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Adjunct living: Die Trying

September 19, 2013
Duquesne University

Duquesne University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am going to quote at length from this article, which relates the sad tale of an adjunct professor at Duquesne University (a private Catholic school).

There but for the grace of God go I…

 

Death of an adjunct

Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor of French for 25 years, died underpaid and underappreciated at age 83
September 18, 2013 12:06 am

By Daniel Kovalik

On Sept. 1, Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor who had taught French at Duquesne University for 25 years, passed away at the age of 83. She died as the result of a massive heart attack she suffered two weeks before. As it turned out, I may have been the last person she talked to.

On Aug. 16, I received a call from a very upset Margaret Mary. She told me that she was under an incredible amount of stress. She was receiving radiation therapy for the cancer that had just returned to her, she was living nearly homeless because she could not afford the upkeep on her home, which was literally falling in on itself, and now, she explained, she had received another indignity — a letter from Adult Protective Services telling her that someone had referred her case to them saying that she needed assistance in taking care of herself. The letter said that if she did not meet with the caseworker the following Monday, her case would be turned over to Orphans’ Court.

For a proud professional like Margaret Mary, this was the last straw; she was mortified. She begged me to call Adult Protective Services and tell them to leave her alone, that she could take care of herself and did not need their help. I agreed to. Sadly, a couple of hours later, she was found on her front lawn, unconscious from a heart attack. She never regained consciousness.

Meanwhile, I called Adult Protective Services right after talking to Margaret Mary, and I explained the situation. I said that she had just been let go from her job as a professor at Duquesne, that she was given no severance or retirement benefits, and that the reason she was having trouble taking care of herself was because she was living in extreme poverty. The caseworker paused and asked with incredulity, “She was a professor?” I said yes. The caseworker was shocked; this was not the usual type of person for whom she was called in to help.

Of course, what the caseworker didn’t understand was that Margaret Mary was an adjunct professor, meaning that, unlike a well-paid tenured professor, Margaret Mary worked on a contract basis from semester to semester, with no job security, no benefits and with a salary of between $3,000 and just over $3,500 per three-credit course. Adjuncts now make up well over 50 percent of the faculty at colleges and universities.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/opinion/perspectives/death-of-an-adjunct-703773/#ixzz2fM14s3ni

Why Even Try…

September 6, 2013

I have been reading about the rise of MOOCs and whether their utility is a fad or franchise, but the aspect that gets me irked is, not the “free” access of information to the masses–that I like–but that nothing is “free.”

MOOCs (massive online open courses), ostensibly, are free content open for all.  If, however, “credit” is to be given, there must be a gatekeeper.  Enter the workhorse of the workforce in higher ed–the contingent faculty member.

The rise of the use of contingent faculty is nothing new.  When I entered the fray (say around 1992), the use was on the rise.

The use of contingent faculty eclipses TT positions…by a long, upward march to futility.

That was good news for getting a gig…bad news for upward mobility.

Here is one shot of the situation…although I think the present numbers are more like 60% if not higher.

What is more depressing, though, is this chart,

Not even the TT faculty can keep up…and look, way down toward zero, you can see contingent faculty pay… Oh, wait, no. Contingent faculty, once again, is overlooked.

to which I ask: “why bother.”

Sure, if you are looking for a mission field, and you have the mind-set of a missionary with the appropriate zealousness of belief, then I say have at it.

But, if you have any hopes of a family, of a working car with some semblance of a place to live, then why bother?

February 19, 2013

Originally posted on conversation is an engine:

The Price of the Life of the Mind

tumblr_mhwfl0rYaL1qmylbao1_500-02192013I’m having a lively conversation with PissPoorProf about the value of a Liberal Arts degree. He maintains that liberal arts should be corollary studies in college while I think they should be central. Others are chiming in. It’s a discussion I welcome because the topic goes well beyond the choice of undergrad studies. As Burnt-Out Adjunct so ably points out (in his many posts) the life of the mind does not come with an income. In fact, it requires an income to satisfy those lower elements in Maslow’s hierarchy, just to get to the point where one can, well, buy time to think/read/write/converse.

Agreed.

Also agreed: the treadmill that is adjunct work, with day and night responsibilities (Honest: preparing lecture/discussions, delivering those educational events, responding to questions and grading take way more time than I would have ever…

View original 123 more words

Why I counsel against the Liberal Arts degree

February 19, 2013

Recently I posted about a Yahoo! Education article (one of many such that pop up with startling regularity) which indicated that the value of a liberal arts degree is, in short, not worth the investment.  I concurred.

