Heeding My Own Advice


A potentially life-threatening condition, five days of excruciating pain, and emergency surgery bring a sharp new focus to life. From a hospital bed at the Mayo, I emailed the new chair that I will not be back after this summer session.

Actually, the message wasn’t quite that blunt and did leave some wriggle room to come back in the spring. But realistically, it ain’t gonna happen.

Online courses tend to insulate you from student insolence and nerviness, but that hasn’t happened this summer. A week or so into the summer’s seven-week course, along comes a message from a student:


What is the book that will need for this course because i am planing to rent to save some money

Code for “I have no intention of getting the book if I can possibly avoid it.”

You understand, what the kid is saying is that he hasn’t read the course’s introductory announcement — which was posted and made available five days before the course’s start date! — nor, of course has he read the syllabus, over which they have taken a quiz. How does he expect to go through a 100% online course without reading the regularly posted announcements and instructions? By mental telepathy?

May 25, 2015 at 6:00am

It’s listed in the syllabus, with the ISBN, near the top of page 1. Please download the syllabus to get that information. Find the syllabus in Files (in the list on the left-hand side of the Canvas pages). I think you can rent it through the bookstore and also through various other vendors.

Note that the first announcement of the semester told them how to find the syllabus and said a) they need to download it to get the information about the course and b) they would take a quiz over the syllabus to be sure they read it. For good measure, that announcement noted that the syllabus was also attached to the announcement itself. So evidently the fellow hasn’t even bothered to read the online course’s FIRST announcement!!!!!!

A student turns in a 750-word research paper. The assignment states clearly that three sources are required, at least two of which must come from one of the college’s databases of scholarly  journals or academic books. Sources must be cited in-text and documented following MLA style. Her paper, evidently recycled from a high-school English class, contains one reference: to a post from the online incarnation of Glamour Magazine.

She is infuriated when she flat-out flunks the paper.

I know writing essays is definitely not one of my greatest strengths but if I can receive some feedback about my grade, that would be great.:

Uh huh. It would be great if you could learn to punctuate a sentence, too. This remark comes after an insulting rant, by the way. The paper was returned to her laden with (time-sucking!) comments, corrections, and advice installed using Word’s “Track Changes” function. Evidently she hasn’t even looked at it.

To see feedback about your paper’s issues, try opening the attachment in the returned assignment and reading what I had to say about it.


Now she begins to sound like one of those animated cartoons people put on YouTube (for example, this classic), detailing the joys of teaching lower-divisiion students:

I don’t understand how a few mistakes on using sources and MLA format results in a loss of 120 points? That is so extreme.

As I lay in a hospital bed doped to the teeth on morphine, this message floats over the ether that is the Internet…

While MLA formatting was an issue, it was not the sole or most significant issue. As stated in the grading rubric and my comments, the key issue is a lack of support from credible sources in your essay. On the one hand, you make claims in the essay and do not include support for them. I have noted such places in the detailed feedback that I provided. On the other hand, when you do include support, it is from a magazine, which is not considered credible for academic research.

The kid capitulates. But I’m sure that’s temporary: two more sets of papers are due in the next couple of weeks. So no doubt it’s not the last we’ll hear from that one.

BTW, lest the observations in that last missive seem out of the blue, the class has now done EIGHT QUIZZES over reading material designed to teach them what a “credible” source is and why Glamour doesn’t make it as a scholarly source, over rudimentary research methods, over citation and documentation, over how to approach and organize a scholarly writing project, and over how to do the specific assignment, a causal analysis.

Averaged over 12 months, my net pay when I’m carrying the maximum load the district allows is a grandiose $1,120 a month. Do I really need to put up with this kind of guff for that kind of pay?

Well. No.

Literally no. A survey of my credit-union checking and savings accounts shows I have enough to provide me with over $2,000 a month before Social Security payments from now until the end of the year. It is in fact objectively true that I do not need to put up with this kind of guff.

