Note: I wrote this before I saw that the other guys had turned the current dismal job market into a game. My thoughts on that require another blog post. Right now, I’m entirely too stabby.
Some of you may remember that at the beginning of this academic year, I decided to (literally) try my luck on the academic job market. I was not successful. It was frustrating, demoralizing, and certainly has caused me to question my future in higher education.
I’m still receiving rejection letters in the mail (and emails). On an aside, the letters/emails that I am receiving are much more sensitive and sympathetic than they were five years ago when I was on the market the last time. The letter I received today (Monday) outlined that they had received over 500 applicants and conducted dozens of interviews.
I’m just going to let those numbers sink in for a moment.
Personally, this does little to make me feel better. Sure, I was up against some pretty stiff competition, but I wonder what ELSE I have to do to differentiate myself from the other 499+ applicants, most of whom have more recent PhDs than I do. I have an excellent publication record, a rather high-profile blog, glowing teaching evaluations… Sure, I could spend money I don’t have to make my application “perfect” but to what end?
But more generally, these numbers undercut the rhetoric that all of us adjuncts or alt-ac academics (or those who left academia completely) are just “unworthy” of a tenure-track position. Now, I’m not saying that all 500 of the applicants were quality applicants; that particular position was in a very desirable location, which probably goosed the numbers, so to speak. But nonetheless, even if half of the applicants were unqualified, that still leaves 250 quality applicants. That they were able to conduct dozens of interviews also speaks to the depth of the applicant pool.
And I can tell you that this year, there were not “dozens” of jobs out there. Trust me, I applied for them all.
When “we” complain about the systemic inequities that exist in higher education, it’s because of this: 500 applicants, many if not most of whom were qualified for the position, one job. We complain because we were misinformed and mislead about our chances on the job market. And, out of fear and desperation, we go further into debt, we push ourselves harder and harder to publish, go to conferences (hence the debt), pay others to improve our application materials, and wear ourselves out trying to differentiate ourselves from the other 499 candidates.
If we give up and walk away, it’s not because we couldn’t “handle” academia, it’s because academia has told us, in no uncertain terms, there is no room for us, no place for us at the table, but that the institution is more than willing to exploit us as adjuncts. When we speak up, when we fight, when we demand change, we are silenced, shamed, and shunned, not by everyone, but by enough people who hold positions of authority and power that it is clear we are not welcome. We’re told, you’ll never get a job with THAT attitude, or that we’re just entitled and unwilling to work, and I wonder if I even want to work in higher education with colleagues who would treat others with such disdain and disrespect.
We are made to feel bad about staying (who would stay and allow themselves to be exploited as adjuncts?) and bad about leaving (obviously if we truly cared about academia then we would sacrifice everything to stay or that we are cowards unwilling to fight). We speak out and we open ourselves up to very public and vocal criticism that looks to discredit us; we remain silent and we are complicit.
To those who are our allies, to those who would say, don’t give up, higher education needs you, I say, then fight for us, fight with us. Lobby the government, lobby the administration, lobby your department, heck, just makes friends with an adjunct. But don’t make us feel bad for doing what’s best for our long-term health and wellness because we choose to leave academia. My students admittedly needs great teachers, but my kids need a mother who is healthy and whole.
In fact, my students deserve that, too. And most of us are not healthy, not whole.