Monthly Archives: August 2014

A fine hoax of attitudes towards adjuncts in the Chronicle

A very smart & apt takedown of what we hope was a hoax perpetrated by the Chronicle.

Bryan Alexander

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERACongratulations to the Chronicle of Higher Education for running a very convincing hoax. They recently published a “letter to the editor”, entitled “Is That Whining Adjunct Someone We Want Teaching Our Young?” It’s a terrific attempt to mimic the attitude of academics who deeply, thoroughly disdain adjuncts.

The spoof has many fine qualities:

  • Intergenerational attitude.  The “author” cites her many years of experience and implicit age (“I have had full-time employment with benefits both inside and outside working in academia for over 30 years”), in order to set up an unfavorable contrast with younger adjuncts (“we do live in a new world where every child is special”, “society has raised a bunch of entitled young adults who claim to be victimized”, “our new generation of graduates”).  Adjuncts’ youth matters a great deal here, since it lets the author speak from greater experience, wisdom, and hierarchical position. Intergenerational conflict within academia…

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Academic Stereotype Alert: #CreepyFakeGuy (Guest Post)

Sherlock

If I fancy myself a Sherlock Holmes-like consulting editor (minus the drug use and high-functioning sociopathology, of course), then I value my Irregulars for their help, insight, and awesomeness. I have a new one now: she calls herself Penny Provocateur.

I’ve seen Penny here and there around social media, and I know she’s the real deal. She’s had some experiences (forgettable ones) with a certain type of academic. She calls him #CreepyFakeGuy, but he could just as easily be That Professor, That Pseudo-Activist, That Professor Trivago Guy, That Kiss-Ass, That Creepy Married Guy (who compliments your new haircut or profile pic a little too eagerly), and so on.

You know the type:

Other Trivago Guy

Like and relate to what Penny has to say? Comment below so she can see it.


Academic Stereotype Alert: #CreepyFakeGuy

by

Penny Provocateur, Adjunct Agent

If you’ve worked in academia long enough, you know that it attracts certain types. They can be found on nearly every campus. This serves as your new school year’s warning to beware of #CreepyFakeGuy, since he can exist as a grad student or faculty member.

CreepyFakeGuy will be just the right amount of nice and subservient to the faces of all in charge: program directors, chairs, and deans. He seems very compliant and docile. He is beloved by those in charge. He will be given the best assignments and special tasks and/or classes, regardless of whether he is the most qualified or in line for such items.

CreepyFakeGuy gets accepted to many conferences, and when you find yourself at the same one, you must attend his session because you fear he will give a full report on the situation to your chair. He’s second cousin to #FancyNewGuy, yet without the fake charm, accomplishments, and pedigree. You don’t have to worry about him attending your panel: your paper and presentation are far beneath his concern. He’s too busy trying to get a leg up than return the collegiality you’ve shown him.

At this conference you uncover CreepyFakeGuy’s secret; the answer to how he attends so many conferences on his adjunct status: He doesn’t go!

Yes, confirms another attendee, he’s done this many times. Secretly, you would like to share this fact far and wide and see if he leaves all these conference acceptances on his CV…regardless, you know, of whether he actually attends the conference.

CreepyFakeGuy also acts…oddly…around the female-presenting people he encounters. There was that one time he texted you repeatedly. How did he get your number? Off the interdepartmental directory, of course! It was weird. Later, you learn he has done this to other grad students and adjuncts. Always the people the least likely to confront him. Nothing CreepyFakeGuy does is clearly reportable, but you know that feeling in the pit of your stomach that something isn’t quite right? His interactions with the female students cause it. None of this is exactly documentable evidence, thus he goes on winning them into his confidence and raking in the good reviews.

sexualharassmentoffice380x260_crop380w

For him, the directory isn’t just a directory: it’s also his potential dating pool.

CreepyFakeGuy seems to have another problem talking with his female students. Now, you thought it was just your dislike of CreepyFakeGuy coloring your perception of this, but then your guy friend brought it up without prompting. CreepyFakeGuy definitely talks too much about their personal lives with the women: his and theirs. Ew.

Your guy friend didn’t confront him either.

CreepyFakeGuy is a departmental favorite. It would look like hating Mister Rogers. No one would believe it anyway. CreepyFakeGuy reminds you of a Golden Retriever that isn’t very bright: he constantly does things that are wrong but then looks so charmingly that everyone just pats him on the head instead of whacking him with the newspaper, thus he never gets any better.

Bad Dog

Just to be a bit more galling, CreepyFakeGuy has a reputation as an activist, though he has only really been seen acting. As if he goes to multitudes of conferences. As if he is a specialist in his field. As if he’s a feminist scholar. As if he’s far superior to the rest of us. In fact, the actual activists find his efforts lacking. Some of them think he might just be the administration’s mole. No one will say it because no one would believe it.

If you find yourself in the company of CreepyFakeGuy, I suggest you develop a persona and only ever feed him false information regarding your research and activism. If you are the kind of person CreepyFakeGuy is attracted to, quickly start a rumor that the phone number given out on the directory is wrong.

Good luck! And consider washing your hands after you see him next time. Don’t want to catch the creepy from him.

Kiss Ass Somecard

Not Since 1998

Something happened today that hasn’t happened in 16 years: It was the first day of school, and I wasn’t there.

I’m thrilled about it.

When I decided that Spring 2014 would be my last-ever semester as a professor, I expected some weirdness—and not a little bittersweetness—around key times: when I taught my last first class in January, when I submitted my final grades in May, and when I’d ordinarily be prepping syllabi and checking class rosters in August. My final-final semester felt appropriately bittersweet: I was conscious from the first day of classes that this was it, that every teaching moment would be my last.

Now that it’s late August, I don’t feel wistful or confused. I feel hopeful about the new career path I’m walking. My social media feeds have been teeming with friends and (former) colleagues talking about their syllabi, book orders, beginning-of-year meetings, and so on. I’ve thought some about what I’d usually be doing at this point–meeting new students, going over readings and course policies, catching up with my work wife, seeing the typical “Look at me” performances of most students on the first day, watching freshmen being freshmen, and other typical things.

If I’m guilty of a bit of humblebragging, I apologize to the scores of frustrated adjuncts still on those hamster wheels universities love to keep them on. I have 15 First Days of the Year under my belt, yet I feel good that today is not the 16th. If it were, I would’ve again been hitting RESET on my career: same salary, same (low) level of power, same disrespect for my experience and seniority, same “You deserve a full-time position” platitudes from well meaning colleagues who haven’t been on the academic job market for a decade or more.

As The Consulting Editor, I’m not only riffing on Sherlock Holmes and betraying my bookish–nerdy tendencies. I’m also opening myself up to different kinds of projects and professional relationships in ways I couldn’t as an academic:

If I want to keep teaching classes about authors I love at a local bookstore, so be it.

If I want to volunteer to help organize an annual literary festival, great. 

If I want to write a short piece on Exorcist III for a colleague’s essay collection, I do…even if it means I have to watch this creepy–brilliant scene a few more times.

If I want to edit non–scholarly book manuscripts for good pay and even better experience, let’s start tracking the changes.

If I want to remind a potential client that my time has value and that I no longer need to do projects for “valuable CV experience” alone, I can (and have). 

If I want to collaborate with someone on adapting my favorite Melville work for film or television, I can (and have been). Seguid vuestro jefe.

If I want to write yet another blog post or article critical of American higher education, sign me up. (As if I’ve ever had a problem writing about such things.)

I only have to think, What will this pay? and Will it be interesting work?, as opposed to How will this look on my CV? or How will a department head or search committee chair value this experience?. I’ve always been flexible and well rounded professionally, and being many things to many people has been as fulfilling as it’s been easy.

