76 percent of American university faculty are adjunct professors -- an all-time high. Unlike tenured faculty, whose annual salaries can top $160,000, adjunct professors make an average of $2,700 per course and receive no health care or other benefits. Most adjuncts teach at multiple universities while still not making enough to stay above the poverty line. Some are on welfare or homeless. Others depend on charity drives held by their peers. Adjuncts are generally not allowed to have offices or participate in faculty meetings. When they ask for a living wage or benefits, they can be fired. Their contingent status allows them no recourse... So why do some of America's brightest PhDs -- many of whom are authors of books and articles on labour, power, or injustice -- accept such terrible conditions? ... [J]ob candidates have invested so much time and money into their professional training that they cannot fathom abandoning their goal... With roughly 40 percent of academic positions eliminated since the 2008 crash, most adjuncts will not find a tenure-track job. Their path dependence and sunk costs will likely lead to greater path dependence and sunk costs -- and the costs of the academic job market are prohibitive... The adjunct plight is indicative of a two-fold crisis in education and in the American economy. On one hand, we have the degradation of education in general and higher education in particular. It is no surprise that when 76 percent of professors are viewed as so disposable and indistinguishable that they are listed in course catalogues as "Professor Staff", administrators view computers which grade essays as a viable replacement... Self-degradation sustains the adjunct economy, and we see echoes of it in journalism, policy and other fields in which unpaid or underpaid labour is increasingly the norm... Last week, a corporation proudly announced that it had created a digital textbook that monitors whether students had done the reading. This followed the announcement of the software that grades essays, which followed months of hype over MOOCs -- massive online open courses -- replacing classroom interaction. Professors who can gauge student engagement through class discussion are unneeded. Professors who can offer thoughtful feedback on student writing are unneeded. Professors who interact with students, who care about students, are unneeded. We should not be surprised that it has come to this when 76 percent of faculty are treated as dispensable automatons. The contempt for adjuncts reflects a general contempt for learning. The promotion of information has replaced the pursuit of knowledge. But it is not enough to have information -- we need insight and understanding, and above all, we need people who can communicate it to others. People who have the ability to do this are not dispensable.This is an absolutely unsustainable state of affairs, both a personal and pervasive civilizational catastrophe. This isn't something I talk about a lot, perhaps in part because it cuts so close to the bone, but my occasional aphoristic exhibitions of frustration and of hope are archived under Faulty Ivory Towers.
Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Although I make light of the radical insecurity of my own teaching position, festively declaring myself to be an itinerate lecturer-troubadour, and so on, the fact that whatever the excellence of my teaching reviews, whatever the fervent assurance of those who hire me every year and have done for nearly twenty years, whatever the extravagance of my voluntary uncompensated professional and departmental and committee work, I am a Berkeley PhD. trained by some of the most eminent living thinkers, steadily teaching coursework of my own design for excellent students at premier institutions in one of the greatest cities in America, at Berkeley and in San Francisco, still an earnest and still (I hope) an excellent teacher, but making considerably less than my partner, insured only because of the benefits available through his job outside the academy, pushing nearly fifty these days, much less vigorous and resilient than I was even ten years ago, still grunting under the weight of what remains a patently ridiculous home mortgage sized student loan debt, with no sense at all that I will even be lucky enough to still be doing this ten years from now as my affiliated institutions, venerable though they are, are reeling under cuts and the bright ideas of bright business boys for whom teachers are worn out robots, let alone can I truly hope I will be able to sustain this path for the seventeen (or will it be twenty-two?) years from now when presumably a public retirement system will offer me whatever remains of its looted, privatized, tattered cloak in the storm. Sarah Kendzior sums up the issues in Academia's Indentured Servants: