Adjuncting and a Modern Literature Disaster

When I was a graduate student, I taught an intro course in comparative literature, comparative Canadian literature, to be precise. This was my exact area of expertise, so, other than the boring early discovery/settler literature, the class typically went well. This was my first experience teaching undergrads; I had previously taught English as a Second Language to bored and resentful teenagers over summers, so the literature thing seemed really easy to me.

When I moved out to California, I taught various levels of writing and composition as an adjunct, from basic developmental writing to an advanced course to upper division students. While I didn’t have much experience, I had wonderful mentors, great colleagues, and so, once again, generally ended up doing ok. I even like teaching developmental students because of my experience there.

Then, I hit what I thought was the jackpot: I was asked, at the last minute, to teach a upper-division class in Modern Literature. I was excited because, while not exactly my area of expertise, I longed to teach literature again. I also knew how important it was to have experience teaching upper-division courses while on the job market. I was just beginning to think of new ways to use technology in my courses to enhance the students’ learning, and I thought that this would be a chance to try something new.

One problem: I had no idea what I was doing and virtually no guidance in order to do it. When I asked if the title of the course meant what we would consider Modernist literature or just simply modern, as in during more modern times, I was met with a shrug. Looking at old syllabus didn’t help because it seemed that the course was whatever the professor wanted it to be. So I decided to focus on the “greats” of the Modernist movement, mixing in some authors who may not have been considered Modernist, but wrote during that period (most notably Langston Hughes and others from the Harlem Renaissance). I found a wonderful and inexpensive anthology of short stories, all virtually from the time period, which allowed me to hit the greats without a tone of large novels intimidating the students. The novels I did pick, I thought, were accessible, interesting, and a good illustration of certain aspects of the Modernist period. Virginia Woolfe’s To The Lighthouse, Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, Langston Hughes Not Without Laughter (I was told not to do poetry; this was a literature class), and James Joyce’s, Mr Modernist himself, Dubliners.

The short stories I had selected were not particularly well-known (ie, you couldn’t use Google to read up about them), so I had students select one short story each to create a Wikipedia-type introduction to be shared with the class and then lead an online class discussion through Blackboard on that story. I moderated the discussions about the novels and had groups of students create annotated bibliographies for each of them, in some cases limiting them to critical works from the past 20 years. These bibliographies were shared among all of the students before they had to go off and write their major essay assignment, which was an open topic.

If all of this sounds good to you, it was. On paper. I had to teach the class and get the students to buy into what I was selling. I wasn’t terribly successful. The students almost universally resented having to participate in online discussion forums (I loved it because it game me a jumping off point for class discussions; they hated that part, too) and didn’t understand why I wasn’t just teaching them what they needed to know, rather than making them do it. On top of it, they either thought my lectures and expectations were too hard or too easy. The final exam, which I had to give, wasn’t fair (although I’ll never understand why students complain about getting the essay questions in advance; would you rather go into the exam blind?) and I didn’t do enough to prepare them for it.

Which is, in a lot of ways, fair enough. I was used to only having to be one step ahead of 100-level students, and while there were students who weren’t too challenging to stay ahead of, many of my students were at the 400-level. It became clear that I was in over my head. I was reading some of these works for the first time cover to cover. Why the Dubliners by Joyce and not the more “Modernist” Ulysses or Finnegan’s Wake? Because I didn’t want to have to teach them! There were so many different ways that I could approach or access these works that I became overwhelmed. It showed in my lectures. While it was easy to focus in on one element to work on in an introductory writing class, it was really hard for me to do in a 400-level class with works that have inspired thousands of pages of criticism and analysis.

It was the first time I ever received more negative than positive feedback from my student evaluations. One read that I wasn’t qualified to teach the course and didn’t even have a clear definition of what the course was supposed to be about. Another wrote that I was too demanding and not at all helpful. Yes another resented my attempts to integrate technology, calling it a waste of time and effort. I was chastened. This was my first failure as a teacher, in an area I most wanted to succeed. I figured that because of the poor evaluation, as an adjunct, I would never be asked to teach the course again, and thus never have the opportunity to revise and refine my approach.

