Science Panel Approves Human Gene Editing Raising Ethical Questions!

Dear Commons Community,

An advisory group formed by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine yesterday lent its support to a once-unthinkable proposition: the modification of human embryos to create genetic traits that can be passed down to future generations.  As reported by the New York Times:

“…human gene editing has long been seen as an ethical minefield. Researchers fear that the techniques used to prevent genetic diseases might also be used to enhance intelligence, for example, or to create people physically suited to particular tasks, like serving as soldiers.

The advisory group endorsed only alterations designed to prevent babies from acquiring genes known to cause “serious diseases and disability,” and only when there is no “reasonable alternative.” The report provides an explicit rationale for genetic research that the federal government has avoided supporting until now, although the work is being pursued in countries like Sweden and China.

So-called germ line engineering might allow people to have biological children without fear that they have passed on the genes for diseases like Huntington’s, Tay-Sachs and beta thalassemia, and without discarding embryos carrying the disease-causing mutations, as is often done now. Though such cases are likely to be rare, the report says they should be taken seriously.

The new report heralds a day scientists have long warned is coming. After decades of science-fiction movies, cocktail party chatter and college seminars in which people have idly debated the ethics of humanity intervening in its own evolution, advancing technology dictates that the public now make some hard choices.

“It is essential for public discussions to precede any decisions about whether or how to pursue clinical trials of such applications,” said R. Alta Charo, a bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a leader of the panel that wrote the report. “And we need to have them now.”

Just over a year ago, an international group of scientists said it would be “irresponsible to proceed” with making heritable changes to the human genome until risks could be better assessed and there was “broad societal consensus about the appropriateness” of any proposed change.

No one is pretending that such a consensus now exists. But in the year that the committee was deliberating, Ms. Charo said, the techniques required to perform this sort of gene editing have passed crucial milestones.

The advent of a powerful gene-editing tool called Crispr-Cas9 allows researchers to snip, insert and delete genetic material with increasing precision. It has led to plans for experimental treatments of adult patients with cancer, blindness and other conditions as early as this year…

…..“This opens the door to advertisements from fertility clinics of giving your child the best start in life with a gene-editing packet,” said Marcy Darnovsky, the executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, a public interest group in Berkeley, Calif. “And whether these are real advantages or perceived advantages, they would accrue disproportionately to people who are already advantaged.”

The new guidelines, Ms. Darnovsky noted, also set the United States apart from many European countries that have signed a treaty to refrain from human germ line editing.”

This article rightly points out that genetic engineering is a complicated, ethical issue.  This first small step taken by the cited science panel is significant not for what will happen in the near future but what might happen in the intermediate to distant future.



Kevin Birmingham Talks about the Plight of Adjunct Faculty and the Glut of PhDs in the Humanities!

Dear Commons Community,

Kevin Birmingham, an instructor of writing at Harvard upon winning the Truman Capote Award for his book, The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses, comments on the plight of adjuncts and the glut of PhDs in the humanities.  Here is an excerpt from his address courtesy of today’s Chronicle of Higher Education:

“I accept the Truman Capote Award in this spirit of justice. I would be remiss, therefore, if I did not address another injustice tarnishing the literary critical profession. I am, so far as I can tell, the first adjunct faculty member to receive this award. To be sure, I have one of the best non-ladder positions available. My paychecks cover my bills. I have health insurance. I can work full time. I know by the end of June if my appointment is renewed for the fall. And yet I am one of over one million non-tenure-track instructors working on a temporary or contingent basis and whose position offers no possibility of tenure. To be contingent means not to know if you’ll be teaching next semester or if your class will be canceled days before it starts. Most adjuncts receive less than three weeks’ notice of an appointment. They rarely receive benefits and have virtually no say in university governance.

