I have thoughts on the adjuncting post today by Keith Harris. You can find it here. He doesn’t mince words when he argues for people to quit adjuncting. In the bluntness of the piece I can see adjuncts and their allies objecting to the call to quit. We see the call to quit in the comments section of IHE and CHE all the time; we see it on Twitter, too. If you follow Harris, and especially if you’ve read this piece, you know what he has to say comes from a strong belief that the system is broken beyond reform. Abstaining from participation is the solution. Abandoning what Harris calls the “pitiful soul-crushing wage-slave job” represents the only workable solution. When Harris says to quit and not participate I never think “suck it up and do something else” I think this:
The phrase “pitiful soul-crushing wage-slave job” resonated with me and it made me think a lot about money and the nonsensical nature of the system. In terms of money, creating a PhD, even in the humanities, represents a large monetary investment by a school. What follows are just some estimates of numbers. A student earning a PhD represents a five-year investment of stipends and tution waivers. Roughly in the case of a humanities PhD that might mean 5($25K Tuition Waiver + $15K Stipend + $5 Insurance Benefits) = $225,000. All of that investment and many PhDs are siphoned into a “pitiful soul-crushing wage-slave job” that earns around $3,500 according to some averages floating around. It doesn’t make sense.
Thinking about the monetary situation led me think about the lack of agency facing many adjunts. There is a great loss of control when it comes to adjuncting. I think that feeling of loosing control is behind both of the pieces that Harris wrote about the academic system. A loss of control for what? A paltry sum and countless hours invested? Still, I recognize the difficulty of abandoning the system. But I’ve thought about taking control of circumstances today and how on paper that path looks (deceptively) simple. There is more control and more money to be found in foregoing adjuncting and throwing oneself at grants, fellowships, and other monetary awards. Often, the smallest of awards might equal or exceed the money earned from teaching one class over the course of a semester. A small exploratory research grant likely “pays” more than adjuncting. It doesn’t make sense.
If anything, as I deal with this gnawing pain in my gut caused by thinking about academic life, I’m struck by the fact that becoming an occasionally successful grant-seeking mercenary would pay more than adjuncting. I know that sounds reductive, but it shows me the broken nature of the system. Anyway, those are my thoughts. They are just a quick recap about ideas I’ve thought about today. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.