In 2015, I will be required to take my first RMD from my IRA, so that the government can shear me for taxes on retirement savings. Thus it will be to my advantage to forego pay on two sections (which is all I was assigned in the fall). I don’t actually earn enough from teaching to pay taxes, but a $45,000 RMD will jack up the apparent income, even though most if it will simply be rolled over into taxable investment instruments. If push comes to shove, I can always take a few thousand dollars from that RMD to live on.

The amount the college pays me comes to about 2 percent of my total retirement savings.

Do I want to live on savings when there’s some chance I could last another 20 years?

Of course not.

On the other hand, at the rate I’m going, it’s beginning to look like “another 20  years” is not in the cards. One would certainly hope not, anyway…

I now have had six surgeries over the course of a year, one of them for a life-threatening condition. Whatever time is left to me, I do not want to spend on a minimum-wage activity that makes me crazy.

For years, I’ve been advising adjuncts to QUIT DOING THIS. Finally I’m taking my own advice.

So how do I propose to supplement Social Security with enough cash to put food on the table?

I’ll tellya how I’m going to supplement Social Security: by writing pornography.

A long-time friend of mine recently learned that a friend of her son’s is cranking $30,000 a month by churning out 5,000-word novelettes and posting them on Amazon. He aims to publish one a day — some of these he writes himself, some he farms out to freelances for — yes! — sub-minimum wages. He’s been at it for about a year, With 256 tomes online, that is what he’s earning.

Well. I certainly don’t need to earn 30 grand a month. Thirty grand a year would more than suffice. And after looking into it, I see that many people are doing this and reporting revenues that amount to a living wage, once a certain “critical mass” of published drivel is reached. Most of them are publishing several 5,000- to 10,000-word pieces of erotica a month and finding that after about six months they begin to see money in the bank. I’ve read the stuff — most of it is execrably written, some of it exactly at the level of a freshman comp student. I’ve written a 7,200-word story and sent it off to a couple of writing friends to review. It was easy to scribble and even kind of fun.

Even if you think you enjoy teaching intransigent, bored freshmen who resent taking your course on general principle,* it remains foolish and self-destructive to do it for starvation wages. When you let yourself be exploited, you are exploited. It comes under the heading of “lying down like a doormat.” This kind of treatment would not happen if the hobbyists and the forlorn of hope would stand up and refuse to be walked on.

If you’d like to see how this new enterprise turns out, my S-corp will spin off a new imprint, Camptown Races Press. It will have a blog, Camptown Ladies Talk, which will announce new bookoids with links to their Amazon pages. As soon as I get time and physical strength to put those names online, I will do so. Watch this space for the links.

And so, my friends, away!

* Nothing personal: they just don’t see why they should be made to take yet another year of English comp skills. And they’re right. If they haven’t got it yet, they’re not going to get it.

Smoother Than Usual: A Good Semester!

Amazingly, the semester is already drawing to a close. I’m sure it just started a week ago Monday! Students in all three sections — two of freshman comp and one of magazine writing — are doing exceptionally well. Only a few are under-performing; most are getting their assignments in on time and doing at least a creditable job. More classmates than usual are turning in “A”-level work.

And that is very, very nice.  😉

To tell the truth, about midway through the term I made a change that has made my job a LOT easier and that, paradoxically, seems to have something to do with the classmates’ enhanced performance.

Stealing a page from another instructor’s book, I had developed the habit of asking classmates to write “reading responses” to the assigned chapters in the book. The idea was to get them to go so far as to…well, yes. READ the damn book!

They hate that, of course. And understandably: the book is mind-numbingly boring, and the publisher charges something in excess of $80 for what should be, at best, a $25 paperback. But sadly, the thing does contain pointers and instructions that, once absorbed, will help them to succeed in the course and, one hopes, in future writing projects.

Well, after a few semesters of this strategy, I had come to hate the reading responses, too. There were eleven of the things. About a quarter of the students’ responses to any given RR served only to notify the instructor that their authors had not bought the book at all. Another third or so were exercises in mediocrity. A few of the rest went on at lengths reminiscent of À La Recherche du Temps Perdu. And two or three papers per assignment would show, succinctly and intelligently, that their authors had read the chapter and made a halfway decent attempt at applying its principles to one of the chapter’s attached essays. Reading the stuff had become a tedious chore and a clear waste of time.