Yet to talk about adjuncts is to talk about the centerpiece of higher education. Tenured faculty represent only 17 percent of college instructors. Part-time adjuncts are now the majority of the professoriate and its fastest-growing segment. From 1975 to 2011, the number of part-time adjuncts quadrupled. And the so-called part-time designation is misleading because most of them are piecing together teaching jobs at multiple institutions simultaneously. A 2014 congressional report suggests that 89 percent of adjuncts work at more than one institution; 13 percent work at four or more. The need for several appointments becomes obvious when we realize how little any one of them pays. In 2013, The Chronicle began collecting data on salary and benefits from adjuncts across the country. An English-department adjunct at Berkeley, for example, received $6,500 to teach a full-semester course. It’s easy to lose sight of all the people struggling beneath the data points. $7,000 at Duke. $6,000 at Columbia. $5,950 at the University of Iowa.

These are the high numbers. According to the 2014 congressional report, adjuncts’ median pay per course is $2,700. An annual report by the American Association of University Professors indicated that last year “the average part-time faculty member earned $16,718” from a single employer. Other studies have similar findings. Thirty-one percent of part-time faculty members live near or below the poverty line. Twenty-five percent receive public assistance, like Medicaid or food stamps. One English-department adjunct who responded to the survey said that she sold her plasma on Tuesdays and Thursdays to pay for her daughter’s day care. Another woman stated that she taught four classes a year for less than $10,000. She wrote, “I am currently pregnant with my first child. … I will receive NO time off for the birth or recovery. It is necessary I continue until the end of the semester in May in order to get paid, something I drastically need. The only recourse I have is to revert to an online classroom […] and do work while in the hospital and upon my return home.” Sixty-one percent of adjunct faculty are women.

You have asked me to speak to you today about literary criticism, and so we might note that the conditions ravaging our profession are also ravaging our work. The privilege of tenure used to confer academic freedom through job security. By now, decades of adjunctification have made the professoriate fearful, insular, and conformist. According to the AAUP, adjunct faculty are about half as likely to undertake risky research projects, and the timidity moves up the ladder. “Professionalization” means retrofitting your research so that it accommodates the critical fads that will make you marginally more employable. It means cutting and adding chapters so that feathers remain unruffled. Junior faculty play it safe — conceptually, politically, and formally — because they write for job and tenure committees rather than for readers. Publications serve careers before they serve culture.

If my book deserves recognition, then we must also recognize that no young scholar with any sense would be foolish enough to write it. Graduate students must tailor their research projects to a fickle job market, and a book like mine simply doesn’t fit. Few academic presses publish narrative literary history, and what’s worse is that my book is a microhistory — it chronicles the publication of just one novel. The job market’s clearest demand is that a candidate must demonstrate breadth in research, especially if he or she works in a traditional field. This year, for example, there are only eight tenure-track jobs seeking a scholar of British modernism. And yet even this tally is too generous, because all eight of those departments are looking for someone whose expertise covers two or more centuries of British literature.

The message is clear: Stick to the old dissertation formula — six chapters about six authors. The most foolish mistake is addressing an audience beyond the academy. Publishing with Penguin or Random House should be a wonderful opportunity for a young scholar. Yet for most hiring committees, a trade book is merely one that did not undergo peer review. It’s extracurricular. My book exists because I was willing to give up a tenure-track job to write it.

We cannot blame this professional anemia on scarce funding. The largest adjunct-faculty increases have taken place during periods of economic growth, and high university endowments do not diminish adjunctification. Harvard has steadily increased its adjunct faculty over the past four decades, and its endowment is $35.7 billion. This is larger than the GDP of a majority of the world’s countries.

The truth is that teaching is a diminishing priority in universities. Years of AAUP reports indicate that budgets for instruction are proportionally shrinking. Universities now devote less than one-third of their expenditures to instruction. Meanwhile, administrative positions have increased at more than 10 times the rate of tenured faculty positions. Sports and amenities are much more fun.

Last year the University of New Hampshire made news when one of its librarians, Robert Morin, who had saved almost 50 years of paychecks, left $4 million to the university upon his death. UNH spent $1 million of the librarian’s gift on a 30-by-50-foot high-definition scoreboard for the new, $25-million football stadium. The university defended its decision by stating that the donation had been used for “our highest priorities and emerging opportunities.” Adjuncts in the English department there reportedly receive $3,000 per class. They already knew they weren’t a high priority.

