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 83September 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.
- Death of an adjunct professor (post-gazette.com)
- Death Of An Adjunct | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (huffingtonpost.com)
- Death of an Adjunct (taxprof.typepad.com)
- An Adjunct’s Death Becomes a Rallying Cry for Many in Academe (chronicle.com)
- Underpaid 83-Year-Old Professor Died Trying to Make Ends Meet by Working Night Shift at Eat an’ Save (alternet.org)
- The Way We Live Now: “Death of An Adjunct” (balloon-juice.com)
- Death Of An Adjunct | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (halyardconsulting.com)
- Death Of An Adjunct | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (internetsuccess4you.wordpress.com)
- Speaking of adjuncts… (correntewire.com)
- Death of an Adjunct (beavercountyblue.org)
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.
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,
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?
- Professors Still View MOOCs Skeptically (scientificamerican.com)
The Price of the Life of the Mind
I’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.
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…
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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.
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.
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.
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.
- Essay criticizing President Obama and other politicians who appear to focus only on science (insidehighered.com)
- 2 Paths to a Degree and a Career – Career-Oriented Majors and Liberal Arts Majors (bigfuture.collegeboard.org)
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.