English: Seven Liberal Arts / Musica

English: Seven Liberal Arts / Musica (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kirkistan, his blog is Conversation is an engine, posted a reply.  It is a well presented rebuttal, and even garnered a less-well worded follow-on comment.

Here is my reply:

So sorry to come so late to the party.

I, too, don’t “buy what they are selling,” partly because I can’t afford to buy much.  :)

One of my frequent clarions is to advise the younger generation away from the pain I have experienced from the decisions I made.  Is a liberal arts degree a death knell?  Not always.  It seems that Kirkistan beat the odds.  I applaud his good fortune.  He followed his path, and it led him well.

You are, though, the exception that proves the rule.  Far too many baristas struggle to pay off their student loans pulling them into a cycle of wage slavery that, arguably, sucks their life faster than working a better paying job that would allow them the economic freedom of movement to explore their intellectual passions.  And that is the dirty little secret…economic elbow room allows for more “leisure” time to pursue those passions in life that make life worth living.

I say this after having worked the only jobs available to a PhD in literature–adjunct teaching, which is about as soul-sucking as a wage-slave job can get (the DOD should look into teaching composition as an alternative to water-boarding).  I not only did NOT have the time to pursue my passions, but because of the nature of the beast I began to lose the passion in what I had, up to that point, dedicated my energies to…  In the past few years, I have moved away from beating my head against that wall and only take up an online class here and there—kind of a hobby class.  I have also pursued, at times in a mercenary manner, alternate revenue streams.  Finding a lucrative means of supporting my family while giving myself time and room to breathe (not grading all weekend, nights, etc.) has opened up my life again.  I can now feel the deep joy of backyard chicken raising (my other blog is a chicken blog), advocate for just causes and generally explore life again.

I say all of this to say that I wish that I would have had better counsel/information twenty years ago that would have allowed me to better position my education around a marketable skill over a “calling.”  Sometimes the call ends.

I will open up this discussion with some related article below which offer some pro and con.

I welcome your input into Kirkistan and my discussion.  With him, I agree, that conversation is an engine.

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Degrees Not to Earn – Yahoo! Education

February 7, 2013
The Seven Liberal Arts by Marten de Vos, 1590

The Seven Liberal Arts by Marten de Vos, 1590 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I see articles like this a lot lately…filling in some copy space in the 24 hour news cycle.  I get that.  You need something to write, and here is a ready-made list that, on the surface, seems relevant: looking to go to college, don’t study this!  The list!

So, out of self-flagellation I read these lists, only to see my degree (ok, I have a literature degree which is, really, just a more specific liberal arts degree) rounding out the top of the do-not-get list.

I really wish I would have paid attention to these sorts of things as an undergrad.  I think that honing a really cool world-view could have been a nice add-on to a paying degree over being the central theme to a degree that doesn’t pay the mortgage.

Degrees Not to Earn – Yahoo! Education.

Forest, trees and STEM debates

January 31, 2013

STEM debates focus on that old saw of liberal arts versus “hard” degrees (hard as in non-theoretical or abstract): Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

InsideHigherEd has an article, “We need more than STEM” which prompted my response that follows:

While I sympathize with Pomeranz’s basic assertions (public policy, both domestic and foreign, would be greatly informed by increased usage of academic research–I would extend this to include methods and practices), he really misses the point.

 You see that forest over there, it is composed of lots and lots of trees.  But they are not really trees; they are unemployed/underemployed liberal arts majors whose youthful idealism and enthusiasm wasn’t also informed by some basic advice on market conditions, job opportunities and a basic plan on how they would be able to provide for themselves and their emerging families post-graduation.  That is, arguing for the inclusion of the insights gleaned from an informed interrogation of historical facts into the decisions of our political leaders is a given.  I could not agree more.  But the point outlined by the administration, whose focus, properly, is more on job creation than encouraging Pomeranz’s informed policy making, reflects a desire to employ that large mass of degreed peoples.
ImageWhere should the discussion of STEM focus: on providing that mass of liberal arts graduates with a tangible, marketable skill (adjuncting is neither) that will allow the insights/tools/skills of intellectual query honed through their studies of history, literature, music, etc. to pervade the wider populace.  That is, give the poor sap a concomitant skill that will allow a living while also infusing that poor sap with the intellectual insights to make that living worth living.
Pomeranz’s call is already in place.  Public policy is being informed with the results of intellectual scrutiny (see the Kennedy School of Government and the like), ready to inform as the politicians allow.  The fact that politicians all-too-often ignore the insights of the academics is, I think, the real thorn in Pomeranz’s paw.
What is not in place is a means of providing the graduate of a Pomeranz’s field of study with a job. There are only just so many endowed chairs, even at the University of Chicago.

2012 in review

December 31, 2012

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,300 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 7 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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