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teacher-doris-day3A recent, fabulously ire-inducing Chronicle article wants to tell us graduate student folk to  stop all our bellyachin’ about such nuisances as depleted job markets, disappearing job security, and the future of stable university education. Instead, Mr. Douglas W. Texter informs us, we should forget our woes and trot off to “Florida to bask in the sun and drink with Gore Vidal at the Key West Literary Seminar,” like, apparently, he does on his $100,000-per-year adjunct instructor income.

The rise of adjunct instruction in the American university is, of course, one of many disastrous and tragic trends offered by late-capitalist society. But the tragedy is often placed on the shoulders of the adjunct instructors themselves, who more often than not fit not Mr. Texter’s profile, but this one: underpaid; overworked; no job security; no contractual retention; no retirement; no benefits; no respect; no future. If Mr. Texter has managed to escape such circumstances and rake in for himself a cool hundred-thou by virtue of his entrepreneurial spirit and innate go-getted-ness, well, good for freaking him. But one can’t help but wonder how many dang classes — that is to say, how many dang students — Mr. Texter is teaching every semester to maintain (ahem . . . I mean achieve) this income arrangement. Suddenly, it seems, the tragedy switches shoulders, and now it’s the students who must, inevitably, suffer at the hands of an instructor who, though probably well-trained and capable of performing better, has nary a moment to learn their names while running from class to class in search of his otherwise tenure-track comparable salary.

I know; I watch it happen all the time. Mr. Texter might have been in a meeting I attended Thursday afternoon for instructors in the First-Year English Program. He might just have been the guy who stood up, peeling his ill-fitting blazer (no doubt a Target find) off his husky shoulders and bravely telling us how he is proud to be the hardest working member of the First Year English-Program because, while we, his colleagues, are engaged in providing thoughtful student feedback and designing truly useful, interactive daily seminars, he’s flying between three local universities to serve as an adjunct instructor. And he’s stinkin’ proud of it, too. He’s earning more money (dontcha know: more money always comes to those who work the hardest?), he’s built a larger network of professional assocations and he, um, er, is sort of failing his graduate classes. But nevermind that.

The issue here is, of course, the tragedy of the adjunct instructor in any given humanities department at any given university these days. But, even more, it is the tragedy of mismanagement and greed. Students pay A LOT for university education these days — so much that entry-level salaries can’t, and shouldn’t, even dream of keeping up (another recent Chronicle article spells this one out as well). But where’s the money going? If humanities departments are turning to cheap, adjunct labor with no-frills and no-gimicks (read: no benefits, and no chance of career certainty), they’re saving universities money at unprecedented rates.

Let’s look at that equation again: university tuition increases at a rate of y while the expenses of humanities departments fall at a rate of x and universities call the total sum fiscal crisis. Now, I’m no math major, but HUH?

Thus, while I’m glad to see Mr. Texter sittin’ pretty (and happy!) with his decision to aid the mindless pillaging of student tuition dollars, I’m concerned, to say the least, for his students. And for future generations of customers in what we can conceivably label — aside from war — as America’s last industry.

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7 Comments

  1. Hi, Doug Texter here.

    This is a pretty low blow, one that’s pretty close to libel.

    I earned two fellowships as a graduate student, published over 29 pieces, including 4 peer reviewed articles. I had a 3.94 average as a Ph.D. candidate. I received one A-. I’d like to see your grades.

    By the way, it’s “Doctor” now.

    So, knock it off.

    I didn’t pillage my students. And no I din’t say how hard working I am to my colleagues.

    As to my students, I think I did a pretty good job. My evals were pretty high.
    I also sat on committees and attended department meetings. I advised a club as well.

    I provided thoughtful feedback and wrote several letters of recommendation, getting my students into law school, med school, and honor societies.

    Unless you observed me or were one of my students and were displeased, I’d really appreciate that you not judge me.

    My observations went pretty well, so, again, knock it off.

    Thanks,
    Doug Texter

  2. I guess it just goes to show …

    that graduate school can’t teach you everything. Like the meaning of criticism, the real definition of the word “libel,” or proper grammatical skills.

  3. SheSpeak’s response hardly nears most of the other numerous critical takes on Texter’s drivel in terms of harshness. It’s weird to see him take this one so personally while having been far more professional in his self-defenses elsewhere (the WPA listserv, for one example).

    But this also continues to show why his article is indefensible in the first place: Texter pretends everything is an ad-homonym attack and seems to skip over what the majority of criticism on his piece has been, ie, the economics of academic labor, looked at with any ounce of commitment whatsoever, call for the exact opposite approach he advocates. Materially, besides the fact that it’s impossible to make 100k when teaching for 2k a class as most writing adjuncts do, the three-quarters of higher ed teachers who are now contingent workers desire the economic justice they already deserve — not something beyond it.

