Sunday, June 19, 2011

Reason I'm Leaving #7: I Want Out of the Exploitative Higher Ed System

This reason is one that has just recently occurred to me, as I have done more and more reading from dissatisfied academic and post-academic writers out here in the blogosphere.

I've mentioned before that I really had no idea of the extent to which adjuncting had become the "new normal" in academia. My department didn't use adjuncts (they had grad students to do their low-cost teaching for them), and while I had known several people who had left our department for visiting professor or instructor positions, I don't personally know anyone in real life who is teaching on the course-by-course adjunct system with no benefits and absolutely no job security. I really had no idea that there were adjuncts out there who were doing it as a full-time job (and not just for supplemental income in addition to a 9-5 job).

Since making the decision to leave and beginning this blog, however, I've learned that more than half of all college courses are currently taught by adjuncts. I've also learned that there are an entire class of people with Ph.D.'s out there who aren't just adjuncting a class on the side, but who are actually trying to string together an entire career based on traveling between multiple campuses and teaching 4 or 5 classes with no benefits, just to top out at a wage that approximates a life of poverty. Other bloggers and journalists have written about homeless adjuncts, adjuncts on food stamps, and groups of adjuncts who have been prevented from organizing together to buy group health insurance by their universities.

It has since become clear to me that the entire system of higher education in this country is built more and more upon the backs of underpaid adjuncts, who are rewarded after their years pursuing a Ph.D. and devoting their lives to teaching and research with positions that might pay worse (and that definitely offer fewer benefits) than being a barista at Starbucks.

Certainly, no one inherently "deserves" a certain type of job just by virtue of completing a Ph.D. However, a system that now employs more adjunct faculty than full-time faculty with benefits is a deeply flawed system ... and is one that I no longer wish to contribute to.

Similarly, I want nothing to do with a system of higher education that continues recruiting large cohorts of new Ph.D. students year after year despite the fact that (1) adjuncting is the new normal in many disciplines, (2) fellowship dollars have been drying up with the recent economic downturn, and (3) state budget cuts in higher education have resulted in fewer course offerings in many departments and thus fewer opportunities for funding for those Ph.D. students.

I'm not trying to sound holier-than-thou here - as if I'm leaving academia in some futile effort to "stick it to the man." I'm not. My decision to leave is first and foremost an individual one that I am doing for my own health and well-being. However, as I have learned more about some aspects of higher education staffing, of which I was previously unaware, I feel more and more secure in this decision. Even if I were to land a tenure-track job, I think this new knowledge would eat away at me - knowing that for nothing other than dumb luck, I would have landed the dream job while hundreds if not thousands of my colleagues are being horribly exploited by the same system. I'm a big believer in social justice and fair compensation for one's work, and for this reason I don't think I will be on the academic job market again this fall in any capacity. I don't want to work for an employer that is blatantly exploiting a large segment of its workforce - while hiding said exploitation in the shadows.

The system of higher education and university staffing is deeply flawed and exploitative. I want out of it.

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