I think that this is a huge double-bind that adjuncts often find themselves in: wanting or needing to say yes to a course they have no business teaching. Because I got the course relatively at the last minute, I didn’t really have time to prepare, read, and reread any of the works I was teaching. And, while where I worked had an extensive network of people and support to those teaching writing courses, there wasn’t anything in place if you happened to end up teaching something else.

But I did end up learning some things about myself and my teaching. I think the majority of the students in the class learned something too, however grudgingly. I am particularly proud of the student who created a multi-media final essay that integrated jazz recordings with an analysis of Langston Hughes’ work. Another professor might not have allowed the student to experiment like that. So for those students for whom the class, they felt, was a waste of time, I am sorry. I would promise to do better next time, but unfortunately, I probably never will have the opportunity again. And for that, I am doubly sorry that your experience was, in a lot of ways, for naught.

Loyalty or Desperation, Revisited

In honor of the job numbers coming out of the MLA regarding potential jobs for all of us PhDs and ABDs, I want to reexamine an idea I put forward this summer. Last July, I wrote about how loyalty to a university can just as easily mask desperation in contingent faculty (the university that I mention in the post is not the same university where I am currently working). But I have been rethinking the ideas of loyalty and/or desperation in faculty members as it relates to the students I teach. I hope and wish that my institution would show loyalty towards me because of the loyalty I feel towards its students.

I have moved around quite a bit during my career. Being one half of an academic couple has lead to my traveling to multiple universities for work. But I am tired of moving around, tired of learning and relearning a new academic culture, and, most of all, I am tired of never knowing how the students I have taught have done in their academic careers. Teaching developmental writing, especially, creates a type of bond for me; I have invested a great deal of time and effort getting to know these students and trying to help them be successful in college. And I want to be there for them if they ever need me during their four or five more years in college. I want to be readily available to write letters for them if a reference is ever needed. I want to help my student who wants to get a PhD in Economics achieve that goal, even if it is just cheering him on from the sidelines. And I want to be there at graduation when they cross the stage and finally achieve their goal of getting a degree and becoming a teacher, a nurse, a vet tech, or whatever else they are hoping to do with their education.
But I can’t do that, at least not easily, if I am not employed at the university. I told my students that even if I didn’t have a job on campus next year or beyond, chances are I’d still be around because my husband is on the tenure-track and we have just bought a house in town. But how much weight would a letter carry from a former instructor, versus a current one? How easily could they track me down to ask for help, guidance, or a pep-talk, or would they even bother, if my campus email was shut down and I no longer had an office? I hope that I am still an employee, even as an instructor off the tenure-track, for many more years, not only for myself, but for the students I have taught and will teach.
My loyalty is to them. Many of them have come from very difficult situations, and I really want to help them succeed, or at a minimum smile proudly when their names are called and they cross the stage to receive their diploma, knowing I had played a small role in helping them achieve that goal. So, to my institution I say, your students have won me over. Now, are you going to show me a little bit of loyalty in return?

Self-Censorship as a Contingent Academic

I’ve written elsewhere how academic freedom in higher education is a bit of a misnomer. And I’m not saying that what I’m about to write about here should fall under the category of academic freedom. But it does fit into the category of faculty members needing to speak up and speak out about what does (or does not) go on academically on campus.

I picked up the student newspaper last week. On the front page, below the fold, was a story on how my school was now focusing on college readiness. In the article were some sobering statistics about the academic level of students we are admitting to the school. But I already knew that. The article, however, only quotes administrators, not faculty or instructors tasked with helping these students overcome their deficiencies in reading, writing, and math. The only mention of faculty is to throw our Education program under the bus, saying that “we” need to do a better job training teachers here.

This article made me mad for several reasons. At the beginning of the semester, a newly-hired administrator in a newly-created position came to talk to us (the instructors who teach remedial writing) about student retention and college readiness. He made a big deal about how his position was created to help us ensure student success. So would we please add some more administrative duties to the five classes we’re already teaching. He was quoted extensively and given a lot of praise for his coordination of the testing innitiative on campus in the aforementioned article.

