Saturday, December 28, 2013

Being the Enemy?

Reading the intertubes lately, and talking to some job seekers, I have a sense of alienation, my own, more than theirs.  (They have plenty of their own.)

The thing is, it sometimes feels like those of us with tenure are being figured as a sort of enemy to job seekers, and I don't recognize myself as the enemy.

The problem with the interpellation is that even if I try to refuse it, I've recognized the call to myself as the enemy, no?  And so my alienation.


31 comments:

  1. Anonymous8:10 PM

    Is it more like a kind of privilege they resent?

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  2. Anonymous8:53 PM

    That was Anastasia. I'm not trying to be anonymous or a troll! I deleted my account, so I couldn't log in.

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  3. It does seem wrong for those who are jobless or adjunct to resent those with tenure or those who are TT.

    It's similar to the reaction we saw (continue to see, I guess) with those who don't have benefits or whose jobs don't provide a decent living being resentful toward those who who had unionized jobs. You would think the exploited and impoverished would be angry at their oppressors. Instead they attack their fellow workers.

    Those of us who have crap academic jobs (adjunct, contract labor, whatever) *ought* to resent those who have destroyed (are destroying) the academy, and academic jobs with it. It makes no sense to hate on those who have the few remaining (slightly better) academic jobs. I mean, it's hardly the fault of those with the jobs that they have them.

    And it's not as though those with the tenure track jobs have the power to change what's happening to the academic world. They're not the source of the funding cuts and the destruction of academic jobs.

    I don't know. I'd say you can't expect people to be rational about these matters, except, you know, they're academics. Being rational is what they're for.

    So I got nothing.

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  4. I sometimes feel like the enemy, too, because I'm tenure-track. I have a lot of full-time, non-TT, friends at my school. They don't seem to resent me, but I sometimes wonder.

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  5. Anonymous7:24 AM

    Well, so...I quit adjuncting already and I will say that I have really bad feelings about some of the administrators who hired me--one dean in particular but also a provost--just because they were so forthcoming about what a good deal this was for them and wanted me to participate in being happy about that.

    I didn't necessarily resent tt or tenured people in those institutions. Many of them were very good to me, actually. That said, every single time an assistant professor puts a comment on facebook about job seekers getting it wrong--snarky, hey here's what not to send OMG posts--I want to punch them. Almost invariably, this has come from people who did not adjunct for years but rather got a job their first year out. And wow, does the clueless self-importance piss me the hell off.

    I do also understand feeling resentful toward the people who seem to be benefiting from the system. Like it or not, administrators have created a situation that exploits adjuncts and benefits you.

    Now, of course, it isn't nearly that simple and there are institutional variations and so forth and no, tt faculty don't exactly have the power to change it. But at 2/3 of the places I adjuncted, my job made it possible for full time people to be employed and I taught service courses so they could teach majors. And I sure as hell knew that.

    You may not actually be the enemy but you certainly are the establishment. Maybe that's the part that's hard to square with your sense of yourself.

    (Anastasia again).





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  6. From the perspective of a full-time but not tenure-track contingent faculty member (a growing and still somewhat invisible group, far better off than part-time contingents but still very clearly disadvantaged in relation to tenure-track faculty), I do not consider tenure-track faculty the enemy. I do notice, however, to what extent particular tenure-track faculty seem to be part of the problem. Signs that they are include:

    --obliviousness to the structural issues that Anastasia mentions: in many English departments, numbers of majors are dropping, but the need for required core courses (gen ed lit, writing) remains strong. This means that those courses and the faculty who teach them are effectively subsidizing the upper-level lit courses. There are two ways (at least, that I've seen) to respond to this: frantic efforts to recruit majors/otherwise preserve the number of upper-level courses, and a commitment to invest energy and resources into making the gen ed courses the best they can be (including keeping course caps low). I tend to respect the people who take gen ed seriously (not necessarily at the expense of major courses, but at least with an awareness that the two are both connected and separate, and gen ed has value in itself) more than those who pay no attention to gen ed, and/or are happy to milk it for all it's worth, and to teach gen ed classes badly when they get "stuck with" them.

