Academic Careers…

Most students don’t know much about the working lives of their professors..

The DAY I declared a philosophy major, the Simpsons episode with the following one-liner was on TV…

“We’re down at the Springfield unemployment office.  It seems that unemployment is no longer just for philosophy majors, it’s starting to effect useful people too.”  What’s funny is that, while Jason laughed at this — and Andy pokes fun at unemployed philosophers, I’m the only one of the three of us that’s been steadily employed for the last 10 years… hmmm…

The fact of the matter is, though — academic employment was a mystery to me until I jumped into the adjunct pool.

The term “adjunct” means, in reality — temporary… which isn’t nearly as “temporary” as you might think.  What it really means is that you’re the ones who pick up “extra” classes not taught by the “regular” faculty.  I did this for 3 of my 10 years teaching — it’s a rough gig — no job security, often no office etc.. but, it does give you the chance to get some teaching experience.

There are a variety of positions between “adjunct” and “tenured” — some of them are longer term than others, but they have in-common the lack of long-term job security.  You see, when you’re hired at a “normal” job — you get to stay indefinitely — unless the company goes belly-up, you screw up or something else happens.  That’s not the case for adjunct / non-tenured folks.  They’re hired for a term — generally either a semester or a year.  They may be re-hired over and over again — but, it’s the administration’s choice at every point.

The goal of most faculty members is to get “tenure” — which means, in essence, a job for life.  It sounds fantastic — and it is if you can get it — provided you don’t have a department of malcontents and assholes... then, it could be pretty icky.  It’s also pretty icky when you go up for tenure and are denied — the worst thing, perhaps — is that you need to fulfill your current term of employment, which usually takes 9 months.  Imagine being, in essence, fired 9 months in advance of your last day — ish!  What made me think of all of this is an interesting article about denial of tenure — by a pretty prominent political scientist — (at least, he’s probably prominent because I’ve heard of him…).

So — there’s the skinny on academic faculty jobs…

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