Don’t Give Up! It’s Not All Bleak! You Have So Much to Offer!

On our last episode of Post Academic in NYC, we heard the sad tale of how I was contacted by the College Where I Used to Adjunct to, well, adjunct. See, I already resigned last spring, and I even presented myself like a good little post academic at my exit interview where someone filled out a form documenting my despair and sent me on my way. I guess they invited me back because they think I might miss them now.


One this episode of PAINYC (aren’t acronyms fun!) we will learn about the other thing that happened to me last week that STILL has me shaking with rage.

Recently, I resigned from an academic committee that I had been serving on since I was a graduate student. The co-head of the committee, a tenured faculty member in my field, emailed to ask why I was resigning. I explained, in the nicest way, that I decided to leave academia because it’s time for me to make a living, etc, etc.

Honestly I didn’t expect to hear from him again because, why?

Of course, I underestimated the investment that some tenured/tenure-track faculty seem to have in convincing their underlings to Keep Livin’ the Dream. He immediately replied: “Of course the market is not friendly, but you have so much to offer the field. I hope you don’t give up!”

I suppose being told that I have “so much to offer the field” by an established member of the academic club should delight me. Instead, I think I just threw up a little in my mouth.

It took me a few days to figure out why.

Basically, I am sick to death of being encouraged. I am sick of being told, by privileged people who have full-time jobs and who (in many cases) earned tenure decades ago, not to give up. Telling someone with a PhD in the Humanities not to give up is just stupid. I know these folks mean well, but they are clueless about the daily indignities of life on the academic margins. I can’t tell you the number of people who have informed me that “things will work out” if I just, I don’t know, suffer a little bit longer.

I wrote back to thank him for his comments. But I confirmed that I have no plans to go on the job market this year.

I was sure I wouldn’t hear from him again. But I was wrong. He wrote back! Obviously, he can’t imagine that I really do know my own mind. Who wouldn’t want to be an academic? It’s the Life of the Mind!

“Many colleges have stopped offering tenure-track positions,” he wrote. “But there are Lectureships. So it’s not all bleak.”


So let me get this straight. A prof with a full-time salary, job security, and institutional research support would like me to know that “it’s not all bleak.” And why is it not bleak, from his point of view? Because tenure-track positions are being replaced by Lectureships. And what really is the difference between a tt job and a Lectureship, anyway?

This guy does not seem to know or care what the differences might actually be. What’s worse is the implication that I am being too bleak. In fact, if I don’t get a job (which I won’t because I am not applying), I’m sure he will chalk it all up to the fact that I am really just too bleak about everything.

Got that, postacademics?

Not only must you continue to sacrifice yourself on the academic cross, you must have a good attitude about it too! You must continue to serve pro bono on academic committees. You must realize that the proliferation of 4-4, renewable Lectureships with no job security, no research support, and no promise of a tenure-track appointment are not a sign of the demise of intellectual culture. And they most certainly do not signify a national disinvestment in quality teaching at the college level. Nor is this trend part of a larger disintegration of the middle class in America. Rather, these Lectureships are a sign that things are “not all that bleak.”

Don’t give up! You have so much to offer, sucker.

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11 Responses to Don’t Give Up! It’s Not All Bleak! You Have So Much to Offer!

  1. JC says:

    This reminds me of a story I just heard from a grad student friend. My friend had just been at home visiting family, and met up for lunch with a friend who excitedly told my friend that she had decided to pursue a Ph.D. in history!! My friend tried to caution her about the job market in history, but she interrupted, saying that one of her professors thought it was a great idea for her to go to grad school because — wait for it — “there’s a lot of need for adjuncts! I’ll have a ton of job opportunities when I graduate, and can pick and choose the schools where I teach!!”

    My friend said she tried to talk her out of it, but she was convinced. The multitudes of adjunct jobs were calling, and she was going to go for it.

    How depressing.

    Amen to the idea of clueless tenured profs. They’re clinging to outdated ideas based on a decades-old job market … and then sitting on high shaming and dismissing the students who are actually out here, looking at the *current market* and deciding to take another route. How disgusting. Clueless profs advising desperate and beaten down grad students based on experiences they had 40 years ago. Pathetic.

  2. JC says:

    Also, this reminds me a bit of the advice for adjuncts that Tenured Radical gave a few months back that … didn’t go over so well in the blogosophere. “Oh, just keep being a good adjunct, and it’ll all work out! Plus, it’s not that bad, right?”

  3. recent Ph.D. says:

    You know what I want to ask these people every time I hear some version of this (and I’ve heard more than a few directed at me in person, as well as anecdotes of others, but I’ve always just been … speechless, like you, as I also throw up a little in my mouth)?

    I want to say,

    “Hey proffie, I know you mean well and all, but … would you give up your $95K a year salary, 2/2 teaching load, full benefits, and tenure for — hear me fully — $30K a year, 4/4 teaching load, no benefits, and no job security?? I mean, the upside would be that no one would expect you to do research or anything — unless you were hoping for, uh, an upgrade to something with better pay, better workload, job security beyond one semester, and … benefits. Wouldn’t it be worth it, though? Wouldn’t you switch in a minute?

    “Wait, what’s that you say? No? Nooooo??? Ohhhhhhhhhhhh, OK. It’s fine for me but not for you. You worked hard to get where you are. Sure.

    “Except those jobs are disappearing, so I never will get where you are, never will have a job like yours, no matter how hard I work or how good my work is. You see, things really are pretty bleak.

