Exit the Edu-Factory – a Call for Manuscripts

This is a call for writers who might like to join the conversations around the issue of exodus of the corporatized university.

Exit the Edu-Factory: Essays on Refusal, Rebellion & Rebirth  is a collection of essays discussing the ways in which scholars and students are finding their power and their voice through exodus, and through refusal to submit to the exploitation and ruin caused by the corporatized university.

The collection will be edited by Debra Leigh Scott, Founding Editor-in-Chief of Hidden River Publishing, whose documentary, ‘Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed. in America, is heading into post-production.

The hope is that this book will not only expand the reach of our conversations on the topic of corporate colonization of the American university, but that it will be the center around which a movement will grow – a mass exodus and collective re-imagining of what the university can be in this new millennium and beyond.

For more information, please contact us at hiddenriverarts@gmail.com. If you are interested in submitting a manuscript, please see our Submittable page at:



For more information about ‘Junct Rebellion, see our website at


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Why Professional Development Matters, a guest blog by Lydia Snow

From Founder of ‘Junct Rebellion and “The Homeless Adjunct” blog, Debra Leigh Scott:

As many of you know, “The Homeless Adjunct” is the blog of ‘Junct Rebellion, which is an organization founded to raise awareness of the many ways in which the corporate colonization of academia in the U.S.  (and now in the other parts of the world where the “American system” has been adopted). It is part of a larger effort that includes the filming of a documentary called ‘Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed. in America, and a companion book of the same name.   The difficulty of trying to do a lot at one time means that our blog here sits for long stretches of time with no new posts. So, we’ve decided that the community would be better served if we open the blog up to other voices who will join us as guest bloggers.


Lydia Snow

Lydia Snow

Our first guest blogger is Lydia Snow, Co-Director of Women Composer’s Concert for the past three years, and made her professional career as a musician in Chicago as a choral singer.  She was a professional member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus for ten years and has appeared as a soloist and choral singer with Ars Musica Chicago, the Northshore Choral Society, the James Chorale, Basically Bach and other area church and synagogue choirs She’s taught Vocal Music and general education courses at Northeastern for 10 years, and recently has become involved in the Adjunct Labor Movement and helped organize a Teach In at NEIU last February on National Adjunct Walkout Day. She has been active in Faculty Forward Chicago unionizing efforts at the University of Chicago and more recently Loyola University.

If you would like to follow her on Facebook, she can be found here.”

A typical day's white board for Lydia's class

A typical day’s white board for Lydia’s class



One morning, I received a mass email from an unknown university music educator which I scanned quickly. As I felt my stomach tighten I promptly deleted it. Later that same day, I retrieved the email and read it more closely, trying to understand my reaction:

“Good Morning Illinois Music Teacher Educators!

With a little over a week to go until the Illinois Music Education Conference (IMEC), I wanted to reach out to everyone and share some of the exciting MTE related events planned for the conference. I have attached a handy MTE and Collegiate schedule to help assist you in planning your time at IMEC.”

It has been ten years since I have been able to attend this conference, or any music educator conference workshop, or any professional development meeting with fellow university music educators. I am an adjunct; I can’t afford what it costs to attend these events. I am an adjunct; my university offers no financial assistance so that I can take advantage of professional development opportunities.


I went through my week of teaching plagued by dead weight within me. My tenured colleagues bustled through their week. I heard them in the hallways, talking about meeting up at the conference hotel with colleagues. They planned how to distribute the brochures needed for recruiting the high school students who were coming from all over the state. Even the music students gathered in clusters talking about carpools, who was rooming with whom, what time they should gather after class, what time they hoped to get to Peoria for the opening sessions. My mind kept returning to that email, and I continued to push my feelings down.

I thought again and again of the sentence that cut through me the deepest, the one that caused me to delete it.

“This year our special MTE guest is Susan Conkling, chair of the Society for Music Teacher Educators, and professor of music education at Boston University. Susan will be chairing two panel discussions for all MTE members. The first one will be looking at issues of equity and inclusion within music education.”

Equity? Inclusion? It is the use of those words that cuts me deeply. But the injurious information continued:

Finding Balance: Jacki Kelly-McHale will chair a discussion on the other side of life in the academy. How do we find the time to be teachers, researchers, parents, and active members of university and local communities? Jacki will present some strategies to help find a better balance, but the larger issue of how to build support through a higher education community across the state will also be discussed.”

In a two-tiered academic workplace, contingent faculty do not find balance. We keep our heads down, we show up to class, we do our jobs, we dare not talk about the issues we suffer. Inclusion, finding balance, how to build support through a higher education community? What does it say about our profession that our conferences offer workshops on the very issues plaguing 75% of its faculty – the same part of the faculty not invited to the conference? Contingent faculty cannot present at the conferences, because contingent faculty can’t afford to attend the conferences.

