... the politics of lamentation about the state of the academy.
There is something a bit, ummm, noisome in the spectacle of established, tenured academics clucking their virtual tongues and beating their virtual breasts about the terrible lot that has befallen the Invisible Adjunct and all those other adjuncts for whom she has so invisibly stood. What besides clucking are these folks doing to reform the abusive system that chewed IA up and spat her out?
You can say that this is a fine case of the pot calling the kettle black. After all, what have I been doing on Critical Mass since March 2002 besides lamenting the state of academe, and devoting considerable space to the corruption of the academic humanities? I've clucked about the exploitation of adjunct labor more than once on this blog, and I've done it from a tenured position whose shape is structurally dependent on all the non-tenure-track lecturers, adjuncts, and grad students that my department regularly employs to round out its course offerings. So where do I get off?
I'll know the exact answer to that question next week, when I decide which of several job offers teaching high school English to accept.
There is one market, though, that is WIDE OPEN for humanities M.A.'s and Ph.D.'s, and that is the independent school market. "Independent" is mostly a contemporary code word for "private," though it can also mean "charter." Your Ph.D.--or, if you are ABD, your M.A.--is a very attractive qualification in this market. In contrast to the public school system, it counts as a teaching qualification (thus preventing you from going back to school to get a highly redundant ed school teaching certificate). Independent schools are eager to add people with advanced degrees to their faculty--in part, this raises the profile of the school and looks good to parents and donors, but far more importantly, these schools recognize that refugees from academe can make marvelous high school teachers. They know this to be true because their faculties are already full of them.
The Village Voice piece linked above tells the story of one such refugee, who is happily earning twice what he would have made as an adjunct teaching at a private high school in New Jersey.
I should say: I love Erin's blog. I check there before Crooked Timber even; her posts are always comprehensive and her voice is so clear. But, I was left defensive on several fronts—perhaps because one of the articles that set Erin off linked (for no terribly apparent reason) to me. In no particular order:
ITEM. What makes independent schools any morally better? I believe that they'll value Ph.D.'s. I even believe that private ones will pay better than many lousy faculty positions. But: my biggest big-picture problem with my job is that I'm a cog in the perpetuation of the class system—not within the academic framework, but in the broader society. We mostly teach rich kids. Yes, Granolan gives out lots of financial aid, and I'm sure well-endowed high schools do too. But, whether in grades 9-12 or 13-16, it's still teaching primarily kids who have already had lots of advantages and whose parents are paying many thousands of dollars to make sure they get more. And at the pre-college levels, it will be families who have enough saved for college that they can start paying big bucks even earlier. Sure it's fun. Sure they're smart. But is it really any different?
(I've so far spared this blog my rant on the subject of faculty families here sending their kids to private schools and/or homeschooling and my horror at what it's doing to the local public schools. I suppose it seems a bit premature. But: go Laura!)
And I doubt that the charter schools are going to be paying all that well.
CONTINUATION OF ITEM. Don't independent schools already have their own exploitative labor practice: hiring recent graduates of snooty schools (right accent, took the right drugs, etc.) to live in the dorms, teach a few classes, and coach a sport they'd never heard of before they got to campus? I don't think these jobs are meant to be anything but a stopgap for confused kids. (I admit, I doubt that they do long-term damage to the people who take them; well, unless you count that it's a common path to grad school.) But I bet that the low pay given to wildly underqualified employees (aside from age and experience, it's often not the kids with high GPAs who end up taking thse jobs) makes it easier to pay other employees, well, more.
ITEM. I work at an atypical institution. We are small, geographically isolated, and, in some sense, we try to care. We hire very few, perhaps no adjuncts in the abusive sense. We do hire people for one- or two-year replacement positions when we need to. They teach the same load as the rest of us, they get full benefits, and they're not paid badly. They attend department meetings (often vociferously). In my department at least, we sometimes have trouble filling temp positions. When we hire people for two-year temp positions, they often leave after one year for tenure-track jobs—saying nasty things about tiny little Granolaton over their shoulders as they leave town.
ITEM. Although Anya Kamenetz e-mailed me, I declined to be interviewed. I don't have a lot to say directly on the issue of academic underemployment and/or structural changes to the profession, and I know full well how lucky I am to be employed in such an anachronistic little bubble. This blog is about, well, very different things. (Perhaps it's just as well that the Voice got their link wrong!)