"In many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career." Marc Bousquet

Monday, April 25, 2011

Adjuncts Arrested

I've got a few things I'm mulling over for "real" posts (been thinking especially about research and writing lately and where to take those next as I continue to evolve into an "independent" scholar), but, in the meantime, lest you fear I have forgotten you playing sold-out shows and stumbling over decomposing rats (yes, it was still there this morning after five days...but then, would you move it?), here is some food for thought. Just last week:

University Police Arrest English Adjunct

And lest you think this a onetime occurrence, a few months earlier, just last semester, at this same institution, English Instructor Arrested and Charged with Murder

Perhaps a coincidence. Perhaps a sign of things not right? 

Neither of these stories was well publicized and came my way only by chance. Of course, when someone really goes off the deep end and heads to campus with a gun, like that former University of Alabama biology professor, everyone does hear about it, but what about these "lesser" incidents? What about the domestic disputes that result from the stress of too many years working at a job that requires a great deal of training yet offers shamefuly low compensation and no prospects for career advancement, despite good performance? Even at Starbucks, if you do a good job, you can move up from barista to management in less time than it takes to earn an M.A., let alone a Ph.D., and the longer you stay in academe, the more angry you are likely to become as it becomes increasingly clear to you that you have no power over your fate.

As I've said before, you can "do everything right," including publishing in respected journals, landing book contracts, and even publishing your book (I personally know more than one person with a book published, not merely forthcoming, who is still stuck in adjunct hell), not to mention building a strong teaching portfolio. Your department(s) will be more than happy to hire you again and again, paying you by the course a fraction of what they should be based on the salaries of their tenure-track faculty, but they will never offer you anything more, as along as they know they can have you for less.

The lack of agency -- that your only two choices are to stay and subject yourself to this exploitation or leave and give up doing the things you're good at and care about -- isn't good for mental health. Depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, eating disorders, and alcoholism are all common among grad students and adjuncts. But what about the kinds of serious breakdowns that lead to violence?

How many incidents like the ones I've linked to -- not large-scale enough to warrant major media coverage yet disturbing if part of a trend -- are there out there? How many other institutions have had more than one adjunct arrested -- adjuncts like these, BTW, who are in good standing professionally -- in a single academic year? Which departments do they come from? Are these incidents indeed part of a trend or merely a coincidence?

Well, maybe this did turn into a "real" post. An interesting subject for research anyway (that will probably never get done)...


  1. You make an excellent point here. And I would add that institutions make a deliberate effort to silence those episodes. Dr. Calvo's is one example (although he wasn't an adjunct). When I was in grad school, there was a pretty well publicized episode with a lecturer (not in my department) that made it to You Tube. My institution made the clip disappear (although you can still find it if you use proper search words). I wouldn't link the Alabama professor in the mix, though. That seemed to have been a completely different story.

  2. Well, she wasn't an adjunct and did cross the line in public rather than private, so in both of those senses it's an unrelated story. My point, though, was that stories like hers are sensationalized, yet occurrences of violence in the private lives of faculty who have breakdowns under the arguably greater pressures of contingency don't get any attention at all, even though these incidents are probably more common and ultimately affect more people's lives.

  3. I absolutely agree with you. And even when they do occur in public, there is no questioning as to what might have led that person to act that way (again, not the Alabama case). It's just: "he/she was mentally unstable".