Academic Stereotype Alert: #CreepyFakeGuy


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


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.


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.


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Let Them Eat Cake…But Not OUR Cake

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.


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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My Long Academic Goodbye

This is the first of what I hope are several guest posts. Kathryn M. Peterson contacted me after one of my (ahem, many) tweets about the petition I cowrote and offered to write something about the adjunct situation. I happily accepted, because I knew she’d do something good and because I want The Consulting Editor to do different kinds of things.

Kathryn’s fine piece is also listed on Chronicle Vitae’s #QuitLit spreadsheet. When you’re done reading this, visit the #QuitLit list for more voices and stories of other long (or short) academic goodbyes. There are almost 80 stories so far, hopefully with more to come.

I’m always happy to let people do guest posts about anything related to academia, adjuncting, or activism. You can be you. You can be anonymous. You can be pseudonymous. (Interested? Comment below or email me.) Regardless, the most important thing is that you get your story out there. The more that adjuncts and others on academia’s Island of Misfit Toys take control of the narrative of contingency, the more success we’ll ultimately have, and the more we can #FixHigherEd.



My Academic Long Goodbye

Kathryn M. Peterson

I remember the day I decided not to seek a tenure-track job.

I was standing in my backyard after Hurricane Ike, looking over the fence at my neighbor’s flattened house, and talking to a friend about the academic job market. It was a weird thing to talk about right then—I guess I was trying to see where all the pieces of my life fit back together. I was in the middle of writing my dissertation for my Ph.D. in Creative Writing. I was also worried that my novel was becoming something other than what my program valued—more commercial and less literary.

“What will the academy think?” I asked her. “Will this be the kind of novel I can justify for tenure?”

“Honestly, Kathryn, you sound really hot for the book. Why not just go for it and forget what the academy thinks?”

Forget what the academy thinks. Not so easy, since the job I’d trained for for over a decade was what I’d always hoped would support my art. Not so easy, since by that time I’d spent the past decade or more trying to squeeze myself into an artistic and intellectual box.

I stood there, looking at the large pecan tree that had smashed our fence and was still suspended precariously against another. I considered that we had recently purchased our house—a house, that, had it been a mere ten yards away, would have no longer existed. I also considered that we were building a life together that was geographically tied to Houston, since Mark works primarily for NASA.

I ran down the options:

  1. Find a place with both aerospace work and a vibrant college community where we could both get jobs. (Possible, but not likely.)
  2. Go on the job market widely and just see what I could find, and then see if he’d be willing to have a long-distance marriage. (Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen.)
  3. Or, and this seemed the most logical, I could stay where I was, finish the Ph.D., and then look for work outside the academy.

I already had been doing freelance writing and editing for most of the time I was a graduate student. Before Mark and I were married, I often worked three or four part-time jobs to support myself through my M.A. and later my M.F.A., since the T.A. stipend I received was barely enough to cover rent, and did not always come with a tuition waiver. The holes in my academic CV were obvious: the lack of publications and a mere handful of conference presentations. My non-academic resume, on the other hand, had potential.

In the end, the decision was pretty much a no-brainer. Mark and I would have a better life if I did not seek a tenure-track job, period.

I would also be less bound to convention and be able to write what and how I chose. So that day, standing there looking at the dirt dangling from tree roots and piles of gray branches lining the streets, I made the choice. I would finish the Ph.D., but I would not seek a tenure-track job.

I felt at peace for the first time in a long time.

But then there was the teaching. I had been, since 2002, teaching college classes at a medium-security Texas state prison, as an adjunct. For each of those classes, I receive(d) the nearly average $2500/semester that many adjuncts get. I worked my butt off for that job—often spending 12-15 hours a week just on one class. The prison students were so eager to learn, and it was very clear that I was changing lives.

But I was making no more than $13,000–$20,000 a year. Even after I defended my dissertation, there was no increase in my salary, and no acknowledgement from the administration beyond some vague promises that the creative writer at the campus “might retire, someday.” I stupidly held onto that, thinking that maybe I might actually get hired and that everything would just fall into place.

It didn’t. The more the University became corporatized, and the more state budgets slashed the prison program, the more precarious my situation became.

The final watershed moment came when, in 2011, my car broke down in the middle of a four-lane highway, and I just barely managed to get over to the side of the road before it stopped completely. Sitting there, in the parking lot in front of one of Texas’s ubiquitous strip malls, I realized I could not do it anymore. Had I been on my own and not married, I would have no health insurance, no way of paying most of my necessary bills, and certainly no money to pay to fix the car. I could not keep living like this.

It was that night, after we sold my totaled car for scrap, that I made the decision to look for other work. By some combination of chance and divine design, I found it—immediately. The work pays well and is rewarding, in different ways from the academy, but still rewarding.

