In honor of Labor Day, very interesting posts by Brainstorm comrades Bauerlein (part one and part two) and Barreca. The posts and ensuing conversations are very much worth a look.

Above, Part 2 of my interview with Melanie Hubbard, a Columbia Ph.D. with articles, an NEH fellowship, and a book contract, who has never been interviewed for a tenure-track job while serving on full-time contingent appointments for 10 years. You can also see part 1, and read Hubbard’s own article on her experience, which I’ve partly extracted below.

Knowledge workers are now disproportionately female, providing a downwardly mobile second income – and volunteer labor – if they choose to remain in the profession at all. Think about it: In order to earn a modest yearly income, say $33,000, an adjunct would have to teach 20 courses at $1,650 per course – an impossibility, and twice the workload of her salaried peers.

Americans would not tolerate having their surgeries performed by itinerant doctors paid by the piece (Dr. Barber will be doing your prostatectomy for about 20 bucks in the back of his car – he’s not a urologist, but don’t worry, he does these all over the state), so why would we tolerate the reduction of the teaching profession to wage slavery? Why do institutions with adjunct rates above 40 percent continue to receive accreditation? Perhaps the public is simply unaware of the problem, but students are aware.

“I’ve been going to this school for two years, and you’re the first real professor I’ve had!” a student said to my husband. That was 15 years ago. Students are paying much more for much less: Tuition has outpaced inflation by 3-1, while the full-time professoriate has dwindled in the midst of surging student enrollments. First- and second-year courses are now routinely subcontracted, so students are getting less than they ever have while working harder and harder, or amassing crushing debt, to pay for it.

Of the “abysmal” prospects for those wishing to become professors, Robbi Rhodes, a graduate student at Ohio State, told me, “I don’t think I’d encourage students to go to grad school – not in good conscience.” About to finish her dissertation in Victorian literature and science, she’ll give her own job search another year. And if it doesn’t work out? “I’ll go to medical school.”

The hard truth is that colleges and universities have figured out that it pays to exploit the workers. Financial setbacks and pressure from states unwilling to fund higher education have led to a corporate profit-seeking model which bears little relation to the educational mission.

This near-famine for the professoriate has direct consequences for students. Studies indicate, for instance, that the more community colleges rely on part-time labor, the lower the graduation rate of their students. Part-time faculty generally share office space with as many as 50 other part-timers, making student conference time haphazard at best. But individual attention is the backbone of most real education, and the student’s relationship with a faculty member forms the basis for the all-important letters of recommendation the student will need when applying for a job or further education.

–extracted from Professors Take The Long Course in Poverty by Melanie Hubbard, St. Petersburg Times, January 6, 2008






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