Would You Like Fries With That Midterm?
Brittany Bronson holds a Master’s Degree and teaches English at UNLV. Then, at night, she puts on a white shirt and an apron, and waits on tables at an unnamed chain restaurant on the Strip. As she chronicles in today’s Gray Lady, it was only a matter of time until one of her students during the day showed up as one of her customers in the evening, to her mortification. And makes the obvious link between her real life and art, thinking about Walter White washing his student’s car; how does an instructor regain a position of prestige, authority, and respect after something like that?
Professor Bronson’s essay explores the class-based assumptions about why that incident led to shame. Eventually, she arrives at a self-justification…
My perhaps naïve hope is that when I tell students I’m not only an academic, but a “survival” jobholder, I’ll make a dent in the artificial, inaccurate division society places between blue-collar work and “intelligent” work. We expect our teachers to teach us, not our servers, although in the current economy, these might be the same people.
…which is a very pleasant, egalitarian, and small-d-democratic thought, but I think the real lesson here is that UNLV doesn’t pay its English instructor enough to allow her to survive with just one job. Which is not news: as chronicled in Elle magazine of all places, Professor Bronson is far from alone. It’s well-known that adjuncts get paid crap wages and if adjuncting is their only source of income, they often live like they’re still in college themselves. Which is more than economically disempowering. Even Congress has noticed this.
I adjunct. But I have a day job that pays the bills; for me, adjuncting supplements, rather than provides for, my regular income. (Usually the money pays for either Christmas or a vacation.) Still, should I be doing something about this? Am I part of the problem for taking crap wages in exchange for dispensing higher education? Or is this just a matter of supply and demand; the market at work? There surely is a place for adjuncting — in law school, some of the classes I was most interested in and which provided the most focused subjects were taught by adjuncts, at night.
…Let me add in a postscript that I’ve been blogging since June of 2005, and I don’t think I’ve ever before linked to an article in Elle magazine. It’s a pretty good piece, so maybe I’ve been overlooking a source of good material.
Burt Likko is the pseudonym of an attorney in Southern California. His interests include Constitutional law with a special interest in law relating to the concept of separation of church and state, cooking, good wine, and bad science fiction movies. Follow his sporadic Tweets at @burtlikko, and his Flipboard at Burt Likko.