level.
 
Links
WRK4US a listserv and website with lots of great information for Ph.Ds who to work outside the academy.
https://lists.duke.edu/sympa/info/wrk4us

Invisible Adjunct - my life changed for the better the day I discovered this site, I spent three weeks reading every single post, comment, and link!
http://www.invisibleadjunct.com/
 
Since Second Line did such a good job picking up on my initial point, I don't mind stepping back in to make my point again. Obviously, we can all get better jobs. Hell, construction pays better than adjuncting. The issue is while adjuncts scurry to save themselves, Corporate U becomes more emboldened to cut corners and slash personnel in YOUR department. When you hear talk of PT profs willingly tossing tenure overboard for a steady paycheck, know that this is not an accident. It is death by a thousand concessions. It's not the adjuncts they are after, it is YOU. Read Jerome Karabel's "The Chosen" to understand that (historically) major corrections to otherwise rudderless good ship higher ed come not from administration, alumni, students, or parents. They come from faculty. As well intentioned as passing a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card to Second Line is, it glosses over the overiding problem in higher education: The commondification of the university affects professors, students, and, ultimately,the future of higher ed itself.
Renee's point about anxiety is well taken. Academe has a intrisic and historic sense of paranoia that would make Joe McCarthy blush. What else would happen in a universe comprised of tiny little worlds where the relative stakes are so low. This sense of unease existed well before the wholesale exploitation of adjuncts, but I will say that it dovetails neatly into the unwillingness of faculty to step forward on our behalf, and for adjuncts themselves to take a concerted stand. Sooner or later, something will give, long after Second Line has found job that pays for the rent AND the groceries, and other adjuncts have found a saner, but less rewarding, line of work. But by then, the effects on Higher Ed will be real, and in some ways irreversible.
But you people figure it out while we check the want ads.
 
Honestly, the crabbiness of adjuncts doesn't strike me as mysterious. The causes are pretty obvious. I was wondering about the crabbiness of the securely-employed.

That said, Professor Meanypants' comment strikes me as opaque. S/he writes that "While adjuncts scurry to save themselves, Corporate U [whatever that is] becomes more emboldened to cut corners and slash personnel." It depends on what 'scurry' means. If it means 'find something else to do,' then no.

If the reserve army of adjuncts didn't exist, we couldn't resort to using adjuncts to replace full-time positions. We'd have to balance the budget in some other way: lower pay across the board, eliminate certain programs, major tuition hikes, etc. (In a perfect world, we'd get larger subsidies from the public sector, but I'm not holding my breath.)

One of the subtexts of this blog since its inception has been to encourage adjuncts who are feeling exploited to recognize that they're right, and to act on that recognition. Don't assume that cries of the heart will lead to employment -- they won't -- and don't assume that colleges are actually sitting on huge piles of money that we can be shamed into converting to t-t positions. We aren't. Instead, drop the romantic idea of a 'calling,' recognize that teaching is a job like any other, and find a job worthy of you.

The exploitation of adjuncts is made possible by a confluence of factors, one of which is basic supply and demand. If adjuncts stop adjuncting, the model will collapse, and that might just be a good thing. Even if we never get that far, if some long-suffering adjuncts get the message and develop other ways of making a living, I would see that as a positive outcome.

I couldn't agree more with Dicty. The traditional model is badly broken; success now, outside of those few lucky early superstars, comes from finding new paths. If adjuncting is a way to pay the rent while starting that new path, I wish you well. If it looks like a life sentence, I suggest taking a cold, hard look at what's actually going on. That's not because I think academe is a meritocracy -- far from it -- but because there are some cold budgetary facts that moralistic rants won't change. Denial ain't just a river in Egypt, as they say.
 
Whoa! Rent AND groceries? Wow, what a charmed life.

Thanks for the IA suggestions. I was an active contributor to her site back in the day -- though under a different pseudonym. As for WRK4US, I used to read that site, but the problem there was that when all was said and done, it seemed that most were either supported by a spouse, had family money, or some other means of monetary support while they re-trained and re-credentialed.

But as Prof. MP makes clear, these suggestions, while well intended and kind, miss the point. Or perhaps they are tacitly making a different point; namely, the system of caual employment for academics isn't going to change or get better, so get out now.

Now there's some defeatism.
 
DD, your post appeared as I was writing mine. Let me ask you a question: what would adminsrtators do if either of the following happened: 1. a nation wide adjunct strike; 2., or the pool of adjuncts really did dry up?

Is everyone in academe just crossing their fingers?
 
Thanks for the red pencil DD. By “Corporate U,” I refer to arguments made more eloquently and elaborately in “University Inc.” by Jennifer Washburn and “Universities in the Marketplace” by Derek Bok. By “scurry,” well, I apologize for the verb. Perhaps my subconscious was channeling the way I often feel as an adjunct. In terms of words I didn’t use, I didn’t intend to “shame” anyone into action. As I have stated before, the adjunct system will eventually collapse on its own accord. It is the larger consequences for the college that you will be stuck with that concerns me.
When you pointed out in an earlier post that you find yourself relying on “Beige” to toss a pulse in one of your classrooms, are you insinuating that (in some way) it’s the adjunct’s fault for that situation? Are you stating that if we found other lines of work, then there would be no need to exploit us and field zombies in front of tuition paying students? So, I’m not the victim. I’m part of the problem.
Most adjuncts are long past the stage of delusional idealism. And in terms of opaque language, what the exactly does a “job that is worthy of me” look like? Teaching is the worthiest pursuit I have yet encountered. In terms of additonal income, I have done a number of things in order to get in that classroom and give all I have for a roomfull of freshman. But for administrators, that job will become meaningless if “Beige” is the inevitable result. "Biege" didn't exist 10-15 years ago. "Biege" is coming, and bringing backup. That is my point. We will all move on from adjuncting sooner or later. We are not fools. You will be left with the result. Good grief! I’m trying to point out a problem, and I’m getting a lecture from the Dean.