Early on in my awakening as an adjunct activist, I discovered twitter and found #AdjunctChat a weekly group that quickly became an important part of my professional development. There is a moderator who poses specific teaching challenges; adjuncts exchange their experiences, and brainstorm solutions in a supportive environment. I learned a lot from these exchanges, I started to understand that I was not alone experiencing the isolation and desperate need to connect with other educators.

Another twitter conversation took place with a group called #realacademicbios. This one included tenure stream faculty and adjuncts. I was intrigued, but also skeptical. So I test the waters by tweeting about my teaching situation, the ten years of not attending the IMEA or IMEC, of not being incuded or invited or funded. Out of nowhere a tenured professor, obviously young and trying to be supportive tweeted back: “Why are you waiting to be invited? Isn’t this a conference/mem org? Join and go. #Lean in

I was infuriated! How could anyone be so naïve as to think that I could just pick up and leave my classes for two days to attend a conference for which I have neither financial assistance nor legitimate, professional welcome? Why must this inequality and ruinous professional abuse constantly be explained to a clueless full-time faculty?

I long for a way to attend these conferences. More than that, I know how crucial it is to travel, refuel, collaborate, imagine; our continued growth in our profession depends on these opportunities.

For those who are tenured and do get to attend these conferences, who do have a chance to do research and publish and talk about your work in groups, who feel validated as professionals, who feel a sense of belonging, who get to schmooze and go to the parties afterward the work is done, you are provided with chances to remember why the hell you care about your discipline, to have that passion reawakened.

This isn’t true for those of us for whom the way is barred. I used to look forward to teaching. I am passionate about it. Actually I’ve been passionate about it my entire working life, and to me it is a whole lot more than a job. I teach because it matters to me in the most essential way that could be described in words.


The students in my World Music class were very attentive this week. I felt as if I was on the edge of some understanding. After teaching this class for many years I find myself stepping back from the anxiety and stepping into the heart of the teaching art. I create lesson plans that allow group work and heated discussions in class. We sit in a circle and I tell them I no longer want to be called Professor Snow, but Lydia. At first they seem perplexed, but many stay after class to exchange ideas and ask questions about the music we both decide to explore in the next meeting. We discuss Indian music in a way that deepens my own understanding of every aspect of its performance and history. I am falling off a cliff here because I am allowing myself to let my students lead us. I have decided it’s more important to be honest in my exchanges with them. Why did I allow this vague sense of complete ignorance on a daily basis invade my confidence when it came to explaining Hindustani and Carnatic classical traditions and history and their influence on other culture’s music as well? I no longer need to offer excuses to myself. I have done the best I could under extraordinarily bad circumstances. I decide to accept what I have to offer them in the classroom.

In my general education classes there was a stillness and quietness I don’t remember experiencing the first weeks of teaching music concepts. They seem almost spellbound in class and I find my heart beating faster with the weight of all they want from me, the professor of music education. I try my best to introduce time signatures, dotted notes, even divisions of the beat. After class I gather up my drums, mallets, beat cards, lap top, textbooks, staff paper, handouts for the ones who can’t afford the textbooks, recorders for those who haven’t purchased them or left them in their car. I come prepared to teach. I refuse to let them stare into space when I introduce these basic concepts of music theory. It hurts too much to see their blank faces with nothing to hold onto. I make them write the notes on blank staff paper, I go around to check to see their work. Many are looking at phones, scrolling through Instagram. I just tap on the blank paper. “You need to try to make the shapes of the notes, it will help when you do your homework.” They smile, push the phones aside, “Do you have a pencil?” one student asks. “Of course!” and out it pops in my other hand. I come prepared because I want my students to learn how to read music.

If anyone wanted to know what inclusion means I could take photographs of my students composing music the last weeks of the semester. I could show videos of the process as they put together the building blocks of reading rhythms, playing recorder, building chords, and work together to compose counter rhythms under each of their sections. As a class we put all their melodies together and then I let the students decide how to weave them together through different musical forms. We record them and then go back and rework it as a group of 35-40 people. Playing the class composition is the highlight of my semester because the students enjoy it so much, and everyone is included. I try to grab music education students to help me with the process and sometimes they come and help, but mostly I do this on my own. So, yes, I do understand the importance of inclusion, in respecting the potential of each student and not being willing to waste it. But after ensuring inclusion to my students, I sit in my classroom after class exhausted, and stare out the window; I wonder how I will gather the steam to pack up and trudge down to gather my things and go home.

If, even in this most depleted state, I can assure my students equal treatment and support, how is it that the university can’t guarantee the same equal support and inclusion to its faculty? If I treated my class the way the university treats its faculty, 75% of them would be denied desks, materials, computer equipment, instruments. 75% of them would struggle, and fall short, not because of their own lack of desire, intent or ability, but because it is the inevitable outcome of inequality.

