If you think this blog is depressing to read, then imagine how depressing it is to write. To be fair, academia today really is depressing (at least if you actually try to understand everything that’s going on in it), but at least my friend Kate has given me a good excuse to get depressed about something new:
There’s no other way to say it: just keeping up with an academic job means that I habitually shortchange the people that I really love, and I’ve made very little contribution to the community where I live, even on things that are important to me. Half a kilometre from my house is a community garden; right under my nose is a mountain of email, grading, a wildly overdue book contract and administration. Take a guess.
I’m not an exception in this. Looking around me I see colleagues figuring out how much work they can secretly do while their kids are watching TV, how many emails they can answer or papers they can grade at the soccer game, how many family occasions they can miss or somehow multitask, whether or not they really have time to go to the gym. Then there are quieter conversations about alcohol, fatigue, shame and depression.
By all means read the whole thing. It will really help you put everything in perspective. So does this interview with the journalist (ex anthropolgist) Sarah Kendzior:
Realize that people in academia have a warped and limited view of what constitutes “success.” Academia has been described as a cult, and when you leave a cult, you have to shake off its values and judgments. Only in academia is working four adjunct jobs for less than 10K a year “success” while working a non-academic job that provides personal satisfaction or a living wage “failure.” A profession that exploits people’s fear to staff its positions is not one to which you owe loyalty.
Of course, it’s not just fear that academia exploits. It’s also your willingness to sacrifice the kinds of things that Kate describes in the name of education. This goes triple if you’re one of the 76% of university faculty who are adjuncts. You don’t even get a living wage to do what you do, yet your teaching is mostly judged with the same standards as those of us who do.
That’s one of many reasons that we faculty are almost all part of the same sinking navy, even if adjuncts are much, much closer to the waterline than the rest of us. To make matters worse, the captains of our respective ships have no qualms about throwing anyone overboard. No gratitude. No loyalty.*
The best sign of that attitude is that too many of the powers that be are chomping at the bit to replace you with a MOOC – often nothing but a videotaped superprofessor and a discussion forum in many cases – because they want to save money. As if they aren’t saving enough money on adjuncts already, who, as Karen Gregory points out, are likely to feel most of the initial impact of MOOCification anyway. Unless you’re a superprofessor who signed a non-exploitive contract, there’s no guarantee that you won’t be next. Perhaps that might even explain why so many smart and gifted teachers are willing to become superprofessors in the first place despite the obvious flaws of MOOCs as instructional tools.
How long can these superprofessors play with fire? “You keep thinking you’re never going to get burned,” sang Nancy Sinatra back in the day. Unfortunately, so many of us are working so hard that we might not even notice when that happens to us, assuming we haven’t been burned already.
* Don’t even start with me on higher ed being just like any other business. Academia is not just like any other business. In fact, it’s not a business at all. It isn’t supposed to turn a profit, and even if it was who says that systematically shortchanging your employees is the best way to make money?