Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Academics and adjuncting.  §

Here’s a note on academic and especially adjunct life.

I continue to receive mail, both electronic and printed, from every institution where I’ve ever taught (with the exception of St. John’s University). Some of it is even quite official, while other items ask me every semester to submit my syllabi (despite having no appointment), and still others inform me of “mandatory” processes, appearances, etc. for adjunct faculty or even for all faculty in general—which I regularly ignore, being in no substantive way involved in academic life just now. But they keep coming.

I haven’t taught anywhere at all, in fact, in well over a year and I haven’t taught at some of these institutions for half a decade.

This demonstrates just how much attention institutions pay to whom they count amongst their faculty at the adjunct level. They haven’t noticed that they didn’t renew appointments or that I didn’t ask for any, that I have moved half a nation away, that I haven’t set foot on the campus to scan-in with my ID card in years, etc.

No doubt I’m still sitting here and there on some websites listed as “faculty” in one way or another (they represent to students that adjuncts are faculty, though they clearly represent to adjuncts with their actions that we are not).

I’d like very much to teach again, and at the same time, I am as bothered as I ever was by the strange labor economy of the university. Yes, I know all the details, I’ve read countless articles in the Chronicle, papers in the journals, etc. on the nature, troubles, and future of the system, movements for change, administrative and economic realities, etc. Hell, I lived it. In multiple ways. For a lot of years. It’s a mess.

In an ideal world, I’d love to be an academic. But in the real world, as I pursued that option, I was pretty clearly undervalued, with little hope of advancement sans tremendous (and generally ridiculous) sacrifices that I wasn’t prepared to make. Finishing a Ph.D. was more than enough sacrifice for me. I might give the academic world a go again over the next couple of years, but in an entirely different way.

Nonetheless sometimes the absurdity of it all, particularly when you receive a notice from an institution that clearly thinks you’ve been there all along—despite the fact that you’re long, long gone—can really hit home and lead you to realize once more just how f**ked up the entire system is right now for everyone. This is particularly true, however for adjuncts. Permanent faculty are suffering as well, but despite claims of worry and solidarity, they are able to throw their hands up and claim helplessness. I don’t hold any particular grudge against permanent faculty for this; the reality, however, is that whatever actions are being taken by them, verbal or otherwise, are not all that useful to struggling adjuncts with bills to pay.

On a full-time basis I make three times annually, as a relatively anonymous marketing manager at a small company—no particular credentials required—what I would as an adjunct with a Ph.D. at very large universities, where I was put on the website to sell tickets to the show and the workload was much, much, much heavier. This even while as an adjunct job security was literally nil (Reapply three times a year for the same job! Yay! Even more work, and with zero guarantees!), respect from colleagues (or even their awareness that you exist) generally absent, and benefits nonexistent.

And meanwhile the departments haven’t even realized that I am teaching no courses, have taught no courses in years, and have not been paid by them in a long, long time. They’re still asking me to submit my syllabus, turn up to a meeting, or manage my ID cards and accounts.

They don’t even know I’m long gone.

Hrmz. A person that many hundreds of handsomely-paying students have called “professor” (appropriately or not) and that has written countless recommendation letters, mentored in dozens of research projects, participated in curricular development and departmental planning, and so on. Surely there was some value there. Yet they haven’t even invested the resources to discern the difference between “is an employee and a member of our faculty” and “haven’t seen him in many years.”

Think about that.

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