***

Interlude: I’ve said it before, but I need to say it again: none of this would be possible if my lovely wife weren’t a very supportive and encouraging breadwinner. I know I’m luckier than other frustrated academics or budding freelancers, and I continue to do what I can to pay it forward. She’s not on Twitter, or I’d link to her handle. No worries, though: I probably tweet enough for two people.

***

I’ve also been able to ratchet up my advocacy on behalf of adjuncts and students—without any I hope a search committee doesn’t see these tweets and blog posts… fears. I’ve done great work with some activist colleagues I love and respect (such as that petition you’ve hopefully heard about by now). Starting this blog—thank you for the nudge, Katie Pryal—has been great, too. I’ve written a few of my own pieces, and I’ve run great guest posts so far about the decision to leave academia and the #fancy party reserved for full-time faculty. I’m always looking for more guest posts: contact me if you need to write, holler, or vent about something related to higher ed. (Expect one tomorrow about #CreepyFakeGuy.)

As I see it, I need to define today not as the absence of something I did for a decade and a half, but as the presence of possibility and future success. I have time–a lot of it, hopefully–to evolve as a freelancer. The end, as a much better and smarter writer has it, is in the beginning and lies far ahead.

 

Refusing the Adjunct Route

Dr. Kassorla's Blog

Refusing the Adjunct Route

I’m unemployed, but I won’t be applying for any adjunct positions in English.

I have worked as an adjunct before, but I will do my best not work as an adjunct again because working as an adjunct will contribute to the destruction of my chosen profession.

Right now, colleges are eliminating full-time positions, especially in fine arts and humanities, because they can get cheap adjunct labor.  There is no reason to hire a full-time professor for $50 or $60K plus benefits when they can get eight adjuncts to take the place of that professor for less than $20K a year and they can skip the benefits.  It’s a great bargain!

With all the savings on humanities professors, the colleges can afford to pay more and more money to their professors in law, business, and science–and they can afford to give their administrators more and more benefits, pay, and perks.

Meanwhile, 

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Let Them Eat Cake…But Not OUR Cake (Guest Post)

How can you not read something by someone calling herself “Lady Spitfire”?

The first guest post I hosted went very well, and I’m hoping this one does just as well. This piece struck a chord with me, and it’ll do the same with many other current and former adjuncts who are…

*equally valued in the department…except when it comes to #fancy parties with the dean, high-profile job candidates, donors, or boards of trustees;

*expected to maintain an active research agenda…but are deemed ineligible for funding workshops hosted by the department or school;

*encouraged to travel to conferences and boost their professional profiles…while given practically no funding or logistical support to do so.

Because I’m nothing if not a gentleman, I’ll let the lady take it from here. Lady Spitfire’s party has started. (Seriously, how can you not love her name?)


 

Let Them Eat Cake…But Not OUR Cake 

Lady Spitfire

I was recently invited to our annual meet and greet/welcome back party at school. It was swimming with administrative sharks suits. You probably know the drill: chubby white men laughing at their own jokes, Stepford-like wives desperately trying to mask their contempt while fiddling with their pearls, and (every vegetarian’s wet dream) a smoked pig carcass, complete with a shiny apple in its mouth. I had to wear a polyester dress, which crushed me on every level imaginable, but I was told it was a necessary evil for the greater good of camaraderie.

 

Gosford Park fancy

The day before in our departmental meeting, we were causally told, “Oh, you can bring your significant other, but adjuncts are not invited, only full-time faculty.” Sitting between two part-timers, I could hear grumbling, something muffled between “fuckers” and “figures.” I left the meeting thinking I should have said something, but I did not. Later, however, that nonchalant comment really began to piss me off. So, I did what any red-blooded woman would do: I let it fester and build to the point of unbridled rage.

