Hello Hidden Scholars,
I had meant to inaugurate my coordinatorship (not a word yet, but I’ll use it anyway) with a different type of post, one that focused simply on the Hidden Scholars organization itself, but yesterday I happened upon an article about adjuncts that some may find interesting. I myself have tried to leave the world of adjuncting behind to concentrate on my scholarship, but the issues still are important to me, as they are to many of you.
Most of what the author describes is more than familiar to anyone who has either worked as an adjunct in the past couple of decades or just been around adjuncts. So what’s in the article will not likely read as “news” to you should you decide to read the article. The structure of the work force in higher education is changing along the same lines that it is for other parts of the economy. The effects on higher education, of course, may be more dire than for, say, taxi driving because the nature of teaching changes under these new conditions, while driving pretty much remains the same as it has been, even if now performed under increasingly insecure conditions. Unless driverless cars make driving obsolete…. Maybe someone knows of a good analysis that compares these effects?
But the main reason I’m giving the link is not that the information about adjuncts provided in the article is unfamiliar, but that the author talks about a novel written by an adjunct faculty member about adjuncting and the novel seems to have garnered considerable praise.
The article appeared on alternet.org (a basically left-center news and opinion site): http://www.alternet.org/education/heart-breaking-stories-academia-america-treats-most-faculty-peons-and-results-are-not
The novel is called Fight For Your Long Day and is by Alex Kudera. It has just recently been reissued in a classroom edition, as I understand it, and is praised for its insights into contemporary higher education. I hope to read it soon.
I appreciated this article in the Northampton paper, the Daily Hampshire Gazette, about shared workspaces. There are several buildings in our region where freelancers and independent workers can rent space for a modest cost – “space” being anything from a shared desk to a private office. A great advantage to this approach is that you get to be around other people who are working in the same way you are, if not doing exactly the same kind of work.
Venues include Click in Northampton (right around the corner from the Roost), Co.Lab in Easthampton, The Commons in Williamsburg, Cultivate and Nest in Hadley, and the Writers’ Mill in Florence.
I once rented an unused office at a car dealership because our house was too small for me to have a quiet workspace. The need is there, and has been there for a long time.
We had a small group and a rich conversation last Wednesday. The struggle of being an adjunct and a freelancer, its successes and its discouraging side. Working with the academic world and with the general public. Finding a way back into the job market amid family responsibilities. How long the life of an independent scholar is sustainable. The meaning of scholarship. It’s good to talk about these questions with others on similar paths.
By chance, the Boston Globe recently published another op-ed about adjuncts. A lot of it isn’t news, but I did appreciate the writer’s observation that universities have “backed into” a business model that depends on contingent academic labor.
A reminder: Hidden Scholars meets tomorrow – Wednesday, March 23, 5:00-6:30 p.m., at The Roost, Northampton. Drop in any time. Have a beer or a cup of coffee and share your story. Hope to see you!
Thanks so much for the feedback! It is an interesting question. I’d love to hear from a few more people about it.
Meanwhile another independent scholars’ organization, the Ronin Institute, is approaching things from another angle: they are moving toward offering some online courses. This is still in the planning stages, but it is an intriguing possibility for independent scholars.
I’ll post more information as it becomes available.
In any case, it looks as though these two groups have different, perhaps complementary, approaches and agendas.
I went to part of the NCIS conference in June – just one day of a three-day meeting. Attendance was modest on that day: around 20-25 people at each session, with only one session in each time slot. The total attendance at the conference was probably larger.
I met some impressive people doing very interesting academic work. Some were adjunct professors, a couple were librarians or archivists, quite a few were retired, and there were many whose day jobs I don’t know.
The organization has had some changes in leadership over the past two years or so. It’s trying to raise its public profile and to increase its usefulness to independent scholars. Among its offerings are small grants for members, discounts on some database subscriptions, and several modes of online contact and conversation. The conference was also part of that effort. And there was talk of another new direction: teaching people how to be freelancers. It wasn’t clear to me whether the speaker meant freelance academic work or parlaying one’s academic skills into other kinds of freelancing, and in any case it was just a brief reference.
I did sense that the organization is trying to serve several disparate constituencies. It admits members with and without formal credentials; its stated criterion is scholarly production, not preparation. Several of the speakers (especially the social-media experts) seemed to have very little idea of what academics actually do. Others seem to be introducing fairly basic information, perhaps aimed at those who haven’t been trained in scholarly practice. On the other hand, some sessions were traditional-style presentations of academic papers.
A high point, for me, was a lovely presentation from a curator at one of the Yale art museums, a carefully prepared and persuasive discussion of the ways new media can enhance visitors’ education and the ways independent scholars might find a place in this work. I also appreciated another speaker’s fast run through the many platforms for digital humanities.