Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Adjuncts! Tell Your Story Here!

(Editor note: Please share this post far and wide - on twitter, on your blog, Facebook, wherever. I don't blog-flog as a general rule, but I welcome any sharing of this post that anyone wants to do. Let's get as many stories as possible, and then we'll see what we can do as far as getting them out to a wider audience.

Also: I'm not going to respond to comments because I just want this to be a comment thread of stories, with minimal distractions. But I am reading all of them and listening.)

So it's been a rough week in internet-land for postacademics and adjuncts (and their defenders).

If you have a strong stomach for condescending, insulting comments, click here or here. But if not, let's just say that there has been a lot of insulting nonsense posted recently at academic forums, with (presumably) tenure-track faculty and/or grad students implying that academia is still basically a meritocracy, that folks who don't get tenure-track jobs are deficient in some way, and that adjuncting isn't really a major problem (and that even if it is, adjuncts know the market is crap so they deserve what they get).

It's cruel nonsense, of course ... but it's still obnoxious, and I don't think we should let it sit out there unchallenged.

But in an era when data about adjuncts is hard to come by and where graduate departments don't publish their placement statistics, it's hard to refute what those people are saying.

A few of us were talking about this problem on Twitter, and came to the conclusion that one thing that should happen is for more adjuncts and other contract faculty to share their experiences in a public forum. If more of you "come out" publicly about your experiences, then we stand a better chance of drowning out the voices who are insisting that everything is equal, that the most deserving always get ahead, and that things really aren't that bad out there for folks in the social sciences and humanities.

We need, in essence, a chorus of people who are on the lower rungs of academia to stand up and tell their stories.

Ideally, every single adjunct would have a column in a major magazine where they could do this. :) But in reality, of course, most of you don't have that kind of platform, and/or may not be comfortable "outing" yourselves publicly in that way - using your real name, and opening yourself up to shame and criticism.

So, here's a public (anonymous) platform for you to tell your stories, adjuncts. Take over my blog!

I want to hear about your working conditions, about how grad school did (or did not) prepare you for what you encountered on the job market, and about how adjuncting makes you feel as a person and as a scholar. If we hear stories from a lot of you, then it becomes easier to drown out the nasty comments and Pollyannaish narratives that are out there.

It certainly won't end the problems in academia, of course, but it might help in some small way ... if only by shaping the discourse on adjuncthood around your experiences, rather than around the statements and assumptions of tenured faculty.

So leave a comment (or email me at leavingacademia at gmail.com). Tell us about your adjunct life.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Why I Won't "Just Shut Up"

So I've been thinking quite a bit about the whole U of M/postac kerfuffle over the past few weeks, and have been following the continuing debate over it (this reaction was particularly great) as well as the conversation surrounding Rebecca Schuman's new article in the Chronicle (behind the paywall, unfortunately) - which includes, incredibly, a full professor at an R1 university trying to invalidate her argument because she made a snarky comment about a few pioneering theorists. Sigh.

Anyway, I wrote my last post because I wanted to defend myself against the (untrue) assertion that I think grad students are all privileged jerks who can't get real jobs. As I wrote two weeks ago - that is not, never has been, and never will be true of my thoughts on privilege in academia.

But now that I've gotten that out of my system and have been following the ongoing postacademic debates, I've been thinking more and more about the silencing attempts I've been witnessing. First, of course, we have Amy Pistone telling all of us to shut up on an official graduate school website. Then, we see professors trying to deride and belittle critics like Schuman in the pages of a major magazine/website. And so on and so on. The critiques of postacademia, then, seem to amount to "shut up and stop talking!"

(I mean, unless I'm way off base, I haven't seen any other critiques of our work out there. No one can refute the horrific job outlook for many disciplines, nor can they argue with the fact that some people don't like certain types of work (even academic work) ... so all they're left with is "Well, I love my work, so you just shut up and stop talking and everything will be fine for everyone!!")

The more I've thought about the people who are saying those things to Schuman and William Pannapacker and the other critics of Ph.D. education, the angrier I've gotten. And now I feel compelled to write about why I haven't stopped updating this blog even though I'm officially out of academia, and why I'm not going to shut up and stop talking anytime soon.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

I Don't Think We're Saying What You Think We're Saying

So ... while I've been away taking care of work things and life things and computer things, it appears that my blog has gotten tangentially caught up in an academic/postacademic brouhaha.

It started when Amy Pistone, a Classics Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan posted this article (under the official U of M grad school masthead! Neato!!), instructing all of us in the postacademic world (and particularly those in the humanities) to sit down and shut up and stop talking, because she really really loves her work and that's all that matters. Not the crappy academic job market in the humanities, not the fact that grad school is something that a lot of people find depressing and demoralizing, and not the fact that there are a huge number of people out here who are reading and commenting (note: check out the years-long comment threads after each of those posts) and obviously gaining some value from those of us who are out here "writing these sorts of articles about grad students" that she doesn't like.


When I first noticed the traffic coming over from her article and skimmed it, I wasn't going to bother to respond. We postacademics get pushback from time to time, and I've got thick skin. And I'll be honest - when I glanced through Pistone's piece, my thoughts were basically: "mmmhmmm ... sure. Go ahead and vent, my dear ... but let's revisit this in five years and see how you feel then." Then I went on about my day.

But yesterday, I saw Rebecca Schuman's open letter to Amy Pistone, in which she expresses similar feelings to mine:
Do I dislike you, personally, Amy Pistone, even though you have misunderstood the dark humor in an article I wrote [...]? No, on the contrary, you remind me of a far more earnest version of myself at your stage (I’d say “at your age,” but I spent seven years working in the private sector between college and grad school, which is more than two, in case you’re wondering).
No, my reaction to you, personally, is “Oh, bless her heart—she’ll learn soon enough.”
(It was apparently Schuman's piece in Slate from earlier this year that inspired Pistone's university-sanctioned* temper tantrum.)

Reading Schuman's response inspired me to go back and read Pistone's article more closely. And boy, am I glad I did. Because now that I've read her post in full, I feel compelled to respond to what are clear and notable misrepresentations of my writing on this blog.