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Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

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74 Responses

  1. Will says:

    Ahem. Front page, you degenerate.Report

  2. RTod says:

    “Should we do a better job of informing the suckers public about this? Or do they really not care, provided their kids get the piece of paper at the end?]”

    The latter. I think this might be an instance of the invisible hand of the free market at work rather than higher education looking for suckers. Every year I talk to people who are going to get their PhD ‘s (either out of college or as a later career change) and they joke about how they’re doing this even though there are no jobs out there to be had and it pays shit for most people.

    Well, yeah.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to RTod says:

      Oh, yeah- I generally tell people who are considering grad school that it’s a scam. I meant in terms of the undergraduate public though. Those of us backstage usually know which universities are offering courses taught by experienced profs who know the subjects well, and which ones rely on grad students who barely know what they’re teaching (like me!). The public, in my experience, has no idea. But would they care?Report

      • RTod in reply to Rufus F. says:

        I doubt it – and I think if they knew the whole story they’d care even less.

        Take my sister for example. Aside from being the coolest, funnest and smartest person I know, she’s a historian at the top of the game. She has tenure and a great salary, and has her pick of ongoing offer to switch to a lot of other universities and getting the same. Right or wrong, she is hot property these days. But she rarely teaches, and admits that for those times that she has to is a shitty teacher because she could case less about it. Rather, she is the Lisa Lopez of the Feminist American History publishing/editing/conferencing world.

        As a parent of college age kids (which I will be in a few years), if I knew what is valued in academia would I be ok with my kid going to a school with second tier profs who just don’t carry the load in the publishing department that the first tiers must? Abo-so-lutely.Report

        • Rufus F. in reply to RTod says:

          Okay, that was my question. It’s really difficult being in this business if you’re the sort of person whose happiest moments in life come while teaching and you find conferences deadly dull.Report

          • RTod in reply to Rufus F. says:

            True, which is why my answers will change if my kids decide to go to grad school.

            My wife is a professor at the local university hospital, and is part of a program where publishing is neither smiled nor frowned upon, and teaching is the big brass ring. She loves it for exactly that reason, and has a belt full of teaching awards from both the university and the students and was just asked to head up the department starting next Fall.

            But she knows well that if the department ever folds, and she has to go out into the job market saying “No, I haven’t published more than 2 or 3 things in the past decade, but I’m this really amazing teacher…”

            Well, then she’s toast. Time to start a career as a management consultant or something.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

        To elaborate, if you’re an undergrad, and the instruction you’re getting is subpar, do you really care, provided that you still get the degree from the university in question? Because, it seems to me as if the ranking/prestige of universities is increasingly unrelated to the level of instruction. There are more than a few “top tier” universities in which plenty of the undergraduate courses are taught by inexperienced grad students for low pay, while the remaining tenured profs teach a few graduate seminars per year. If I was an undergrad, I’d be pissed off about it, but I can’t tell if the public cares at all about such things.Report

        • RTod in reply to Rufus F. says:

          “To elaborate, if you’re an undergrad, and the instruction you’re getting is subpar, do you really care”

          See comment above. I’m not convinced that high paying and/or successful professor = great (or even good) education to an undergraduate.Report

          • Rufus F. in reply to RTod says:

            I guess it depends on the will of the instructor- I am in a state of pure bliss while teaching- seriously- and so all I want to do in academia is get better every semester at instructing. I consider teaching to be my sacred duty as a bookworm. As my advisors put it, I’m committing ‘career suicide’ by not avoiding undergrads as much as possible. It’s just a fished-up system.Report

            • RTod in reply to Rufus F. says:

              I hear you, brother – and good for you. You sound just like my wife. My sister? She’s just hyper-competitive; she’d get into undergraduates in a heartbeat if academia declared that was going to be what she and her peers were graded on, and won’t ever bother while it’s not. But my wife just loves helping others learn.Report

            • trumwill in reply to Rufus F. says:

              It depends on the subject. A whole lot of my tech courses, which were directed towards getting me to learn the material, could easily have been taught by a TA. On the other hand, for the liberal arts classes and the more abstract coursework, it makes a much bigger difference. I took a couple at the local community college and a couple at my university’s honors college. Night and day.Report

            • Koz in reply to Rufus F. says:

              I get your point Rufus, but in general you shouldn’t expect that other parties will look out for you if you don’t look after yourself.

              IMO, the only people who should be willing to adjunct are housewives or retired businessmen who don’t need the money and are willing to do the teaching for free. I think grad school is a way better deal by comparison. Adjuncting sux.Report

              • Rufus F. in reply to Koz says:

                Oh yeah, I totally agree. I always tell new grad students that you have to have many irons in many fires- and this is true no matter what your profession. So, it is entirely likely that, four years from now, I’ll be teaching at a private high school, trying to sell my paintings on the side, cashing in some of our stocks, and turning over our house. With the current economy, you really have to hustle, and definitely that’s not just the case in academia. Really, I was just posting this anecdote because I wondered, “what the hell is this university thinking?” when I got the email.Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    There are a couple of pretty good posts that touch on the really upside-down labor practices in academia:

    There’s that one by McMegan and Two-Dub addresses it here:

    For as what we’d tell students at this point in time, I’d ask *WHY* are they going to grad school? If it’s just to get the piece of paper then does it matter who teaches what (or how well they teach it)?Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird says:

      I remember the McArdle piece pretty well and I considered posting on it here, but wasn’t sure at the time how to do so without it coming off as stock McArdle-bashing, which isn’t something I want to take part in.

      I think what bothered me about it was her framing academia as “left-wing” and thus there being a special need to fix the problem, given that the left supposedly cares about labor issues. The problem for me is that I don’t want to defend left-wing academics with tenure who really are hypocritical in a lot of ways for benefiting from such a bad system, but I think the problem is deeper than political hypocrisy or tenured profs. She’s asking, basically, why the tenured profs don’t do more and I don’t want to suggest that they shouldn’t. Of course they should.

      Coming at it from the backstage, when I see a university that offers less than $2,000 per course, what I hear is that they just don’t care who teaches their courses, so long as there’s someone in there. It’s not a priority for them. Because I don’t know any adjuncts that would work for that pay, and I actually don’t know any graduate students who would either. There will, no doubt, be someone who needs the cash. But, in terms of compensation, it’s likely that this particular university prioritizes, for example, a secretary as being twice as important as an instructor. Hell, I know janitors who make over $20,000/ year. So, the least important aspect of that university experience, in their opinion, is the teaching in their lecture halls. I find that shocking, but I have no idea if an undergrad would feel the same way.

      So, instead of thinking about politics, I guess my emphasis is on the business model of the university and why the administration would think that the least important aspect of the product they offer is, you know, the education. It’s not to say that there aren’t good grad student instructors or that the courses will necessarily be bad- just that they don’t care one way or the other about ensuring that they’re any good. You can get top notch instruction- but not if you tell the people doing the instructing that you just don’t care. For the record, everyone I know in our department deleted that email. Fish them.

      As universities move towards making this the norm- the ‘phasing out of tenure’ that people like McArdle think will ensure intellectual freedom in academia- they’re basically moving their money away from teaching and towards increasing the administration and amenities wing. And they’re increasing the cost of tuition. And this trend is happening across the board.

      So, I suppose the first people I think of (probably unfairly) in all this are number-crunching administrators, who tend to be bureaucrats and businessmen in my experience, and about as far from the cliche left-wing radicals as you can get. But, her point was more asking why the remaining left-wing profs don’t do something about it, and frankly it’s because they’re company men who’d rather not upset the apple cart.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Part of what Will is getting at is what I call the “emotional overleveraging” aspect of grad school. Grad students get tied up in financial debt, but also in a vision of academia as the last refuge for ‘people like them’. They tend to be bookworms and most of them that I’ve met just do not understand that a PhD is not completely worthless in the private sector. They tend to think they will either have no job prospects outside of academia, or that they won’t be valued for their thoughts elsewhere. As a note, plenty of people on the outside reinforce this idea!

        As a result, even if they seem snobbish or aloof, my experience is that most academics tremendously undervalue themselves. They’ll take the worst possible jobs because they believe that it’s that or starvation- and they have friggin PhDs! Also, there’s a bit of a pyramid scheme aspect to it- if there are 40 PhDs and one of them gets a tenure-track position, the other 39 think they’ve failed. They’re very tied up in the idea of proving that they really are smart, and I think many universities exploit that deep insecurity.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Rufus F. says:

          This is interesting and I don’t know what I am allowed to talk about from stuff that I may or may not have gleaned from various conversations with various people.

          I’ll be safe and say that it seems to me that academia in general is going through some pre-earthquake rumbles.

          As I’ve said before a half-dozen times, I have friends who work as managers and they tell me that they’d rather deal with people who got jobs instead of people who went to college… and they’d rather deal with someone who went to Pikes Peak Community College than CU Boulder, the degree doesn’t mean what it once did *IN PRACTICE*.

          And when a degree does not necessarily indicate anything in particular about the person who holds it, it becomes fair to ask why a bachelor’s degree costs forty large (assuming in-state tuition at a state school and god only knows what private schools cost).Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

            Ugh. That came out far more salacious than I intended.

            If I’ve overheard anything, it’s nowhere *NEAR* as interesting as I made it sound there.Report

            • Marianne in reply to Jaybird says:

              Jaybird also has a wife who works as a manager at a (small liberal arts, almost no grad students, unreasonably expensive) college and is delighted with her student employees, because the vast majority of them both want to learn stuff and are good at it. For the record.

              Rufus, you might be interested to read my pal Steve’s recent post about tenure: It’s more of a thought experiment than a serious proposal, but pretty thought-provoking. “The process of getting tenure ensures that anyone who receives tenure will have totally internalized the conservative mindset of the academy, having had any inclinations toward meaningful rebelliousness or confrontation slowly bled out of them over the previous decade. “Report

              • Tony Comstock in reply to Marianne says:

                “The process of getting tenure ensures that anyone who receives tenure will have totally internalized the conservative mindset of the academy, having had any inclinations toward meaningful rebelliousness or confrontation slowly bled out of them over the previous decade. “

                Yes this is it exactly.

                I had the (foolish) notion that I could merely garland my work with academic credentials, but came to realize that that’s not what would happen. That I would either be driven out or succumb.Report

        • Koz in reply to Rufus F. says:

          That’s a great comment, Rufus, and is more or less the motivation behind my other comment. Grad school isn’t necessarily that bad. Grad students aren’t rich, but are often situated in way that low pay doesn’t have to equal low standard of living. And, the expertise you get in grad school is necessary for lots of things.

          Adjuncting means that, for emotional reasons that don’t necessarily correspond to reality, smart talented people are supposed to accept low pay and no prospects.Report

  4. But hey, those athletic departments sure are cool…Report

  5. RTod says:

    You should also keep in mind that salary is only one leg or employment compensation. There are also the benefits:

    • Thursday Next in reply to RTod says:

      I am not sure what point you are trying to make or whether you are serious, but speaking from experience Adjunct Professors don’t get benefits. A library card, maybe, but not money to do research or attend conferences or pay professional association memberships, certainly no health or retirement packages. Nothing.Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Thursday Next says:

        As a general rule, nothing in McSweeney’s is ever serious.

        It’s usually trying to make a point, however.Report

        • RTod in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          I’m guessing that Thursday read the post but didn’t look at the link.Report

          • Thursday Next in reply to RTod says:

            Actually I did. I knew the point McSweeney’s was making, but I couldn’t figure out what point you were trying to make in linking to it. The lack of benefits is actually a huge part of this story. Not only do adjunct faculty members not get any benefits, but that fact makes them more cost effective for universities who often pay as much as 33% or more for overhead on a tenured employee.

            I guess you were just being funny, or linking to someone else being funny. But as a current adjunct professor with no health benefits and another two weeks before my off-the-shelf Yugo level insurance kick-ins and hopes this stomach ache just goes away, I’m just not in the mood to laugh.Report

            • RTod in reply to Thursday Next says:

              Dude (or Dudette, given the T. Next ref), I was just trying to add a bit of levity – something I appreciate when others here do. (hi, Jaybird.). If you thought I was belittling your situation, it was not the intention.

              But now that I know your situation, I’m curious to hear your take. What do you see as the reason for a suck situation? A broken system? A crappy employer? Glut of profs? A national recession/HRC thing? You may have the most relative view of all.Report

  6. KenB says:

    I’ve heard of universities having their retiring professors copy all of their lecture notes so that grad student instructors can try to replicate their lectures.

    Some 25 years ago (gawd! that long??) I majored in Comp Sci at a university in Silicon Valley. Most of my courses for the major were in a room with A/V equipment, because the university sold the tapes to area tech companies. Which was all fine and dandy until the time when I came to the first day of class for a Winter quarter course and was greeted with the sight of a grad student sitting next to a TV — for our class, we got to watch the tapes of the professor teaching the class in Fall quarter. The grad student helpfully pointed out that if anyone had any questions, he could stop the tape and answer them.

    Of course, the bright side was that all the tapes were also housed in the Math library and could be viewed in quick succession the week before the exam, freeing up loads of time for non-academic pursuits.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to KenB says:

      God help me, I know someone whose first post-doc gig was running the VCR at, I think, George Mason, showing the videotapes for World Civ. His next job was much better, but the thought of paying full tuition to watch videotapes still blows my mind.Report

      • RTod in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Plus, if you can’t learn within the five contractual days you have to pay outrageous late fees.Report

      • James K in reply to Rufus F. says:

        I assisted a lecturer like that at Uni. He put all his lectures online and if you wanted to ask questions, you asked an assistant. He even pushed all of his marking onto us (doing some marking was normal, but not all of it).

        Do this day, I can’t figure out what he did that justified his salary each year. Mind you, I was just doing that while I finished my Master’s degree so I didn’t see as a poor alternative to a career, but a good alternative to retail or fast food work.Report

  7. After a series of especially frustrating setbacks and about 7 months on my boat in the Caribbean to nurse my wounds and ruminate on what to do next, I came to the conclusion that if I was going to continue making films I would have to do it under the auspices of a PhD and/or MFA from a prestigious institution. In May of 2010 I arrive back home with a head full of steam to begin, at the age of 44, my new career as a professional academic.

    But after 7 month of what in my business we’d call pre-production, and in no small measure on account of reading things like this, I came to the conclusion that it was not what I wanted to do, even if it meant that my films and my ideas would never be accepted by the guardians of culture.

    It had nothing to do with money. We make enough money off our films to live better than I ever dared dream, and now that our youngest is in school full-time, my wife is ramping up her design business again. I worry about everything all the time, except for one thing, money. The world is full of money and if you want it it’s easy to get; or at least it ought to be if you’re living in circumstances sufficiently privileged to allow you to be in graduate school.

    It has everything to do with an impression of small-mindedness, pettiness and low expectations that seems to permeate academic culture. When I got back I started following professional academics on twitter, and for the most part, all they do is complain about how awful everything is and then deride any suggestions as either: a) impossible, or b) money grubbing. (Then they complain about not having money.)

    These weren’t grad students. These were tenured faculty. Department heads. People with long lists of the grants and fellowships they’ve won.

    Fuck it. If it means the police are going to stop my screenings and confiscate my DVDs and harass our retailer because I’m not Dr. Tony Comstock, Ph.D, then just fuck it. I’ll go do something else.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Tony Comstock says:

      This is basically why I stopped reading academic blogs. I kept wondering why they so rarely discuss the joys of studying their chosen subject, when academics talk about that all the time among each other. I think it might be their fear of being called out in public as not quite as expert as they’d like to believe. I don’t want to add to the griping here either. But I still post plenty of things about historical subjects that fascinate me, in spite of being a relative novice in many of them. Also, I still dream big about taking part in the creation of a really good university. It can be done, and for considerably less money than most of them are now burning through. And, hey, if anyone wants to start an insurgency movement of academic temp instructors, let me know.Report

  8. J. Otto Pohl says:

    I have no idea how one would live on $14,000 in any part of the US with a university. At 4/4 you would also have no time to get a better paying gig with benefits at Starbucks to help you out. If that is the future of academia in the US I may have to stay in Africa forever. My pay is considerably higher, costs are a lot less and the teaching load is a lot less.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to J. Otto Pohl says:

      I hope it’s not the future. All the other universities I know of in the area are offering at least $2,000 per course and most are between $2,500 and $3,000. The problem though is that, if one of them can staff their courses at $1,850, the others will eventually follow suit. I don’t know where the tipping point is, but I suspect that college instruction is becoming a bit like high school teaching, where people stick to it for about 1-5 years and throw in the towel. At some point, it’s pretty tempting to go get a “real job”.Report

      • Tony Comstock in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Let’s suppose that a person could teach two such course. Further more , let’s suppose it could be arranged so that both courses were taught on the same day. That means gross pay of $4,000 for 30 days work (3 days/week for 10 weeks.) Please let’s not have any nonsense about it just being two hours a day. Any self respecting and more importantly, financially successful freelancer has a half-day minimum. (Conversely , yes, of course there are unbillable hours, that’s part of the freelancing gig too.)

        So what do we end up with? 30 days for for $4,000, or a day-rate of about $133/day. Worse if you can’t teach both course on the same days.

        I don’t care what sort of budget pressures these institutions are under. It’s disgraceful.Report

  9. BSK says:

    I disagree with the premise that good instruction is worthless. Then again, I went to a grad school that offered X free credits for TA’ing (not teaching) an X-credit course. I couldn’t take up the opportunity because of scheduling restraints, but it was a hell of a lot better offer than what is discussed here. It was a private college, so we’re talking about $3500 here.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to BSK says:

      I was trying to be ironic when I said it’s nearly worthless. It’s 2 am on a Saturday and I’m up working on a Monday lecture that I’m hoping will be amazing, so I’m definitely not of the personal conviction that good instruction is valueless- just increasingly undervalued by universities.Report

      • BSK in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Gotcha. Sorry for misunderstanding. I think instruction is a huge element, though it obviously varies based on age, subject matter, student, etc. I teach Pre-K, which I think is a very different animal than the college level.Report

  10. BSK says:

    One of my problems with this line of thinking is the presumption that education is solely a means to an end. Can’t it be an end to itself? Maybe a degree (undergrad or otherwise) won’t get you a job or a better job than you could have gotten it without it, it could still prove beneficial in other ways. Now, the likelihood of this is obviously limited by the “quality” of the degree, which is likely inversely proportional to the number of underpaid grad students teaching courses. However, being diligent and finding a quality university, identifying the good professors in that university, and working hard (while I previously stated that I do think instruction matters, the student’s efforts are ultimately the primary variable in the quality of education gleamed) can lean one to a better educational experience and personal (and potentially professional) improvement.

    For instance, I’m a teacher and got my graduate degree in ed after getting an undergrad degree in ed. This was partly motivated by making myself more desirable in the job market and making sure I had the necessary qualifications to get the jobs I wanted. However, it was also largely motivated by the desire to be a better teacher. I care about what I do, take pride in it, and knew that the graduate course of study I took would make me a better teacher (I went to a school in the top of the field and handpicked my instructors, luckily). I’ve been out of school 3 years now and part of me wishes I was back there, studying ed or something else, because I loved the academic environment. Now, this likely could be replicated elsewhere, perhaps by just joining a really smart book club. But there is an inherent value to most education.

    So, all this is to say that we shouldn’t judge the merits, effectiveness, or value of a degree simply by comparing the costs of it with the financial gains through achieving the degree.Report

    • trumwill in reply to BSK says:

      I think the “an ends unto itself” goes out the window when you’re looking at the overall costs involved. Unless you’re wealthy, it’s hard to justify tens of thousands of dollars without the promise of better income or fulfilling work. Unless you’re wealthy. And even “fulfilling work” also probably requires some degree of financial resources.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to trumwill says:

        For what we used to call a “classical education”, you can get instruction as good (or better) than any given videotape library here on the web.

        You want to learn about Gilgamesh? You can go to youtube and watch stuff like…

        And I didn’t google this beforehand so we’re going to watch in real time whether there are decent Gilgamesh resources there…

        Well, there’s this:

        That’s a guy with an almost not irritating voice reading (looks like in its entirety!) the Epic of Gilgamesh. (That’s part 1)

        This is an animated cartoon in the vein of Genndy Tartakovsky.

        That is my favorite excerpt from Gilgamesh being read while a lyre contemporary with the period (4,500 years old!) is being played.

        I didn’t find a tweed jacket reading us a handful of things to notice or otherwise giving a lecture… but I’m just talking about youtube. If you want to read a lecture, there are tons available online.

        It’s easier than ever before to be an auto-didact.Report

  11. So where does the 40,000 a year go then?Report

    • If you want Snoop Dogg to play your annual “Spring Fling”, you have to pony up the big bucks.

      No, seriously, it’s because most of the bigger universities have grown a very top-heavy administrative structure in the last few decades.Report

  12. Jason Kuznicki says:

    I still remember the moment I gave up on academia. I was offered an adjunct spot at a very respectable university in DC. It would have been two days a week of teaching, at approximately the rate you cite above. As usual with adjunct positions, it had neither health insurance nor any other benefits. Worst of all, it would have been during regular business hours, making it difficult for me to find any other work. I guess I could have worked nights at Taco Bell.

    At that point I had to ask whether I could afford to chase the dream of being a professor. The answer was no, it would cost me way too much. When I declined the offer, I was told, roughly, “We regret that you’re not joining us, but personally, I think you’re making a wise decision.”Report

  13. BSK says:

    Just a question…

    Does the 4/4 model work out to a full-time job? I realize that, as Jason said, even if it doesn’t the hours may preclude the teacher from taking another job. But I do think it’s worth noting if that paltry salary is based on a presumptive full-time workload or something else.Report

  14. Jon Rowe says:

    “I hope it’s not the future. All the other universities I know of in the area are offering at least $2,000 per course and most are between $2,500 and $3,000. ”

    That’s a typical range. I adjuncted for 6 years before getting a full time job. At one point I was teaching 21 credits a semester and 12 credits in the summer. But wait a minute; I still do that. :).

    You can make a living (not a very good one, but I made almost $40,000 just adjunct teaching the year before I got a full time job). But by that point, I was already teaching a 1/3 of my load online.Report

    • Jon Rowe in reply to Jon Rowe says:

      A good strategy, obviously, would be to maximize credits at the schools that pay their adjuncts the highest. If you could choose from only those schools that pay $3,000 +, for instance.Report

  15. tom van dyke says:

    Aren’t these adjuncts worth approximately what the market is willing to pay? I had thought this might come up at a putatively libertarian blog, but I admit may have missed it as I haven’t been following closely.

    Teaching one’s favorite field is not as cool as playing lead guitar, but likewise, who wouldn’t [understandably] rather do that than be a waiter or telemarketer or manual laborer?

    What’s the difference between a lead guitarist and a large pizza?
    —A pizza can feed a family of four.

    Something along those lines. Substitute medieval French poetry scholars or whatnot.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to tom van dyke says:

      Yeah, the amateur guitarist parallel struck me as well. People do the job to be around people they like doing what they like to do. It’s a shame if they can’t make a living off it. Somebody has to teach the courses. I think the market price would be a less of an irritant if the students weren’t paying roughly 20 times what the instructors make. Actually, I think it’s more than that- for a lot of our courses 1/28th of the tuition taken in goes to the instructor and the rest is technically “room rental”. Maybe the trick is to offer the same course somewhere else for 1/20th the tuition rate.

      I don’t know if the “libertarian” aspects of this blog aren’t overstated anyway. We’ve got two libertarians that I know of and E.D. is sympathetic to libertarianism. I have no idea where I’m at. According to an online opinion survey (scientific!) I’m mildly-libertarian and right-leaning. Which struck me as funny.Report

      • tom van dyke in reply to Rufus F. says:

        I feel you, Rufus. I suspect I’m really an FDR Democrat.Report

      • Tony Comstock in reply to Rufus F. says:


        Personnel are always the easiest and worse place to skimp. There’s always someone willing to work for less; and it’s almost always a bad value. The feedback loop might be more immediate when you’re cutting a track and need a guitarist, but in the end, if you don’t pay people a living wage, you won’t get professionals.

        And if you’re trying to turn out a professional product — a recording, a film, an education — working with professionals is always the percentage play.Report

        • RTod in reply to Tony Comstock says:

          I think the difficulty here, Tony, is that I don’t think the industry sees it’s professional product as the teaching of the undergraduate. Rather, the number of publications and editorships, and the creation of new professors that will produce the same.Report

          • Tony Comstock in reply to RTod says:

            I dunno. Maybe. As I said elsewhere in this thread my own interest in doing graduate work was born of pure credentialism. I tend to think I’m special, but usually end up finding out I’m quite ordinary.Report

        • Nonsense, Mr. Comstock? I gather you make movies on rather a shoestring.

          I have no doubt that you pay what you can, and get artists and craftsmen for far less than they are “worth,” who find the work agreeable and no doubt your project artistically and humanistically worthy. No doubt they trust in you as well, that the end result will not be crap, and a credit to their demo reel.

          So too esp here in LA, there are fabulously skilled “name” actors who do what’s called by their union “Equity Waiver” productions, for little more than carfare. [I shall not name names, but my wife does productions with them often. They’re available if the production has some promise of being worthy, or to just to stay busy, at least not crap.] The Screen Actors Guild also has waivers for low-budget films, with “deferred compensation” and the like. Perhaps the next DeNiro or Streep is shooting one right now, even if it is crap. They get something for their reel.

          [Yes, I’m sure you know this drill. I explicate for the civilians reading.]

          So too, you can’t get a good guitarist for nothing, but you can get one with fine professional credits for next to nothing, say 100 bucks, beers and pizza. And he’ll bring his 1000s of dollars worth of gear to play on too; 100 bucks wouldn’t even cover renting it for the session.

          Again, not if it’s crap, and ideally the sort of music he enjoys playing. But the latter is optional, as long as he gets an acceptable-sounding mp3 he can put up on Facebook to advertise his talent and skills.

          To return to the adjuncts, they’re doing something they somewhat enjoy doing, at least issuing forth on a subject of their affection, and they’re teaching at a college, as opposed to ESL or delivering Domino’s; “adjunct professor” looks a helluva lot better on the CV, and at least it pays as well as Domino’s.

          [There’s the pizza thing again. But it works. Better to be given pizza at the craft table than deliver it.]

          Now, I do follow Rufus’ [and others’] argument in that these adjuncts seem to be exploited by the university, and will continue to be until people start saying not to spend your money at University X because the teachers stink and you won’t learn anything there. Ha!

          In the meantime, you’ve got an able and willing talent pool that’ll do work they find mildly agreeable for next to nothing, and they get something for their resume. The guitarist [or the actor] got a demo that YOU paid for, a couple bucks for his pocket, beer for his head and pizza for his belly. Who exploited whom?Report

          • I don’t like working with amateurs, so I don’t work with people who don’t command a professional rate; union minimum or better. No deferrals or ULB contracts.

            It’s not a question of exploitation, it’s a question of professionalism. I need my films to make money. I can’t do that working with amateurs. What your wife does with her time is her business. I guess it’s lucky she’s married to a gameshow wizz!Report

            • I understand your argument and professional philosophy, Mr. Comstock. I would point at Kevin Smith and “Clerks” for the viability of other methods, probably closer to the one I describe. Sean Penn and Robert Downey don’t need you, and Eric Clapton is getting by fine without me.

              [As I recall, Smith provided cast & crew with luscious meals cooked by his family; better than Domino’s! Probably kept half his young and hungry posse coming back for more work!]

              If we may be personal as a bridge to understanding [and not as a weapon against each other; I think I held up my end, Tony], the gameshow money is long gone—I work for a living. But I would say that although not as good as the best, I do music and history better than many who make their living at them. I’m not complaining—this is the life I chose, and there’s a liberation that comes from doing such things as a vocation, not a profession.

              [Rorty used to make some very telling hits on “professional” philosophers.]

              In my view, “professionalism” is a guarantee only of a high standard of mediocrity. Not that I begrudge the union guy holding the boom mike making $100/hr—he WILL not drop the sucker and ruin a take on a production that’s running at $30K an hour or whatever the math comes out to. He’s worth it!

              The only difference between the talented amateur and the “professional” is the perfection of his craft, which translates to consistency. I certainly would NOT want an amateur boom mike operator on my production if I could help it. He will screw up at some point, guaranteed. Talent does not equate to discipline; indeed, they are often at loggerheads. You can’t go balls out all the time: that is mere noble savagery. I would trust neither you nor meself to hold the boom mike rather than the professional.

              On the other hand, “professionalism” can also be pejoratively called “careerism,” which at some point entails “playing it safe.” It’s “professionals” who [often cynically] turn out the other 99% of the dreck we call pop culture. Kevin Smith was interesting until he turned pro. And of course, sometimes “playing it safe” is a numbing conformity nonconformity:

              Kirk Lazarus: Everybody knows you never go full retard.

              Tugg Speedman: What do you mean?

              Kirk Lazarus: Check it out. Dustin Hoffman, ‘Rain Man,’ look retarded, act retarded, not retarded. Counted toothpicks, cheated cards. Autistic, sho’. Not retarded.

              You know Tom Hanks, ‘Forrest Gump.’ Slow, yes. Retarded, maybe. Braces on his legs. But he charmed the pants off Nixon and won a ping-pong competition. That ain’t retarded.

              Peter Sellers, “Being There.” Infantile, yes. Retarded, no. You went full retard, man. Never go full retard. You don’t buy that? Ask Sean Penn, 2001, “I Am Sam.” Remember? Went full retard, went home empty handed…

              God, the wife & I were just talking about perhaps the greatest actor of his generation, Sean Penn, both Spicoli and Poncelet. Though it might be Robert Downey, a dude playing a dude disgused as another dude. And Downey, the actor himself, makes for a 4th dude.


              But never go full retard. If I can pass down any wisdom from the classics to you, that’s it. Once John Waters figgered that out, he turned some major bucks at your game. [And “retard” is only an analogy. I’m familiar with his work. Best of luck, Tony. Illustrating a connection between love and sex sounds like a worthy vocation.]Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to tom van dyke says:

      Aren’t these adjuncts worth approximately what the market is willing to pay?

      Market analysis? So glad you asked.

      Adjuncts are accepting work at a lower pay rate now, in favor of trying to get a higher salary and much psychic benefit later. The question is whether this gamble is worth it.

      It’s a lot like a kid spending time on his basketball game rather than learning calculus. There’s a chance at a really excellent payoff from basketball — but a lot of waste if the gamble doesn’t pay off. In the academy the same is true, and the payoff chance has been getting smaller year after year.

      Adjunct labor substitutes for that of the profs, so we can expect profs to get rarer, adjuncts to get more common, and the salary of the latter to plummet in sort of a death spiral. Which indeed it has. The trouble is, eventually you will only get what you pay for in the adjunct market, and adjuncts are all going to be awful. Which is the direction we’re heading, too.

      Meanwhile, deciding to pursue a Ph.D. is not something you pull out of lightly. Employers do notice when you give up. So you’re in the system, and it takes nearly a decade, and all the while the market is getting worse…. I’m just really glad I got out when I did.Report

      • Matty in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        So you’re in the system, and it takes nearly a decade

        I am surprised by just how drawn out the US PhD system apparently is. I know several people who got UK PhD’s and unless there were extenuating circumstances they got three years of funding and were expected to submit by the end of the fourth year.
        When I read about American PhD’s they all seem to take six to eight years, which raises two possibilities. Either your universities are way more generous with funding research students or the majority of time spent on a PhD is unfunded in which case I’m not surprised they feel the need to take low paying jobs that leave enough time to also work on their PhD.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Matty says:

          A story that may illustrate part of the issue.

          I worked with a guy who had a Master’s in Engineering in something-or-other. I asked him why he didn’t get his doctorate. He said that he suspected that his profs would never let him get it… I asked about the Master’s and he told me this horror story about how he was working as an assistant to a professor and did research for him. All day, all week, all month, all year. He was a research assistant and had precious little time to work on his own Master’s.

          He eventually submitted his paperwork and his prof told him that he’d only sign off on the Master’s if he’d sign a contract to continue doing research for him as a PhD student. He signed the contract, got the Master’s, then GOT THE HELL OUT OF THERE.

          He told me that being a Master’s student or PhD student was like being slave labor.

          Of course, this is just an anecdote. Surely it’s not representative of anything other than this one guy’s experience and he would tell a story like that, wouldn’t he?Report

  16. Rufus F. says:

    By a remarkable coincidence, Salon just ran this letter from an aspiring academic who can’t give up on the impossible dream, even though it’s clearly damaging her mental health:

    This is exactly what I mean about being emotionally-indebted to academia.Report

    • RTod in reply to Rufus F. says:

      I think the most telling (and sad) thing about that letter was the writer saw her options as a choice between succeeding in becoming a tenured professor or be “doomed to 1950s housewife drudgery.”Report

    • RTod in reply to Rufus F. says:

      And I think the most telling thing about the columnist’s advice was that she was choosing the wrong on-in-a-million dream job to obssess about, rather than that you might not try to have your identity wrapped up in your job title. Many people who do not become cowboys, astronauts or ballerinas go on to lead joyful productive lives.Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to RTod says:

        There’s a strong bias in the academy toward viewing non-academic work as fundamentally unsatisfying, because it isn’t intellectual.

        Neither is the case, of course; non-academic work can be both intellectual and satisfying. But that’s how professors think, and it’s often how they teach their grad students to think.Report

        • gregiank in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          okay we are justing going on personal experience here i assume, but my experience has been the exact opposite. I’ve known many academics or educated types who love to various labor or physical work on their weekends and summers. Now of course that is a hobby not a job, but they understand how hard a lot of non-intellectual work is and deeply respect people who do it for a living. I’ve also known academics whose parents actually did non-intellectual work so they have close experience with it.

          “thats how professors think” oh please…can you really engage in a more shallow exercise in stereotyping.Report

          • Jason Kuznicki in reply to gregiank says:

            I’ve no doubt academics really do find non-academic work difficult. Sure. But is it rewarding in quite the same way? Is it equally profound? Equally intellectual? Absolutely not. They’d never believe it. Never ever.

            I went to two different grad schools, one elite and one non-, and I knew many students from other schools as well. This is how these people think. It really is.

            Want evidence? I’m hardly alone in my conclusions. Academics themselves admit it! Look at this and this and this, for starters. While these are admittedly personal reflections, do you have evidence at all to the contrary? I may be stereotyping, but it’s a stereotype with a freely admitted basis in fact.Report

            • RTod in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              A good example of how this translates, Jason, is that everyone I know in academia talks incessantly about how fished up academia is: it’s a sexist good-old boys network, it fails care about teaching undergrads, it’s overly full of pomposity, the folks at the top are there for political reasons rather than scholarly ones. But very few of them allow that non-academics can have these opinions without being dismissed as philistines.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Rufus F. says:

      Wow, what horrible advice that letter-writer got. She says, basically, she chased the dream of being an anthropologist for 15 years. Some of it happy, some of it sad. But now she doubts she can ever get a professorship. The advice in return? This:

      “You wanted to be an actress in high school, so you will never be happy in anything else.”

      What a load of pure, steaming bullshit.Report

  17. Sally says:

    Here’s what I don’t understand. There are postdoctoral fellowships offered that pay better than the teaching mentioned here. Why not take one of them? After a fellowship you would have a better vita and could then apply for sabbatical replacement jobs — full-time but temporary Asst. Professor jobs that pay much better than the casual teaching. Further, there are universities that pay much better than the $2000 or even $3000 mentioned her per course, more often $6000 or $6600 per course (the UCs and CSU’s in California). With stronger qualifications an adjunct would be eligible for such jobs. No one is forcing adjuncts to seek out or take the lowest paying jobs. If they continued to improve their qualifications, they could be competitive for higher paying ones and perhaps even qualify for a tenure track job ultimately. Who tells adjuncts that they should stop improving their qualifications after they finish their dissertations? How many adjuncts write up their dissertation studies and publish them? How many apply for the slew of better paying year-long jobs advertised from April-Sept each year? I really don’t understand the victim status adjuncts keep claiming when their position is somewhat determined by their own actions (or absence of activity to improve their worth to an employer). In any field, the people who do less to make themselves employable get worse jobs. Why should it be any different in academia?Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Sally says:

      I’m sorry- do you seriously think that those post-doc positions are plentiful and going unfilled because people on the job market are turning them down in preference of adjunct positions that pay half as much and look worse on a CV? I know plenty of people now adjuncting, and not one who either eschews the better paying post-doc positions or who has stopped trying to get things published. You don’t understand the gripes of adjuncts because you’re clearly not on the job market right now, nor have any idea of the realities of that market. Nobody is hiring. They’re hiring for adjunct positions. People take those because they need to eat.Report