You want to complain about what’s wrong with academia, take a look at this story. Adjuncts at the University of Tennessee system can carry a 5-5 teaching load in a course year and make only $15,000 with no benefits. You could pay someone $200,000 a year, and I doubt they could teach a 5-5 load with any degree of focus or attention to students, but $15,000? No benefits? Seriously, Tennessee: just close down your university system. Or just be honest and make public higher education in the state into a volunteer system, like getting people to work the line at a soup kitchen. And adjuncts there? Seriously, there has got to be a better way to make ends meet, whatever your circumstances and aspirations might be.

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13 Responses to Scandal

  1. Doug says:

    Yowza. I made more money than that editing the house newsletter for a stand-alone bookstore, not exactly a high-wage field. And that was in 19 fucking 92. That’s just insane.

  2. Carl says:

    Hard duty, and perhaps harder even than face value. When I was teaching sociology I knew someone at UT who had an intro class in which a group of students would protest upsetting topics like human sexuality by grouping up in the back of the class and loudly reciting Bible verses together.

    When I was still strawberry-picking I had one term where I took BART to CSU Hayward in the morning to teach sociology, then BART and bus up to the Concord campus to teach human development in the early afternoon, then BART over to San Francisco State for an evening women’s history class. Fortunately the hours of commute gave me time to switch gears. Another term after I got a car I was teaching classes at main campus, Concord, and UC Santa Cruz. I think I’ve never taught better, because I had my game up in three fields and it was exhilarating.

    So many of us who didn’t come out with hot fields or focused publication agendas have these war stories to tell. What I always thought is that it was like an apprenticeship. If you get to graduate to mastery it was all worth it and a great learning experience. If not, it was just brutal exploitation. Since I’m a master now I look back fondly on those years.

  3. Matt says:

    I was a grad student in a Board of Regents school in TN from 2003 to 2005. The “UT system” is better off actually. My stipend in Math for a TA position was $7500/yr. I got bamboolzed into giving it up to be an Adjunct for not getting my MS “fast enough”(i.e. 3 semesters) and earned $600 per semester hour(or about $1080/mo) for teaching 3, 3 hour classes. I was told to “stay” a few more semesters to flesh out my thesis after not getting any meeting with any of my advisors, and was not giving a promise of any teaching hours, and I said either its good enough or I quit, and due to pressure to increase graduation rates, I think they took the “bluff”(it wasn’t a bluff actually). Maybe it was good enough, but either way, I got my MS.

    And alas, I’m still in eastern TN, its not a great place to earn a living if you’ve got a college degree. Although I’ve not seen a lot of better opportunities elsewhere. Of course, you’re post a few days ago about the election and Appalachia brings out the examples of one theory as to why its hard, as I think there is still plenty of blanket prejudice about this area.

  4. Rana says:

    What I always thought is that it was like an apprenticeship. If you get to graduate to mastery it was all worth it and a great learning experience. If not, it was just brutal exploitation. Since I???? a master now I look back fondly on those years.

    Since I’m not, I don’t.

    In some respects, though, I think it was a good thing to go through that period of profound disillusionment – it’s given me a better sense of my worth, and I’m less likely to put up with this sort of exploitation in the hopes that it will produce something better down the line.

    If adjuncting was ever an apprenticeship, that system is now broken.

  5. New Kid on the Hallway says:

    On the one hand – yes, the Tennessee situation is a scandal. Revolting.

    On the other… it seems a little unfair to say that no one can teach 5-5 with any degree of attention or focus to students. Many many community colleges carry that kind of load, and I’d hate to say that everyone working at those schools is short-changing their students.

    BUT… for $15K a year without benefits? No, that is NOT going to create a good educational environment. I agree with Carl that this kind of work has become a kind of de facto apprenticeship, but it’s a crappy, exploitative one. The awful thing is that in many cases, you *need* to have adjuncting experience to look competitive in a search pool (because everyone *else* has that experience too – and I’ve been places where they don’t like complete newbies, they want you to be able to hit the ground running), but too much of that experience, and you’re stale, old news.

  6. alkali says:

    Could you translate “5-5” for the lay audience?