And why should they be? Amid competing budgetary pressures, classroom instruction is the easiest expense to cut. And part-time employees aren’t just cheap; they also provide curricular flexibility. Unpredictable course enrollments encourage administrators to find faculty who can be hired and fired just as unpredictably. Adjuncts help departments offer an ever-changing menu of courses.

But the problem goes deeper than administration as well. It’s systemic. The key feature of adjunctification is a form of labor-market polarization. The desirability of elite faculty positions doesn’t just correlate with worsening adjunct conditions; it helps create the worsening conditions. The prospect of intellectual freedom, job security, and a life devoted to literature, combined with the urge to recoup a doctoral degree’s investment of time, gives young scholars a strong incentive to continue pursuing tenure-track jobs while selling their plasma on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

This incentive generates a labor surplus that depresses wages. Yet academia is uniquely culpable. Unlike the typical labor surplus created by demographic shifts or technological changes, the humanities almost unilaterally controls its own labor market. New faculty come from a pool of candidates that the academy itself creates, and that pool is overflowing. According to the most recent MLA jobs report, there were only 361 assistant professor tenure-track job openings in all fields of English literature in 2014-15. The number of Ph.D. recipients in English that year was 1,183. Many rejected candidates return to the job market year after year and compound the surplus.

It gets worse. From 2008 to 2014, tenure-track English-department jobs declined 43 percent. This year there are, by my count, only 173 entry-level tenure-track job openings — fewer than half of the opportunities just two years ago. If history is any guide, there will be about nine times as many new Ph.D.s this year as there are jobs. One might think that the years-long plunge in employment would compel doctoral programs to reduce their numbers of candidates, but the opposite is happening. From the Great Recession to 2014, U.S. universities awarded 10 percent more English Ph.D.s. In the humanities as a whole, doctorates are up 12 percent.”

Birmingham makes important observations about the state of higher education.




Ivanka Trump’s Close Personal Ties to Rupert Murdoch!

Dear Commons Community,

Just when we thought things could not be getting worse for Ivanka Trump, it appears that she has had very close personal ties to Rupert Murdoch.  The Financial Times reported the latest example of their closeness last week: that Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka was a trustee of the nearly $300 million fortune Mr. Murdoch set aside for the two children he had with his third wife, Wendi, who arranged the trusteeship.  Ms. Trump gave up that oversight role in December, before her father’s inauguration but well after Election Day.  That means the whole time that Mr. Murdoch’s highly influential news organizations were covering Mr. Trump’s campaign and transition, their executive chairman was entangled in a financial arrangement of the most personal sort — tied to his children’s financial (very) well being — along with the president’s daughter.  As further reported in the New York Times:

“The ties that bind the most powerful media mogul in the world to the leader of the free world just keep getting stronger. Or, more precisely, we keep learning just how strong they are.

The question is where that leaves the rest of the world when they’re done divvying it up.

They are Rupert Murdoch — the founder of the corporate news media giants 21st Century Fox and the News Corporation — and President Trump.

Referring to Ivanka Trump only as the president’s “daughter” fails to capture her true role. She is Mr. Trump’s most trusted confidante. And she is married to a key presidential adviser, Jared Kushner, who, as it happens, is so close with Mr. Murdoch that he even helped Mr. Murdoch set up his bachelor pad after his last divorce, The New Yorker reported.

The latest news about the Murdoch-Trump axis is acutely problematic for the leadership at The Wall Street Journal — owned by News Corp. — as it seeks to quell a rebellion by a group of staff members who believe that the paper has held them back from more aggressively covering Mr. Trump, they suspect, under pressure from Mr. Murdoch. (As Joe Pompeo of Politico first reported last week, a meeting to discuss their grievances is to take place at The Journal on Monday.)

