“Finally, an egg for my generation!” –adjunct edition

Today in Slate I’m (thank ALL DEITIES) back on my well-worn education beat, and I’ve got an interview with the truly brilliant artist/adjunct Dushko Petrovich, who decided to launch an entire periodical just for adjuncts, with content contributed just by adjuncts. It’s called Adjunct Commuter Weekly, and you should all go there IMMEDIATELY.

Dushko is one of those folks who’s just RIGHT THE FUCK ON POINT about everything, and quicker and cleverer than everyone else. This rules. I’m proud to be able to publicize it.

Here’s a taste:

PETROVICH: I find a lot of people us the word “real” to bully people. In fact, I’m not actually sure the people making those kinds of comments are “real” people. You know? If you go deeper into it, the immediate question is: Why would universities create a category of “unreal” professor and then entrust most of the teaching to these people?

I’m sure a lot of these armchair ontologists will say Adjunct Commuter Weekly isn’t a “real” newspaper. And then people—or are they spambots?—will say that ACW isn’t a “real” website, and that I’m not a “real” editor, and so on.

Form is crucial. The form of the comments section, for example, instantly gives many people the idea that they are some kind of pundit. Just a small rectangle with a blinking cursor, and presto! So I think people should look carefully at form. That’s why the form of this project is a weekly newsmagazine—so people might start to wonder, why doesn’t my demographic have a weekly newsmagazine?


Please Stop Saying “Not Everyone is Suited for Academia”

Some real talk today, talkin’ ‘bout my feelings ‘n shit.


[Rockin’ the Catskills today. You jelly?]

I am coming to terms with the fact that I am never going to be a “real” professor—although try telling that to the students whose lives I will enter in a few weeks’ time: their homework and grades will seem “pretty real” to them. But no, I’ll be a mere adjunct at a tiny Honors College inside a regional university in the Middle West (Gatsby style!), an “academic nobody,” as Lee Skallerup Besette has characterized the uncharitable views of some of her blog’s worst trolls.

Most days I am happier than I have been in many years about this. My long-term partner, whom I met my first year of graduate school (and whom I attracted precisely because I “didn’t seem like a grad student”) has remarked that since my postdoc ended and I moved back to St. Louis, that I’ve aged in reverse.

It’s true—there are some “Ohio wrinkles” I don’t see anymore, accompanied by a life in my eyes and a general dearth of the abject terror that lurked below each day in Columbus, like so many pollution-filled mussels on the bed of the Olentangy River. I dye my hair again, a glorious bottle-red, unleashed in all its pigment after years of Professorial Gravitas Brown—or, even worse, my natural color, which is now aggressively peppered with grey.


[Who’s that sweet redhead who appears to be in her MID-thirties instead of her LATE thirties?!?]

If I was a disciplined and productive academic writer, cranking out journal articles and then finally my monograph—finished and submitted to the press this past May—then now I am a motherfucking locomotive. I have so much to write that I simply can’t get it all down. It’s like eight years of pent-up creativity that had been stuffed back by my own dismissals of anything other than Serious Scholarship as wasted energy have come geysering out, for better or worse.

A few weeks after “Thesis Hatement” came out and all I saw on the Internet was hate, hate, hate, hate and more hate, I lay curled on the couch in St. Louis crying, wishing aloud that I would just die in an accident already, something that wouldn’t be my fault, quick and painless, gone. I had lain extremely bare my own failure after seven years of sacrificing my health and my happiness, I had perilous few new prospects, and I had an Internet peanut gallery making sure I knew I had no future in anything. I wanted to die. One night, I made a list of my positive attributes: I started with “Usually Remember to Drink Enough Water” and was stumped thereafter. Although in my defense, hydration is IMPORTANT. (I know now, of course, that it was far from all hate, but like so many of you, I get eighteen adulatory evaluations and one critical one, and I commit the latter’s complaints to memory forever.)