So, about midway through the semester, I ditched the remaining RRs and replaced them with machine-graded quizzes.

These were not intended to serve as assessments. Their point was more like that of the annoying online “tests” they make you take to pass some driver’s re-education course you had to take after you got caught speeding on the freeway. The idea was to highlight the key points in each chapter and to give the student a chance to indicate she or he had acquired some grasp thereof. Students had three chances to get the answers right. Quizzes over substantive chapters contained 15 one-point questions; those over what we might call “craft” chapters — “how to write an extended definition,” for example — had five three-point questions. Thus in total they would rack up enough points to make a difference in the final grade, but 165 points (assuming a person aced all 11 quizzoids) wouldn’t overshadow the total 600 points available for the essays & draft materials.

I’d figured this would make my life easier — ELEVEN PILES OF DRIVEL I WOULDN’T HAVE TO READ! — but I had no idea how much easier. To judge by their last set of assignments, suddenly they’re entirely different students. I’d estimate that a good 70 percent of them presented well organized, decently researched, reasonably intelligent arguments. Another 25 percent did…uhm…well…good enough for government work. And only about 5 percent crashed in flames — and in all those cases, it appeared not that the writers were incompetent but that they were lazy: they just hadn’t bothered to do the job.

With those quizzes online, it feels like I’ve hardly worked on the comp courses this semester.

Not so, of course: it took many hours to write the questions and mount them online. Once I’d written quizzes over the remaining assigned chapters, I went back and wrote more questions to cover the chapters for which they’d already done RRs: that is, eight twelve-question instruments and three with five questions. It was a lot of work, but evidently it’s helping the students.

And me.

Meanwhile, over in the maga-writing section, only three of the original ten students are turning in responses to any of the assignments. One of these folks is a professional-quality writer whose work would be eminently publishable in national forums. The other two are unarguably “A” students — though I may devote some time to conversing with them, that’s quite different from the soul-crushing job of trying to explain basic literacy to some poor soul who can’t write a grammatical sentence or build a coherent paragraph.

I kind of doubt the college will let the magazine writing course go again. Really, what a waste of the district’s resources to pay to instruct 30 students when only three participate. I almost feel guilty for accepting the money. As for the comp courses, turning the busywork into machine-graded DIY learning “quizzes” lifts so much dreary labor off my shoulders that it almost feels like $2400 is fair pay for the work I’m doing.

We’ll find out this summer, when I have a seven-week online comp course. We’ll recycle the quizzes, replacing all of the reading responses. And that will mean only the essays and the prewriting exercises for them will have to be graded!  And six papers is a far cry from 17…

MORE Teaching? Have I lost my mind?

Well, yeah. Just about.

Sometimes the nearly dream job leaves one imagining adjunct teaching is a good deal.

Dunno about that. But just now am thinking two more sections, paid at university rates, would trade off x(y+z) amount of sh!twork for a mere x amount, leaving time for at least a few hours of creative work a week.

At the rate I’m going, spending eight or nine hours a day in the dreariest kind of scutwork that crowds out that many hours of paying work, I’m sure not getting time to do what I want to do: write.

Free me, Lord!

STEM Grads: Welcome to the World of Exploitation!

So you were kicking yourself for pursuing that Ph.D. in humanities, just because it was a subject that made you passionate and that you thought you could excel in and maybe even make a real contribution to knowledge-building, teaching, and all that? Well, move over, pal, and make room for your colleagues from STEM.

Yeah, that would be the ones we’re told we need so many more of.

Turns out we’ve got a glut of those, too. Or maybe not so much a glut as simply a failure of will on the part of the body politick and corporate leadership to fund basic research. NPR recently ran a piece titled When Scientists Give Up, whose author detailed the failure of funding in the hard sciences and the consequent exit of scientists fed up with living on grad-student wages. One man, a tenure-track bioscientist at UC whose career path included Johns Hopkins(!) and Penn State and who has published in tier-one journals, threw it all over to buy a small-town grocery store. Another, a UC Berkeley Ph.D., is starting a distillery.

