Sunday, December 31, 2006

    Life as an adjunct

    This was buried in the comments section of this post. As the new year starts, where do you stand?

    There's one segment of the adjunct population not mentioned in any great detail in this discussion; namely, those for whom adjunct work is the only option. For myself and many of my friends, the idea that there are a bounty of well-paid non-academic jobs out there is a canard.

    BOA, you pointed out somewhere that you are self-taught in your IT job. That's impressive. You also pointed out something I have had a hard time explainign to my non-academic friends: my Ph.D. is not worth the paper it's printed on. You did this more gently, though, when you noted that your graduate work was not germane to your present IT job. I'll take a further step: when I have applied for non-academic work, I leave my Ph.D. off of my resume. Unfortunately, it doesn't help. There's the small matter of all those years working as a "teacher" at however many colleges and universities. And that's a hard one to explain.

    I and my cohort are in an odd position. Most of us would hate to see the end of adjunct and casual positions in academe. Why? Becasue we would be out of work. Sadly, adjunct work is the only work we can get.

    After a certain age, 30? 35? 40? Starbucks just is not a viable option.

    I've come full circle. I used to be striving for a full-time position. I wrote, published, went to conferences, the whole deal. But ... nothing. I got interviews, but never got the job -- the list of stated reasons is baffling. And then, finally, I just gave up trying. But I kept teaching, albeit as an adjunct. Why? Because I had (and have) no choice. Now, when I learn that someone is retiring, I hope they don't re-fill that position because that means there may be more work for me.

    It's a living. Granted, it's a high-brow version of a McJob. But it does pay the bills.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

    English department as Caste system

    [My final comment on this thread]

    Au contraire, mon ami…it is personal.

    You are “Unapologetically” presenting yourself as a representative of a specific group. The top of the pyramid, as it were. You are part of what this whole discussion is all about. But, I will refrain from commenting on tone and comment on the tenor of your ideas.

    Tim Mayers hits upon the elephant in the room. English departments are a caste system with lit crit the Brahmins. If you disbelieve, ask yourself this simple question: what are the three reasons for my English department to exist?

    Your honest answer would include waxing elegiac about exposing young minds to ideas, texts and cultures far from their own. English is a mission field of Reader Saints amid a crowd of Philistines, Rubes and other undesirables. With patience and Keats, they too may know the enlightenment of Big Thoughts rendered poetic/prosaic.

    Does UT speak for this view? Yes. Quoted from above:

    As for the standards being raised over time, would we really want it to be any other way? That’s called progress.

    Higher standards, as defined by the Received Tradition, means a monograph contribution to the study of literature. A professor must aspire to be Bloom in order to succeed. Little Elbows gets, well, elbowed out. “Scholarship” (read “progress,” read “virtue” and “light”) comes from aspiring to be like the “successful” R1 programs. Skill-based comp adjuncts are deceived in their idea that Virtue comes from eloquence. No, tenure comes from participating in a closed circle of “reading” approaches and insights.

    Community Colleges, Land-grant U’s? They are not to hinder their ascent into Readers of Literature by getting clogged down in composition, writing or other pedestrian pursuits. You want to teach at a “real university”? then avoid anything that takes away from research time (reading what other have thought about the works of still others—or better yet, how to read the writing of those writing about the works of others) like teaching because Success is a Darwinian scramble to achieve Recognition/tenure. Once received, you can sit back, tsk-tsk the melee below and thank the lucky stars you were smart enough to escape, resting assured that you achieved all of the success by your own merits alone.

    My final though in this comment stream. UT asks:

    … I know that nothing I say will persuade the rabidly anti-tenure folks who, for reasons that make no sense to me, continue to frequent a website devoted to higher education.

    Perhaps there are those who feel (I am beginning to think more and more that they feel this foolishly) that even though the present system is stacked against them (for secure wage, advancement, recognition), that the rewards of instruction will pay off. Cynically I would say that there are many longing after a lost cause. But, then I am here, pursuing the debate with no intention of rejoining the team.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

    Bad Netizen

    I seem to have been a bad netizen of late. I have been picking some random fights with unknown people on comment boards with little to no ultimate goal other than said person pissed me off.

    Bad PPP. Hang your head low.

    Of course, I still feel right, even two days later. Here is the link if you are interested. Basically I responded to an article in InsideHigherEd that related the MLA's review of tenure and tenure-track requirements. The article was informative and well-presented, but when I got to the comments, whoooo...of I go.

    It seems that there is a definate age bias (including my own) in tenure discussions. I have no doubt this is true to the pyramid structure of academic departments--small numbers of tenured elites tsk tsking the poor ad-junks scrapping it out below. Oh, they say they remember those scrappy days when they pulled all-nighters writing their first of two books. But it worked out, all that hard research. The system works because they succeeded. I mean, if they can do it, anyone can. Youngsters should quit complaining, crack a book and write something, for god's sake. Then they can rest on the work for a good ten years, produce another and be fixed for life.

    Listening to it, I wonder, what the hell is wrong with me? Is that all there is to it? Why, crap, I will just let the mortage slide a little, rack up some more credit dept (run up through grad school) and loans and devote myself to my "work." And if I waited too long and went and got a family, then I guess that is just too damn bad for me. Survival of the academic fittest...

    Unapologetically Tenured was and remains a pompous, elitist ass.

    I guess I am still pissed.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

    Job Security

    [Cross-posted in the comments section of InsideHigherEd]

    I want to applaud InsideHigherEd this last week for a series of important data points. These figures, taken with the article “Rethinking Tenure” (, point to the larger trend of academic outsourcing.

    The AAUP should worry about academic freedom when “more than 62 percent” have no option for tenure. I commented in the “Rethinking Tenure” article that one of the more telling quotes was that although only 10% of tenure applicants were denied, that the pool of tenure applicants was not 100% of professors, rendering that low percentage meaningless. It seems that I was right. 10% of 36 is still impressive. Good for tenure. But it seems that the 36 have already been vetted to a great degree. I would go further to say that having 10% of this more elite pool, one that has been vetted by granting a tenure-track option, is too high. The only answer to that percentage is that wholesale institutions are participating in tenure (Stanford high, Harvard about half) which skews the curve.

    Do academics deserve job security (few others have this privilege). That seems to be a question everyone dances around but doesn’t ask. Why not let market forces regulate position and pay? It works for IT professionals, ballplayers and real-estate? Why not let the scholars battle it out, book by article by book?

    Of course, an academic could hold a non-popular position that is ultimately proven right (Copernicus) and whose work no doubt would have been affected by such a Darwinian market structure. This is not to even mention quality of instruction—which also seems to be easily lost along the way.

    I, again, applaud IHE for getting the word out. Now, what are some of the answers?

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

    MLA on tenure.

    InsideHigherEd online has a good article on MLAs look at tenure. I find the comments section especially telling. I could probably get within ten years of each of the comment’s authors, which is part of the whole problem.

    I also noted, see my own comment, that while the article points out that only 10% of tenure applicants are denied (which many took as a positive, pro-tenure indicator), the article also points out that a large portion of the academic work force do not even get that far…welcome to ad-junk hell.

    Go see the article and then come back and let’s talk about it.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

    Why I like Salon.

    There were two, on the surface, widely divergent articles in today’s issues of Salon. The first dealt with heady, intellectual issues of post-colonial literary criticism (taking down Edward Said’s “Orientalism”), the second with Carmen Electra’s “Stripper” work-out videos.

    Two exerps:

    At the end of "Dangerous Knowledge," Irwin asks why "Orientalism" has been so successful. "It is a scandal and damning comment on the quality of intellectual life in Britain in recent decades that Said's argument about Orientalism could ever have been taken seriously," he writes. "If Said's book is as bad as I think it is, why has it attracted so much attention and praise in certain quarters?" His answer: resentment of established Orientalists by partisans of new disciplines like cultural studies and sociology; anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism; the allure of trendy figures like Foucault and Gramsci; and general Western "hand-wringing and guilt about its imperialist past."

    Contrasted with:

    I'm only slightly cranky that so much of our day-to-day life is eroticized. I'm more tired of it all being so commercialized. And worse, homogenized. As I gamely endeavor to unleash the goddess-via-Mötley Crüe video within, I can't get the image of the multitude of women who've Amazoned or Netflixed themselves into the same spot, humping the dining room set to "Smack That" with the same choreography, out of my head. I can see them all over YouTube, proudly undulating in lockstep. As we're all suggestively flipping our hair in sync, do we become not people but products -- mass-produced treats that exist to be consumed, not necessarily tasted? There may be times I want to be a sex object. I'm just not ready to be a Happy Meal.

    Great writing, engaging content that appeals to my whole self. All delivered to me first thing in the morning.

    I love this country.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

    Teaching writing/lit online

    As some of you might know, I have taught composition online for many years. Recently I have made a break from my long-time online employer, much to my eventual relief.

    One of the problems I was having was their move to centralized content. I have taught at many places (onground and online) where the department has a certain text they use and everyone falls into place using it. I have never liked being dictated to, so these instances had varying flavors of distaste depending on how well I like the book and/or approach.

    Ex-online school taught 6 week courses. I don’t think this is necessarily enough time to get through a semester’s worth of material, but they paid and I taught. They also moved to adopt a reader/composition book for entering COMP101. It was this last move that I found heinously egregious.

    I have found that using literature to teach writing can be a tricky task. These classes, usually, build their assignments around writing about literature. I mean, you are reading the poems, plays and short stories, so why not write about them? If this tack is taken, though, a good part of the face time is spent in teaching the student how to read—sort of a lit crit primer. Otherwise, there is a tendency for student’s to claim all sorts of weirdo ideas and attribute them to the selections. This is a good and worthy course of instruction. It takes time and patience, and yields critical thinkers who have had exposure to good writing and strong ideas.

    Such instruction, though, cannot be taught online, at a distance, in six weeks. Can’t be done. Poor instructional design. At best, in six weeks one can hope to instruct on structure, paragraph coherence and word choice. One can also hope to instruct on the basics of using sources. To expect more is to be disappointed. To expect more is to not realize the limits of the structure.

    And that pisses me off.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

    I know, I know. I quit.

    Did you feel it? Just a little while ago. The earth tilted, again, just a little to the left. Or was it finally to the correct right? I don't know.

    What I do know is that two months ago I would not have recognized the current reality:
    • Democrats coming into majority position in both House and Senate
    • Rumsfeld resigning
    • Bolton resigning
    • The Christian right losing a stranglehold on moral righteousness
    Really, the only thing now is for Cheney to have a change of heart, accepting gays and selling his shares of Halliburton.

    Wow. Interesting times.

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