A Brief Response to Some Despicable Nonsense

by Gordon Haber

Some guy named Jason Stevens, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Dallas, wrote about National Adjunct Walkout Day. He is so insanely wrong about so many things. Allow me to briefly take you through his “argument.” (Briefly because I have deadlines.)

He starts by proclaiming his adjunct bonafides:

I’ve been employed as an adjunct instructor at four different colleges and universities over the past five years. In that time, I’ve taught almost 30 different classes. I am paid anywhere between $1,500 and $3,500 per semester class.

And why he’s writing about adjuncts:

First, I’m concerned about the direction of recent events, especially National Adjunct Walkout Day. Second, I seek to challenge the prevailing opinion that adjuncts are somehow the victims of unfair employment practices.

One might respond, “Who gives a rat’s ass about your concerns?” Or: “I seek to challenge the prevailing opinion of your rhetorical competence.” Because while he believes that adjuncts are “sometimes right to feel abused,” in the end, guess what? It’s their own damn fault!

[…] the current plight of adjuncts is largely of their own making. It stems from a variety of causes, all related to the lack of ambition and prudence. The reluctance or inability to secure additional employment, to publish in reputable journals, to finish the Ph.D. degree, or to do the very best work in the worst of conditions are the main causes of all present misery and discontent.

See where he’s going? Adjuncts are adjuncts because they suck at life. They’re lazy and imprudent! And of course they have options. They can do other things, but they won’t:

Working elsewhere for minimum wage is seen either as beneath the dignity of the well-educated, or extremely difficult given the hiring preferences of companies.

My goodness, he doesn’t think very hard for a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy. (Maybe he’s studying Objectivism.) Let’s do the math. The current minimum wage in Texas is the princely sum of $7.25 an hour. That’s about $15k per year — before taxes. An adjunct teaching ten sections a year — say four per term and two in the summer at $2500 each — grosses $25k a year. Still not a good living but certainly more than minimum wage.

Adjuncts don’t take jobs flipping burgers because they’re snooty. They keep adjuncting because a minimum-wage job is an even quicker trip to penury.

The future Dr. Stephens wants to tell you more about how much you suck:

For those who want to make a career of teaching, adjunct work certainly shouldn’t last forever. It should be temporary as the name implies—a stepping stone to greater things.

And it can only be that if you put in the work. This means, among many things, publishing in reputable journals. The prospect of a full-time, tenure-track job is considerably enhanced by the publication of a substantial scholarly article. While I have no evidence to support this, my suspicion is that at least the majority of discontented adjuncts threatening to walk out of class are currently unpublished.

No reason to actually look for evidence! It’s my suspicion!

Okay, listen up, young man. Here’s a narrative that will be familiar to many adjuncts.

You get your Master’s. You need money so you start adjuncting while working on your Ph.D. Suddenly you realize you can’t afford your student loan payments and your rent and your tuition so you take on more classes. Then you’re trapped. After all that driving and teaching and grading and class prep you’re too exhausted to keep up with your graduate work. You take a break…and maybe you never go back. Not because you’re lazy. Because this is the plight of the working poor.

About that National Adjunct Walkout Day:

[…] no teacher should ever threaten to walk out because of money or other selfish motivations. Not ever. There is a deep, permanent obligation to the student that takes precedence over almost every other consideration. The Marines say, “God, Country, Corps.” We should say, “God, Country, Class.” National Adjunct Walkout Day harnesses a torrent of misplaced emotion and envy that now threatens to make shipwreck of conscience. We must do the day’s work. That means doing our best, without complaint, for the good of all involved.

Oh my goodness, please go fuck yourself. I mean, I am trying so hard to keep this civil but it’s impossible after such assertions. First of all, dipshit, because Marines get health insurance. And second, I’ll take my own guess with no evidence, which is that you have never worried — really worried — about paying the rent.

In the end, we don’t work for a college or university. We work for the student. And we should start acting like it.

Actually, no. We bust our asses for our students because we deeply care about teaching. And certainly we are there to serve our students. But we work to support ourselves and we work for the people who sign our checks. Who in this case are administrators deliberately underpaying educated professionals so that they have more money for themselves.

Is it legal? Sure. But let’s not pretend for a second that it’s moral.

This is what I find so hateful about these kind of arguments. The underlying assumption is that the rules of the marketplace are the only ethics that matter. Employers don’t owe their employees a living wage and if the employees don’t get a living wage it’s their own damn fault.