Three months later, I feel like a different person, though I am drawn sometimes into spats about the vicissitudes of the job market and academe’s cult-mentality in general. Still, now I’m emboldened by my new identity as a curse-spewing postacademic hellraiser, straight-up high on the inimitable sobriety of being able to speak aloud the truths that so many people are still afraid to whisper. I’m emboldened by the simple fact that I live another life now,  one for which I am infinitely better suited.

So it’s true—I was not “suited” to academia. But I don’t want to hear that from anyone but me, and here’s why. First of all, I still adjunct, and because it is not my primary source of income and it’s two sections of the same course I’ve taught before, it truly is part-time and I like it. So when nonacademic friends  said, in attempt to make me feel better during the “die in an accident” stage, that academia cramped my style—well, I’m still a professor, so watch it. I think like a literature professor about everything; I bring my ability to scrutinize texts and take apart issues to everything I do. I may not act like Avital Ronell (shudder), but, to paraphrase the great scholar Young MC:

I had to go to college because I’m an intellectual
I only sleep with men because I am heterosexual

I’ve called myself the “intellectual’s anti-intellectual” as a joke, largely in reference to my equal proclivity to enjoy Bertolt Brecht and The Bachelorette, but I am a goddamned intellectual, so don’t tell me that such things don’t “suit” me, because they “suit me” just fine—my way.

I sew most of my own clothes to fit my body just-so. Because if this, I don’t know what size I am. I’m 36-28-40: me-sized. I’m exactly the right size to fill out the clothes I make to suit me:

[Bridesmaid dress for my partner’s sister’s wedding, the Sultry Sheath from Gertie‘s New Book for Better Sewing. This wedding was on the day “Thesis Hatement” came out. Can you see the shellshock? And no, I didn’t walk the aisle in the Mickey Mouse flip-flops.]

I have done this with academia as well: I have taken the parts that “suit me”—teaching, reading critically, thinking philosophically, participating in critiques about the present and future of higher ed—and tailored them to fit my personality. And I have done away, for now at least, with the parts that don’t “suit me”:

Research, for example, doesn’t suit me right now. But not because I wasn’t good at it. I mean, I guess, like the hundreds of commenters on my op-eds who either didn’t read my CV or don’t know how to read a CV, you could say I wasn’t good at it, but that would be news to the editors at Modern Austrian Literature, The German Quarterly, and Northwestern University Press; to the Internationales Forschungszentrum Kulturwissenschaften and the Austrian Fulbright Commission; to the DAAD and the American Council for Learned Societies; and to every department where I’ve ever been interviewed—and even some where I didn’t make the cut, but scrawled in handwriting below the form rejection was a missive insisting my writing sample was “nothing short of amazing” (I love positive academic hyperbole on the rare occasions I get it!).

I’m taking a hiatus from academic writing for one reason only: I am sick of spending years of my life squeezing out meticulously researched and difficult academic prose—which I then have to manipulate, sometimes four times over, to placate the needs of meanie-pants anonymous peer reviewers—that maybe, maybe, seventeen people on Earth will ever read, for the grand sum of $0. I’m not saying I don’t Believe In My Ideas, your Royal Highness FULLPROF Mayhew, I’m saying I want to write things that appeal to a wider audience.

You know what else doesn’t suit me? Going on the job market. Spending months crafting individual 70-page dossiers for each school because every search committee demands something different: a three-page teaching philosophy! A one-page teaching philosophy that pertains specifically to the courses taught by that department (but not THOSE courses you like, those are the purview of Mean Senior Prof Everyone Hates, and even displaying the slightest interest in them is enough to make the committee go nuclear on you)! A five-page research statement! A twenty-page writing sample (even though all of your articles are twenty-five)! A six-page abstract of the dissertation you finished four years ago! Your three most recent evaluations and your three least recent! Your ten most negative evaluations! And then pretending not to check that goddamned baby-killing Wiki, but then checking it anyway and watching as the interviews start piling in for everyone, it seems, but you. x4! x12! xEveryoneButSchuman! And do not get me started on conference interviews, because I have such exquisite bile for them that I think someone will pay me to share it. And the waiting. And the searing, wrenching rejection that “isn’t personal, so move on.” After four years, you know what? Don’t mind if I do.