Without having a chance to take part in professional development opportunities, to attend conferences, to offer presentations in these discussion groups, to ask important questions, I have lost my drive and my inner voice. I can no longer find the will to teach without summoning up such great reserves of energy that I literally want to go to sleep after teaching. Teaching no longer energizes me, it depletes me. None of the traditional ways that a scholar replenishes energy, restores inspiration, grows and develops their area of specialty are open to contingents. We are expected to perform our teaching duties without any of these necessary supports, without the ability to develop professionally, to restore ourselves. If 75% of our students were denied the necessities of development, everyone would understand what a travesty that is, and what a horrible outcome that would cause. Isn’t it equally obvious that denying our faculty the necessary supports and development opportunities is a travesty?

I wanted to share this with you, so you can understand the depth of depletion of the contingent faculty in higher education. It is affecting the teaching conditions of this majority faculty, thereby leeching the core energy required to power the classes for students in all disciplines. I am not alone. There are at least 1.5 million other university faculty out there who one day wake up and say, “I don’t have it in me to do this anymore.” We are the majority faculty of American higher education. We desperately need to be supported in our chosen disciplines because this is how we stay alive in the classroom, and without it, we fall down. All of us fall down, our students fall down, our society falls down. Our universities fall down. We need to rise, and we need to do it with a determination to never let our profession be knocked to the ground again.












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The Hypocrisy of the American University

This post offers Part 2 of our conversation with Pennsylvania State Senator, Daylin Leach.

It has been many years now since faculty voices within academia have been speaking out against adjunct hiring, which is the low-wage semester-by-semester hiring of university professors that has replaced full-time status for approximately 75% our country’s college educators. Gradually, awareness of the situation has grown, with concern about the many ways these hiring practices negatively impact not only the role of our scholars in higher education, but the quality of education our students are receiving. It wasn’t until the death of adjunct professor Margaret Mary Vojtko, and the outcry created by a series of articles, the first written by Daniel Kovalik for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that the cold-hearted cruelty, the social injustice of such practices really became part of the public conversation.

Talking about the late Professor, our Pennsylvania State Senator, Daylin Leach, discusses the plight of the adjunct professors across the country.

As the Senator says, Vojtko’s earnings, which barely reached $25,000 a year,
“… is poverty, and that is just a salary. There are no benefits, no healthcare, no support system. It is really an impoverished life.”

Senator Leach points out that the perception people have too often is that adjuncts are teaching as a side activity, and are people with full-time jobs elsewhere. This is largely a false perception, intentionally perpetuated by the universities themselves. The truth is that the majority of university educators are living in poverty because university teaching IS their profession – and a profession for which they trained on average, with ten years of graduate work, research and study. Often, those years of study also mean years of student loan debt, now crippling these professors who are earning so little that they often qualify for food stamps and other forms of public welfare.

The argument has been made against companies like Walmart or McDonald’s, which pay such low wages that our social welfare system, paid for by our citizen’s taxes, is supplementing their workers’ needs. The same argument must be made against universities who also “game” the public welfare system by so severely underpaying their faculty that the same supports are necessary. Why should taxes be used to supplement these organizations which refuse to take responsibility for paying a living wage? Why, especially, when these same organizations, universities included, have seen an explosion of administrative jobs and salaries? As our legislators beat the drum against food stamps, talking about the need for “austerity”, there is no honest evaluation of the largest beneficiaries of that welfare – the corporations and universities, as a recent article in Truthout has discussed.

Far too often, the rhetoric about people on food stamps or other welfare supports is that they are lazy, that they “don’t want to work”, that they prefer to sit at home and let the state pay for their lack of responsibility. Nothing could be further from the truth. Too many of those receiving these benefits are working many hours at jobs in companies and universities which manage to shirk their responsibilities, succeeding in paying wages that are despicably low, not living wages at all.

“These are not lazy people…..(but) people who are very smart…leaders in their field sometimes. It speaks an indifference which I find both ironic and troubling on the part of universities. Because, frankly, there is this image of universities as bastions of liberalism….but in terms of how they treat their employees, suddenly all that goes out the window. You’ll have universities which teach great courses on the American Labor Movement, and….you’ll have universities with courses on poverty studies….but they don’t see the irony in the person teaching that not being able to heat their home because they won’t pay them. At the same time, we’ve seen here in Pennsylvania, administrative salaries go well into the 7 figures. So….this is a reflection of what is happening in society as a whole….”

Senator Leach is right. Universities should be a “bastion against that,” he says. But they are not. “They are deliberately doing this,” he says. Deliberately taking and exploiting the labor of hard-working, well-educated, dedicated faculty and driving them into poverty.

Margaret Mary Vojtko has become the symbol for this suffering. She was 83 years old when she died, over a year and a half ago, collapsing on the lawn of a home she couldn’t afford to heat or repair, a home she could no longer live in because of its condition, and the freezing temperatures inside. She died sick, without healthcare or savings. As Kovalik writes, “As amazing as it sounds, Margaret Mary, a 25-year professor, was not making ends meet. Even during the best of times, when she was teaching three classes a semester and two during the summer, she was not even clearing $25,000 a year, and she received absolutely no health care benefits. Compare this with the salary of Duquesne’s president, who makes more than $700,000 with full benefits.”

