Farewell, academia. I hardly knew thee

I have made the decision to never again seek employment at a college or university. I will never send another C.V. to an institute of higher education. I am finished wasting my time.

This decision is not being made lightly. Academia is where I thought I would end up. I love doing academic research and writing. I am one of those people who would use his tenure to actually write and publish more.

Also, I love teaching. If my student evaluations are to be believed, my students love me. And they love me not because I’m an easy teacher and an easy grader, but because I am tough on them in such a way that they understand that I am doing it to make them better. It sometimes takes to the end of the semester for some students to get that, but the majority of them do.

For those out there who think that teaching and research (and sometimes creative work) are all there is to working at a university, it might seem odd that I will never again seek employment in such hallowed halls. What people do not realize is that universities are not primarily about teaching and research anymore.

No, they are all about administration. Most of the time, I get along well with people with whom I actually, physically interact. But it turns out I do not “get along with” bureaucrats. More accurately, they don’t get along with me, mainly because of how I look “on paper.” 

My C.V. makes no sense to anyone. Recombinant gene technology major, Master’s in English, Ph.D. in the humanities, and most academic publications on spontaneous order theory. In the ten years since I have graduated, this has translated to just a single phone interview for a full-time position.

But even with the oddness of my C.V., I doubt I would work anywhere full time anyway. More than once I have heard of open positions receiving over 400 applications. For pretty narrow fields. That tells me the field is over-full.

And as everyone knows, if you have a job, it’s easier to get a job. Meaning, the very people who don’t need a job are the ones getting hired. And when their position opens up, there’s a new round of applications for it, inevitably with someone who already has a job getting that job. Repeat.

Most of my ten years since graduation, I have been teaching as an adjunct. I have been told more than once, read more than once, that once you are on the adjunct treadmill, you won’t ever get off.

One reason is that the pay is so ridiculously low that you have to get a half dozen or more classes at more than one institution just to survive. That means that all of your free time is spent preparing for class and grading papers. And for what? Nobody at any university cares about your teaching experience. They care about your research. But guess what? No one has time for research when you are an adjunct. Thus, you can never do what you need to do to actually get a full-time position.

If you do manage to get a full-time position, it will be as a lecturer. It will be because some one person was impressed with you. But heaven help you if there is a change in administration. The new team will probably let you go because they weren’t involved in hiring you. How good a job you’ve done won’t matter.

That is precisely what happened to me. I taught as an adjunct at a local university here in Dallas, was hired as a lecturer by the department chair, but I was not renewed by the new administration. The reasons I was not renewed changed each time I inquired about it (it was even suggested that I was not hired properly, even though there was a search committee, etc., involved).

Several people—including someone from Human Resources and the former department chair—told me that I was merely a victim of the new administration.

Also at issue is the fact that I taught challenging classes. For academic bureaucrats, the most important thing of all is retention. That is, to keep students coming back, to keep the money pouring in no matter what. A professor who is challenging is thus a threat.

Perhaps, more than anything else, that is why full-time professors are being replaced over time with replaceable adjuncts and lecturers. A professor protected by tenure is someone you cannot force to do anything. But someone who can be terminated for no reason whatsoever, typically worded as “we ran out of classes,” is ideal. Adjuncts and lecturers can be much more easily bullied by the system.

Adjuncts and lecturers should not buy the rhetoric that your input is wanted or needed. It is not. It is a trap to find out who won’t follow the unwritten rule of bureaucracy that student retention is the one and only thing that matters.

This, at least, is my experience. It is my experience at two community colleges and three universities.

I believe that things are only getting worse. The worst elements of elementary, middle, and high school are starting to creep up into higher education in the form of external “assessments.” The excuse is that the bureaucrats need to make sure that the professors, who are experts in their fields, are doing a good job of teaching the very thing at which they are experts. But the real reason is to enforce the status quo, to make sure everyone is a “team player.” The real reason is the logic of bureaucracy itself: bureaucratic growth. They assess so they have jobs assessing. That is all. And it is bureaucratic growth that is killing our universities.

And it is bureaucratic growth that has killed my desire to ever try to work for a university or college ever again. Bureaucracies have crowded out full-time faculty positions. They have created, with the move toward more and more adjuncts, a work environment that in a for-profit business the left would consider horribly exploitative. They have driven universities to care only about the bottom line and student retention, at the expense of excellence and learning.

The administrators who are supposed to take care of our universities instead have destroyed them. And they have destroyed any desire in me to ever work for such a homogenizing, dehumanizing institution as they have made our contemporary universities.

If I cannot be trusted to teach, if I cannot be given the freedom to do my academic work, if I cannot be allowed to make a living, I simply must move on.