And you know what else doesn’t suit me? Politicking, preening, ass-kissing; servility, sycophantism, cowardice. I’m not saying that every department ever is filled with, or requires, these things, nor that other industries don’t run on them. I’m saying that there is enough of this bullshit in academia that I’ve had my fill, and I would rather hang out with people who don’t treat a coffee date like a comprehensive exam.

And you know what else? Getting sneered at every time I let slip that I have any hobbies besides alcoholism. “How do you have the time to sew or watch TV?” I get, over and over, from people who spend three nights a week belligerently drunk. I have time, in part, because I write very fast, and in part because I don’t drink. I spend all day, every day, 100% sober, so I lose no time to either drunkenness or hangovers. But the thing is, for a lot of academics (not ALL OF THEM, Vim, so lay off), drinking somehow counts as scholarship, as long as you’re yelling about Kant and Kleist when you do it.

I am fully, painfully aware of the ways in which academia doesn’t suit me—but that doesn’t mean that I like it when FULLPROFS and others say this, because it smacks of that heartbreaking dismissal so many disillusioned PhDs get when they fail to become adequate replicants of their mentors: “Well, not everyone is suited for academia.”

What they mean is this, and this only: you weren’t good enough. You weren’t cut out for it because you aren’t smart enough. You failed. Academia’s only for winners like me, and you’re a loser. Academia is only for the best—like me. This is an unbelievably cruel thing to say to someone who already feels like a failure. It is inexcusably, searingly cruel, and I really wish that people would stop.

If I had been willing to squelch my natural “pluck” and remain servile, to lose my wonderful relationship while I moved, alone, from one Midwestern town where I didn’t know a single goddamned person to the next, to withstand (or even enjoy) departmental politics and conferencing, then academia would have “suited” me fine. I am coming to terms with the fact that those sacrifices weren’t worth it—but that is my journey to take, and my conclusion to reach.

Good God, Now ‘Just Shut Up’ is a Thing: An Open Letter to Paige Ambroziak & Co.

It’s sort of bad enough that Just Don’t Go is a thing—despite my active and continuous participation therein. Because like the vast majority if PhDon’ters, I wish that the academic labor market were different, and that I had not unwittingly become the curse-spewing voice of the disaffected literature job marketer (and I realize that I do not speak for all of you, or even most of you—but to that I say, speak the fuck up then).

But I do this because I cannot stand by while self-professed Marxists behave like feudal lords/Ayn Rand fans at the top of their “meritocracy,” equal parts breaking down their progeny and coddling them into believing that “there are always jobs for good people.” Although, of course, “there are no guarantees,” but the important thing about the Life of the Mind is that you, in the words of my #1 Fan, FULLPROF Jonathan Mayhew of the University of Kansas, “believe in your ideas,” that you recognize the dire importance of your treatises on the subaltern and atavism in The Adventures of Simplicissimus (a seriously bananas picaresque novel that is truly amazing in its weirdness), that you love what you do.

I’ve talked about love before. As have I called out mid-indoctrination grad students who have never been on the job market for not knowing what the fuck they’re talking about. I thought I didn’t have anything new to say on either of those topics, but then my very own sometime employer, the Chronicle of Higher Education (see samples of my august work mhyeah, mhyeah and myheah), published this today, wherein an ABD who has never been on the job market, Paige Ambroziak, decided to tell me, and William Pannapacker, and other people who actually care very deeply about her and what is going to happen to her in a few years, to STFU, because don’t I know that just having the PhD degree doesn’t entitle me to a job? And professional hockey players? AND JOHN GALT HOWARD ROARK BOOTSTRAPS?