This article has generated three hundred and fifty-two responses.  Overall the tenor echoes the sound of the humanities adjunct: the groan of those who are screwed, shafted, and living in poverty.

I was generating $3 million a year in billable services working in an IVF laboratory and I was begging them for a raise to go from $36K to $38K! No 401K and no pension and no overtime. We used to sneak into pharma lunches and pick off the stale food to avoid paying for dinner in the cafeteria! I had to fight to get them to pay for me to go to our annual scientific meetings so I could stay current. The job demanded 60+ hours a week, but because I was salary, I was “exempt” from labor laws. I was driving a 1979 Plymouth Horizon with 250K miles on it and repairing it in my spare time when it broke down. (I can now change an alternator in less than an hour!) 10 years later I had nothing saved, couldn’t afford a downpayment on a house and I gave up- I had to do something to get out from under the education debt. i couldn’t get a night’s sleep. Sales was nearly as demanding for time and urgency, we were expendable, but it certainly paid better. Later, when I worked in pharma sales- I’d order extra food so the lab techs could have something to eat. –Geraldine Merola

I have a Ph.D. from an ivy league university with more than 30 years working in academic (and some corporate) research. The US government invested millions of dollars training me and funding my research. I had to quit doing scientific research when I could no longer get any funding for my research laboratory, my own salary, and salaries for my assistants. I think the current glut of biomedical PhDs chasing (and failing to obtain) stagnant research dollars will have a chilling effect on US science for decades to come. That’s okay, there are plenty of other countries funding cutting edge biomedical research–we can just wait for them to publish their latest research. (Oh, you don’t read Chinese? too bad.) –Jen Jones

I am at the interface of life sciences and engineering. When I get enthusiastic young undergrads wanting to talk about research careers, I tell them the truth — Unless you go to the best schools working for the best professors and then still get very lucky, you will be bagging groceries when you are done and have wasted your entire 20s in the lab. If it wasn’t for a few personal connections, I would have never landed the tenure-track job I have now because I don’t have an undergrade at Ivy School A, a PhD from Ivy School B, and a postdoc at Ivy School C. The game is rigged and in a world of limited research money, it comes down to both luck and connections.

I need two PhDs for tenure consideration, but once I have tenure I will probably never train another PhD student. I won’t set up any more students to enter a world where their PhD is a burden to their careers and a waste of their time. –Mark99

It goes on and on like this. Overall the gist is that, like graduates in the humanities and social sciences, young STEM grads also find themselves unable to earn a living in the fields for which they spent years training — and for which the US taxpayer spent millions of dollars per student to train.

Once again we’re brought back to a thought I’ve posed elsewhere: that if we as a nation will not fund jobs for the best and the brightest, than we must legislate to prevent our young people’s exploitation. And that means federal and state quotas on the number of Ph.D. graduates any given university may have enrolled in any given year. Funding should depend on matching that quota: exceed it, and the institution is no longer eligible for taxpayer dollars.

That represents the easiest and the fastest way to bring a stop to the merciless abuse of graduate students and young doctorates. If you’re going to end up running a grocery store anyway, you might as well get started on it before you waste your time in graduate school.


Slave Labor? REALLY?

Not surprisingly, the term “slave labor” as applied to adjunct teaching has spawned a fair amount of controversy, academia being what it is.

Not an academic? Well…lemme tellya: Political Correctness R Us. Academia is the home of political correctness. It doesn’t matter what you say: sooner or later you’ll offend someone. That’s OK, though — it gets their attention. 😉

Okay, let’s get serious here. My friend La Maya brought this issue to my attention by objecting to the term as the title of my forthcoming book and explaining why she feels it’s inappropriate. I responded that, alas, the book is copyrighted under that title and the ISBN is registered under that title and the artwork is done and I ain’t changin’ it.

Shortly, to her delight, she came across a couple of articles on the subject supporting her point of view, which you may be sure she forwarded to me with élan.