But the relationship between the president and Mr. Murdoch has implications well beyond The Journal, given the global breadth of Mr. Murdoch’s media holdings, his history of putting them to use for political leaders who then help him with his own business needs and Mr. Trump’s own reactivity to the news media.

How it all affects the rest of us depends on how powerfully Mr. Murdoch’s news media properties swing behind the new presidential agenda and how much criticism of Mr. Trump they’ll abide from their journalists and commentators. And all of that could depend on what Mr. Murdoch wants from the administration, and how badly he wants it.”

Rupert Murdoch has always operated in questionable ways when it comes to trying to influence government leaders.  Ivanka and Donald Trump should make a statement about her relationship with Murdoch but they won’t.



Michael Flynn Resigns as National Security Adviser!


Dear Commons Community,

Michael Flynn resigned yesterday as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser.  Flynn’s status was considered perilous after it was disclosed that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other senior officials about his communications with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, a senior U.S. official told NBC News.    As reported by NBC and other media:

Flynn’s resignation (see letter below) came after a tumultuous few days of revelations about his ties to Russia and his role in attempting to ease sanctions that were put in place weeks before the Trump administration took office. 

In late December, President Barack Obama announced the sanctions, which included the expulsion of 35 Russian intelligence operatives, in response to Russian interference in the November election designed to help Trump win.

Flynn at first denied that he had discussed the sanctions when he spoke with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. He said the conversations concerned setting up a phone call between Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin and offering condolences after the murder of a Russian diplomat in Turkey.

But following a Washington Post report ― based partially on transcripts of the conversations ― Flynn’s office revised his earlier statements, and said that he couldn’t recall whether the topic of sanctions had come up. On Monday night, the plot thickened, with The Washington Post reporting that top officials at the Department of Justice warned the Trump administration weeks ago that Flynn might have been compromised by Russian influences and The New York Times reporting that the Army had investigated whether Flynn received payments from the Russian government in 2015.

Flynn, like Trump, has advocated a closer relationship with Russia as an ally in the fight against Islamic terrorism. He appeared at an awards dinner honoring the Kremlin-sponsored RT network in 2015, at which he was seated beside Putin.

It was also reported that retired Lt. Gen. Joseph Keith Kellogg Jr. will serve as acting national security advisor until a full-time replacement is named.  Kellogg, as well as Vice Adm. Robert Harward and retired Gen. David Petraeus are the three candidates in line to succeed Flynn, according to the administration.

It appears we are having some turmoil in the White House!



Video: Bill Maher on Make America Learn Again!



Dear Commons Community,

Bill Maher said he wants just one thing this Valentine’s Day. And that’s to “Make America Learn Again.”

On Friday’s broadcast (see video above – he uses several rough words) of “Real Time,” Maher said “one of the saddest things” about the America that people now live in is that “we don’t seem to want smart people in our lives any more.”

“Smart presidents? Can’t have that. Scientists? What do they know? Newspaper editors? Liars, fake news!” he quipped.

More people now get their news from their Facebook feeds “by sharing, or as it used to be called, hearsay” than newspapers, Maher continued. Given that, he asked whether “this Valentine’s Day, can we please fall in love with knowledge again?”

Yes, let’s fall in love with knowledge again.  

And Happy Valentine’s Day!


Yale to Rename Calhoun College for Grace Hopper!

Dear Commons Community,

Yale University will change the name of its Calhoun College after protesters said the Ivy League school should drop the honor it gave to an alumnus who was a prominent advocate of U.S. slavery.  As reported in Reuters:

The college is named for John C. Calhoun, a South Carolina native who served as U.S. vice president under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. He graduated from Yale College in 1804.

Yale said it will rename Calhoun College for Grace Murray Hopper, an alumnus who received a PhD in mathematics and mathematical physics in 1934. It described Hopper, who died in 1992, as a trailblazing computer scientist and a brilliant mathematician who also served as a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy.

“The decision to change a college’s name is not one we take lightly,” Yale President Peter Salovey said in a statement about the residential college’s name that has existed for 86 years.