I will admit that what I want to say to her, and to anyone who finds her rebuttal to the Just Don’t Gouevre compelling is FUCK. YOU. But that’s immature and obscene, so I’ll leave it implied, and instead just put it this way:

ATTENTION ALL MID-INDOCTRINATION GRAD STUDENTS. It may seem like a very good idea to publish sycophantic, denialist op-eds for wide audiences that endear you to your advisers and their cohort. And indeed, it may help you get a few interviews, and you’ll look like a good little servile Life-of-the-Minder in a few years’ time when it matters. I can’t say it’s really a bad career move, because that would be disingenuous. But here’s the trouble:

Paige Ambroziak, Nicholas Barber, Freddie DeBoer, Amy Pistone…you keep raving about a movie that you haven’t seen to the end. A story whose last chapter you haven’t read. I read your full-throated endorsements of academia, and this is what it looks like to me:

“I’ve read forty pages of The Great Gatsby and I love how positive it is about the might of wealth. And NOTHING YOU CAN SAY will change how I feel, so shut up!”

“Keyzer Soze? We may never know who he is. I declare this the most unsolvable enigma of ALL TIME.”

“I don’t care what your opinion is about ‘sad’ or ‘tear-jerker’ or whatever—I’m 45 minutes through Old Yeller, and it’s an adorable movie about a cute dog.”

I’m not saying that everyone’s academic movie will end in the kind of carnage mine did. All I’m saying is that while in graduate school, if you are a favored student, you are being embraced very warmly in what seems like the loving arms of the greatest profession ever—I mean, to spend all day reading and learning is pretty spectacular. It is.  And because graduate school is your only experience of academia, you have no reason to believe that you won’t always be in the club, that you won’t always “love” that life as much as you now do, with little to no teaching responsibility and a seminar paper or diss chapter that doesn’t have to pass peer review. But the part of the movie you’re in now is the “we’re flying high” montage in Act II—you’re puttering through Central Park on a bicycle built for two, feeding each other Mister Softees, coming up with witty comebacks to “salon” hucksters on the street who ask, “Who does your hair?” (In my version of your movie, it takes place in Woody-Allen-heyday-era Manhattan—you’re welcome).

But you haven’t seen the third act yet. You don’t know what challenges await you on the job market, or in what will almost certainly be a perilously unstable “temporary” VAP or adjunct gig after you finish.

So I’ll make all you motherfuckers a deal: maybe adjunct for $7000 a semester while spending your “spare time” kowtowing to scathing “revise and resubmit” peer reviews and forking out $1000 you don’t have to spend Christmas away from your loved ones begging for the same 25 jobs as 500 of your best friends, and being treated, suddenly, like a second-class citizen in a department that isn’t even as good as the one that graduated you (the horror! don’t they know you BELIEVE IN YOUR IDEAS?).

Maybe see how the movie ends before you publish that rave review.

Doubling Down on #PhDon’t

The other day, one of my favorite former students hit me up on Facebook to ask for my help in applying to the PhD program in German at my alma mater. Now, I have nothing but good things to say about my program, the rigor of my coursework, the innovation of our comprehensive exam process, and the singularly, harrowingly individualized guidance I got during my dissertation from my former adviser, whom I love like an eccentric older cousin.

The sole fear I had when I struck out on my own as postacademic a few months ago was that laying bare the truth of my wrenching failures would reflect negatively on my Doktorvater, as my discipline calls one’s dissertation adviser with some, but not enough, irony. Fortunately, my “father” has recognized the unique opportunity public failure has given his “progeny” to speak truth to power (and to embolden others to do so as well), and though I’m sure he would not have chosen the words I did, nor do I expect him to publish any Solidarity with Rebecca Schuman posts anytime soon, I know he is proud of my unconventional path.

That said…when my former student expressed interest in being one of my Doktorvater’s new progeny, I said: “Do not get a PhD. Do not do it.” I then pointed him in the direction of Sarah Kendzior’s “Academia’s Indentured Servants,” which is the most important piece of academic journalism ever published, and my own humble “Thesis Hatement,” and finally several classics from the Pannapanopticon. My student, who had never heard of an adjunct, was made duly wary, and I was soooooooooooproudofmyself. So proud, in fact, that I took to Twitter to #brag.