I know he makes more money than I do as an instructor. He has more job security than I do as an instructor. I know that I have more experience and education than he does. No one in that room was in a tenure-track appointment. Some, like me, were lucky enough to have a full-time instructor position. Others were adjuncts, with low pay, no benefits, and little job seecurity. I’m not attacking him personally; he taught remedial math and lucked into the position because of an angry letter he sent in regards to the last-minute implementation of testing requirements. But when an administrator comes into a room full of tenuously-employed instructors, politely requiring them to do more work, I get my back up.

And while I have my own issues with the faculty of education, I think it is unfair to disparrage the work that they do to train teachers according to madated State and Federal guidelines. The impetus of the article was that our State has signed on to the Common Core Standards innitiative, to better prepare students for college. But until there are clear State guidelines as to how these standards will be evaluated, teachers will be prepared in order to be able to meet the current standards set by No Child Left Behind and now Race to the Top. Teachers are being trained to teach to the test and administer those tests.

Now, what does this have to do with “Academic” Freedom? I wanted to write a letter to the paper, outlining exactly what I said above. But I didn’t. As I have been told by many, I am lucky to have a job, at the same school as my husband, full-time, with benefits, in this area, in this economy. My chair went to bat for me and fought for me so I could be a full-time instructor and not simply an adjunct. But that could change; I’m the last one in and could very well be the first one out. This is a small school and a small community; I don’t want to sabotage my husband’s tenure case because I spoke up. And while I know my words will probably be appreciated by many in the faculty, I’m just just as sure that members of the administration will probably not look too kindly upon them.

So I’m left blogging, semi-anonymously, where my message will certainly reach a larger audience, but an audience nonetheless that is less relevant to the immediate issue at hand. I can blog all I want about the larger issues, but when do I need, when do we need, to start making concrete changes where we work and teach? This is why I should be “free” to speak up about the academic issues that impact me and, more importantly, my students and future students. I’m not doing anything wrong; I’m trying to do what’s right. But that’s not what is expected of me.

What do you think, readers? Send that letter or leave it here in the vaste spaces of the Internet?

Why I’ve Returned to Teaching

“If you want to see those raises, you [the faculty] need to work on retention, keeping more students from year-to-year.”

This isn’t an exact quote, but it’s pretty close to what we were told this week at the Fall Convocation for faculty and staff by the university’s president. After taking almost a year off from teaching, I am now going to be a full-time Instructor, teaching developmental English and Writing II. My teaching load is 5-4, and while I am receiving full benefits, I’m making 3/4 of the salary of a professor (I know-my husband is one). And, being a state institution, all of us are facing shrinking budgets, regardless of rank. “Do more with less” we are essentially being told. And, possibly, pass the kids along so you can keep your jobs.

I’ve written so much on this blog about the hypocracy of higher ed, about how liberating it has been for me to leave and try something new, that I feel like a hypocrite myself for going back to the university at all.  I have very strong mixed feelings. For one, I am so thrilled to be going back into the classroom.  Teaching, for me, isn’t a job, it’s part of who I am, as much a part of who as am as “mother,” “wife,” “sister,” “writer,” “swimmer,” etc. Maybe it’s all a social construct, but that doesn’t make it any less real for me. I missed being in front of a classroom, I missed watching students become better writers and better students, and I missed being a part of something larger than myself. 

I am also grateful that I will be pulling in a regular, larger salary. Grateful, and very relieved. I didn’t escape my education debt-free (far from it), and neither did my husband. His salary alone was not going to pay them back and allow us to live. Outside of the university, the only other real option for a job here is in health care. I may have toyed with the idea, but I’m not retraining for another, completely different career. In this economy, in this environment, I am lucky to have a job.

But, when I hear the administration telling us that we need to do more, much more, with less, I feel a sense of despair.  When I learn that my developmental students have ACT scores in English that deem them woefully unprepared for college, my resolve and enthusiasm wanes. When I read that the university is taking advantage of my passion for teaching, I get angry at the idea that I am allowing myself to be a pawn.  When I look at the statistics and other studies that show that it is disproportionally women who fulfill the roles of underpaid and under-appreciated workers in higher ed, I question my whole decision to give up my tenure-track job for my family. I’ve asked this before, but what kind of role model am I providing for my own children, for the (very) young adults that I teach?