I’ve continued to teach occasionally at the prison, usually just one class. But even that has worn thin. Now that I have my art and work that is finally paying me a respectable salary, I need to let go.

But God, it hurts.

When an inmate says to me “I did a second degree here because I really want to take your playwriting class,” it hurts. When an inmate walks back towards his cell after class and says “Now I go back to not being human,” it hurts. But most of all, it hurts because I know that as busy as I have become, I just haven’t been able to do the kind of job I want to do.

So I turned in my grades this morning and cried. I still don’t know if it’s the end, but I can no longer in good conscience continue feeding this system. I can no longer be part of the all-too-great supply of highly qualified individuals who work for what in many cases effectively becomes minimum wage. I have a friend who works full time at one college and still does not make enough to support her family, so has to adjunct 4, sometimes 5 more classes on top of it. Another friend teaches four classes at the same campus each semester and yet somehow, the university claims she is not full time.

How is this legal?

There are so many problems with the university system that it is hard to know where to begin a reform. But if those of us who have support by other means (spouses, other jobs) would leave, that might be one important step in the right direction. I also wonder what the impact would be if for at least one week, ALL adjunct professors and ALL adjunct allies did not teach. I know this is radical. But if all of us got together, around the country—hell, around the world—and decided this, what would happen? Would they be able to fire ALL of us?

We need to take desperate action if we want to begin to make changes. I realize that, now that I am pretty much out of the academy, I have nothing to lose, while most of my adjunct colleagues still do. But if we continue this tacit acceptance of what is essentially an abusive situation, nothing will change.

We need to begin now to take practical steps, like fighting for a government investigation into university practices. But just as importantly, we need to reconsider how we think of ourselves and our own self-worth. This situation simply cannot continue. This is not fair to any of us, and we need to stop taking it. Our students are worth more than this. So are we.

If I Could Talk to Parents of College Students, I’d Tell Them ________.

At this point, I shouldn’t be surprised that good things happen when I call on my Twitter hive mind. I asked my followers what one thing they think parents of college students need to know about higher ed, as well as what parents can do to help improve things.

I plan to use some of these comments in an upcoming blog post for PBS NewsHour’s Making Sense series, as well as an essay for an edited collection. Both pieces will address what parents should know about the schools they’re paying–likely with not a little debt–for their children to attend. Think your tuition checks are paying your children’s professors, parents? Think again.

Selections from the hive mind:

Fellow troublemaker Gordon Haber: Parents must insist their kids graduate w/out debt, even if that means a less fancy degree. Parents should lock their kids in the basement rather than let them attend for-profit colleges.

Amy Lynch-Biniek: Ask about labor conditions; insist that working conditions = learning conditions.

Another Amy (Amy Leggette) makes another great point: Discuss the purpose/expectations of : i.e., is it job preparation? An “experience”? Or ___?___.

Nyasha Junior: It is not a job guarantee.

Jeana Jorgensen agrees (and so do I): Double-plus like. Also, parents should know how many classes are taught by adjuncts/impermanent staff.

Jeana and Emily Schmidt are on the same page, apparently (I’m there, too): Ask about how many adjuncts teach at their kids’ colleges/universities, adjunct compensation, & adjunct access to library & office space.

These are of course wonderful, but there’s more to be said. Imagine you’re in a room with all the parents at a particular school. What would you tell them? What do they have every right to know about the school, students, faculty, and financial inequalities? (Better yet: a few of us troublemakers visit campuses around the country: we’ll call it The Tour Of Truth, or some such clever name.)

Think of something else you’d like to make sure college parents know about higher ed? Tweet it to me (and use #FixHigherEd) or leave it below. I’ll use as many as possible in the NewsHour and essay collection pieces (unless you don’t want yours to leave this blog).

We need to get parents’ attention if we have any hope of making real change in higher ed. Once we get their attention, what we say is up to us.

The Adjunct Petition Challenge — Watch Me Humiliate Myself (More Than Usual)!

More awesomeness from Rebecca Schuman.


Friends, Probably-not-Romans (but who knows?), Americans:

This spiffy petition, by Ann Kottner, Joe Fruscione and many of their hero compatriots, asking the US Dept. of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division to investigate the labor conditions of adjunct professors in our country, currently has about 5500 signatures. It would be very exciting if it had more signatures than that — especially from you tenured and tenure-track faculty I allegedly hate (JK, especially from anyone for any reason!). So here’s the deal.

I’m going to keep watching this petition, and when it hits 7500 signatures, I will, in the spirit of my friend Gordon Haber, upload a YouTube video of myself lip-syncing — WITH FEELING — to the song of your choice (as suggested in the comments below). I would prefer a German pop song from the 80s (I would prefer “Major Tom (Völlig losgelöscht),” if we’re being particular), but if there’s…

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