William Pannapacker, it turns out, doesn’t appreciate his work being used in a purely categorical way. Indeed, he has said repeatedly that would-be students should be aware of the reality and of all of their options, and do the best research possible (research he is currently putting his ass on the line to make possible, by the way), but he, and many of my other Postac Homies (including the fantastic Jen Polk and Gradland), are outspoken advocates of Make Your Own Choices.

There is, after all, no guarantee that you, my dear potential or current grad student, will have the rotten luck on the job market I did. You may very well get a tenure-track job your first year out, at a wonderful school that is a perfect “fit” for you, with students you adore and well-reviewed books and conference travel you enjoy, and tenure, and promotion to Full, and eminence für immer und ewig.

But I’m here to say that even if I could guarantee that would be your path, absolutely 100% guaranfuckingtee it, I would say: “Do not go to graduate school.”* 

And I’ll tell you why. As I’m sure you know now, having read Sarah’s article several times, the current labor system in academia is…I believe the scientific term is FUBAR. Over three-quarters of instruction is conducted by non-tenure-track faculty (like meeeeeeeeeeee), and the compensation and work structure for tenure-track faculty is also no picnic these days anywhere but at the most elite institutions (and/or if you humped your biographer—wait, never mind. Buuurn).

Meanwhile, executive administrative positions are multiplying like cicadas, and dormitories and off-campus apartments are cushier than the Ritz-Carlton. Universities have so many “partnerships” with MOOCs and for-profit testing centers and multinational corporations that they have become indistinguishable from any other corporations (although they are probably the only “Fortune 500 companies” whose workforce often contains self-professed Marxists).

The contemporary university is a modern-day feudal system, where the very few at the top enjoy a comparatively cushy life while the vast majority labor at close to minimum wage. The contemporary university is Wal-Mart with PhDs. And every single person who works in its structure, from Full Professors to adjuncts like me, is participating in what I truly believe to be a toxic and deeply exploitative system.

If a student came to me and said, “Hey, I am thinking of working at Wal-Mart after graduation. There’s a good chance I’ll go straight to upper management, but I might have to start as a Greeter,” I’d be like Good God, don’t do that if you have any other option. Because Wal-Mart, whatever their aggressive Corporate Image ads are trying to tell you, is a corporation that makes the world an abjectly worse place by driving local businesses into the ground, forcing the low-education workforce to have no other feasible option while simultaneously reminding everyone how disposable they are, and—most importantly—creating a falsely low standard of “how much shit should cost” by relying entirely on cheaply-made goods produced in overseas factories with slavery-like conditions. The entire world that Wal-Mart creates and perpetuates is despicable, and so if I had a student who wanted to go work for them and asked for my advice, I’d be like, “Maybe don’t become a cog in a system like that.”

Academia is not as bad as Wal-Mart, but it certainly operates on a similar model. Are you a 35-year-old PhD with no training for any other career, but still have to feed yourself (and possibly your children if they’re being uncooperative)? Then you have little choice but to adjunct for your three favorite local colleges, for a total yearly wage of $20,000. Don’t like making $2700 a course? No problem—there are 10 recent PhDs who still think their big tenure-track jackpot is right around the corner who will be delighted to take your place. Adjuncts are (usually) unfit for any other job, financially unable to take unpaid time off to train for a new career (or socialized out of believing they even can), and completely disposable.

This is a highly distressing system, and it’s not one that I can encourage someone to join…even at the top, as one of the “haves.” So you lucked out and got a tenure-track position with research funds and benefits. That’s great—but the simpering, deferential cowardice you will probably have to display for the six years it takes you to get tenure will prevent you from speaking up on behalf of the adjuncts who work all around you, whose credentials are probably identical to yours, and whose only “crime” is having too much relevant experience. There are many tenured and even a few tenure-track faculty who have the balls to speak out about their institutions’ treatment of adjuncts—but just as many are straight-up feudal about it.

Yes, everyone’s experience is different, and you may indeed end up with a great tenure-track job. But your fortune will be surrounded by suffering. If you’ve got no problem with that—well, then that makes you an Ayn Randian fuckwit. “I got mine, because MERITOCRACY, and screw you, Untermenschen!” Great. But why would I encourage someone to do that, to be that?