So, where’s my mailbox and when do I get paid?
 
"perhaps they are tacitly making a different point; namely, the system of casual employment for academics isn't going to change or get better..."

Exactly. I apologize if that was merely tacit. I'll state it explicitly: it isn't going to change or get 'better,' if by 'better' we mean more humane.

If you're on the losing end of the current system, and you hate it, then by all means, I encourage you to explore (and create!) other options. Yes, it's harder than hell, and yes, there but for the grace of God go I. Granted. But neither of those changes the basic fact that the cost pressures on higher ed are going to get worse before they get better. That's beyond your control and mine.

Beige is neither a victim -- he chose to show up -- nor a cause, but a symptom.

I fully agree that the current system is broken. What the next thing will look like, I don't know. I'm rooting for a system of long-term renewable contracts, but that's me.

Adjunct strike? Not gonna happen. No adjuncts available? We'd make up the cost difference elsewhere: teaching loads, f-t salaries, tuition, etc. Money doesn't appear just because a cause is just.
 
Prof. Meanypants, I suspect that the dean, like all administrators, is taking a longer view and is counting on two things: a surplus of retirees who seek to remain in the work force, albeit in a diminished capacity, post-retirement; and that stream of freshly minted Ph.D.s who think adjuncting is step 1 on their way to Summer's off gardening and dining elegantly under a mid-summer's night, all while discussing Gramsci.

(and on a side note, I'm still chortling over this: "Beige" is coming, and bringing backup." Amen, brother)
 
Just to be clear, I wasn't being crabby in my remarks, I was pointing out that some colleges don't have a one month gap between semesters. A statement of fact can be perceived as a complaint in a text-only forum such as this one where intonation has to supplied by the reader. (So the reader must have assumed we would be crabby when reading the comments!)

I was well aware of the workload when I took this job after decades in the "research prof" role, and do it because I love teaching. I put up with my administrative tasks because they are a necessary part of enabling the part I want to do.

My problem is personal: that I could have sent most of those 18 jobs to the printer in October, or last June for that matter, but am not yet organized enough to get it on my Round Tuit list. My great success was in getting it taken care of before Christmas this year! Next year - Thanksgiving!!!
 
The fundamental problem is that the basic requirement for a job these days is a college degree. At that point, institutions start to become accrediting mechanisms rather than training (or self-improvement) mechanisms, so students begin to (quite reasonably) seek accreditation for the lowest possibly monetary and effort cost. This means that "Beige" is as valuable to them as an excellent teacher -- perhaps moreso -- and thus there is no return to quality.

If what you're wanting to do is offer quality in exchange for additional money, that means you're screwed. If you believe that quality matters inherently, you're also screwed.

My sister will graduate from high school essentially a college sophomore; her entire senior year will consist of AP courses. The implication is clear -- high schools have entirely given up on having a meaningful senior year and simply offer college courses early. This is a symptom of the uselessness of a high school diploma in a general sense.

The implication is that while higher ed is a growth industry, it is not an industry in which quality of instruction is going to be seriously rewarded any time soon. The only antidote for this is to have large enough private sector opportunities that colleges are forced to bid you away from them. Don't try to offer valueless quality; offer valuable quality.

Of course, when the Baby Boomers finally fricking retire, that'll take some of the strain off.
 
Kimmit! You have put your finger on something I have been puzzling over for a long time.

Why students put up with ancient, should-have-retired five years ago faculty AND the ever-present adjunct at a school that costs $18,000 a year in tuition! (the mid-sized, mid-quality university where I teach) But from their perspective (largely moneyed families) its not that costly, the university's enormous PR and marketing division make sure that the school gets good press, and the students don't have to work very hard.

They get the same credential as the big R1 in town and don't have to do as much work (or as much work at a liberal arts college) but its more prestigious than the cc (sorry DD).

D'oh!! I get, I finally get it. That's why the "award-winning" core curriculum has been taught by non-department affliated adjuncts for the past decade, that's why the PR and marketing departments are so big, that's why the students tolerate the clueless near retirees, and the clueless first-time adjuncts, and the burned-out ones too.

A BA is a BA these days. Quality counts for little (unless you are going very high end, and these students could never qualify for that)
 
I wonder if there's ground to be gained by breaking the question into two parts: "Why does everybody seem to talk crabby talk all the time?", and "How does it come to pass that they actually are crabby?"

I'm thinking self-fulfilling echo-chamber prophecy, with a dash of selection bias, for the latter: People who end up in these positions hear stories of pressure pressure pressure all the time they're scrabbling their way to the "top"... and arguably any complaining professor is well-suited to be a professor, because she is one.

It's probably a default mental state to link complaining to success. We act in the way [unconsciously] calculated to provide the greatest chance of success.
 
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