Dr. Vojtko’s poverty was so desperate by the end of her life that she was buried in a cardboard box.  A national outcry against her suffering rose, and the disrespect of those at Duquesne University who were not only aware of her plight, but who caused it, was exposed.  Her fate could well be the fate of many of the over 1.5 million university professors now working on adjunct contracts.  The first generation of “career adjuncts” is well into retirement age, with no retirement savings or benefits, no healthcare, nowhere to turn.

Isn’t time to ask: what sort of world is this, where such desperation is intentionally created? What sort of economic system creates and perpetuates this kind of suffering? What has happened to our American university system that the values and morality have become so warped that those upon whom the entire educational endeavor depends are left to suffer poverty, illness and degradation while the ever-growing number of administrators are living lives of comfort and well-being, and in many cases, wealth? What kind of country has America become?


To see the clip of part 2 of our interview with Senator Leach, click here.



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Call to Adjunct Walk-Out Activists — Help Us Shoot the National Event for Our Documentary

Hi everyone!  This is a call to all the adjunct activists who are planning to be involved in the nationwide walk-out on Wednesday, February 25, and in other demonstrations for the rights of educators and students that are taking place that day.

Chris M. LaBree, co-producer of ‘Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed. in America had a great idea last night.  I’m hoping that it isn’t too late to coordinate this and make it happen. Chris’s suggestion is that we get activists who are taking part all over the country in these demonstrations to shoot some footage on their phones – group shots, maybe some individual comments from various people involved, sweeping vista shots of the amount of people involved – anything, really, that feels good and exciting to each of you. In order for us to be able to use it, Chris says that it would have to be shot in landscape, not portrait. As we wrap the final interviews and put an “act three” to the film – the focus is going to be on what we are DOING to change this situation for the better – for the scholars/educators and for the students, for American academia.  It would be terrific if this part of the film could be crowd-sourced in this way, as yet another indication of the growing group effort pushing back against corporatized academia.    Chris and I, obviously, can’t be everywhere at once, so this would be a great way to really include a concerted group effort into the documentary. It would only require that we get a general release from you in order to use the footage, and if we DO use what you send, you’ll get a thank you in the credits. Email me at junctrebellion@gmail.com so that I can put you on the list, and get your information for the release form. Let’s make this happen! It would be great if we could document this in the film, and really capture the energy that is about to explode all over the nation.


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Law and the Labor-Abused

These pages have discussed many aspects and problems of what has happened to America’s scholarly class, and how the casualization of the profession of the academic has ruinous repercussions throughout not only higher education in the U.S., but through American society.

In our work on the documentary, ‘Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed. in America, my co-producer, Chris M. Labree, and I have talked to many people about the difficulties and struggles of those attempting to survive in an academia which offers little beyond poverty and professional misery. We’ve also talked to those in national policy institutes, in national unions, and on local campuses across the country, searching not only for the truths of what has happened to our country’s system of higher education, but ways to restore the quality and honor of what American academia used to be.

More and more is written now about this situation, and how it impacts scholarship in the country, how it harms our students – America’s next generation of adults – and how the corporatization of what had previously seen as an institution of social good has to be stopped.

One question I’ve asked to those we’ve interviewed is “What about legislation? Can we pass laws that put an end to the casualization of academic labor – and by extension all occupational casualization which has proliferated since the beginning of this so-called “Great Recession” – in order to restore professional stature?”

That there should be legislation, I think, is indisputable. As long ago as 1999, the case for laws ending this labor exploitation was made. John C. Duncan, Jr. of the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law, wrote an extensively exploration of the situation in academia, and concluded that both the unionization of contingent faculty and laws to protect the professoriate were necessary:

“If schools cannot step forward and provide equitable treatment of adjunct faculty members, then the law should provide the appropriate protection. Consideration in accreditation is just one possible solution. Legislatures and courts should realize the treatment of these professional educators is inadequate. Whatever the specific solution, the general answer should be this: recognize adjuncts as professionals, treat adjuncts as professionals, and afford adjuncts the rights and protections they deserve as professionals.”

Such laws have been extremely slow in coming. Recently, Colorado legislators attempted to introduce such a bill, HB 14-1154, which was lauded throughout the country, especially by unions and the 1.5 million educators suffering adjunctification. Sadly, the bill was squashed by legislators more beholden to corporate interests than to education or workers.

We talked about this situation with Pennsylvania Senator Daylin Leach, a progressive member of the state legislature in PA, a former candidate for the Congressional seat of Allyson Schwartz, who has himself taught on an adjunct basis, and knows well the indignities. His view is clear-eyed, and holds forth little hope in state houses which are dominated by the same sorts of corporate interests which derailed the Colorado effort.

