Monday, April 9, 2007

Am I Good Enough for You to Love Me Too?

Maclean’s, which purports to be a Canadian news weekly, has an interesting piece by Sandy Farran about adjunct teaching. It’s broadly sympathetic to the plight of adjuncts (who Canadians seem to call “sessionals”), and that’s as it should be. As Farran makes clear, universities are relying more and more on adjuncts to teach, and they’re doing so precisely because they can pay adjuncts a lot less than they pay janitors. This trend, for a pile of reasons I’ll come back to if I ever get the chance, is a very bad thing. But for now I want to highlight something else about the piece.

Notice how Farran treats one adjunct’s effort to get a tenure-track job in his department:

Last year [Dube, an adjunct political scientist at the University of Calgary] applied for a tenure-track position in political science and he was shocked to learn that he hadn’t even made the short list. “I put a lot of hope into getting that job,” says Dube. . . Given that Dube earned $26,652 last year, a higher salary would have made a big difference.

Farran passes this story along without comment, implicitly asking us to feel this adjunct’s disappointment and the unfairness of his situation. I mean, it is unfair, right? The guy’s worked hard for that department, he’s good enough at his job, so why shouldn’t that tenure-tack job be his to lose? Suppose he was working on temp contracts as a high school history teacher. He’s a good teacher, a smart and likable guy, and kids respond to his classes. So when the permanent job comes up, it’s his. Fair enough, right?

Wrong. That’s just not the way the job market works. I mean, given that Dube “admits that he has done little research” in nearly 20 years, his reaction is insane. It’s just bat-shit crazy to think he had a shot at that job.

But there’s a bigger point here about the job market, a point this piece misses by a wide, wide margin. Being good enough might get you a job as a high school history teacher, or a junior HR consultant or whatever. But why would an academic department hire someone who was only good enough when they could hire the best available? PhDs from the best universities in the world—PhDs with hyper-active research programs and solid track records in teaching—those PhDs are going to apply for that job. Just being good enough doesn’t even put you in the running. It gets you adjunct work. Which is to say, being good enough gets you sweet fuck all.

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