Monday, February 17, 2014

Columbia University and the Continued Rise of Adjuncthood: Does Mentoring Even Matter Anymore?

Now that I am back from my blogging hiatus, one of my goals going forward is to work harder to raise awareness of "academic justice" issues - i.e., how faculty, adjunct instructors, and grad students are treated by their institutions and by higher education more generally.

(Hint: the treatment is oftentimes not very good.)

As I mentioned years ago on this blog, during graduate school I had no idea about how widespread the labor problems in academia actually were. In my program, the cheap teaching labor came from graduate students; therefore, the "fulltime adjunct" problem was not as obvious to me as it was to folks in other disciplines. In addition, my graduate program was highly ranked and seemed to be able to hire an endless stream of new tenure-track faculty, year after year. Meanwhile, I watched graduates of my program go on to solid tenure-track positions or good postdocs every single year. From my perspective, then, things in academia appeared solid and stable.

It wasn't until I left academia in 2011 and started reading about the wider academic job market and the working conditions in colleges and universities other than my own that I realized that things were not as rosy as I had assumed. To my surprise, I discovered the existence of full-time adjuncts. To my greater surprise, I discovered the graduating Ph.D. students who just sort of "disappeared," never to be tracked by their graduate institutions unless they got a tenure-track job. To my even greater surprise, I discovered the existence of faculty (both tenured and non-tenure-track) who were laid off from their institutions without notice and often without cause.

In the past few years as I've continued to read these stories and as my blog gained an audience, I've found that negative stories about academic labor just keep on coming. So even as my personal story about academia has come to an end, I want to use this blog to keep the conversation going about academia's working conditions.

So here we go...a few stories about academic labor justice to start off your week. One relates to general patterns of faculty and staff hiring, and the other to a series of worrisome faculty layoffs that are currently occurring at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

New Postac Blogs?

Hello loyal readers...

Since I've been basically MIA for the last year or so, I am SURE that I have missed quite a few postacademic blogs that appeared during my website-co-building, e-book co-editing, non-blogging exile. I used to watch my blog stats like a hawk, noticing who would link to me and plugging the best blogs over here as soon as I noticed them. But as you may have noticed, I haven't done that in quite a while. And now that I'm back, I'd like to remedy that.

So if you are writing or have been reading a good postac blog that isn't currently in my blogroll, please leave the URL in comments. (Or email or tweet it to me, if you're more comfortable with that.) I want to make sure that anyone finding this blog will have an updated list of folks who they can turn to for comfort or advice or commiseration or ranting, or whatever it is that you need.

So let me know if there are any blogs I've been missing! Leave a comment on this post now, tomorrow, next week...whenever. I see all new comments as they come in on every post every time I log in, so I will see it no matter if you leave a comment tonight or two years from now. Let me know who you're reading!

......And, you know, if you've been considering starting a blog about your own postacademic transition, now might be a good time. :)

More soon....

Sunday, February 9, 2014

What is the "Right" Postacademic Job?

As you may have just read (and if not, go read it now!), my fellow post-academic and co-editor Kathleen has landed herself a new fulltime job working for an online university! She will be working with and mentoring university students, teaching a few online classes, and will be staying in the geographic location that she is currently living in without having to relocate. Oh, and it will also pay her a generous full-time salary with benefits. Yayyyyy Kathleen!!

(Because I feel like I should say this: I know what school she will be working for, and it's not one of the "diploma mill" online schools that are often criticized. Though for reasons that I will outline below, I wouldn't care if it was ... because I firmly believe that any nonacademic job is a valid choice for people who leave academia.)

So, the other night when Kathleen emailed Lauren and me to tell us about her new job, she was a little worried that she would be considered a "postacademic impostor" once she announced her new job: that she would be criticized for not taking the "right" kind of postacademic job (because online universities have come under fire lately from folks in academia and postacademia), or that taking a job that involved teaching and mentoring was not far enough outside of traditional academia to truly qualify as a postacademic job.

As I told Kathleen last week, I don't agree with that assessment at all. And thinking about that conversation has actually motivated me to write my first blog post in a long, long time.

I've been out of academia for nearly three years now, and the postacademic blogosphere and world have changed considerably during that time. Most of that shift has been wonderful - we are getting national press coverage and having public conversations about leaving academia, and the decision to leave is losing a lot of its stigma and the people who do it are being brought out of the shadows.

But along with the growing visibility of the postacademic blogosphere, I've also noticed a not-so-great shift in the types of conversations we're having.

The postacademic blogosphere used to be primarily about how individual bloggers were leaving academia without a net or a guide, and about their success (or lack thereof) at finding some job - any job - that would help them fully break free from academia's totalitarian culture and strict guidelines for what was acceptable. We had popular postacademic bloggers who worked as temps, as secretaries, as office managers, and even those who were unemployed for a while as they tried to find a new job. But we supported each other, and we reassured each other, and we talked about how even our not-so-glamorous jobs were terrific in comparison to adjuncting! And that our stable jobs (no matter what they were!) were better than begging for graduate funding every year while we took multiple futile stabs at the academic job market. At that time, leaving was the end goal for postacademics. It didn't matter what you did next, as long as you broke free of academia.

In contrast, today's postac blogsophere has been more focused on scathing critiques of higher education and academia, and on profiles of successful people who have left academia and are well-established in new careers. I think that these types of pieces are certainly useful for new postacademics to read (scathing critiques abound in my archives, of course!), but this new focus has left a noticeable hole in the blogosphere. The highly personal, individual stories about the struggles and ups and downs of individual people as they are initially leaving academia and trying to find some stable footing elsewhere are all but missing in today's postacademic world. (Though such stories abound in our e-book, which can be bought here or here!)

That's understandable, to a point - as postacademia becomes more public, the types of conversations that we have will change. But to tie this back to my conversation with Kathleen--in which she worried that her new job meant that she was "doing postacademia wrong"--I worry that the absence of stories about the struggles and hard decisions that many postacs go through as they leave may inadvertently make future academic leavers feel anxious or apprehensive. If new postacs don't know what kind of career they want after they leave, is that okay? Because most of what they will read in today's blogosphere is about people leaving and landing awesome, elite, PhD-level jobs.

Similarly, if they don't land a perfect, academically-approved postac job right away, are they doing postacademia right? If they wind up temping for a little while as they figure out what comes next, should they feel like failures? If they get a good job with a generous salary and benefits in an industry that other postacademics are criticizing publicly, should they stay quiet because it's not a "good" job??

I worry that if postacademia continues to highlight only the biggest postac successes, they will be inadvertently ignoring people whose paths out of academia aren't quite as blessed. And in turn, I worry that we may be doing a disservice to the people who will be looking to the postac blogosphere for advice in the future, especially if they don't know exactly what they want to do next. (You know...people like Kathleen and me, 2-3 years ago.)

So in today's shifting postacademic blogsophere, I want to be clear about something that I believe with every fiber of my being (and that I do believe most postacademics believe, for the record): short of contract killing or drug trafficking, there are no "good" or "bad" postacademic jobs. There is no "right" or "wrong" way to do postacademia.