So, why have I gone back to teaching? Because, at the end of the day, I’m making a compromise. For me, the benefits, both literal and figurative, outweigh everything else. I might not be on the tenure-track, but as long as their are developmental students, I have a strong sense that I will have a job. And I don’t see the developmental student going away anytime soon. I can still blog, and I can still try to find a way to change higher ed for the better. I can teach the students who will potentially teach my children. I can open students’ eyes and minds, lots of them (between 100-150 a semester). I won’t pass them along, but I will, instead, make them earn their passing grade.

For now.

If the situation changes, I have no problem walking away, starting (however begrudgingly) over, again. Maybe by then we’ll have managed to pay off some our debt. Maybe by then, I’ll be able to leave on my own terms, not theres. Perhaps that is the best lesson I can teach my kids.

Higher Education? Part I: How Much is a Professor Worth?

For my brief, positive review of the book, see here.

In the very first chapter of Higher Education?, the authors discuss the compensation that professors earn in comparison to the job that they do. They point to the fact that professors (at least at R1 or prestigious private universities) are paid a lot of money (six figures in a lot of cases, if you just read the book) for not a lot of work (four classes taught a year), usually with graduate assistants doing the bulk of the grunt work (grading, leading discussions, answering questions). This may be true for a small number of very prestigious schools (the Golden Dozen, as the authors call them), but for the majority of the professors out there who are in fact lucky enough to be on the tenure-track, this is not the reality.

State support for higher education had clearly been deteriorating. This has lead to an erosion of the real salaries of professors, while they have been asked to teach larger and larger classes, sometimes requiring that the professors teach an overload course, sometimes compensated, sometimes not. And these are not professors who are only teaching four classes a year. These are professors who are teaching four or five classes a semester or quarter. These professors are not making anywhere near six-figure salaries.

The picture that the opening chapter paints of university professors is one of lavish (unearned) privilege. The Ivory Tower is full of Marie Antoinettes calling for the ungrateful, unwashed masses of undergraduates to eat the proverbial cake. Maybe I’m over-reacting, and I know that there are many, many professors out there who do want more and more and more (money, prestige, accolades) for less and less and less (students, teaching, other responsibilities). But most professors work at underfunded, tuition-reliant institutions that cannot afford to pay professors a fraction of what the Golden Dozen and a handfull of others pay.

And besides, what is wrong with the pay a professor earns? As I have written elsewhere, professors face a huge unpaid/low-pay training period as compared to other professions. We go to school for ten years. While our friends who got out of school after their undergrads have paid off their student loans, begun buying houses and moving up the professional ladder, we’re stuck doing low-paying postdocs or adjuncting. We start our careers in our thirties, a full ten to fifteen years after our undergraduate cohorts do. Not to mention the loans we still haven’t paid off and the loads of credit card debt we’ve accumulated in the meantime.

The authors give an example of the pay and benefits of a professor at Stanford (pay, health, housing/mortgage credit, free tuition for kids, etc). For those living in an area where the cost of living is low, then this amount (high six figures, all things included) sounds obscene. But, having lived in California, what Stanford is paying is about what a person would need in order to live in or around Stanford. Northern California is expensive. Housing is expensive. Food is expensive. Heck, California taxes are expensive. A person living on that salary in Northern California is just hanging on to what we might consider the middle class.  The offered tax credit in order to buy a better house should be telling. In other words, on this salary alone, you can’t afford to live in a neighborhood that has good schools and is safe for your family. It might also say, you can live with the other white people, but that is a different discussion about the hypocrisy of higher ed.

Or is it? Early in the chapter, the authors refer to the old practice of placing universities away from the cities, to keep the professors and students “pure” and, one would imagine, away from distractions. If you point to the Stanford benefits package, why not point to the hypocrisy of being able to buy a better house to a class of people who increasingly identify themselves as being inclusive and tolerant?

