Beta professionals

I’m a beta professional, lumped in with teaching assistants and administrative assistants (certainly not for my department; we have no administrative assistant and never  had one). I’m not a “full-fledged professor,” whatever that means. Obviously, it means I’m not tenured, but let’s get real.

Two points. (1) the author is writing about  inequities in the stratification of full-time tenured and contingent faculty while continuing to describe adjuncts as beta professors. (2) Author is pushing a book: Critical University Studies without, apparently, seeing the irony in his own words.

The author of this blog wants to maintain the very stratification he says he deplores.  He wants to give contingent faculty more money for what we do, however. Hurray for him. He’s a step above my colleague [sic] who implored the program director of my discipline to take a few of my hours and give them to his ex (who wasn’t teaching then) so his spousal support would be lowered.  To the credit of the director, he ignored the request and told me. Hurray for school gossip; now I know there’s one more asshole running around the place.

Back to the article at hand. The author, Dr Full-Fledged, wants more degrees for betas to remove us from the running for tenure and place us securely in a second or third tier. It will be good for us. And God knows, he’s in a position to know what’s good for me. As I’ve said before, at my age and in my life situation I can forgo tenure. That’s me, that’s not some of my younger former students/colleagues who want to teach and do research. I am doing the research I want to do. One day I’ll write on the matter of funding for researchers who aren’t in the mainstream. This is a new world I’ve just begun to explore. I’m not ready to write about it yet. Rant, maybe. Write seriously? That will have to wait.

I don’t really mind being out of the mainstream. I’ve been out of the mainstream my entire life, in fact. It does irk me a bit that this “full-fledged professor” seems to enjoy finding solutions for me, a beta. I’ve said it before: I’m glad I got the Ph.D.

I don’t think that some kind of partially-fledged Ph.D. degree is the solution to the inequities that this author is talking about, a problem that everyone in higher education is more-than-aware of by now. People who are awake are aware that adjuncts are as capable and knowledgeable as tenured faculty, in most cases. The students are certainly aware of this. I realize this author is speaking to his rarefied world of research universities, very high research activity universities. If the faculty as a bloc would agree to this at those universities, the results would trickle down to those of us at less research oriented universities and community colleges.  Maybe that’s not what is best for us. If stratification is bad, as this author maintains, let’s aim for solidarity. And as I mentioned above, I may be a community college teacher, but I am also an independent researcher. I don’t want to spend time and money procuring yet another degree that says “in case my Ph.D. isn’t enough, here’s this other piece of paper you asked for.” Ridiculous.

Something I’ve learned: good research and good teaching go hand in hand. In my community college of about 12,000 students (600 faculty and staff), my small department has only three professors, one tenured, two contingent.  All three of us pursue research interests. Together we have done local and regional archaeological research. I am also researching sustainable food systems on a variety of scales. I’ve also done and continue to do research on ways that working on small- and micro-scale eco-farms can enhance socioecological awareness. We all teach out of our work.  This may seem inconsequential to certain highly placed research professors, but by no means to all. It is not inconsequential to our students. And do a flip here. Working with bright and engaged students has never failed to sharpen me as a teacher and as a researcher. There is nothing like the interplay of teaching and research.

Is there a glut of Ph.D.s? Some say yes and some say no. I haven’t attempted to find accurate figures on that. There is certainly a dearth of tenure track jobs at research universities (and wannabe research universities) and those that do exist are so highly competitive that only a handful make it in. And of that handful, how many stay on to receive tenure, how many are back to a job search a few years later?

When I received my Ph.D. I was already teaching at a community college and found the work satisfying. The pay, not at all so, as a single mother.  When I graduated, I was still going through my painful and emotionally and financially devastating divorce (I’m better now, thanks).

I have a certain dedication to the college where I teach, because of the extraordinary measures certain staff members took early on to help me when I wanted to complete a graduate degree as a young mother.  The college helped me to complete some missing requirements and they did so in a way that I doubt would happen anywhere today. For instance, I needed a course in differential equations that was only taught every two years. They set me up with a retired math professor who taught me the class on campus. He earned some money, the college earned some money, and I learned DEq one-on-one with a wonderful professor who mentored me for a couple of years afterwards. So, while I would leave this school for a better opportunity to support myself and my family, it would be hard.

If the California community colleges allowed contingent faculty to take more than three jobs in a district (plus one extra every three years), I would probably stop my personal bitching. I’ve learned over the last two and a half years how to eke out a meager but satisfying living on less than I ever thought possible when I was married. I wouldn’t stop pushing my union to get to the meat for adjuncts though. And I wouldn’t stop my personal activism for equity.

Because I was warned ahead of time that my Ph.D. would not secure me a full time position at my college, I went in with my eyes open. The program director also knows that I have a family to support.  And for that matter, a self to support. I am still applying for jobs, but lately I’m more focused on continuing to improve my teaching and on my farm center. I actually enjoy teaching entry-level courses in my field. I see Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind in my community college students. It’s beautiful.

What’s not so beautiful is the suggestion that flooding the academy with more degrees is a solution. This is one more step toward making education a business. The micro-managers want to follow the business model and obliterate the learning model. There is a movement afoot here to maximize sometimes-irrelevant output at the expense of education .  Large numbers, maybe one half of the faculty at my CC, of hungry (often literally, let me soon update on the adjunct professor and her family on food stamps) professionals are kept on board and will be kept on board by manufacturing a three-tiered professoriate, whether at community colleges or four-year universities.  Will we have separate unions?  One potential disadvantage to being an adjunct at my college is that the unions are split. Split unions can and do fight each other.  Who wins with further stratifying higher education? Who wins with split unions? Could it be the upwelling of administrators in the “education industry”?  How many VPs does a medium-sized community college need? Sure it needs some, absolutely, but does it need to be fabulously top-heavy with them? And, this is true, they make 10x what I do in a year.  Budget shortfalls?

The Great Stratification, indeed.

About rainshadowfarm

West Virginia hillbilly girl grown up. Grew up in northern Ohio. Farmer from birth. Working class academic. Practical agroecologist. Community educator. Single parent of eight. I also teach anthropology at a community college. I like this work and think it's worth doing and doing well. California community college students are some of the most incredible students I have ever known.
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2 Responses to Beta professionals

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