Note: We’ve got Quit Lit in two phases today. Below, Joe Fruscione on getting out. And here’s Jennifer Polk, career coach and blogger at From Ph.D. to Life, on why scholars are well-prepared for what comes next.
My first day of university teaching was August 30, 1999. My last day of university teaching will be April 30, 2014.
A year ago, I was still somewhat optimistic about my chances on the academic job market: Surely, I thought, someone with 14 years of university teaching experience, a book, articles and reviews, conference presentations, a Library of Congress lecture, strong connections, and other professional accomplishments (all completed on an adjunct’s schedule, no less) can land a tenure-track position, even in this market.
A year later, the scales have fallen from my eyes. I realize that higher ed is not a meritocracy, and I’ve been naive. So, instead of drafting academic cover letters and teaching philosophies, I’m writing about why I’m leaving the profession.
The reasons are numerous, and many of them have been discussed on Vitae before. I’m tired of ...
—being one of many hundreds of applicants for a single position (for example, I didn’t even make the first cut for a job at Marymount University, which drew more than 600 applicants, I was told).
—hearing the words “Just hang in there” or “You’re doing such good work; someone is bound to hire you,” from those lucky enough to be in stable, tenured positions.
—starting every school year at the same low salary and with the same limited employment and voting rights.
—having no pathway to promotion.
—being asked, “How are you still an adjunct after all you’ve done?,” and knowing I’m qualified and experienced enough to do so much more.
This is not the career I signed up for when I started graduate school in 1998. I’ve played the game for 16 years and lost: My goal was to land a tenure-track position, and I’m leaving academia without one. If I’m a “failed academic,” so be it. I’ll be better off as a successful post-academic and future dad.
That doesn’t mean I’ll be on autopilot for my last semester: There will be no easy A’s or needlessly canceled classes or office hours. I’m still engaged in educating my students. I’ve always been happy balancing my teaching and research interests, and I’ve dedicated myself equally to both. Lately, though, I’ve felt wistful about the prospect of leaving the profession I worked so hard—and spent so much money—to enter. I’ve met some wonderful colleagues who will always be my friends.
Yet I’m also bitter and frustrated about leaving. I’ve done what I think I’m supposed to do: designed new classes, presented at conferences, published a book, written numerous articles, networked, and generally put my name “out there.” I’ve followed the rules of the game, but the rules keep changing.
I thought I knew what I was getting into when I started graduate school in the humanities (and no, I didn’t think I’d have my pick of tenure-track positions). Yet I never imagined that 500 applicants for an Americanist position would become the norm, or that rejection letters would cite “very specific needs” that were never even outlined in the ads.
I also didn’t expect to hear stories about search committees preferring “fresh” ABD candidates over experienced Ph.D.’s. How can more than a decade of teaching and writing experience be so devalued?
So it’s time for me to go.
Sydni Dunn said it best in her recent piece on this genre: “Quit Lit isn’t about flipping a middle finger to the system. Instead, it’s a platform for debunking myths about academics who look beyond the professoriate.”
I don’t want to burn bridges, fire broadsides at former employers, and shame all tenured or tenure-track faculty for their complicity in a broken, exploitative system—I’m Adjunct Yoda, not Adjunct Hulk, after all.
That said, I’ve had moments when I’ve been tempted to scream--like when my former chair emailed me after I left the institution to say the department “never did right by” me.I appreciate the kind words, but I wish s/he’d spoken up when I was there.
And I feel obligated to highlight what’s happening in higher ed. As I’ve told Jennifer Polk of From Ph.D. to Life and the folks at PBS Newshour, it’s my sense that universities are deliberately exploiting contingent faculty and citing “budgetary realities” as the excuse. How is it that there are no funds for more tenure-track positions, yet, magically, there’s plenty of money for amenities and senior administrative hires who make six-figure salaries?
Which is why the commenters who’ve sung variations on the “If you don’t like it, leave the profession” tune may have a point, vitriol notwithstanding. Perhaps another field or organization will be a better fit for my brain, work ethic, and intellectual integrity.
In the meantime, I’ve finally accepted that I’ll never be admitted to The Club, so I’m taking Rebecca Schuman's sage advice to “never shut up.”
Maybe it’s time others did, too.
I’m done playing Ivory Tower Calvinball. It’s time for a new game and new rules.