Never one to miss an opportunity, I decided to jump into the fray and so spent a morning cranking my own article. Josh Boldt over at The Adjunct Project just published the thing at his site’s blog, where it’s already scaring up a bunch of lively comments. Go on over and check it out — it’s an interesting discussion.

Coincidentally, Thursday morning was my turn to do the weekly presentation at my business networking group, the Scottsdale Business Association. The members of this group are mostly financial industry and real estate executives or owners of small businesses. Rushed and generally feeling harassed over the past couple of weeks, I had prepared nothing and had no clue what to speak about.

So, I brought a printout of the article and passed around a glossy printout of the book’s cover art and just read the damn thing to them.

You should have heard the uproar that caused. They were amazed and outraged when they understood the extent to which the practice of adjunct staffing has spread and the degree to which adjuncts are exploited.

You understand: adjunct staffing of university and college courses is a business issue! These people will hire our students. Not only that, but most of them have children and grandchildren in college now, racking up obscene debts in exchange for on-the-run teaching from low-rent “freelance” faculty. And they do recognize when the customers aren’t getting what they’re paying for.

The business world is where those of us who care about this issue should take our cause. Adjunct advocates should make it a practice to address Chambers of Commerce, BNI chapters, Local First, NAWBO, and other networking groups — they love it when speakers volunteer, BTW. Explain what adjunct hiring is, be frank and clear about how much adjuncts are paid and the conditions under which they attempt to teach, and draw a clear, explicit connection between the use of adjunct faculty and the falling quality of US higher education. And never fail to point out that as colleges and universities jack up tuition for a B.A. into the six-figure range, they staff those expensive courses with people who often make less than minimum wage.

A Chamber of Commerce, particularly one in a large city, has a lot of political pull. Politicians themselves often belong, and those that don’t are regularly in the pocket of this or that business lobbying group. If you address a business association like this, chances are high that you will reach someone who has the ear of a state legislator.

Just do it.

Would You Advise a Student to Get the Ph.D. in Your Discipline?

So, here we are reading student intros for the newest iteration of the magazine-writing course, and up pops a young woman who announces she wants to go all the way through to the Ph.D. in English(!) because, heaven help her, she wants to be a professor of English.

Oh, dear.

What do you say to an otherwise smart kid like this?

I can’t imagine recommending that a student — certainly not one enrolled in a community college — get a doctorate in English. Maybe, maybe if she had a solid, credible shot at a graduate program at, say, Princeton or Harvard. But if this is a kid who’s likely to end up at a public university? Not a chance!

Maybe I was too blunt in replying that she should be very careful about what she wishes for. When I was that age, there was nothing in the world that I wanted more than an academic career.

I wanted to go into the sciences. But in the first place my math wasn’t good and in the second, as a practical matter women were even less welcome in astrophysics and microbiology (my two preferred subjects) than they were in university humanities departments. Hence by default I ended up first in French and then in English. But…in those days the baby boom was hitting college, and there were lots of jobs in just about any subject.

LOL! By the time I finished the doctorate, the boomers had graduated and the academic job market had collapsed. Since then, hiring in academic positions has gone from bad to worse, especially in the humanities.

If I were a young thang today and I envisioned myself, oh so vividly, someday pacing the ivied halls of academe, I would get the terminal degree in business management. The math required is not too onerous, and because of the apparently irreversible trend to convert university-level education into trade-school training, there are still plenty of jobs in business schools. Better yet, a Ph.D. in business will affect your real-world job prospects in exactly the opposite way of the doctorate in English: instead of making you unemployable, it will make you highly desirable.

If I could muster the math skills and gag down the boredom, I’d get the degree in accountancy. Even the Great Desert University is hiring brand-new Ph.D.’s in accountancy at salaries in the six figures.

You’re lucky to earn five figures with a degree in English.

What about you? What would you say to a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young student who expressed a desire to pursue a Ph.D. in your field?

Adjunct: It’s Not a Job. It’s Community Service

That sounds ironic, I expect. But…maybe not. I’ve turned over a new leaf in the attitude department. A few weeks ago I came across a resumé posted by the Great Desert University’s radically high-paid legal counsel, a gent who happens to be a former law partner of my former spouse. On it, he mentions that he teaches the occasional course at the community colleges.