“Calhoun’s legacy as a white supremacist and a national leader who passionately promoted slavery as a ‘positive good’ fundamentally conflicts with Yale’s mission and values,” he added.

The Ivy League school in New Haven, Connecticut, is among several universities that have recently faced calls to dissociate themselves from symbols associated with racism.

The decision was made after a meeting with the university’s board of trustees, the university president said.

For those who worked in the early days of computer programming, Hopper was one of the great luminaries. Below is a brief bio of Hopper from my book, Online Education Policy and Practice… (Taylor & Francis, 2017).



Grace Hopper

Grace Hopper received her masters degree in mathematics in 1931 from Yale University and shortly thereafter began teaching at Vassar College. In 1934, she was the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics at Yale.  In 1943, she joined the Navy Reserve and was assigned to work with the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard University, where she learned to program the Mark I computer. As one of the lead programmers for the Mark I, she became a close colleague of Howard Aiken and assisted in the design of the Mark II and Mark III computers.   Hopper’s greatest contributions were in the field of computer programming.  She popularized the term “computer bug” and helped advance the development of computer subroutines.  The latter made computer programming far more efficient and provided for utilizing the same computer code over and over again.  She is also credited with developing the concept of the compiler which allows programs written on one machine to be easily converted to another machine.  Mechanical relays would no longer need to be rewired and instead could receive a new set of instructions via paper tape.

      After World War II, Hopper resigned from the Navy and left the academic world for private industry where she continued her pioneering work in computer programming.  She worked with J. Prescott Eckert and John Mauchly in designing new computers including Univac I and later coordinated the development of the Common Business Oriented Language (COBOL) which became the first machine-independent language and a mainstay of business applications for decades.  In 1969, she was awarded the first ever Computer Science Man-of-the-Year Award from the Data Processing Management Association. In 1973, she became the first person from the United States and the first woman of any nationality to be made a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society.


Ford to Invest $1 Billion in Artificial Intelligence!

Dear Commons Community,

Ford Motor Company announced yesterday that it plans to invest $1 billion over the next five years in Argo AI, an artificial intelligence start-up formed in December that is focused on developing autonomous vehicle technology.   The move is Ford’s biggest investment in self-driving car research. Argo AI will develop the technology exclusively for Ford at first, and then plans to license its technology to others.  As reported in the New York Times:

“The investment is a way for Ford to tap into Silicon Valley talent and make headway in a competitive space. Former Google and Uber self-driving technologists will lead the effort out of Pittsburgh, a hub for robotics and autonomous vehicle research, and satellite offices will be in place in the San Francisco Bay Area and southeastern Michigan.

Argo AI will operate as a subsidiary of Ford; the automaker will be the majority shareholder. But Argo AI will also use shares of its stock to lure robotics and engineering professionals from other companies, a challenge in a field where companies like General Motors, Chrysler, Uber and Google are all racing to bring autonomous vehicles to the mainstream.

“If we can combine the best of a start-up and marry that with proper equity compensation, then that’s the best of both worlds,” Mark Fields, president and chief executive of Ford, said at an event with reporters in San Francisco on Friday.

The move comes as Ford positions itself as not just a manufacturer of cars, but as a provider of “mobility services,” enabling people to get around without owning cars. That is especially important as companies like Uber and Lyft, ride-hailing services popular in urban areas, have reduced the need for people to have their own vehicles.

Ford sees mobility services as potentially more profitable than its traditional business of making and selling cars. Manufacturing vehicles requires billions of dollars in investments in plants and engineering — costs that are often difficult to recoup. Company executives have said mobility services could generate returns of around 20 percent, compared with the 8 percent it earns on making vehicles today.”

This is a smart decision by an old and venerable company that needs to position itself for the future in the high-tech artificial intelligence arena.



Protesters Block DeVos Visit to a Public School in Washington, D.C!

