Spaghetti Monster help me, I'm considering going back to Facebook. I know this is an insignificant, first-world-problem in the grand scheme, but I want to work through my ideas in writing--something I encourage my students to do all the time. You're welcome to eavesdrop.
I can't remember how long ago I deleted my Facebook account. Three years? Four? Maybe. I gave it up for a variety of reasons.
First, it was a time-suck of epic proportions. I spent more time than I'd like to admit scrolling through friends' pictures and posts. Twitter can be time-consuming, too, but I personally find scrolling through a timeline of 140 character tweets less daunting. And really, having one less account to check saves me just a bit of time each day.
Second, it occasionally got awkward. There was a lot of pressure (perhaps only my perceptions, but I still felt it) to friend people I'd rather not. Folks I went to high school with, but haven't seen since I was 16 (some of whom didn't even like me then, or vice-verse). Distant relatives with political and social views so divergent from mine, that seeing their posts pop up in my newsfeed made me cringe. (My mother once showed up at my house and asked, "What is the facebook, and why have you unfriended your cousin?") I have never felt the pressure to follow on Twitter. There are no "follower requests" to accept or deny, no assumption that if I don't follow you, I don't like you. I can also follow, but then mute a person if need be. Not that I do that. Ahem.
My growing interest in internet privacy and the control of my own data was the straw that broke my account's back: I just don't trust Mark Zuckerberg to care about users, beyond the cash he can make from us, at all. Of course, I still use social media, so I know my data is not safe and sound and completely in my control. My data is mined on Twitter, yes, but I do feel that 1. I have more accessible control over my security, 2. Twitter has been more transparent about their uses, and 3. the company has consistently responded thoughtfully and well to the user-community's concern (often indignation) over changes to interface and security. I can't say that about FB. I use all things Google. I have more trouble rationalizing the trust I have put in this megalodon. Sure, their moto is "don't be evil," but we've all seen that tested, and Google hasn't always passed. I do think, though, like Twitter, that Google has made much greater efforts to be transparent, and it has made my control over security settings easy and accessible. Bottom line: of all the skeevy social media platforms, and they all have a level of skeeve, I think Zuckerberg's is the skeeviest. (Now I want to create a Skeeve Scale of Social Media. That needs to be a thing.)
Yet now I find myself considering a return.
My growing activism in higher education labor reform is very important to me. I've connected with a lot of really inspiring people on Twitter, had great convos, shared their work (read: retweeted), and even met up with them beyond the screen. I've participated in # chats that have taught me much. But most of these people at one time or another have asked me, "Are you on Facebook?" Many people I'd love to learn from and interact with are not on Twitter, but are friends on the BlueBook of Face. They have networks and groups that share stuff I don't find on Twitter. I know I'm missing a big part of a national conversation that is really central to my professional life.
What really threw me happened yesterday, when my best friend, a guy with not a single social media account, a job in IT, and a healthy mistrust of The Man, said, "You know, I think you should go back to Facebook." What?
I've written it all out, and I still don't know if I can give Zuckerberg the keys
I have the privilege of teaching a Masters-level graduate class in this semester, ENG 502: Introduction to English Studies. The purposes of this course are plural, but one is to discuss the relationship between their graduate educations and the labor market. What might they do with this degree, both in and out of academia? How can they strategically plan their coursework and theses to fit their career goals?
With all the talk, policy debate, and scandal surrounding student debt in the U.S., I feel it is an ethical imperative that I address the complicated relationship between education and employment. Yes, those with college degrees still make more over a lifetime than those without. Graduate degrees, however, are coming under increasing scrutiny, especially for those who want to teach in higher education.
Today I read "Labor Pains: From Adjunct to Organizer" by Jessica Lawless, over on Miranda Merklein's blog Fugitive Faculty. Lawless's story is one of a person who did everything professionally right, and yet, she shares, "I was in critical debt from investing in my academic career. I was paid less than almost every other job I worked before I had graduate degrees." She ultimately left academia for work unrelated to her expensive degree. This is the ugly truth I must share with my graduate students who dream of becoming professors: you are likely to find adjunct employment with little pay and no benefits. You may have real difficulty paying off your student loans. You might not be able to afford working in your chosen field.
Students in this course will read Lawless's story, and they will also read MArc Bousquet's How the University Works. They need to know.