And where does he list this attribute? Under “Community Service.”

Heh. That’s good, isn’t it?

When you think about that, though, it’s more than just ironically, deliciously good. It’s freaking brilliant.

First, the guy has got it dead right: Pay for community college teaching is so absurdly low it doesn’t even come up to the level of minimum wage. It’s decidedly not what we  professionals earn.

Second, to say he’s teaching college courses as a “service” makes him sound sooo magnanimous!

Welp, after some rumination, I came to the conclusion that what I do to earn a few shekels on the side does not rise to the level of a real job, but it does qualify as a kind of volunteer work. It is, one could say quite accurately, community service.

So after this, that’s what I’m calling it.

You should see the difference in people’s reactions, when you say you teach as a community service rather than saying you teach adjunct, you teach part-time, or you teach on a contract basis for the junior colleges. It’s amazing. The other day I sprang it on one of my clients, a high-powered CEO of a foreign bank. He accepted the statement with equanimity and even gave me a fleeting look of respect.

Quite a change from the look of pity, the look of disdain, and the blank look the phrase “adjunct teaching” elicits.

So I’m feeling a little better about the job. Regarding it as a variety of volunteerism means the pay is irrelevant. And that’s nice.

I guess.

The attitude is much improved, too, by the fact that henceforth all my courses will be online, except for one short course this summer that’s likely to attract relatively high achievers. Not having to go into the classroom and deal with the barrage of disrespect, inattention, and outright craziness makes managing these courses bearable.

To the extent that I can avoid it, face-to-face teaching is now a thing of the past for me. I’ve got an English 102 section and the magazine writing course this semester, as many courses as the chair is allowed to assign. If he’ll keep that up, by golly, my teaching “career” won’t be at an end, after all.

Well, yes it will. It’s no longer a career. It’s a volunteer activity.

A Good Syllabus: Different for Full-timers and Adjuncts

While I was out of town on Friday, the departmental chair e-mailed to ask if I would take on a mythology course: in the English department, a study of the literary and anthropological evidence of organized mythological constructs around the world. The full-time instructor scheduled to teach the section this semester had fallen ill. Could be back in one to three weeks; might be out all semester.

As a practical matter, the District’s pay for substituting is pretty good — at least over the short term. It works out to around $50 an hour, in the ball park of what I earn as a contract editor. If you end up taking over the course, though, pay falls abruptly into the adjunct’s minimum-wage range, because it doesn’t cover the hours spent grading papers and conferring with students out of class.

That notwithstanding…I recently ponied up $1650 for a desk chair to ease the excruciating back pain that’s afflicted me over the past 18 months. A net $1900 or so would cover that expense. So, thought I, why not? It’s not freshman comp…that’s something.

This gives me two sections this fall: an eight-week online course that starts the middle of this month, and a face-to-face lit course that started several weeks ago and has been without an instructor for some time.

So the chair sent the instructor’s syllabus over. And it’s quite a production.

As a device to help community-college students achieve success, this is a very fine teaching tool. It’s designed to teach effective study skills — or to reinforce them for those who already have them.

The disabled instructor has assigned seventeen short writings over the reading matter — clearly intended to force students to actually read the texts and, not only that, but to think about the reading. She asks them not to summarize but, in a couple of paragraphs, to consider how a specific concept applies to a specific myth and then to analyze the myth in that context.

She has also assigned two substantial researched critical essays, 1,000 to 1,500 words or so.

She promises random pop quizzes.

And she has a final exam — an essay exam on the Odyssey.

Wow. The sheer amount of work involved in grading this volume of student maunderings beggars the imagination.

Even as a full-time faculty member, this lady is definitely earning her pay. On the other hand…her pay is substantial. Some of these folks earn near or in the six figures. For that kind of pay, I could write a syllabus like this one, too. And would.

But as an adjunct? Well, my syllabus would be significantly different. I would seek ways to maximize student effort and minimize my effort.