The authors also do nothing to indicate what would be fair work and fair pay for professors. Later on in the book they (quite rightly) attack the obscene pay of university presidents and other administrators, saying that they should view their role as a public service and accept less pay as a result. What other sacrefices do they authors expect professors to make, already having forgone up to fifteen years or more of earning power (opportunity costs) in order to become a professor to begin with? We might have jobs that others would be envious of. But to paint us all as six-figure earning, student-hating (or at least avoiding), greedy, myopic relics of a time past isn’t fair to the thousands of professors struggling to make ends meet, even on a six-figure salary.

An Open Letter to and Adjuncts

This is a letter, actually, to all those who are looking to seriously change higher education, such as,,, and everyone else.

I have a dream. It is a dream where adjuncts (aka contingent faculty) teach their classes and get paid a fair amount. In fact, they can set their own amount, with a cut going to the system administrator. These courses will be accredited, or at least accepted for credit at a student’s home institution, perhaps the institution where the instructor has taught in the past. It would be the biggest teaching institution in the world, housed entirely online.

Because, let’s look at this objectively. In the case of California, the largest public system in the nation, the large majority of a student’s tuition is not being spent on instruction and the community colleges are outsourcing the classes they apparently can’t afford to provide. Students in the Cal State system can’t get the classes they need to graduate.  This is just an example, but it is an illustrative one. We are laying off adjuncts, turning out students because they can’t finish. Why, instead of outsourcing, do they not accept a course, taught by a qualified instructor as an equivalent? It could be a win-win – adjuncts get paid what they deserve and universities graduate students.

But there are always the thorny issues of accreditation. Nixty, God bless’em, have seem to have come up with a solution so simple, it’s truly revolutionary. On their page for educators, they give seven reasons why an educator should choose to use Nixty. Reason number 4:

“Teach Credentialed Courses – If you are employed at an academic institution and teaching in your specialty area, then your courses will be “credentialed” to differentiate them from other courses on NIXTY.”

So simple and elegant. If you already teach at an accredited institution, then you must be qualified and teach courses of equivalent value! Or, as I like to put it, teach first, ask questions later.

Please imagine it if you will: teach one class at a university or community college and teach the rest of the time online, as many students you can handle for as much as you think you deserve. No more highway driving between colleges. No more begging, borrowing and stealing every summer down time. No more inability to afford health care. You are accountable to the students and to yourself.

Because, as I have written elsewhere, we can’t afford to give it away for free. But if we can leverage our collective strength, knowledge and take advantage of the power of Web 2.0 technologies, we can be in the driver’s seat.

There is still an issue of financial aid and the guarantee that institutions will accept the courses. But these are desperate times and there is increased pressure coming from various levels of government to increase college completion rates.

This represents a tremendous opportunity for all of us. We just need to be willing to work together to see this change. It’s my dream and I hope to make it yours, too.

Higher Ed’s Missing Women (and why we all need to care)

There was a recent post on The Washington Post’s website, Why Women Leaders are MIA from Academic Life. I wrote a similar post, A Women’s Work in Higher Ed, a few months ago. Blogs like UVenus exist because an entire generation of women academics feel like academia has little place for them. Reading the comments on The Washington Post article, you’d think that it’s more whiny women who can’t cut it and want special treatment over men, who clearly deserve it or want it more. It when so far that when I tweeted the MIA article, it was retweeted with the comment, “feminist propaganda.”

What I think many people outside of academia don’t understand is how late in the game, compared to just about any other profession, academics actually start their careers. You need your undergrad (min. four years), masters (one-two years), and then PhD (four years plus). In the sciences, you are also expected to complete one or more postdoctoral fellowships (another three plus years). And then, if you are lucky, you might land a tenure-track job, which means another seven years of breaking your back in order to win tenure. The rest of us labor as casual, low-paid, contingent faculty.

Do that math. A woman must wait until she is in her mid- to late-30s in order to have kids if she wants to go the path of the academic. Or, she lacks insurance in order to pay to have a kid.

Men, on the other hand, can have babies until, well, forever. Which is why the system doesn’t punish men in the same way.

