I’m older, a woman with kids still at home (who, incidentally, help out in all kinds of ways).
I have a terminal degree, as they say. I love how that sounds; it’s terminal alright. Still, there is life after the Ph.D. for me though it isn’t exactly as I had pictured.
As readers of my blog know, I have pretty much given up on finding any full time faculty position. I continue to apply for openings but there’s a limit. A limit to my patience, a limit to my fortitude, a limit to my ability to suspend disbelief (“the next one might be the one, right?”).
Maybe I’ve just about reached my personal limit.
Right now I’m applying for another part time position.
Why? Because it’s at a university that gives some benefits to its part timers. Also because they seem to want someone with my research interests. I’d been starting to think that my research interests were non-mainstream.
Since my doctoral research had to do with sustainable food systems and what might move people toward them, I don’t really see how that could be considered out of the mainstream. In fact, there’s plenty of writing and talking these days and even some action concerned with climate chaos and food systems. In California (where I live and teach) this goes many times over.
Universities are more conservative than many people think. I may have more freedom to teach in my regular community college. Less job security, more freedom in the classroom?
Universities claim they like interdisciplinary scholars but they don’t always want to hire them.
My story is fairly typical, here in the USA where 75% of college/university faculty are adjunct labor.
We’re paid by the hour, given a limit of classes that is small (I can only teach 3 per semester in any given community college district), and have no benefits. For instance, we are laid off and rehired (if rehired) each new semester. I’m reliant on Covered California for all of my health care – the school offers none to adjuncts. In California, some adjuncts are offered tiny pension plans commensurate with the hours they teach. I’m fortunate to have one of those. Well, maybe I’m fortunate. If I were to retire today and call in my pension, I’d be receiving about $250/month. Yeah, that will work.
At some of the Cal States things are somewhat better. Not altogether better, but they offer more benefits to their adjuncts than the CCs offer. Those adjunct jobs are hard to get because the teachers don’t want to leave them. I’m applying for one of those positions now.
If I were to move to, say, Sacramento, I could likely get some kind of adjunct position similar to mine here in the California CC system. A completely lateral move. If I could get into a Cal State part time, I’d have a few more benefits.
Adjuncts get the crumbs.
Many of us became life-long adjuncts by default. When I was married, it seemed a good thing. I could continue raising my large bunch of kids and pull in a supplemental income doing something I love. I could build my farm and write on the side and still have family time.
When the marriage ended, I had been an adjunct too long. At least that’s what I often hear.
People outside of academia ask, “How is that possible? You have all of this experience teaching? You’ve honed your skills in a difficult lower-income region? You’ve worked in cultural resource management at the same time! You’ve introduced many groups of students to the kind of education and research that happens at Rainshadow Farm, too! You’re a rock star!” I love my friends outside of the academic bubble. I love my friends inside the bubble who get this, too. I’m not a rock star, but I know I can research and write and teach. And I can grow food in a desert when it wants to be grown.
Many universities don’t want to take me seriously now.
On the other hand, some adjunct teachers are teaching in retirement with good pensions and they are doing fine. Some are invited to teach while they have great jobs in industry. They’re happy too.
But those last two examples are not the majority. I’m one facet of the majority.
And the majority is disposable.
Not only downsizing here, but looking at a new kind of path, or new set of tracks, if you prefer. Not necessarily going north, but maybe.
All of my sitting quietly, facing west, in the wee hours, is allowing new and even hopeful ideas to drop very quietly into my mind.