Instead of assigning a weekly paper, I’d probably do pop quizzes to be graded and discussed in class. This occupies class time and gets students talking about the reading material. Instead of two term-paper-length essays, I would assign one presentation and one substantial paper. And instead of an essay exam, they’d get a true-false-multiple guess final.

Even at that, I’d still be earning less than minimum wage, with no benefits, by the time you figure in the course prep time and the grading time.

Would my course be lesser than our f/t instructor’s? Absolutely. It would be designed more for my self-protection and less for tutoring weak students in the techniques of learning.

And therein lies a specific, real-world illustration showing how the widespread practice of staffing college and university courses with adjuncts works real harm. It harms students, and it harms the quality of American education.

So it goes: we get what we pay for. Well. Unless we’re students, that is…

While Rome Burns…

Seventy percent of New York University’s faculty is adjunct. They are unionized, and consequently they have access to health insurance and a retirement plan, assuming they can qualify and assuming they can afford the plans. However, they are adjunct, a status that even in a union shop equates financially to “can’t afford it.”

So NYU saves wads and wads of money by staffing its courses with part-timers. And where do you suppose all that money goes?

Well, for starters, into fancy vacation homes of its upper administrators. NYU’s president, John  Sexton, owns a million-dollar home on Fire Island, purchased with a loan from an NYU foundation. And he’s only one of a number who enjoy the the same perq.

Former NYU Executive Vice President Jacob J. Lew was graced with $1.5 million in mortgage loans, of which the university eventually forgave $440,000.

Former NYU Law School Dean Richard Revesz occupies a West Village town house financed by NYU and a 65-acre estate near the Housatonic River.

And so it goes. This and other egregious examples of tax-exempt academic largesse are justified, according to the Times, by a crying need to recompense upper management in the style to which they would become accustomed were they working in the corporate world:

“The purpose of our loan programs goes right to the heart of several decades of sustained and successful effort at N.Y.U.: to transform N.Y.U. from a regional university into a world-class research residential university,” John H. Beckman, the university spokesman, said in an e-mail. In some fields, he added, certain loans help retain faculty members who “can easily pursue a financially rewarding professional career instead of choosing the path of university scholarship and teaching.”

Right. Tuition is $1,204 per credit, plus an additional $63 “registration fee” per credit. Plus $11 per credit for any course offered in the College of Arts and Sciences. Plus a program fee of $250. Plus other course-specific fees. Plus $211 a week for a dorm room. One hundred twenty-eight credits are required for a bachelor’s in “liberal studies,” a degree that will leave you underwhelmingly employable.

At $1,204 + $63 + $11/credit, a bachelor’s degree from this institution will set you back $163,584. That’s assuming you live at home and that your parents foot the bill for your food and your commuting costs.

Presumably it’ll be a while before an NYU grad can afford a house on 65 acres by the Housatonic.

Presumably that will be never for most of his or her “professors.”

If you needed any further proof that the practice of staffing courses with adjunct faculty is grossly exploitive, you just found it.



Countdown to Freedom: 11/21/2012

Eleven more days to go.

In about four and a half hours, it’ll be ten more days. Right this instant, at four in the morning, we have six more 102 class meetings and five more 101 meetings. So that’s two more weeks, both spent treading water while we try to shovel the horrible 2500-word Eng. 102 position paper off our respective desks. The 101s have an argument paper left to do.

That makes for 52,500 words of drivel to be read, commented upon, and assessed in the next two weeks. BARF!

And that doesn’t count the query, interview, and two articles coming in from the magazine-article writing students. Fortunately, only about a half-dozen of those students survive.

One of them turned in a copy-and-paste job for her how-two piece. Score: –10.

Ten points off for not bothering to even so much as type her own name, contact information, target publication, and word count into a heading. One hundred points off for copying an entire web page and pasting it into a Word document.

I can’t even tell you how tedious I find this kind of thing. As much as I hate grading students’ illiterate original efforts, to my mind turning in something that you’ve copied word-for-word is profoundly insulting. In addition to the little sh!t presuming to waste my time by expecting me to grade it, the implication that I am so stupid I’ll never notice is just infuriating.