    --a belief that the higher ed job market is, in fact, a meritocracy, that people land at the level where they "belong," and that anyone who tries hard enough and sacrifices enough will land in a tenure-track job. In short, anyone who dismisses the role of luck (as well, as, of course, skill/ability) in the present job market is definitely part of the problem.

    --those who badly want to make their R2 (or other non-R1 classification) institution into the R1 at which they'd hoped to land. I've seen a lot of bad decisions made, often by otherwise well-meaning, well-intentioned people, in the name of raising my (state R2) institution's profile as a research institution. Our state already has several R1s with national/international reputations; it's not clear that we really need another one. Our particular region probably can use an institution that has particular research strengths that are valuable to local institutions and employers, and definitely can use a university that serves the needs of a diverse, ever-changing potential student population (undergrad and grad), including the need to be taught by active (but not necessarily hyper-active) researchers. The emphasis on research is, instead, creating a gap between the teaching faculty (mostly contingent, mostly teaching gen ed classes as part of a 4/4 full-time load or a mixed part-time load that also includes work at the local community college, where many of our students increasingly -- and not surprisingly -- spend their first two years) and the research faculty which is not really good for anyone involved (though it does, I suppose, somewhat increase the potential mobility of our tenure-track faculty to true R1 institutions, but I don't think that's really what we should be investing in).

    --perhaps most important (and this, sadly, describes my last department chair), someone who gives lip service to understanding the plight of contingent faculty, but who, in practice, consistently prioritizes the concerns of the tenure track faculty/increasing the department's research profile over anything that might improve matters for the contingent faculty. I hardly expect our concerns to be the first priority all of the time, but when they never rise to the position of meriting serious consideration when there are hard choices to be made (and "there are hard choices to be made" pretty much describes the normal state of the academy these days), that contributes to the stratification -- in salaries, job security, and other forms for privilege -- between different classes of faculty getting worse and worse.

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  7. All day I've been mentally composing responses and then deleting them, which is what this kind of discussion does to me. The whole Us/Them dichotomy ignores the nuances of individual situations, encourages defensiveness, and makes it difficult to join hands across the gap and work together to ameliorate conditions. So yeah, alienation...what is the alternative?

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  8. Like Bev, I've been thinking and deleting, thinking and deleting all day.I can only speak for myself, obviously, but I don't think there is a general sense of anger or blame directed towards TT faculty.

    There are exceptions, of course; there always are. I think that we, since I'm one of those bitter adjuncts facing the job market, do get angry when told that WE must be the problem because, as is implied but never stated, we are not good enough, whether as teachers or researchers, that surely if we were good enough, a magical job would appear for us. We get angry when we're told that of course we'll find a job because we have publications and our advisor or, worse, entire committee didn't have one single publication before finishing their PhD and yet they all landed jobs. We get angry when search committees wait until a week or even a few weeks to tell us that we have an interview at the AHA or MLA and need to drop hundreds of dollars (at the least) to get there and if we can't make it, for personal or financial reasons, well, we don't care enough about the job. We get angry when we're told to suck it up because that's just the way the system works. We get angry when a misplaced comma in 30 pages of application materials removes our carefully prepared portfolio from the running because that's an easy way to pare down the list. A comma. We get angry when we are 37 years old and have to include our high school transcripts in our portfolio because clearly a B.A., M.A., and PhD transcript are not enough to prove that we are good students; we have to show that we passed our geometry class and art electives in high school, too. We get angry when TT faculty defend a crazy ass system like that, even though we all know it's a crazy ass system, but it worked for them, so it's ok.

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    1. That's probably a comment I should have deleted. Some might not like my tone, but, again, it's not directed at a specific person. It's directed at the system and those willing to defend the system, flaws and all, rather than work to change it - with whatever power, however little it is, that they have.

