academic debate


Have enforced a cooling-off period for myself on this topic...will respond this weekend to some of the comments, but I'm not sure there's much that's new to say at this point.

However, for those who have been following the discussion, here's a link to an interesting relevant article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled "Opting Out of Academic Science." Stories. I like stories. They show us a more multifaceted world--one where broad labels for entire groups of people ("academics," "politicians," "bloggers") just don't work.

Actually, the whole "Career Network" section of the The Chronicle is full of stuff related to this recent debate. Another one is "The Two-Year Attraction," about the growing number of people choosing to work in community colleges rather than 4-year institutions.

Oh, one more, specifically addressing the explotation of adjuncts, something that Invisible Adjunct raised in his/her comments here. "All Right Already, We're Exploited."


Do you mean to endorse Carroll's "adjunct as entrepreneur" strategy?

Jill Carroll has been writing a column (The Adjunct Track) for the Chronicle for over a year. She offers some useful advice, yes, but much of it is couched in terms that I find incredibly naive and highly misleading.

In her latest column, to which you have linked, she sums up her approach as follows:

"Finally you can pursue the entrepreneurial approach, which is the one I have advocated in this column. It's worked quite well for me and for lots of other adjuncts working in larger cities. This is as much a psychological strategy as anything, in that it chooses to view adjuncts as freelance workers who sell their services to different clients within their market.

Even though we don't set our own rates or get to charge kill fees, approaching the adjunct situation within this paradigm is fruitful for the new possibilities it creates. You hustle up as much work as you can in your area, always improving your quality of service (teaching, grading, whatever), becoming ever more time-efficient and skilled in your work so that you can shoulder more clients, and earn more money, without going insane."

I think this "adjunct as entreprenuer" strategy is nothing more than a consolatory fiction. It is, as she admits, largely a psychological strategy. Yes, you are marginalized, underpaid, unsupported and exploited, Carroll concedes. But instead of allowing this to make you feel bad about yourself and your position (because it will otherwise make you feel very bad indeed, and you might even find yourself "going insane"), you should redefine yourself as a freelance worker, calling yourself an entrepreneur who delivers a "quality product" to a growing base of "clients," and finding a basis for self-esteem and self-fulfillment in the "skill" and "time-efficiency" with which you deliver your product.

Problem is, as Carroll finally admits in this column (and I think this is the first time she has made such an admission), the adjunct is not really -- indeed, not at all -- in a position to behave like an entrepreneur: "Even though we don't set our own rates or get to charge kill fees." So in what way can an adjunct be an entrepreneur, except in his or her own mind?

Anyway, is this what teaching should be about? The delivery of units of quality service (lecturing, grading, and etc) by freelance workers with no real stakes in the curriculum, the department, the institutions in which they work? And if this is ok, then why have tenured faculty at all? why not abolish tenure, eliminate all but a few full-time positions within any given department (cannot entirely eliminate full-time positions, must keep a small permanent base of adminstrators/overseers), and have the bulk of teaching done by part-timers ("free-lancers")? I believe this _is_ the direction in which we are moving, by the way, and there are lots of university adminstrators who would love nothing better than to speed up this process. Call me old-fashioned, but I think this is not a good thing. My problem with the growing use of adjuncts is partly, I will admit, motivated by self-interest: I don't like to be marginalized, underpaid, unsupported, and exploited. But part of it stems from a real concern over the future of higher education, and what the shift from full-time to part-time positions signals about this future.

But I suppose a part of me has to admire Carroll: in attempting to redefine low-paid, contingent labor as an enterpreneurial strategy, she exposes the commodification of education and the corporatization of the university to sometimes brilliant (though often absurd) effect.

I wasn't "endorsing" anything. Just pointing out that there was an article in the Chronicle on this topic.

I hear you. Like many adjuncts, I am irritated by the Chronicle's decision (which is an editorial choice) to offer the "Adjunct Track" column without providing a counterbalance. But I see that I have transferred some of my irritation with Carroll and with the Chronicle toward you for linking to what is an interesting article. I apologize for being tetchy.

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