Let’s look at other, high-demand professions where women have also historically lagged behind: business, law, medicine. These professions typically demand some post-undergrad education. But the length of those programs is nothing compared to getting a PhD, almost half the time. In business, the MBA typically comes once the person has some experience in the business world. While residencies in order to specialize in medicine are long and grueling, the doctor is paid a fair amount of money during this period. Not a king’s ransom, but fair. And there are a number of choices a new doctor can select in order to specialize in a program that suits their lifestyle and life goals. As a lawyer, even if someone chooses to only practice law part-time, they are still paid the going rate for lawyers, not paralegals.

For a woman getting a PhD, there is no less-demanding specialty, no part-time option, no flex-time, nothing. You either ride the tenure-track or you get paid next to nothing as an adjunct. 

But at the end of the day, if you believe in the innate, natural, biological differences between men and women, and you care about the future of higher ed, then you should be screaming for more women to rise the leadership ladder. Much of the criticism of the current direction (and rapid regression) of higher ed is directed at the top-down, business-like leadership. Universities, the criticism says, are being run like corporations and less like institutions where collaboration and share governance are prized. Universities, in other words, are being run by men like a stereotypical man: dictatorial, ruthless, and profit/prestige driven. If the university is to survive, it needs a stereotypical women’s touch: collaboration, cooperation, and compassion. 

If these are the values and skills we want our undergraduates to have in order to succeed in the 21st Century, we need leadership at the universities that reflect those values and practice those skills. The university needs more women leaders.

Loyalty or Desperation?

This post originally appeared at

Loyalty or Desperation?

I didn’t teach last semester (Winter 10). It was the first time I had been out of the classroom, away from students, for almost 10 years.  And it wasn’t because I didn’t have the opportunity to teach, it’s because I decided that I didn’t like the conditions under which I would be teaching.

Go anywhere online that talks about issues in higher ed (Chronicle, Inside Higher Ed, countless blogs) and you can read about the current plight of teachers at colleges and universities. Increasing reliance on adjunct teachers and harsh punishment for any sign of disloyalty from those who are lucky enough to hold full-time/tenure-track appointments.  I, to some, showed my disloyalty by refusing to teach a class whose timing would severely impact my quality of life, turning the course down at the last minute while I waited to see if another opportunity came through so we could make the bills.

“Roxie Smith” wrote on her blog about academic loyalty/disloyalty in regards to a (female) provost who was fired by the (male) president of their university for looking for another job. She writes that there has been a “shift in the academy from a decentralized administrative structure to the much more centralized, top-down model that has taken hold as universities have come to be run more like corporations in recent years. We deplore that shift in part because it encourages — even, indeed, forces — faculty to think of themselves as independent contractors rather than as members of a collective with a stake in the future of the institution.”


I don’t know anyone, other than the administrative assistants and the professor who hired me, where I am currently teaching.  I don’t have any motivation, either.  I was told upfront that I would never get a full-time job there because my specialty and interests were not a priority.  Can I help it if I adapt as mercenary approach to being an adjunct as they take towards adjuncts? Nothing personal, just business.  I am dedicated to the students I teach, but not to the institution. I now consider myself an independent educator. No one owns me or my loyalty.  Is it any surprise, then, that institutions that too heavily rely on contingent faculty have problems with retention and completion rates?

This is not to say that I am not dedicated to trying to change higher ed for the better; I’ve decided to think big instead.  When I read articles that claim that higher ed still cares about students, academic freedom, etc, I wonder if change can really come from within.  It’s one thing to care, it’s another thing to actually do something about it.  I have written elsewhere that women especially hit a glass ceiling because they make up such a huge percentage of the contingent faculty ranks and are thus cut off from ascending the ranks of administration where they can truly have an impact.  So, I’m breaking rank and going at it differently.

A colleague asked me about what message this teachers our younger generation, when we become so disloyal to institutions that were at one time the bedrock of our culture and society? I  respond by asking what lesson am I teaching my daughter if she sees me working long, horrid hours for basically nothing, increasingly doing volunteer work in the slim hope that one day the institution will reward me for my hard work and “loyalty”? And every year watching me stress out because I don’t know if I will have enough courses to pay the bills, qualify for heath insurance? And every time there is a position opening, watching me go from hope to despair as the job goes to another (usually external) candidate?