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    2. Advisors who refuse to acknowledge that things really have changed (and/or who think that their advisees/their school's graduates should somehow be exceptions) are definitely an infuriating part of the process. The fact that the market has been getting steadily worse for decades probably makes this phenomenon worse, since the people giving the advice did genuinely have it harder than *their* academic forebears, too (but it's also worth noting that they're the ones who managed to stay in academe, and may not be quite as aware as would be useful of how many of their contemporaries did something else). Advisors definitely have a duty to form, and maintain, an evidence-based picture of the current market, and to advise their students (and, perhaps, rethink their graduate programs) accordingly.

      And asking for high school transcripts is just ridiculous. I've never had that request (even when applying for independent-school jobs, which is the only time I've ever listed my high school education -- at an independent school -- on my c.v., and in fact have no copy of my high school transcript). I have one high school classmate who dropped out after getting into Harvard her junior year, never took the one class our high school required her to complete to get a diploma from them, got her GED instead, went to Harvard anyway, and eventually got her Ph.D. I wonder what the school asking for high school transcripts would make of her?

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    3. My advisor is Scottish and was hired at Edinburgh University when he completed his PhD and then basically got headhunted for his job at my school. It took me quite awhile to realize what that meant for his career prep advice, but through no real fault of its own. It just seems as though, even since I started my PhD in 2007, the hoops we have to jump keep getting higher and higher. Some schools are finally coming around to alt-ac career prep and that's fantastic. I just hope that new PhD students go into this career with an understanding that their advisors may not have and the only way for them to gain that understanding is for us to talk/write about it and them to read it.

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  9. I suspect there's a lot many of us (especially those of us in primarily teaching-oriented positions, with or without service, could agree on, too (and I think it's very important to identify those things). Here are some possibilities:

    --The value, and the difficulty, of teaching, at all levels (at least in my very limited experience, majors aren't getting any easier to teach, either; they seem to need more explicit instruction/hand-holding than a decade or two ago. Or maybe I'm just getting old.) Also the value, and the difficulty, of finding ways to evaluate teaching that actually identify good teachers with varying styles/approaches, and that encourage good teachers to compare notes, share ideas, etc., etc.

    --The value of all teachers having decent pay, reasonable loads, and some time for research and/or creative activity, and for reflection on their teaching (and no, herding everyone into a room for "professional development" activities that involve a lecturer w/ powerpoint slides doesn't count. I'm talking about both solo and group activities that draw out the collective wisdom of people trying to teach particular skills and/or subject matter to a particular student population in a particular place/time.)

    --The value of everyone who teaches a particular curriculum having some say in shaping that curriculum (and being compensated for the time spent doing the shaping).

    --The hidden costs of adjunctification, not just to adjuncts, but also to tenure-line faculty who carry an increasingly heavy service burden (because the existing service tasks, plus all the new assessment stuff, is spread over fewer faculty, and because hiring and supervising contingent faculty takes time. At least in my department, it's not at all clear that my tenure-line colleagues, at least the ones doing their fair share of the service/administration work, really do have more time for research/writing/creative activity than they would have a decade or so ago, when they had a higher teaching load, but fewer contingent colleagues).

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    1. Agreed, agreed, agreed!

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    2. saucyturtles6:20 AM

      Me, too, on all counts with one slight quibble on the reflection on teaching part, and that may be my misunderstanding of what Contingent Cassandra said. This may be because my institution is small and any subject matter is taught by only one person or a few people, but it manages to get faculty talking about teaching across the divisions and it's awesome. Learning what those who teach very different things than I do is hugely useful and provocative, even when it doesn't fit my field exactly. So collective wisdom is not in my experience limited to one subject matter at one time and place.

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    3. That works for me, saucyturtles. I'm at a big place (and teaching a course that has dozens -- in the low hundreds, actually -- of sections), so the challenge is to make sure that faculty have room for creativity, experimentation, etc. while still maintaining some core course goals. Other institutions, and other courses, obviously have other challenges. My main concern is that a value be placed on pedagogical knowledge produced in a very local, straight-from-particular-classrooms way (as opposed to one-size-fits-all, big-data-driven, big-publisher-benefiting approaches, though there's some place for those, too).

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    4. saucyturtles12:09 PM

      Yes, absolutely. And it sounds like in your situation working within your area is the necessary approach. Sorry if this was a distraction from your much more important point about what teaching faculty of all statuses should have.