His suggestion? Vote. Get involved at the grass roots level. Raise candidates who support workers and those whose occupations have been casualized, who are determined to restore economic security Americans in all occupations.   Of course, legislation at the state level is only one way to address the issue. National legislation against such occupational exploitation would, in one sweeping act, restore our fair treatment. Of course, the same issues exist at the national level, even more severely. There is no political will for helping the beleaguered worker, the casualized professional. With the exception of a few senators, such as Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, we see no real concern for the plight of impoverished workers in any occupation. So, again, State Senator Leach’s advice rings true: Vote. Get involved. Begin at the roots and build up the candidacy of those who are dedicated to issues of workers’ right, of supporting and restoring the institutions of social good.

According to what Senator Leach said, not only is the political will to protect workers’ rights missing in the kind of people currently holding office, both at the state level and the federal level, but there is an undisguised hostility toward workers in general.

I asked him, “So what you are saying….is that some of the people who are holding these representative positions don’t really believe it’s a legislative duty to address economic labor inquality.”

Senator Leach agreed, “….I would go further than that. Some of them think that income inequality is a desired outcome. It’s a good thing, because…in heir view of the world, we need a system that picks winners and losers aggressively, and the winners need to be rewarded infinitely…the people they perceive as and actually rhetorically call losers, who have not reached the top of the economic ladder….that’s a character flaw on their part and people with character flaws should be punished…that’s literally the philosophy we are talking about.” (To see the full clip of this segment of our interview, please go to our new youtube channel, and remember to subscribe!)

Our legislators are not supporting the people.  These elected people populating our state houses, our national legislative positions, cannot truly be called our representatives. If this isn’t an argument for more impassioned involvement in what’s left of our democratic processes, I don’t know what is.

So please: consider the plight of our students, our country’s scholars and the quality of our institutions of higher learning when you research the candidates at all levels of our government. Get involved on a deeper level and demand of our representatives the kind of justice and respect for our citizens – in all occupations and endeavors – that a healthy and responsive government should embrace.





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How American Universities Have Destroyed Scholarship in the U.S.

Put simply, universities traditionally have pursued a three-prong mission: 1) to provide excellent educational opportunities, 2) to support scholarly research and study, and 3) to encourage both professional and community service.

There has been a lot written recently about how the adjunct situation has negatively impacted our students’ education – and this blog will be addressing that extensive problem in a future post. But it is the second of the three-prong mission I’d like to talk about now, since I’m not seeing as much attention focused on this equally serious problem.

The adjunct labor abuse problem is becoming more widely reported: Seventy-five percent of America’s college faculty earn less than $25, 000 a year. Often hired one semester at a time with no healthcare or retirement benefits, paid per course an average of $2700, faculty are now academia’s migrant workers.

Historically, it has been the responsibility of our institutions of higher learning to provide financial and professional support for our country’s scholars, whose work extends far beyond the classroom and its instructional activities. It’s an essential part of the university’s role to support the nation’s intellectual class in their ongoing research, study, publishing and continued learning. Our scholars are the very life’s blood of an academic culture, and their work benefits society in a great variety of ways. Professors are public servants. The value of their research, rigor and learnedness lies at the heart of the traditional university’s very existence. When a university is fulfilling this part of its mission, faculty members are employed in full-time positions which make such rigorous research and scholarly work possible. Today, however, departments employ a small fraction of full-time faculty. The rest of their population is made up of short-term contract hires whose precarious, low-wage conditions render their scholarship largely impossible.

The few “lucky” tenured, or tenure-track faculty members receive more complete support. Often, they are able to research and complete books more quickly. They produce articles more frequently. They receive university reimbursement for attendance at conferences where they can present papers and collaborate with fellow scholars. But for the seventy-five percent of college faculty off the tenure-track in those one-semester contract positions, that life seems like an impossible dream. For most adjuncts, the time it takes to research and write a book – or even a small article – is time they don’t have.

Adjunct professor, Stephanie P.*, in California, states: “I drive 350 miles a week to three schools. I spend at least three hours a day driving to and from school. I spend at least four hours a day preparing when I am not teaching and two hours a day on a teaching day. This term, my car was hit by an SUV and was totaled. I have worked for various publishers as a content expert and started writing a textbook, but have not had the time to finish.”

Stephanie has been teaching for nearly ten years, and has yet to finish a book. Our 1.3 million adjunct faculty scholars nationally are so over-extended, so underpaid, so stressed that the ability to find not only the time, but the emotional and psychological capital necessary to focus, to research, to write, is little more than a fantasy.

In all academic areas, scholars are struggling to survive in order to continue their work. More and more of them are fleeing the universities, finding a life of poverty and corporatized values intolerable. For those who suffer to stay, and those who go, the outcome to America’s scholarship is the same. We are losing millions of works of scholarship; we are failing to move scholarship forward when so many voices are silenced.

Many people outside of academia don’t see the work performed beyond our classroom activities. They don’t understand the amount of dedication and labor involved in researching and writing, in working as an expert in any particular field. That is why the “lazy tenured professor” image has lasted for so long. Far too many people believe that professors spend about ten hours a week in classroom instruction, and the rest of the time lounging around their well-appointed homes, reading books and sipping wine.