Loyalty is important. But, my loyalty has to be earned. I want to teach my children that you do not reward people or institutions who abuse and exploit you with your loyalty.  I refuse to let them confuse loyalty with desperation. 

What can we do outside of higher ed – That’s still ed?

President Obama’s plan for schools includes “college and career readiness.” But as I have written elsewhere in the blog, anyone on the front lines of freshman education knows that many, many of the students coming into college are not ready for college-level work, let along career-level work. There is also a over-abundance of underemployed PhD’s who have extensive experience with what students are lacking in terms of college readiness. The solution? A PhD (or more!) for every school, whose sole purpose is to ensure college readiness in the students, to assist teachers in teaching the skills that will be needed in college, and to equip as many students as possible to be successful in college.

But, if I wanted to be a high school teacher, I wouldn’t have done a PhD! Fine, but what did you do your PhD for? A tenure-track job. In which you would teach. Yes, and do research. But, really, how much research are you doing running from one school to another, preparing courses, correcting a mountain of papers, worrying about how you are going to pay your bills? Teach grad classes? How many of those have your taught lately? What would you really be giving up if you were to get a job like this?

You could live where you wanted to, have a regular-paying job, and still have the opportunity to shape and change lives.

Ed degree? Well, it hasn’t guaranteed the ability to teach college readiness. Why not try something different? This could – no, would!- change lives, students’ lives who may not have even considered college when they are taught or exposed to a “real” college-level teacher. Students benefit, underemployed PhDs would benefit, schools would benefit, and higher ed would ultimately benefit.

And they would benefit in more ways than one. Suddenly, a whole lot of that cheap, contingent labor they’ve been relying on will be gone. What will they do then? How will they retain their best teachers and researchers when schools are drawing them away? Hey, try offering us tenure-track jobs.

See, everyone wins.

A Woman’s Work in Higher Ed.

A recent blog post on was provocatively titled “Women Have No Place in Education.” The writer is a dedicated and tireless advocate for school choice, and is putting her proverbial money where her mouth is by starting a charter school for underprivileged kids. But what she write, I think, applies to women in higher ed:

Women really do have a place in education, but I can’t help but wonder if working as a classroom teacher in some ways limits our opportunities to assume leadership roles, e.g., administration, superintendency, charter school developer, etc. Now I know there are some very dedicated, qualified, and damned good classroom teachers who have absolutely no desire to transition into a leadership role. I can and do respect that. But what about those who do? At what cost? What must she/they exchange in order to exercise their dynamic and visionary leadership skills and leading their staff in transforming a school that ensures the success of every child.”

Now, this isn’t exactly the same as the situation in higher ed, but the majority of adjunct teachers (contingent, underpaid, responsible for the majority of the foundational courses in the humanities) are women. We are essentially hitting a “glass ceiling” in higher ed. It is impossible to transition to leadership roles without that ever-elusive tenure-track job. So women are limited in their career development, deprived of their chance to choose to shape the direction of higher education.

But what other options are there? This is the way we have allowed ourselves to be limited, the way higher ed has convinced us to limit ourselves: We believe that if we have a PhD, we are a failure unless we get that tenure-track position. So we scratch and claw and keep coming back, keep putting off having families, paying off debt, buying a house, getting married, etc. And we keep complaining (quietly, as rocking the boat too much is career suicide) but we can’t see our way out of it.

So what do we have to sacrifice in order to take matters into our own hands and take charge of our careers but also to work to improve conditions for students and other teachers? How can we change the university when we aren’t allowed in?

From without.

We need to start using the skills we have acquired over the years, not in unrelated areas, but in the name of education. Use our research skills to grow our knowledge and power in the name of ourselves and our careers as we chose to define them. Use our teaching skills to teach other in new ways. What are we sacrificing? The dream of the tenure-track job and all that that includes. What might we gain? Independence, power and a voice to change higher ed for the better. And to change lives.

My next blog, someplace to start.