Category Archives: academic jobs


A Plan for the Modern College

As is commonly known, American higher education depends for its existence on the cheap labor of adjunct faculty members. According to recent reports, adjuncts make up as much as 70 percent of college instructors. The average yearly salary for those adjuncts is around $25,000, just above the poverty rate for a family of four, so these members of the professoriate, having put in their years working on advanced degrees while providing cheap labor as graduate students, have learned very well what t…


Home College: an Idea Whose Time Has Come (Again)

“Maybe you should home-college,” I joked to a highly educated Ph.D. friend—doctorate in medieval history, two master’s, several years of adjunct teaching experience in three fields. She was worried about how she would pay for her own offspring’s eventual college education on her tiny salary, if she did not soon land a full-time job, preferably on the tenure track.

As the words hung in the air, the idea’s utility seemed obvious. Thousands of qualified, trained, energetic, and underemployed Ph.D…


Assignment: Research Your Adjunct Teachers

In the Fall 2013 term, having graduated from Warren Wilson College with an M.F.A. in poetry—a terminal degree, of course—I found myself teaching composition courses as an adjunct for the eighth consecutive semester. This semester, however, was different from the others not only in the workload but also in the commute: I worked on two campuses in two states, with 30 miles of freeway, part of it under construction, between them. On top of that, I taught five courses.

The first institution I taught…


The DIY University

As my colleagues and I began to get our courses organized for this academic year we were atwitter with anticipation. The classroom-management website we use had been totally reorganized over the summer. We were promised something new and exciting.

Most faculty members use classroom sites nowadays. Blackboard’s is a popular version. At Ohio State University the site is called Carmen. The old version of Carmen was entirely adequate. It would sometimes slow down (or crash) at the start of each term…


Who Earns More: Professor or Fry Cook?

The high cost of college makes people think that most faculty are overpaid. Let me debunk this myth. Nearly all funds from recent tuition hikes, state-allocation increments, and record-breaking fund raising do not go to most educators.

I’m a tenured professor of history of science and mathematics at the University of Texas at Austin. I finished high school 25 years ago. What if instead of attending college I had worked at McDonald’s?

The company brags about opportunities for promotion. Many mana…


Does Providence College See Me as a Virus?

The events of the last week have been dizzying, and I would like to clear up the record on several matters.

In February, Christopher Arroyo, an associate professor of philosophy at Providence College—a Roman Catholic, Dominican institution—invited me, with the support of multiple departments, to give a lecture on same-sex marriage. We set a date for September 26. Last Saturday, in an e-mail sent to the Providence faculty, Provost Hugh F. Lena abruptly canceled the lecture. But then on Wednesday


The Adjunct Crisis and the Free Market

Margaret Mary Vojtko, a veteran instructor of French at Duquesne University, died broke and humiliated on her front lawn this month. Last week her friend Daniel Kovalik memorialized her in a wrenching op-ed essay, and for the first time Americans outside academe began to notice, en masse, adjunct faculty in the United States, who now make up a majority of college instructors.

Margaret Mary’s story put a face on labor practices that should be the collective shame of  American academe. They shoul…


A Room of Our Own

Imagine that you are a first-generation college student struggling with college work. You bravely set out toward your English professor’s office for help. You find her sitting at a beat-up wooden desk in the hallway outside of the dean’s door. This was the same dean you had to visit the previous semester when you failed several of your courses.

The professor is welcoming—she looks happy to see you as she sits at her bare desk. But you are afraid to tell her why you came to see her. The dean is…


Obama’s Good, and Hopeless, Idea for Law Schools

When President Obama spoke recently about the need for reform in higher education, he turned first to for-profit colleges and their lack of accountability. Then he called on law schools to eliminate the third year of formal legal education altogether. Here’s the link between his two points: For-profit colleges and law schools have similar underlying business models. That model begins to explain why the third year of law school won’t disappear anytime soon, even though it should.

For example, in …


Choosing Real-World Impact Over Impact Factor

My annual report for the 2012-13 academic year stares at me from an undisturbed corner of my desk. I’m tempted not to fill it out.

It’s not that I’ve spent the past year in blissful inactivity. It’s just that what I’ve produced has no place on this form. To list my activities, they must be camouflaged and then smuggled into the shady category of “additional publications.” Even there, they would be considered dubious.

For the past 12 months I’ve moved from writing articles for refereed journals t…