As a part-time adjunct I realize I am a complete hypocrite. I am trying to atone for this by being an “adjunct activist” whenever possible—but encouraging someone to follow my path just to be the Norma Rae of the Ivory Tower, fist aloft and $14 in the bank, is just irresponsible.

So this is why I am absolutely fine with categorically suggesting that would-be Humanities PhDs stay the hell away from graduate school, no matter their financial situation, no matter their connections, no matter their goals or background or mental toughness or whatever. The academic labor system is exploitative, even if it doesn’t directly exploit you personally. So fuck it. Don’t join this system—as a serf, or as a lord.

*NB: I am referring to Humanities grad school only. A discipline that officially presents any alternative to employ within the academy is a situation with which I have no experience, and whose socialization mechanisms are different than the Humanities.



Why Are Adjuncts Only Fit for the Glue Factory?

Today my homegirl Lee Skallerup Bessette has a thoughtful rejoinder to a patronizing MOOC defender, which she begins with a depressing round-up of hooey from her detractors, which—despite being a mild-mannered composition professor at a small regional college in Kentucky who largely minds her own business—she possesses in droves. She writes:

 I am, as many of the comments on my blog posts enjoy reminding me, a nobody when it comes to academia. […] My PhD is old and out-of-date. I get it.

Our editors and friends tell us “don’t read the comments!” (Except il miglior fabbro William Pannapacker, who religiously reads all of his!) But it’s hard to ignore comments when they’re riiiight there staring at you, and some of them stick with you. Take this gem, for example, which I’ve excerpted from one of the many blinkered, self-congratulatory responses to Lee’s honest reaction to being in a search that had five hundred flipping applicants:

I suspect that any advertised position these days generates at least a score of CVs from people who both meet the basic qualifications and, in addition, have more impressive scholarly records [than you do]– I can assure you that by the time our Comp Lit PhDs are defending their dissertations, they have several peer-reviewed articles and chapters published, and benefit from the fact that they are new PhDs: they present a world of possibilities to a potential employer, while job applicants who finished several years earlier may have revealed too much about their limitations.

You read this correctly: in academia, it is better to be a brand-spanking-new PhD with a “world of possibilities,” so that your limitations are not yet manifest, limitations, which everyone has—this guy, for example, has the “limitation” that he is a raging asshole, although honestly in academe that’s often considered an asset.

Let me repeat, just so that I can have some more time to wrap my head around such nonsense: Academic employers would rather hire someone who is completely untested, so that they have not yet had an opportunity to show any failures, than someone who (to use Lee as an example) has years of successful experience going above-and-beyond with students from a staggering array of backgrounds.

This is absolutely ferkockte. It’s just backwards, and ludicrous—and it also provides a new angle on the reality of which everyone in “new academe” (as opposed to Old Academe Stanley) is quite aware: if you have been working for several years as an adjunct, you are considered too “revealing” of your limitations to be attractive to a search committee—your main limitation, by the way, being that you are an adjunct in the first place.

 I’m reminded of one of my favorite books, Michael Kohlhaas, a dense and dizzying masterpiece by Heinrich von Kleist that I have sadistically enjoyed assigning students in the past. Kohlhaas, which Kafka himself claimed to have read “with true reverence” many times, is a highly frustrating tale of a horse-trader in the 16th Century who has been very, very wronged by the “Junker von Tronka,” a Junker (YUN-kah) being a now-obsolete title for some nebulous level of Saxon landed gentry that real Americans should never have to figure out.

The short version (ha! I’m just kidding—it is not humanly possible to do a “short version” of Kleist! So, the hopelessly truncated version) is that the Junker’s people make Kohlhaas think he is lacking the proper permit to cross the border between Brandenburg and Saxony, and after much haranguing, Kohlhaas agrees to leave two of his splendid horses as collateral while he goes to fetch the paperwork—which, it turns out, does not exist (you can see why Kafka loved this book so much). And circumstances only get more tortured from here on in—the bureaucracy widens, its intransigence toward Kohlhaas worsens, Martin Luther gets briefly involved, a lot of things get set on fire, and I guess I could tell you justice was served in the end, but that would be a highly misleading oversimplification.