But that image is no more accurate than it would be to suggest that trial lawyers work only when they are in court. There are hundreds of hours spent in research, writing, preparation, correspondence, conferencing, and professional development, all of which command significant time and energy in both the attorney’s and the scholar’s work life.   Although largely invisible, such work is essential to the full practice of both professions.

The life of a scholar, which on average requires ten years of preparative graduate study, is made up of intensive work in a particular discipline. Let’s provide a few examples, and say a graduate student in linguistics undertakes a course of study that focuses on the ancient languages of the Middle East, and a history graduate student focuses on the history of the First Persian Empire. Our linguistics graduate student writes and defends a dissertation on the ancient Nabataean language. Our history graduate student does a dissertation on the religions that existed during the reign of Cyrus the Great.

To many people, those areas of study would seem entirely useless. Who needs someone to spend ten years in order to understand a language that hasn’t been spoken in a thousand years? Who cares about dead religions practiced in a time of a dead emperor from the 5th Century B.C.?

But, in 1947, a Beduoin shepherd discovered clay jars in a cave near the Dead Sea which contained scrolls of indecipherable languages. Over the next ten years, discoveries of more of these scrolls were made. Our scholars in the Nabataean language were crucial. It was necessary for them to come together with scholars expert in ancient Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek in order to begin to decode and translate the content of what would come to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, one of the most important discoveries in modern history. Our history expert on the religions of the reign of Cyrus the Great would come together with other historians, anthropologists, archeologists, materials experts, restorationists, scholars who do carbon dating, others who do paleographic dating. Teams of people, all with very narrow, “esoteric” learning, would work together for years and years to present the learning provided by the Dead Sea Scrolls to the world.

The discovery of these scrolls took place largely over the years from 1946 to 1957, but scrolls are still being discovered in the region to this day. Even in this new millennium, a variety of scholars continue to work on them. This series of discoveries has been the life’s work of many, many learned people in the very fields of study that have been so denigrated by the more corporatized university. What we see regularly now is the shutting down of such programs as ancient history or languages. Programs that focus on these kinds of knowledge are seen, in this new business-model climate as useless, unnecessary – in other words: not profitable.

If those scrolls were found today, would we have a new generation of scholars in these fields, trained and ready to uncover their secrets? Or, if those scholars existed at all, would they be scattered, living in poverty, working several low-wage, instructional jobs, or tending a retail counter, waiting tables, bartending, driving taxis? Driven from their fuller roles in the traditional university, would our scholars be able to devote a lifetime to such an enormous endeavor? I’m afraid that the answer is no. America’s corporatized university cultivates no continuation of such learning, but instead tends the bottom line. So, when discoveries of this sort are made now, there will be fewer American scholars to join with other learned people around the globe in order to do this work. And, as this “American model” of academic labor is picked up in European universities (which the EU is currently pushing), there may well be no one anywhere in the world able to work on such a project. Given that very real possibility, we must ask: Will future generations look back to this time and see another Dark Age?

Whether it is medical research, musicology, linguistics, art history, each field of study is a living, changing area of learning. The responsibility of our scholars is to stay engaged in their field, work with their colleagues from around the world, and then to bring their research and work out to the public through writing, lecturing, and teaching. The second prong of a university’s mission is to support that, through maintaining a full-time faculty, financially supported so that they have the ability to perform the work they’ve trained a decade and more to do.

As you would expect, the last generation of full-time professors was much more productive than this generation of adjunct professors. Dr. Ron G.*, an English professor from a university in Georgia, has written or edited thirty books, and countless articles over the course of a 50 year career that began in the late 1960s. His current university employer, eager to attract him to their campus, worked with him to design an entire interdisciplinary program around his life’s work.   Dr. Samuel L.*, a prolific religion scholar in D.C., over a 50 year career that began in the late 1950s, wrote or edited nearly thirty-five books, and established an international foundation named after himself. Just two scholars provided over sixty books, countless articles, an international foundation and a new interdisciplinary program.

If those scholars had been born a generation later, trapped in a lifetime of adjunct work, how much of that output would have been possible? Would they have been able to progress in their scholarship and their career? Would they have been able to create university programs, or establish world-renowned foundations? Of course not. We will never know the amount of scholarship that’s been lost in this shift to casualizing the work of our professors. But if you assume even a 50% reduction in the output of a full-time faculty professor and multiply that by the 1.3 million adjuncts, you begin to get a sense of the devastation. This is an invisible cost, suffered not only by the individual scholars themselves, but by the society in which we live.

So much of the activism currently taking place around the issues of faculty labor exploitation is focused – and of course it is a crucial first step – on restoring a professional wage scale and securing permanent positions for our university educators. But we simply CANNOT forget that part of what has been stolen from us is our profession itself. We can’t be scholars in the fullest sense if we are unable to research, to write, to present our ideas, to conference with fellow scholars in our fields, to present our work to the public. We can’t give our fullest measure of expertise and learning to society, which is one of the most significant roles we play as citizens and public intellectuals. The universities are cheating us by deprofessionalizing the faculty, that is certain. But it is cheating the entire country, robbing the people of the work we trained to do, not for ourselves, but for them. For the love of learning, for the love of scholarship, and for the love of future generations who will, I believe, one day, look back and see this as a dark age.