While I know this is the right thing to do, I also know that I may be shooting myself in the professional foot. Enrollments are down in graduate English programs nationwide. Will I add to the ranks of those who change their minds, leave the program, once they read about the state of labor in higher ed? Very possibly. The grad program my colleagues and I are building with care may be damaged by this truth telling. Most immediately, if enrollments continue to drop, my grad classes may not continue to roster. I may not get to teach them often or at all. In the bigger picture, I think grad programs like ours have a lot to offer students intellectually. I value education beyond its role in job training.
Yet I can't put a program or my class schedule over truths that will affect students not just intellectually, but materially. I can't not tell students that the odds of making a living wage as a prof in the current climate are very small. I can't rationalize by thinking, they have to work 60 hours a week at three adjunct gigs to make ends meet, but check out those critical thinking skills!
Simply put: if a graduate program is not teaching about the labor market's connection to the degree, it is unethical.
Should be an interesting semester.
To my tenure-track and tenured colleagues,
A lot has been written in response to Catherine Stukel's letter to the editor published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Is That Whining Adjunct Someone We Want Teaching Our Young?” I've been heartened to see so many write back in support of contingent professors everywhere, whether they are called TAs, GAs, adjuncts, temporary instructors, visiting lecturers, or the like. I found myself wishing that more of the responses were written by tenure-track or tenured professors, and then I remembered, oh yeah. Maybe I should speak up beyond retweeting.
I have been a TA and an adjunct, a freeway flyer and a “part-time” employee working 50 hours a week. (The only job I had that brought me less respect was public high school teacher.) In 2006, I landed a tenure-track job and am now a tenured assistant professor. While many of my colleagues throughout academia might see that mobility as a sign that I somehow proved myself more worthy than the legions of adjuncts from whence I came, I know the truth: I'm just lucky.
Don't misunderstand. I don't discount the hard work I have done to get here. Graduate school was a beast, and I got through it with a dissertation I am proud of. My scholarly record suggests that I've spent more than enough of my “free time” parked in a library or in front of my laptop. My teaching record demonstrates my dedication to my students and to the craft of educating. I'm collegial, shown not merely via my service on committees, but in my willingness to help colleagues however I may. I did all the right things to earn a tenure-track job. But here's what I own and too many tenure-track teachers willfully refuse to admit: my adjunct colleagues have worked just as hard. Many have much more impressive resumes than I. So why do I have this job, while they work for ¼ of my pay, often with no benefits? Luck. I was in the right place, at the right time, with the right set of qualifications. The hiring committee liked me. Significantly, the committee was populated by people who didn't hold my years of adjunct teaching against me, a phenomenon that still confounds me. I'm really good at what I do, but so are lots of people who the system of higher education treats as disposable.
That luck played a role in my employment is further buoyed by the fact that tenure-track jobs now make up a mere 25% of positions in higher education, something well explained by Marc Bousquet in his own response to Stukel. Here, some professors might take this as further proof of their own worthiness: I landed one of these rare positions, ergo I must be a cut above. Nonsense. Ok, you're smart; we get it. But one's employment status is simply not indicative of one's professional worth.
Consider, first, that adjuncts are often hired to teach more courses than permanent faculty, often general education courses that, in my opinion, are far more challenging to teach than upper-division courses. Think you're a good teacher? How much more would you have to up your game if you exchanged that 2/2 load for 4/4? Or 5/6? More more? Imagine teaching not seminars of majors, but lecture halls filled with freshmen. Your contingent colleagues regularly teach such loads, and often without the same institutional support you enjoy. Often without office space. Or printers. Or computers. Still think you're working harder?
Think your scholarship is impressive? Those adjuncts that want to get a tenure-track track job are also researching and publishing, just as you do. (Of course, not all share your dream of tenure—they just want decent pay and health benefits for working hard.) Keep in mind, of course, that they are doing this scholarship while also teaching the aforementioned heavy load of courses and without graduate assistants checking their work. That anyone gets anything published as an adjunct is a small miracle, given the constraints, but they do.
For every brilliant paper presented at a conference by a tenured professor, a brilliant idea is unshared by a contingent professor, unable to spare the time to explore it in writing, or the airfare to join you on the panel.
The only way I am able to reconcile working in a field that systematically abuses the majority of its workers is to dedicate my service and scholarship to addressing the problem of labor in higher ed. Too many lucky tenured, though, believe as Stuckel does, that they are special snowflakes. Or, they turn their eyes away, saying “I can't change it,” or “I need to focus on my students.” I call bullshit. We can change it, and improving the working conditions of all teachers is focusing on your students. The time for silence is over. In fact, there never was a time for silence. Become allies to your adjunct colleagues. Do something. Say something. Retweeting isn't enough.