    “And they’re bleaker in academe than they are in a lot of other places. OK, we’re in a recession, but, I mean, when an entry-level secretary position that doesn’t require a college degree pays better than a university instructor position? That’s a disgrace.

    “You can take your adjunct job and shove it.”

  4. Caitlin says:

    If you think it horrifies them when you turn down an adjunct position, try telling them that you have no intention of continuing your precious research as an “independent scholar.” That’s a fun one! It usually comes up for me when I’m asked to be on a conference panel (last minute, of course–they’d rather have a panel full of TT faculty at R1s).
    Let’s look at this offer more closely: someone’s asking me to spend quite a lot of my own money to travel 1000 miles to Louisville, KY, stay there for four days, and talk for 15 minutes. Should I be delighted?
    Or when I’m asked if I am going to finish my book. I had a book under contract at a top 5 press in my field THREE TIMES on the job market, I explain sweetly–if it didn’t help me get an academic job, what other profession on earth would care about it in the slightest?
    “You should finish it for yourself,” they say. “It’s like having a baby.” You know what? I didn’t write the damned thing “for myself”–I wrote it “for them,” so “they” would give me a job. They didn’t, I got tired of waiting, and now I’m earning a living (and having a real baby)–“for myself.”
    Glad you’re back! Don’t have time to maintain a blog myself, but I do like me a good vent from time to time. Thanks for the opportunity!

    • Hi!

      You are so right. While the tenured proffies are really surprised when we quit adjuncting, they are SHOCKED if we decide not to continue our (read: their) precious research. “Just publish your book! You’ll be fine! Things are more difficult now, but people with publications will be okay.” Blah Blah. Heard it a dozen times. They simply have no idea.

      Congrats on moving on and starting your family.

  5. Anthea says:

    Grr…I can’t stand this attitude either. Drives me bats. What also drives me nuts is how swarmy and smug these people often are…I don’t get it in all honesty. I can’t understand why I should be delighted to kill myself to apply for a position where I can get paid peanuts, to sacrifice myself for my discipline (as if it’s going to care anyway)…and be good tempered about the whole procedure at the same time!

  6. Karen says:

    I’m so glad to see that you are back! I’ve been a lurker for awhile but thought I’d chime in solidarity with you all. I was particularly dismayed when profs who like to uncover the hidden labor in cultural products failed to acknowledge the real labor conditions in our field. Fortunately I did have one committee member who totally supported my job hunt off the tenure track. Her confirmation that job prospects were indeed bleak was comforting for the reasons you describe.

    JC your story about the would-be history adjunct makes me shudder.

  7. Ally says:

    I just found your blog (via the Academic Wikia ranting page).
    Thanks for sharing – I keep trying to decide what other career I can do with a PhD in the Humanities and end up stuck in the middle of nowhere at dumpy college I hate with little-to-no job security for just one more year. I wish I had the courage to quit, move back in with my parents and start adult life all over again. I was going to give up this year but Another Crappy College emailed to invite me for an interview and they keep stringing me along. I am fairly certain this will be my last academic year – but finding another job seems impossible (all the older profs in my life also keep encouraging me to stick “it” out despite my concerns). Good luck to you in whatever you do now .

    • Hi Ally,

      Thanks for your note. I feel exactly the same way. I could probably get a lectureship somewhere….the “somewhere” is the issue. I just don’t want it bad enough to live in the middle-of-nowhere far from family and friends. I’m sure some would tell me to suck it up and do what I have to do. Eventually I’ll get a job in a place I actually want to live in, right? The first job is not the last job, right? The thing is, I don’t believe that. The best way to NOT find myself stuck for 20 years in a town I hate is NOT to go there in the first place.

      Best of luck!

  8. Giulietta says:

    I know this is a very old post, but it reminded me of something that happens regularly in the academic place where I currently work. Tenure requirements keep changing (getting stricter) and higher level administrators can and do overrule unanimous department/ college votes. If that wasn’t enough, currently tenured faculty enjoy taunting the untenured when ridiculous requirements (like going to sports games) come up: “I don’t have to do that because I have tenure.” “I don’t have to worry about the requirements changing capriciously because I have tenure.” I dread going in to work. Writing the dissertation while my life was falling apart was almost a breeze compared to this toxic environment. (Trust me, there’s much more to this story.)

  9. alias CP Danish says:

    Higher Education Academia is basically a sham in most areas (especially in the liberal arts). It may have some validity in the sciences because there could be a tangible goal. But most if not all liberal arts and Humanities PhDs should just be abolished. They are just there to serve as advanced forms of intellectual masturbation. “Piled, High and Deep”. Sadly and immorally, universities have conferred thousands of worthless PhDs, exploiting the recipients in what is a grand Ponzi scheme. Because there are few positions, only those on the top of the scheme will profit. The circle continues because it is there to keep the many arrogant professors in their cushy jobs. If they did not have graduate students to teach and to continually enlist in the scheme, then they themselves would be out of a job. The academic world is, without a doubt, not steeped in the truths of the day-to-day real world. It employs some of the most hideously grotesque people on the planet who are actually worse than elected politicians. Elected politicians at least have to answer to their their constituents and stand for elections. Once professors get their tenure, they behave like mini-dictators in competing countries all along side each other. Since, I have one of those utterly worthless degrees, I believe I have credibility when I attack the Academic World 🙂

    **All statements in this comment are the property of ME, hahahaha….
    Dr. NhG
    Los Angeles, CA

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