But the scene I want to talk about here happens when Kohlhaas finally returns to reclaim his horses. What he finds, instead of his “magnificent specimens,” is:

 …a pair of scrawny, worn-out nags, their bones protruding like pegs you could have hung things on, their manes and coats matted together from lack of care and grooming—the very epitome of misery in the animal kingdom! Kohlhaas, to whom the beasts feebly whinnied a greeting, asked in extreme indignation what had happened to his horses. The stable-boy, standing beside him, answered that nothing particular had happened to them, and that they had been given their proper feed, but that as it had been harvest-time and there had not been enough draught animals, they had been used a little in the fields.

So now Kohlhaas’s horses are but a perilous few decrepit little hoof-trots away from the glue factory—and here’s the important part: during Kohlhaas’s protracted fight for justice, the horses degenerate to such an extent that they are placed into the official care of something called a “knacker,” yet another special job that (I hope) doesn’t exist anymore, which entails killing busted-ass horses and breaking them down for parts. Having a horse in the care of a knacker wasn’t just a matter of handing it over for a few microflorins or whatever they used back then to denote chump change—it involved bestowing upon the horse an ominous, metaphysical change, a designation, if you will, of equus non gratus, which would require a serious and rare ceremony to undo. Knackers’ horses are, in effect, worse than dead.

To my mind, this is exactly the way adjuncts are treated on the job market—as Untouchable, tainted, contaminated beyond redemption, when in reality, though they might have been worked to near-death like Kohlhaas’s horses were, they are not actually two hoof-trots away from the glue factory. No, in reality, experienced adjuncts—and experienced VAPs and really all long-term non-tenure-track faculty—possess exactly the qualities that should be considered laudable, incontrovertible strengths on the job market: work ethic, tenacity, and most importantly a searingly authentic commitment to undergraduate education. And on top of this, many possess striking research agendas as well (although, as Lee points out, the vast majority of college teaching positions available today are at liberal-arts colleges and service-oriented regional universities, where teaching is, and should be, Job #1).

The funniest part of all of this (not “funny ha-ha” so much as “funny ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME?”) is that nowhere is the unwritten adjunct-knacker rule truer than in a given adjunct’s home department (or, oftentimes, a VAP’s). On the increasingly rare occasions when a tenure line opens up in a department, the absolute last place the search committee usually looks is to the cadre of people who have already proven that they work there successfully.

Again, I repeat: this is ferkockte. Can you imagine if this were standard practice in any other field? Take food service, for example—you know what you need, absolutely, to get any job in food service today? Prior experience in food service. Period. I am lucky that in the summer of 1996, I worked as a busser/low-level janitor in an upscale food court. This counts, and thus I could potentially, maybe get hired to be a busser today. Could you imagine if the new artisanal vegan pizzeria down the street advertised NOW HIRING INEXPERIENCED STAFF ONLY. THOSE ALREADY KNOWING THEIR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES NEED NOT APPLY? Or medicine: “Oh, you worked for ten years as a lowly medic or nurse? We couldn’t possibly admit you to med school”—except guess what? According to my loquacious ophthalmologist Dr. Lembach, his best med students, interns and residents are consistently former military medics and, you guessed it, nurses. Could you imagine if the number-one criterion not to get hired at NASA was “multiple years of relevant experience doing space shit in a lower-level sector at NASA”?


The professoriate has the minutest sliver of hope in the face of ArMOOCgeddon if its rank and file can admit, for even one second, that there is literally no reason to treat adjuncts like they belong to the knacker, other than unfounded snobbery borne of fear that “there but for the grade of God go I, with food stamps and $14,000 a year.”

Otherwise, entire departments are going to keep ending up like Kohlhaas did—possessed of righteous indignation to the moment the axe hits their neck.