Speaking of stupid… Frankly, I’m beginning to think that anyone who would persist at this job for more than a year or so is none too bright. When you read sites populated by adjuncts and even by full-time faculty, you see the woods are full of people complaining incessantly about the exploitive conditions under which some 80 percent of U.S. university and college faculty work. And yet, you know…those conditions exist because people put up with them.

Okay, I’m grateful that I had the skills to get something, no matter how underpaid and frustrating, to keep the wolf from the door when I was laid off my job.

But what I’ve earned really did not keep the wolf away. All it has done is delay the day when inevitably I would run out of money. I started with $28,000 of emergency savings in the bank. Fourteen grand was transferred to a brokerage account, some of it put into a Roth IRA and some into non-tax deferred investments. The remainder was used to keep me going when my adjunct income plus Social Security did not pay the bills, which was most of the time. Today about $5,500 of that remains.

It’s been three years since layoff day, and you have to allow that living on $14,000 for three years was not a bad little accomplishment. The lifestyle hasn’t been great, though. And needing to use five grand of that money to shore up the house’s defenses after the garage invasion episode, having spent two years living like an anchorite and holding down a miserable job I just loathe so as to stretch that money as long as possible, was, shall we say, discouraging.

So truly, it is a pointless effort. I would have done better to have applied for a federal job, as one woman at the Social Security Administration advised, or to have gone to work for Costco, as one of their employees suggested.

Costco employees are amazingly happy in their jobs. Adjuncts, by and large, are not. Administrators pretend to or, possibly in some cases actually do, agonize about working conditions and exploitation of adjuncts, but if anyone in college and university administration gave a damn, obviously these conditions would not prevail.

At Confessions of a Community College Dean, proprietor Dean Dad wonders rhetorically, “What would it take to give every adjunct who wants it a full-time permanent job?” This gives him an opportunity to say, in effect, it costs too much to treat employees fairly.

I said it there, and I’ll say it here: There’s a simple way to resolve this problem. Let me correct myself, though: actually, there are two ways.

First, people who think they want to teach full-time and find themselves unable to land full-time work must quit doing this. Don’t teach on an adjunct basis under any circumstances. Work is not a vocation. We are not nuns and priests. We do not serve God — far from it, obviously. Work exists to put food on the table and a roof overhead. For the individual, that is all it is good for.

If people would not put up with ill treatment, it would not happen. So, fellow adjuncts: GET A JOB.

Second, the whole issue would become moot if colleges and universities quit producing MAs and PhDs in disciplines whose teaching faculties are overrun with adjuncts. Most of these are in the humanities. If faculties in an academic discipline are largely staffed by adjuncts, that discipline obviously represents a dead end for young people who think they want academic careers.

Graduate programs in these disciplines should be shut down or cut way, way back. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that we need federal legislation to make this happen, since you can be sure universities will continue to churn out MAs and PhDs as long as they can find suckers to go into their programs. To cut their graduate programs would be to force full-time senior faculty to teach the gummy, frustrating, and endlessly annoying lower-division courses presently foisted on adjuncts and junior faculty. We need legislation to establish a nationwide limit on the number of PhDs and MAs that can be granted in, say, English literature or rhet-comp. And stick to it.

It will take time, but after about twenty years, many fewer people will be eligible to teach on the college or university level. Thus, eventually all faculty in the humanities will be full-time, because there will no longer be a surplus of qualified applicants.

Yeah, it’s nice that a job of sorts was out there to break my fall when the recession yanked a decent job out from under me. The only reason that was true, though, is that Social Security and a small savings account made it possible for me to scrabble together a living on what is nothing even remotely like a living wage. How much better off would I have been had I never gone into academia at all? The full-time job at the Great Desert University was nice while it lasted (15 years!), but it was underpaid compared to what I could have earned in public relations or, for godsake, at selling real estate.

You don’t need an academic job to be an intellectual. All you need is a library and a publishing house. I would have been better off had I gotten a real estate license or taken a job at a PR agency at the time I divorced.

Much, much better off.