Sunday Link-A-Doodle-What-The-F*CK: Adjunct Taint Edition

IS THIS NOT SO DEPRESSING? I realize it’s true, but it’s still depressing as fuck.

The longer they work off the tenure stream, the less likely they are to match what we’re going to be looking for whenever a search opens up.”

This is largely rhetorical, but: Why? Why, in the goddamned everloving world, is experience successfully teaching students in your department something that makes people less qualified to teach on the tenure-track in your department? 

We all know full well that many adjuncts are stellar researchers. I, for example, just had a book accepted at one of the finest presses in the country. If I were already on the tenure track, I would be a slam dunk for tenure right this second. But the simple fact that I am an adjunct, that I have been subjected to bad luck in a bad market, makes me “not match” what you’re looking for. But alas. My PhD is “stale.” I would never get past the levels I’d need to get past to get hired–simply because I’ve never been hired before (course if I’d been hired before, I wouldn’t be on the market…but…oh, forget it).



23 thoughts on “Sunday Link-A-Doodle-What-The-F*CK: Adjunct Taint Edition

  1. Agreed. If he is going to give adjuncts resources for research and professional development to try and keep them as equal-ish as possible, then the logic is off. I suspect he is mixing up ideals of what he would like to do (and hopefully will) with the hard-to-abandon unspoken rules about not hiring adjuncts for TT positions. Still, at least he is being honest and candid.

    Years and years ago I watched a department decide to offer someone a semi-permanent lecturer position, although he had not made their top-10 short list for a TT position in a previous year – the person was going to be near the university for personal reasons and would have been a so-called “opportunity hire.” So in fact the dept. was saying that they did not want him for a TT position but were fine with him teaching. So that “logic” is there as well as part of the lack of logic. (He turned them down.)


  2. I don’t see why your question should only be rhetorical. What, other than shiny newness, would an NTT ipso facto be lacking that disqualifies them for the TT?


  3. The thinking is that if you are employable as a TT person then you will get a TT job right off. If you do not and you adjunct, you have proven that you are willing to adjunct, which means you have no self-respect and also have not understood the system. If you understand the system so poorly that you have agreed to adjunct, how can I expect that you will understand it well enough to function as a tenure track or tenured faculty member?


      • But faculty know it. I am still shocked that there are so many who are not told. I was always told adjuncting was the kiss of death, especially for women, and that one should not do it under any circumstances, even as FTE with benefits. I think that was a little extreme but I see the point. I also see how people end up doing it anyway, of course. But I am still amazed at how many people appear not to realize it is the kiss of death, a dead end job, and so on, and so forth. Were they not told? Or, did they refuse to believe? Or, did they get stuck in it the way others, like me, got stuck in academia at higher levels?


      • It’s tough to call that “thinking,” but I see what you mean.
        Is being a judgmental motherfucker really a necessary prerequisite for getting a good academic job? (Maybe that one’s rhetorical too.)


  4. The whole “Stale PhD” thing is so incredibly stupid.

    I finished grad school having a pretty good but rather narrowly focused thesis. I then spent several years off the tenure-track and in that time several of my publications required me to go into more depth in my specialty than I’d gone in grad school and so be better at my specialty.

    I’d also spent three years teaching surveys and more specialized courses and so broadened my general command of global history and the history and historiography of several fields outside of mine. And that’s on top of getting better and better at figuring out what works in both the classroom and online.

    So at the end of three years (four, counting my year of full-on academic unemployment), by Search Committee Logic I was more qualified in every aspect of teaching and research and so “stale.”

    (This whole thing had a happy-ish ending, with me finally getting hired by a department that figured that hey, my experience was actually *worth* something, but such departments and search committees appear to be few and far between…)


    • Well, stale means nothing if person has done anything since.

      If sincere, it also presupposes that one will have done something for the PhD that will have already gone out of date.

      But some people really don’t want experience because they want to have the person be more naive, more malleable, etc. This is KEY. I hired someone once who became department chair later and who considered experience a negative because it set up expectations; people with experience had more savvy and could not just be told things were a certain way.


  5. I’d really have liked to take this 3-year contingent offer I had as a first job: liked the department and the city, and it had access to good libraries, and I could shake myself and recover from the dissertation and so on before starting on the tenure grind. Or not start on it at all, do something else. I followed the standard advice instead and took one of my two tenure-track offers, the most viable, at a place in another interesting city but not at a kind of school where I’d be happy — knew this at the outset, but that wasn’t even the half of it. It was a horrible experience that essentially ruined the rest of my academic career and a large part of my mental health. But I would have been someone like Assistant Professor, above.

    Judgmental asshole to be professor, if a man, probably yes. If a woman you should be very flowery and dererential. These are the two types who make it.


  6. Quote from someone who should know better, upon seeing the CV of an amazingly productive new Ph.D.: “If she’s so good, why didn’t she get hired into a TT job? There must be something wrong with her teaching.”

    Most people who get hired TT in German do have some VAP experience, but not more than 1-2, maybe 3 years. After that, they just disappear from the field. What is it about publishing your research like a madman and teaching every possible course in the department that makes contingent faculty “stale”? A field where experience is a handicap rather than a desired qualification is thoroughly and utterly screwed up.

    Dear Search Committees: Please hire the best person for the job, not the person who most reminds you of yourself when you got hired.


    • “Dear Search Committees: Please hire the best person for the job, not the person who most reminds you of yourself when you got hired.”