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  10. I have several reactions to this post, one of the strongest being the urge to reassure you that back when I was always on the market, I never thought of you--or people like you--as the enemy, but as the people I hoped would be my colleagues someday.

    Another is that we are almost all of us living in a version of the academic world that we couldn't have predicted when we went hopefully into graduate school.

    Having worked with different degrees of job security and satisfaction at quite a range of universities and colleges--even having been on the hiring side at times--I have to say that it is ridiculous for institutions to treat people as they sometimes do in this process (bearing the costs of a five-day notice to attend a hiring convention that people don't attend if they don't know they have interviews). It is also ridiculous, though, for people to personalize the process as much as they do (even having done it myself) and that some effort to understand how institutions work is a big help in depersonalizing it all. (Most institutions do not acknowledge every job application, for example, or contact you to let you know you aren't getting an interview.)

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  11. Adjunctification benefits tenured and tenure-track faculty not at all. In a department of principled people, this means that not only are good colleagues marginalized and students educated in an uncertain, ever-shifting program, but also that much of the administrative and planning elements of the program get short-changed or shuffled aside because per-course pay schemes penalize the faculty paid thusly and the programs in which they serve.

    No tenure-track or tenured person I've ever seen has endorsed contingency and adjunctification as a good thing unless they have entirely gone over to the bean-counting side of administration.

    In a side note, historians and language people should kill the idiotic scheme of conference interviews and replace them with Skype/other video-conference alternatives. Here in Canada, where our disciplinary conferences meet in May/June, we get along just fine without the big conference job mart and you can, too. Stop putting candidates (and interviewing faculty members) through the idiotic money-wasting and fairly fruitless scheme!

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    1. As a American grad student in a Canadian school, I must say that the lack of the conference interview in the Canadian system was what I am most jealous of - well, that and SSHRC grants!

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  12. @Jodi Campbell. An advisor who thinks that if you're good you'll get a job has not served on a search committee recently. Yes, I get annoyed when people ignore our ad, but basically, there are *always* far more qualified people than there are jobs. So the people who get jobs are good, but it doesn't mean the people who don't get them are not equally good. As I noted over at H'Ann's, we have only one job. I'm sorry you've had these experiences.


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    1. In fairness to my supervisor, when I said advisors telling students they'll get a job because they are good enough, I wasn't referring to my supervisor. He's smart enough never to say that crap. My issue with him as a supervisor is that he does seem to have blinders on occasionally about the job market, though not in that way. He was less concerned with preparing me for the job market and more concerned with getting my PhD done. I was thinking that without conferences and publications, what's the point of being done because I'd have little chance of getting hired anywhere.

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  13. Anonymous8:25 AM

    Listen, though...if the college is managing the bottom line and therefore making room in the budget for full time jobs by filling seats in classes staffed by adjuncts, then it does benefit tenure track faculty. As an adjunct, I was very good for the college's budget, which is what allowed them to keep a major and staff upper division classes. So yes, it does indirectly benefit the full time folk and the fact that you don't see that concerns me.

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  14. Anonymous8:32 AM

    You may be an ally to adjuncts but you are the beneficiary of a system--the benefit being full time pay and benefits with some modicum of job security--that relies on exploiting me to make ends meet. It's not your fault, which is why I don't think tt or tenure people are the enemy per se and I made the analogy to privilege but telling me the system doesn't in some way benefit tenure track folks at all is construing the concept of benefit too narrowly.

    I'm sure there are negatives for full time folk but the full time employees in every place I worked depended on my work because the administration relied on me to make the budget. I worked for almost nothing so they could work full time.

    (both of those comments are me, Anastasia).

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  15. Here's the difficulty I have with the claim that the tenured folks are the beneficiaries, Anastasia: it's that in many cases those employees are worse off in the adjunct-reliant system than they were ten or twenty years ago. Most of the tenured folks I know work at institutions where their raises have been frozen, their benefits trimmed, etc. Meanwhile, at some institutions, money goes into athletics, dormitory amenities, institutional advancement, administrator salaries, and marketing the institution to prospective students so that it can climb up the US News rankings. I agree that some of the tenured folks can be strangely ignorant of how much adjuncts get exploited, but I think it's pretty inaccurate, most of the time, to blame them for the situation. In some of the situations where I adjuncted, there was no tenure at all, and the institutions still did a very good job of exploiting adjuncts anyway.