When I arrived at the business causal soiree, I staked out my territory strategically: cocktails, cool people to talk to, unpronounceable strawberry desserts…and the dean. She is a nice enough woman. I have no qualms about her. However, and perhaps this is unfair as an educator, there always seems to be an “us” vs. “them” line in the sand in academia. With us—being the lowly workers in the field—really knowing what it is like to toil on the front lines, and them—stiffs in their fancy offices—making lofty judgments about pedagogies and “flipped classrooms,” even though they haven’t stepped foot in one in the last 25 years.

So, like a tiger stalking its prey, I waited for an in. I didn’t know how, or if, she would react, but I wanted to ask her one question. When the crowds parted, I stated my name and shook her hand. We made small talk about the weather and traffic, and then I asked her, “Why aren’t adjuncts invited to this dinner?”

She took a sip of wine and said, “Well, it’s for full-time faculty only.” I said, “I see. Did you know that we have 30 full-timers in our department and 37 adjuncts? I guess that makes them the true faculty majority then, huh?”

She then gave me one of those smiles. To the outside world, it could be interpreted as “Well, it was nice talking to you.” Knowing I hit a nerve, I interpreted it as “Bitch, not now. Not here. Who do you think you are?” The small talk soon dissolved, and she quickly disappeared into another crowd of fatties laughing at their own jokes, complete with crab dip this time.

Gosford Park Maggie

In looking to the moral for this story, I haven’t one. I just know adjuncts (having been one myself for a number of years) are marginalized. To put it mildly.

Whether it be an ever-popular misplaced invite, or not even being listed on the faculty webpage, it’s that underlining feeling: the haves and have nots. You are part of the department, more than half, but you don’t have a name. You are what’s-her-face down the hall. You are the person they call in a crisis, just days before a semester begins, but they cannot spare an office space for you. Sorry about that. We do, after all, really need that broom closet for those crappy old printers.

I left the party not feeling happy or sad, just numb. It would go on for hours. Many suits would get shitfaced drunk and hit on GAs. They would throw out overpriced food that could feed a family of four for weeks. Walking out of the double doors, I passed a few co-workers—adjuncts—going to their night classes. They were smiling genuine smiles, actually happy to get to class. As I fumbled in my purse to find my keys, I burped up that decadent strawberry dessert. It tasted like pig.

Gosford Park meh

On Talking to Parents and Students about Debt, Misadministrated Funds, and other College Issues

More greatness on what college parents need to know.

CACHE

If you’re a parent or guardian of someone debating or entering into college, I, an adjunct faculty member at a Chicago private, non-profit art school, have a few words of advice and some issues to consider for you and your new students, to accompany the recent article by Joe Fruscione at PBS NewsHour’s Making Sen$s:

Make them think long and hard about whether they’d rather set themselves up a cozy little bunker in case the shit goes down (or they just can’t find full-time work, which is exceedingly likely), or piecemeal work together like a patch on an Ellis Island jacket while owing tens of thousands of dollars. Tell them you aren’t kidding.

Then tell them about principle, interest, and how debt breeds when you go through deferment, forbearance, or default, because the concepts are in a language foreign to them. But the answer is easy, they’ll understand—like rabbits.

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What I learned at COCAL XI

Here comes trouble

[FYI: I had planned to write about COCAL already, but my union, APSCUF, asked me to write a piece for their blog. This is the piece I wrote for them, which will cross-post there. If you follow the APSCUF blog and want to talk about any of the issues here in terms of internal union discussions, let’s have that conversation there. –SK]

First, a loud thank you to APSCUF for sending me to New York City August 4-5 for the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor’s 11th biennial conference. If you’re unfamiliar with COCAL, the organization has emerged since the late 1990s as a–if not the–central venue in which adjunct activists collaborate to develop strategies and tactics to win better working conditions for contingent faculty. COCAL brings together contingent/adjunct activists from Canada and Mexico (both of which have hosted conferences) with their US counterparts, understanding contingency as a globalizing phenomenon.

I learned a lot at…

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