*Names here are changed to maintain privacy.

Posted in The Breakdown of the American University System | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Inequality, MOOCs and The Predator Elite

It’s been too long since I’ve written here on The Homeless Adjunct blog, but I am back and ready to move forward.  The silence was caused by a particularly hard year of never-ending job searching.  Two of my three adjunct teaching jobs disappeared, leaving me with barely 30% of what was already a poverty level income.  I suspect that this has had something to do with my outspokenness on the issue of adjunct labor abuse, but as those of you working on contingency contracts all know far too well — there is simply no way to definitively prove such retaliation.  And after a year of falling victim to the severe trauma that we adjuncts are always facing, I have gotten myself back up, and have determined that I won’t let myself be silenced by poverty, or fear.  While it has certainly proven to be an effective tactic, it can only be effective if we allow it to take our spirit along with our income.  It’s pretty clear that this is a Braveheart moment, where I either continue to fight against tyranny — and the corporatized university is a tyrannical institution — or I let them win.

And thanks to the Scottish warrior blood in my veins, I choose to fight.

Since many people have kindly asked, I should also say that my co-producer, Chris Labree, and I are putting together a fundraising campaign shortly, to help us raise the money we need to get the remainder of the film shot, and into post-production.  So, you’ll be hearing a good bit on these pages about how that’s going.  You’ll also be reading about some of the people we’ve already interviewed, and the issues we’ll be addressing in the film and in the book.

So, since my last article, what’s been happening in higher education?  Tuitions are continuing to increase.   Student loan debt is continuing to increase.  Administrative jobs are continuing to increase.  Use of low-wage adjuncts is continuing to increase. Presidential salaries are continuing to increase.  But the quality of education is plummeting.

Yes, more people are talking about the terrible situation in academia.  But the focus still seems to be skewed.  The myth of the “lazy tenured professor” still gets bandied about by too many people as if it were a truth.  For profit “information delivery” methods are on the rise.  MOOCs proliferate, despite plenty of research that points out the serious flaws in
this “model”.  The game plan seems clear – destroy the teaching profession, then blame those educators still struggling against all odds to teach, hold them responsible for the systemic failures.  Then replace a system which focused on the social good of education with a for-profit model run like an edu-factory.  There is a reason that billionaires like Bill Gates have bought into education – and its the same reason that Gates owns over a half million dollars worth of Monsanto stock.  Factory farming and factory-ed have the same goal: profit.  And not for you or me.  Certainly not for our children.  But for Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates and the other 1%-ers who have muscled their way into ownership of the “education industry”.  And, I will say it until I’m blue in the face (and yes that’s another Braveheart reference):  Education is NOT a for-profit endeavor, any more than medicine should be.  It is a social good, and must be treated as such.  Teachers are professionals and know more about the complexities of educating individuals than the “Instructional Designers” and curriculum technicians who are doing their best to take over.

An article from outside of academia caught my attention the other day.  It’s an interview from Salon.com with Jaron Lanier, long seen as an internet visionary.  Lanier has grown more than a little concerned about the ways in which the internet has become a driving force for inequality and, sees it at the root of the destruction of the middle class.  He points to several professions – artists, musicians, journalists – whose livelihoods have all but disappeared.   His new book Who Owns the Future continues his war on digital utopianism and his assertion of humanist and individualistic values in a hive-mind world. But Lanier still sees potential in digital technology: He just wants it reoriented away from its main role so far, which involves “spying” on citizens, creating a winner-take-all society, eroding professions and, in exchange, throwing bonbons to the crowd.”

The idea of this erosion of professions is what caught my attention the most.  He warns that internet technology has been destroying the middle class by destabilizing jobs – by both shrinking the pool of possible jobs, and then creating instability in the few jobs available.  Instability comes in two ways: job instability (part-time, contract work has been replacing full-time work) and the low wages and lack of benefits that go with such part-time jobs.
While the last 20 years of academia have seen these two destructive practices
aimed at the professoriate, it hasn’t been until lately that the threat is driven by the internet — in the case of academia, in the form of MOOCs that are now looming enormous, casting monstrous shadows over the college campus. The MOOC model, from the standpoint of the professoriate, is an entirely exploitative one.  The professor designs a class, has lectures and other media support shot and “canned” — and then the university, or the MOOC itself owns that material.  It OWNS the intellectual property of a professor who has trained for, on average, a decade for advanced degrees, who has taught for years and developed skills and abilities.  And, once that particular area of scholarship is canned — who needs the professor, ANY professor, anymore?

Lanier talks about what happened when digital photography overtook the old style of photograph development.  He uses Kodak as an example.  At one point they employed over 140,000 workers.  Instagram, at the point it was sold for….about a billion dollars was it?….to Facebook, had 13 employees.  THIRTEEN.

