CAN’T DO IT… WON’T DO IT… NO MORE
I’m an adjunct college professor. Actually, technically, I’m an instructor since I never went on for the Ph.D program at Princeton, due to divorce, kids, yada. I tried long ago to make clear to my students at various colleges where I’ve taught (adjunct is such a nice, solid euphemism… However itinerant is far more accurate) that I’m really not a professor per se and that… By this time their eyes have glazed over and I hear, “Okay prof, I gotta run so… I’ll get that paper in next week I promise!” I still, occasionally try to explain and I still get the same response. I stand there for a moment semi-mumbling something about the titles instructor vs lecturer and head off, usually to home or another job. Yes, job. You see, about 70+% of college ‘profs’ these days are adjunct — that is, non-tenure track hacks. Most of us shlep between several universities and colleges because it is the only job in America where a person can work full time (again, adjunct)and yet make only 1/5th of a tenured prof’s hourly rate — a prof who who for the next three months will be teaching only 1/4th the number of classes you’re teaching. So, a shlepping we will go.
Some of us shlep right into our cars and head off to drive for Uber… And pray we don’t have a former or current student for a fare come Friday night.
Many of us are in the Gig Economy now. According to the most recent figures 17% of the American work force are ‘gigging’ these days. Like Latino day laborers standing on the curb, waiting for a pickup truck to stop, more and more Americans are waiting by the phone or phoning in, texting in to their 1st, 2nd, 3rd, even 4th gig to see if they’re needed today. There is a lot of very well educated folk doing this — including yours truly.
In part this is due, I suppose, to the sharp decline in the past five plus years in college enrollments. Run a Google search on college enrollments and 9 of 10 will read something like “Local Community College reports 4th straight year of declining enrollments”. I might be responsible for that… At least in part.
When my students would ask me, “what would you do, stay in school or…?!” I tell them that I sure as hell wouldn’t continue taking on a mountain range of debt on the off chance that some element of the US economy might perk up. The economic ‘booms’ we’ve had since 1980 have all been driven by cheap credit and speculation. You want to bet on that with a $50+ thousand debt load right out of the gate?!
We’ve only had one honest-to-the-economic-gods healthy boom and that was post Second World War through the 70s. I told my youngest son to forgo the degree in botany right now and get an AA in aviation mechanics, which, at $50 an hour can see him working anywhere on the planet.
America’s higher education system has been the poster child for student loan addiction for decades. College loans is a $90 Billion a year industry. Consequently, just the mere mention of no-tuition education during this campaign season has probably brought on a slew of heart attacks and strokes among college deans. It’s even worse for for-profits. University of Phoenix has lost approximately a quarter of a million students in the past 4 or 5 years.
So it is then that, in the midst of this spiral, colleges, especially for-profits, have, along with predatory software developers (always looking to cash in on a panicked industry) have instructed their day-laborer adjuncts to set aside our reading lists, lectures and insights to concentrate — overwhelmingly — on what is currently called engaging the first year student which is a euphemism for student retention which is disingenuous bullshit for there-goes-the-six-figure-college-adminstrator-salaries-if-these-students-cannot-be-convinced-to-plunge-into-massive-decades-long-debt!
Yes, now we educators, at one time the intellectual firebrands of this nation are being reduced to ‘customer care’ attendants. We are to hold the hand of the student and smooth over every problem and never, ever let them utter out loud the dreaded maybe college isn’t for me self-revelatory statement.
But hey… There’s an app for that. No, really there is. A host of software developers (another gig industry that ships off coding work now to some kid in Calcutta) have now developed classroom ‘monitors’ for at risk student. “It’s like a ICU vitals monitor!” One enthusiastic rep told all of us during a presentation. Right down to helping to track how often students make eye contact with the professor, how quickly they return the prof’s email queries, etc. These apps meticulously monitor and measure the students performance no doubt using many of the same algorithms used by Wall Street day traders. If the students vitals begin to slip, the professor, like a Johnny-on-the-spot cop, begins to administer academic first aid until the school counselors, the EMTs of the universities, can swoop in and make sure that little Suzzie or Bobbie won’t have any more nightmares about that mean old 4 page research paper looming on their Google calendar! There there…
I can’t do it.
I’m supposed to take another round of classes designed to bring us all up-to-date with the latest way to convince the consum… er … student to not bail on classes that are most assuredly not worth their grossly inflated tuition. Each of these sales seminars (because that is what they really are) have enough jargon and sickeningly disingenuous, pocket-picking genteelisms to gag a humpback whale. The room positively buzzes with cheerful hypocrisy… The head nodding alone creates Pantene-scented currents of air throughout the room. Everyone is excited about being excited about this exciting class. A class that their financial asses so depend on. I guess I can’t blame them for their underlying feeling of panic. But I just can’t go on picking shit with the chickens — which is exactly what this is. Indeed it’s what much of higher ed has become. We don’t truly educate them and now we’re begging them not to go…
So I’m not going to do it.
This means I will miss out on teaching 100 and 200 level History courses where much of the ‘money’ (what remains of it) is. All students or nearly all have to take History courses, regardless of their majors. There are far fewer 300 and 400 level courses. Those are of course for History majors as well as Poly-Sci and pre-Law majors.
Despite this reality I can’t stand there before my class, constantly wondering whether the software monitoring system, even now, has identified some student up there in the 12th row who is all a-tremble, eyes fluttering, at the thought of having screwed the mid-term. You see I want to help him… For his sake — not for his the goddamned student loan. Really, wouldn’t it be better for all the higher ed hypocrites involved if I rushed up there, shoved the student aside -yonk- snatch the loan check from his backpack, clutch it to my chest and beg it not to leave us — all so that another administrator in the Dean’s office, freshly recruited away from her stent as a hot pharmaceutical rep — and now in charge of the new funding campaign for the Albert T Waterbelly Memorial Chair of the Melvin C Grotomyer Foundation in partnership with the Betty B Flavanoid Research Consortium for the study of Basket-Weaving Techniques of the Upper Lower Adirondacks in the Mid-to-Late 1700s during Particularly Harsh Winters and their effect on Pre-Post-Modern Art will get to keep her $190K annual salary with perks? I mean that’s what this all comes down to.
Because our vaunted colleges and universities long ago began modeling themselves after Corporate America. Profit was first, last and everything in between. At least the veils covering corporate greed are diaphanous. In higher ed the hypocrisy is so thick it looks like the make up job on an aging drag queen, i.e. it seems to have been applied with an industrial strength snowblower.
I won’t do it any longer. No more. I’ve shared my assessment with thousands of students on the state of higher ed in America, of the massive debt and the (in general) non-economy awaiting them. Maybe this explains the continuing decline in enrollments… Which would explain why I am driving Uber.
Better that though then — for my own selfish gain — lying to those students.