    BTW, I miss your blog! I always read and enjoyed it.

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    1. I don't think Anastasia (or anyone in these comments) is blaming the FT folks. In fact, she does actually say, "It's not your fault..." I think she's just trying to point out that FT faculty do benefit from adjuncts in terms of class size and load, research time, etc. I absolutely agree with you that a lot of FT faculty are worse off now for all the reasons you mention, but adjuncts are not the cause of those reasons and we often suffer the same problems, but at a much more painful level because of our already low standing on the income level totem pole. For instance, our offices (if we had any to begin with) are the first to go, our class loads get cut so that we can't receive health insurance, and, really, do adjuncts get raises?

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    2. Jodi, you're right about all these things, including that Anastasia isn't blaming the f/t folks. Thanks!

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  16. The HS transcript is totally inappropriate. I wonder if that's the faculty requiring it, or HR? Our legislature requires that we do (and have done to us) criminal background checks. The faculty doesn't like it, but our union is broken and we don't seem to have any ways to fight these things.

    I've never heard of a misplaced comma getting an application letter tossed, to be honest. I'd be surprised if anyone read initial application letters that closely, to be honest. When I read them, I try to get a sense of the person, the projects, and the teaching.

    (I'm finally getting a chance to read all the comments after much busyness this past week.)

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    1. The HS transcript thing has happened to me once, so I admit that's not that common, although I can think of four other friends who had to turn in theirs for job applications and we're all in different fields, so it wasn't the same job. I also had a background check done, which really creeped me out, but it was for an adjunct position and, as always, beggars can't be choosers, right? I couldn't ask them not to, since I needed the job more than they needed me. That's what it always seems to come down to with adjuncts and maybe that's a reason we're so angry. Living with constant fear and insecurity rarely lets a person be as zen as they might want to be.

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  17. Anonymous3:20 PM

    I'm really not trying to blame FT people!! And ultimately, I have my personal answer to solving the adjunct problem: I quit.

    Anastasia

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  18. Anonymous3:30 PM

    Also, I get that there is a negative impact on full time people but that doesn't mean they aren't still beneficiaries in the sense I mean. I worked in two master's programs that were cash cows for the institution. Evening students pay per class toward a (more or less meaningless) degree (but that is another story) and all courses in the program are staffed by adjuncts. This generates money that allows the college to fund other programs, particularly the less lucrative daytime/traditional undergrad courses that are staffed by more expensive full time folks. My lousy job was part of a schema that underwrote programs employing full time people. Even when I taught in the daytime program, I was part of the force of people covering intro classes for students who may or may not eve finish but this allowed for drastically increased enrollments and tuition/financial aid dollars, which allowed the institution to increase its research profile by funding full time t/t positions. The people in any of those FT positions did not have out of this world amazing jobs but they did benefit, in some way, from the exploitation of adjuncts.

    I don't think teaching college is some cushy gig with fabulous wages and I'm not blaming FT for anything--not at all and I get the point. The shift to adjunct labor is bad for everyone--for adjuncts, for FT folks, and for students.

    Even so, reality is that I worked as an adjunct for multiple institutions that used my low wages to generate a student tuition surplus that could be used to fund programs that employeed ft/tt/tenured people--and I know that because of that time the dean took me to lunch and said that. Out loud. Like the cat who ate freaking canary.

    It's bad for everybody.

    Also, I decided my blog was super boring. :)

    Anastasia

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    1. I didn't think it was boring! If yours was boring then mine must be whatever is several stations beyond boring. But I enjoy doing it anyway.

      You're right, the situation is bad for everybody. I understand that identifying tt people among the beneficiaries of the system isn't the same as blaming them. Sorry for that slippage in my comment! There is a lot of blaming going on out there, but you didn't say that.

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