Digitizing does away with the need for the human.  In the case of MOOCs, it is a scholarship killer. Education, at the university level especially, is the outgrowth of ongoing scholarship by the faculty.  A lifetime of research, writing, speaking, engaging with other scholars in your field, produces not just the articles and books of each scholar’s work, but the classes – NEW classes, exciting never-before-given classes, which provide a furtherance of study and scholarship in a given area.  By MOOC-ing college classes, an illusion of higher education is created.  Nothing more.  It’s “virtual” education in all the worst ways.

Remember when SAG and AFTRA did bloody battle with the film studios and TV studios in the early days of VCRs?  When a whole new way of distributing the work of the actors and crew on films and TV shows offered tremendous increase in revenue….but not for THEM?  Well, that’s what the MOOC model does in academia.  The owners of the MOOC platform, the universities under contract with the MOOC companies — those are the beneficiaries of all this digitized “information delivery”.  The shrinking career of the professor just got diminished even more.  And, unlike the members of SAG/AFTRA, we have no union capable of providing significant pushback.  The traditional educational unions have been nearly worthless – they haven’t been able to stop the casualization of the majority of university professors in the country, for instance.  They’ve been notoriously short-sighted.  Who is there to fight against the already-impoverished professoriate being MOOCed?

Lanier talks about the social contract that is being broken by the casualization of more and more areas of labor — he calls it the “informal” economy of our current employment situation. “We kind of made a bargain, a social contract, in the 20th century that even if jobs were pleasant people could still get paid for them. Because otherwise we would have had a massive unemployment. And so to my mind, the right question to ask is, why are we abandoning that bargain that worked so well?”

This observation is certainly relevant to what he sees happening in the creative industries, and in journalism.  But it is just as true in academia.  The idea that if a person loves what they do — even if it takes a lot of work and dedication to do it — they don’t deserve to be paid a middle-class salary to DO it — is part of what fuels the disappearance of the scholar as a professional.

The problem is, as Lanier points out, that we are not living in an informal economy, simply suffering with the income of an informal hiring system.  This informal, casualized labor situation puts far too many people, across all professions, into a terrible situation when they crash up against the formal economy we actually LIVE in — that’s the economy where you must still use cold, hard cash to pay for your housing, your utilities, your food, your healthcare.

“It was all a social construct to begin with, so what changed… is that at the turn of the [21st] century it was really Sergey Brin at Google who just had the thought of, well, if we give away all the information services, but we make money from advertising, we can make information free and still have capitalism. But the problem with that is it reneges on the social contract where people still participate in the formal economy. And it’s a kind of capitalism that’s totally self-defeating because it’s so narrow. It’s a winner-take-all capitalism that’s not sustaining.”

Think about the writing-for-free model that has taken over journalism.  His point can be supported by the millions made by Arianna Huffington, while many of her writers worked for little or nothing.  Yes, writing is one of what Lanier is calling the “pleasant” jobs — as is teaching (I didn’t say easy.  But dedicated writers and educators alike see what they do as rewarding and important work.)  Why should journalists or educators be working for little to no money, living at the edge of poverty, while the people at the top of this sort of economic structure are reaping enormous fortune?  According to Lanier, this is a conscious breach of the all-important social contract that not only provides what he calls the “hump” of middle class citizens — that middle area surge on the economic chart where the majority of people fall — but that large, sustained middle class keeps the rest of the system going.  Without it, the economy fails, as does democracy itself.

“We don’t realize that our society and our democracy ultimately rest on the stability of middle-class jobs…The way society actually works is there’s some mechanism of basic stability so that the majority of people can outspend the elite so we can have a democracy. That’s the thing we’re destroying, and that’s really the thing I’m hoping to preserve. So we can look at musicians and artists and journalists as the canaries in the coal mine, and is this the precedent that we want to follow for our doctors and lawyers and nurses and everybody else? Because technology will get to everybody eventually.”

Technology will get to everybody eventually.  Well, it’s already more than started in the professions he lists.  Internet diagnosis and the silo-ing of medical treatment.  Lawyers’ duties being unbundled, with online document reviewers being outsourced to other low-wage countries.  Scholars being reduced to migrant status, teaching conveyor-belt classes with “common syllabi”.

We’re all screwed.  And we’ll stay screwed if we keep struggling as individuals, or as separate classes of professionals.  We’ve got to come together and rise up together – all workers, across all platforms and industries – and put our talents and our multiple intelligences to use for our own benefit.  Stop giving our talents and abilities away to the Predator Elite, and start working together to figure out how to use our talents for each other.  If all exploited journalists stopped writing; if all exploited artists stopped creating; if all exploited educators stopped teaching — what would these exploiters have?  A great big bunch of nothing.  No articles or news stories.  No music, theatre, film, visual art.  Empty classrooms and campuses.

The most exploited are the most necessary.  We can never forget that.

Posted in Social and Economic Inequality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments