Slaving in the Salt Mines of Academia

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December 12, 2006

More than half the faculty at Boston University, Northeastern, Tufts, and Harvard are part-time or are not on the tenure track, according to a report released yesterday.

These prominent institutions performed poorly compared with their peers around the country, according to the study by the American Association of University Professors, a union organization.

Professors and advocates for students have raised concerns for years that colleges are increasingly turning to less expensive, temporary labor and eroding the tenure system, to the detriment of students and scholars alike. The study, based on fall 2005 data from the US Education Department, heightens such concern.

At private research universities nationally, 55 percent of academic staff are part-timers, known as adjuncts, or full-timers who do not have an opportunity to earn tenure, the AAUP reported.

At well-known Boston-area universities, the proportions are even higher: 71 percent at Boston University, 67 percent at Northeastern, 66 percent at Tufts, and 57 percent at Harvard, according to the study.

from the Boston Globe

Just as the nation’s major hospitals rely largely on the overtaxed and underpaid interns and residents serving their time in the trenches of American health care, so our major universities base the brunt of their actual front-line teaching on unprotected grunt laborers, forced to work ridiculous hours for a fraction of the pay of tenured professors and in danger of losing their posts at the slightest misstep, deviation from the department line, or temporary down tick in enrollment.

Count the Dowbrigade among these downtrodden academic Ronin, at the head of the list.

Some of these hired guns are doctoral students, paying their dues in hopes of eventually entering the hallowed ranks of the Doctorati, the first step in the long road to tenure. However, as all academic vets know, that long and winding road to the mythic PhD is littered with the wrecks of promising lives and aborted academic careers.

Others among the professorial underclass had the bad taste to graduate from undistinguished institutions, or who actually prefer more actual teaching to researching and publishing. Most could easily get tenured positions back in their home countries or in the Academic Hinterlands (i.e. the Big Sky Conference, for example), but where’s the fun in that?

In the case of the Dowbrigade, our underclass status is partly due to the fact that the highest degree we hold, an MS in Ed, is considered the "terminal degree" in our chosen field, TESL. Has a lovely ring to it, sort of like cancer. Actually, the Dowbrigade started working on a doctorate in a related field (Educational Media Technology) years ago, but flamed out along that same long and winding road. Unfortunately, the Media Technology they were teaching was about ten years out of date, and worse, the professors felt threatened by cutting edge developments in their own field. Guess they didn’t have tenure, either.

But we didn’t come this far to start whining about our academic failures. The point is, we need more money and more job security. We are currently in the midst of our 15th consecutive one-year contract! What kind of a career is that? Believe it or not, we once had tenure at one of the top universities in the country! Of course, the country was Peru, and the university was the National University of Peru, and 16 years ago, just after we won “Nombramiento” (tenure), the Peruvian inflation rate rose to 100% a month, and the Maoist Sendero Luminoso started to shoot University professors who didn’t support their line, and Gringos just on general principal, so we decided a change of venue was called for.

And thus we ended up in intellectual bondage, here in the higher education capital of America. Someday soon we shall all rise up, the TA’s, the adjuncts, the Senior Lecturers and Resident Advisors, and claim the rights and rewards we so richly deserve. Meanwhile, we hope our bosses bosses don’t read the Dowbrigade News…..

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