Things as They Are: A Rejoinder


Mikhail touches on some good points in his post, “Things as they Are: Academic Paysage,” and I have a few points to add. Mikhail suggests that

A book contract will always beat 10 years of teaching experience, publications in known journals (even though not many read those, including the authors themselves) will always beat a good record of students evaluations – why?

Yes, a good point about hiring practices and no doubt true, but it may be much worse then this given the often unacknowledged laws that govern the system. Not only is it possible to do everything “right,” e.g. finish the doctorate in a reasonable amount of time or quickly (and beating the 45% attrition rate), have some teaching experience, publish an article and/or write some reviews, participate in conferences etc., and not get placed into a tenure track position, it’s possible that this is exactly how the system of labor is structured. In his recent (and quite excellent ) book, How the University Works, Marc Bousquet discusses how earning the doctorate degree (however counterintuitive) actually serves to flush the degree holder out of the system:

Many degree holders have served as adjunct lecturers at other campuses, sometimes teaching master’s degree students and advising their theses en route to their own degrees. Some will have taught thirty to forty sections, or the equivalent of five to seven years’ full time teaching work. During this time, they have received frequent mentoring and regular evaluation; most will have a large portfolio of enthusiastic observations and warm student commendations. A large faction will have published essays and book reviews and authored their department web pages. Yet, at precicely the juncture that this “preparation” should end and regular employment begin–the acquisition of the Ph.D.–the system embarrasses itself and discloses a systematic truth that every recent degree holder knows and few administrators wish to acknowledge: in many diciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career (23).

Certainly, we’ve all either experienced this or can readily point to someone we know that stays in this limbo state of non-degreed labor or degreed labor being supplemented by either another full time job or a spouse. As Bousquet points out, the system needs both of these types of laborers. In fact,

…the academic labor system requires few if any new degree holders–but it gasps and sputters when there is a tiny interruption in the steady stream of new graduate students. The system “really needs” a continuous flow of replaceable nondegreed labor. It can also use degreed labor willing and financially equipped to serve in the sub-professional conditions established for the nondegreed, but the majority of people cannot afford to do so (24).

Quite literally, the degree holder is shit being flushed out of the system. The counter to this system is not becoming that tenured jerk at the water cooler that gives the junior faculty shit and tells graduate students, “Well, I feel your pain, but I was on the job market a long time ago, I don’t remember” or “Why don’t you just try a bit harder, maybe it will take you five years on the market to land that job.” If tenured faculty would acknowledge their role in perpetuating this system of exploitation labor by casualizing it and realize that it’s their problem too (as Bousquet argues throughout his book with the slogan “We Work”) then we’d all be in position to refashion the administrative policy and working conditions. This means better wages for everyone:

You have to look pretty hard to find avenues of employment where sixty year old persons who have distinguished themselves in the field get paid less then college faculty. In the most causalized disciplines, such as English, this means the a sixty year old distinguished scholar with a national reputation and three books (and three children in college) earns a salary similar to that of junior faculty in many other disciplines…less than a secondary high school teacher, civil servant, factory employee, or bartender with the same term of service. In many ways, she also has less control over her work and fewer rights to due process, despite the fantasies of unfirable tenured faculty (42).

That’s right, cheapie teaching is keeping salaries, academic freedom and morale low all around! Everybody is losing it would seem! Tenured faculty need to do their part by refusing to disavow their complicity that serves to reinstall the market logic governing the university. A logic that quite frankly, governs hiring practices as well, a Mikhail rightly asks:

however, why does academic world put so much emphasis on publications even though it is hiring teachers? Well, publications show the candidate’s academic interests and academic “promise” (whatever that means).

The short and cynical answer? Well, there is a casualized labor force that teaches all of those low level introductory courses rather than the more specialized, higher level undergraduate courses and/or graduate level class, which is the realm of the most successful candidate. While it seems like many institutions pretend to want teachers, the academic culture tells us that teaching is a mere distraction from the real work of producing more craptastic academic drek to put into the tenure file so that we can teach less and less.

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