    In the near future we will be more likely to read labor contracts than _Rich Dad, Poor Dad_ or _How to Make Boat Loads of Money Doing What Other People Live in Poverty Doing and Then Brag About It and Defend Yourself by Saying People Who Don’t Want to Make Boat Loads of Money Because They Say it’s Bad Because it Actually Causes Poverty Need to Knock it Off_.

    Solidarity, Michael

  4. Just a brief reply:

    I take this one personally, becuase it is personal. How did you know what my grades were? You don’t. And you didn’t even respond to that. That’s just wrong and pretty indefensible. How do you know what my teaching is like? You don’t. So, please stop.

    I never question critique of my work, but I do question stuff like I’m failing all of my graduate classes. That’s not ok, and crosses lines.

    You can disagree with me. That’s fine.

    As for calling my work drivel, that’s sad. And it’s the mark of people who haven’t produced much, if anything ever.

    What’s also sad for everybody–including the three of us– is the job market. That is very sad. The question of course is what to do about it. I don’t think that unions–non-existent at most places– will solve much of anything. I am a member (dues paying) of one union. But they can’t change the structure of universities or the economy. I worked to help start a union at the U of M. We got outspent ten to one and soundly beaten.

    I don’t know either of you. So, I don’t know what poltical organizing experience you have. Probably not much. I’ve worked for both Greenpeace and the PIRGs, and fought some big battles. Fighting universities is pretty hard to do. Trust me, I know.

    One more thing: I’m fron Erie, north of where you are. It may not look like it given where I’ve gone to college, but I’m not that far removed from the steel workers and coal miners of Western PA. I honor my working class heritage (including a grandfather who organized the PA railroad with an axe handle) by escaping it, not wallowing in it.

    Economic Justice: sure. Fight the good fight, yes. But you don’t help anybody by living in poverty.

    Political analysis and action are wonderful, but they don’t feed you or pay your rent or your unconvered medical expenses. Trust me, I know that. I’m sorry you live in poverty. I have too. It’s not pleasant, is it.

    You do need to stop with the personal attacks. They’re not ok. My work: you’re free to say what you want.

    When you start talking about things that are about my abilities, you’ve crossed a line. And you should know that.

  5. One more post that’s actually quite serious and responds to Michael’s post, then I’m done:

    1. Somebody making 100k doesn’t cause poverty. 100m maybe. by the way, 100k isn’t that much.

    2. I hear you about most adjuncts not being able to do that. I’m in a good market, most people aren’t. When it’s the case that you can’t make what you want, you’re faced with a difficult choice: stay badly paid or leave. That’s not pleasant, but it’s true. Many people face this, and they leave teaching for better paid work. That’s sad, but it’s an economic reality.

    I wish you both well if you are on the market.

    DT

  6. I apologize for the “drivel” remark, Dr. Texter. I should’ve written “adopted pig-ethics from the financial class.”

    Also, I agree that someone making 100k doesn’t cause poverty. That’s why my sentence there covers the ideology of your capitalist self-help books, which — and I’m willing to bet my 18k salary on it — don’t advocate stopping once you hit the 100k mark. Why not follow the logic through and become a university administrator? 300k isn’t that much either. Maybe one day even a president. 1m is quite a bit but it’s no 10m — what the trustees make. And so on.

    The _vast majority_ of people face this sad economic reality. And, in the face of it, another economic reality has begun to rear its own head: graduate employees are organizing at as high a rate as any workforce. With respect, it is we who will decide what the university is like in the near future.

    There is no such thing as “the market,” but I wish you well as well.

  7. I am at this juncture compelled to point something out — specifically, that all this conversation may have been (perhaps unfortunately) avoided had Mr. Texter only managed to exercise the skills relative to his “Dr” title. That is to say, if only he had been a close reader, and of my original third paragraph in particular.

    Upon re-reading, I’m sure it will be only too clear that I was never talking about Mr. Texter in the first place; in fact, I was merely comparing his situation of the “hard-working adjunct” to a colleague of mine who currently finds himself in similar circumstances. He is forced to work at four different universities to keep on top of his mortgage bills. And, yes, this has resulted in a few failed graduate courses along the way.

    But don’t fret, Mr. Texter: I’m sure in your haste to track down every puny little blog on the planet that, some many months ago, might have mentioned your name, it’s hard to keep your wits about you. Wits like, you know, reading skills.

    Sorry, “Dr”. I almost forgot.


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