  7. Fats Durston says:

    Five courses in fall and five in spring, alkali.

    Holy shit. One question to ask that I didn’t see in the article: what is the number of students per class, not that that justifies the peanuts.

    Last year, adjuncting in Missouri I was offered 1800$ to teach a course by a dean. I sent back a letter asking him if he was joking, and they bumped it up to a slightly-less-embarrassing 2200$…

  8. Carl says:

    Alkali, this refers to the number of courses taught in each of two standard academic semesters. For reference, a 4-4 teaching load is on the high side of standard at a college or small university where faculty would be expected to focus on teaching, service and advising but not so much on research. At bigger research-oriented schools (called R1), the standard load might be as little as 2-1, or even less with leaves and sabbaticals, with a much higher expectation of publication from those faculty. Of course, this doesn’t get into class sizes and instructional modes, which can vary quite a bit.

    New Kid, when I was an instructor a thing we all knew, and talked about regularly, was how much better teachers we were than the regular faculty, who were burnt out, taught from their dusty old notes, were lost in their own little worlds, and couldn’t be bothered to show up for their office hours. Even then I recognized this as a self-serving group ideology, just as it seemed clear to us that the horror of pampered tenured faculty at honest workloads is a self-serving group ideology. And until recently community colleges wouldn’t even look at someone with a Ph.D., because they just assumed they’d be a prima donna.

    I’ve played on both teams now. I’ve taught 6-6 and 7-7 in consecutive years, and I will say that at that rate my performance did noticeably degrade, I lost focus, cut corners, had no life, and began to burn out. 4-4 I can do standing on my head, and 5-5 isn’t too scary although I wouldn’t want to try to do that and keep any kind of research programme going. I expect the thresholds are different for different people in different situations. I interviewed at an R1 when I came out with a guy who was producing a book every two years. If that’s the priority a 2-1 makes a lot of sense to me.

    A lot of what I do doesn’t feel like work to me. This is a job you do because you love it; in my considered view as a historian, one of the best jobs humans have ever invented. There are plenty of people who feel that way, and that’s what the UT system is relying on, a constantly renewed pool of willing eggheads. When they say their system works, they’re right.

  9. New Kid on the Hallway says:

    Yes, when I talk about being able to teach a 5-5 without sacrificing quality, I’m presuming there is no research requirement, that teaching is the sole purpose of the job. (And that the person in question has the temperament to teach 5-5 – I don’t think, personally, I could do it; I’m too introverted.)

  10. PQuincy says:

    And I think we are exploiting adjuncts whom we pay $4500 a quarter for one course! Evidently, the market for academic proletarians is highly variable by region and institution.

    But that still doesn’t justify radically divergent pay-scales for different groups with fundamentally similar qualifications. The steady differentiation between ‘full-time’ and ‘part-time’ faculty may be part of the ongoing commodification of expertise, but paradoxically, it also contributes to our ongoing movement (back) towards a society of estates in which privilege and distinction, not qualification, are primary determinants of status, and in which rent-seeking, not profit, drives all sorts of economic decisions.

  11. Rana says:

    This is a job you do because you love it; in my considered view as a historian, one of the best jobs humans have ever invented.

    I feel the need to qualify this, although there was a time when I agreed with the statement entirely.
    The revised version:

    “This is a job you do because you love it, and have enough money to live on.”

    Wonderful though both teaching and research are – and however much I miss them – it is cruel and unreasonable to expect people to do that work – and yes, it IS work even when it is enjoyable – without paying them a living wage. “The work is its own reward” is a fine sentiment, but it doesn’t pay the rent or buy the groceries or cover the emergency root canal.

    I wish we would, as a society, get over the idea that work that people enjoy deserves less renumeration than work that they help. And who gets to decide that, anyway? Who is to say that doctors and plumbers and professional baseball players don’t enjoy their work?

  12. Rana says:

    …work that they hate, I mean.

  13. Timothy Burke says:

    Yeah, I agree: it’s not an excuse for this kind of pay, or this kind of structuring of the workplace, to say that this is a job you love and so are motivated to do it. It may explain why some people keep at it under conditions that are grossly exploitative, though.

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