      Ah but there’s the rub, no? After all, what better “fit” than a “mini-me”?

      It is amazing how conservative faculties are in this regard. And so easy to rationalize too! ANS, your comment perfectly nails so much of what is wrong with the academy these days, layable at the feet of faculty who will continue to protest their powerlessness in the face of — ah, the vapors! — the mean old ADMINISTRATION .


    • I actually don’t think doing *that* would make search committees see the candidate as problematic.

      There is someone like this, though, I wish I had hired in retrospect. My read on why he hadn’t gotten a tenure track job was that his research was kind of marginal. Not that he didn’t have research — it was just kind of out there and published in marginal places, refereed but marginal. Now, though, that topic is less marginal. If we had been able to interview in person, he’d have won out over who we hired that time — person hired was more traditional, newer PhD and more classic research, publications and lots of experience too, but a lot less presentable and functional than person A. And part of all of this was my traditionalism, assuming that if person A had been contingent all this time, in my field where this is not required/necessary, others must have seen some problem.

      I also blame not having been able to interview in person: phone and Skype didn’t cut it, because the person we hired was reading from cue cards and we didn’t catch it.

      All of this was long ago.


  7. … and… I have said this before but I still wonder about it. When I was in graduate school there were also no jobs, and we could not expect to get jobs, and it was known that one could get book contracts and not jobs. And the word then was that if you saw yourself being created, by market forces and the gods, as an adjunct, it was time to jump to alt-ac or something else. People went and worked for the Ford Foundation and other things, and only some became academics.

    Maybe if we’d talked to the professor more, we would have gotten more encouragement, but most of the decisions to jump were made by looking at the lay of the land. As faculty, I hesitate to tell specific individuals I don’t think they will get a job, because I’ve seen enough surprising things to know that the people I don’t think will, sometimes do, and the converse. But the lay of the land has always made the situation clear.

    All I can come up with on it is that people must be heavily pressured to stay. I certainly was later, when I wanted to leave and was already a professor. I guess this also now happens to people who are adjuncting, and I understand the pressure because I have experienced it, but people really need to look at the lay of the land and realize that they will not control it by being near-perfect, etc.

    (It is hard when you have always done well in school and that has always meant advancement to realize that after school is over this is not what obtains. I found it hard after thinking of institutions as places that wanted to develop me, to discover them only trying to use me for their shorter term aims, yes.)

    But once again: it amazes me that people don’t look at the lay of the land and jump off the bandwagon; it amazes me that faculty don’t tell students not to let themselves get created as adjuncts. Is this because now adjunct-dom *is* presented as a reasonable first job?


  8. This is describing my life. When I decided to adjunct it seemed like a good idea. No one told me not to do it. Not a single person. For a time, it seemed good. I like teaching and I’m good at it. I could still research, write, and finish the PhD. I had work as an archaeologist along with the contingent teaching.Lost the archy job due to the economy and then lost the spouse due to midlife crisis. Lose the spouse when you’re an adjunct and you lose the health insurance, not to mention the extra income. An adjunct for over ten years and, yes, it appears to be the kiss of death. I’ve lost count of the number of positions I’ve applied for in the last three years.


    • AHA I have just realized something harsh. Yes it looks perfectly good if you are not finished with PhD yet. And if you also have archaeologist work and are also married in area to someone who is working, people may think this is what you want, this is as far as you want to go, and so not say anything.

      There are women I went to graduate school with who are still adjuncts around the Bay Area and living in Berkeley. They are married with nice kids and nice houses, and so on. So they haven’t opted for a full-on career, and that is why they adjunct. (It used to be hard to get a job as a woman if the committee knew you had an employed spouse, because so many did in fact stay and adjunct near where they got their PhDs due to being married. We would hide our wedding rings if we had them, avoid mentioning spouses at on campus interviews, and really be irritated if someone revealed, since it would so sink one.)


  9. My alternative to being an adjunct was to leave academia for full time work (which I did for a while); either one would mark me as unworthy of a TT job, but at least the latter paid the bills. I needed a job, no way around it. There seems to be no way for an ABD or recent PhD to have an income yet avoid the taint of being unemployable as a TT prof. When I told an adviser that I wanted to work full time at a community college, I was told that it also was a stain and that I would never have a TT job if I did so. I wanted to teach at a cc though and did not care about the tenure track then. But it goes back to luck and wealth because you either need to get a job your first time on the market, or you need to have wealth that will allow you to avoid muddying your hands with any work whatsoever while you sit around waiting for the next job market year. It disgusts me.


  10. Ok so I have maybe a naive question: how do the “untainted” answer all the questions about teaching in interviews? Do they just prepare/memorize some safe titles for textbooks? And if their answers are as obvious as this hypothetical suggests, then does their getting the job (if they do in fact get the jobs) just further confirm the hollowness of the whole ordeal? I ask this in earnest, because my first few interviews, when I had zero solo teaching experience, were total bombs in the teaching parts (as I saw it, true, but god I sounded idiotically green). And I am honestly proud of how much I improved in interviews once I had some legit experience to draw on. I have also heard several SCs say they’d never hire someone (esp at a teaching intensive institution) that did not have experience in front of the class. So, basically, I think I’m questioning the generalizationability of this chair’s attitude? Or wondering why I didn’t a TT offer when I showed up tabula rasa to my first interviews…


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