Dear Commons Community,

Dear Commons Community,

Betsy DeVos fled a small group of protesters outside a middle school in Washington D.C. yesterday at one point hiding in her sport utility vehicle as a man wielded a cardboard sign before she finally entered.

Video (see above) of the episode at Jefferson Middle School Academy from a local television station showed a handful of people heckling and following Ms. DeVos as she tried to enter the school. She turned away with a man escorting her as one demonstrator shouted, “Go back! Shame, shame.”   As reported by the New York Times:

The exchange could be the first of many such encounters as protesters and opponents of Ms. DeVos say they plan to remind her of the fierce opposition she faced throughout her nomination process and continues to face as she weighs sweeping policies, such as encouraging private school vouchers. Activists have said they would protest her at every opportunity, including during school visits.

“We will unleash our activists in a way that I don’t think any secretary of education has ever experienced,” said Heidi Hess, a campaign manager for Credo, a mobile phone company with a liberal activist arm. “If she holds field hearings, we will make sure we pack them with activists. If she travels for meetings or if she visits schools, we will confront her with protesters and have people lined up to ask her questions.”

..Ms. DeVos eventually made it into the school and later told reporters the school was “awesome.”

“It was really wonderful to visit this school, and I look forward to many visits of many great public schools, both in D.C. and around the country,” Ms. DeVos said. “Thanks very much.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C. also said that the city wants Ms. DeVos to visit its schools.”

I agree with Mayor Bowser!



New York Times Editorial on Kellyanne Conway Doing Infomercials for Ivanka Trump Merchandize!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times editorial today takes it to Kellyanne Conway and the “cartoonishly crass” way she hawked Ivanka Trump merchandize on Fox News.   Here is the editorial:

Kellyanne Conway’s White House Infomercial

By the Editorial Board

Feb. 9, 2017


In Thursday’s episode of “QVC: White House Edition,” Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser to President Trump, hawked his daughter’s fashion line on national television.

“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff, is what I would tell you,” Ms. Conway said in an interview on “Fox & Friends.” “I’m going to give a free commercial here: Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”

That’s cartoonishly crass, but perhaps not surprising, considering the example set by the president himself. On Wednesday he turned the power of his office against Nordstrom, attacking it for dropping Ivanka’s clothing line.

Ms. Conway’s remarks, made from the White House briefing room, plainly violated federal ethics regulations, which state that an employee “shall not use his public office for his own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise or for the private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity.”

“Using public office for private gain” could be the motto of this administration, which is largely disregarding laws and customs meant to assure that presidents won’t let their financial interests get in the way of leading the nation. (This president, of course, has at least one immediate issue of his own: the violation of his 60-year lease of the government-owned Old Post Office building in Washington, which bars any elected official from being the lessee.)

Ethics experts and good-government groups were quick to pounce on Ms. Conway’s impromptu infomercial, and her ethical violation was so glaring that even some Republicans in Congress took note. Her words were “wrong, wrong, wrong, clearly over the line, unacceptable,” said Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Mr. Chaffetz called for the White House to refer the matter to the Office of Government Ethics, which could recommend disciplinary actions against Ms. Conway, including suspension and loss of pay. A referral would be the right way to deal with this. (The White House said that she has been “counseled,” which sounds like something between a wink and a slap on the wrist.)

Whatever happens to Ms. Conway, the deeper concern here is over the administration’s insistence on treating the White House as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Trump Organization. If Mr. Trump truly cares more about his new job serving the American people than about serving the family empire, he knows what to do: release his tax returns and sell his businesses.”

The critical line for me in this editorial was the last:  “If Mr. Trump truly cares more about his new job serving the American people than about serving the family empire, he knows what to do…”   I don’t believe that Mr. Trump has any concern about putting his business interests ahead of the country’s interests.



Jill Carroll: Leaving the Adjunct Track!

Dear Commons Community,

Jill Carroll, a writer in Houston, had an op-ed piece in yesterday’s Chronicle of Higher Education, detailing her life as an adjunct and why she is happy she left it. Here is an excerpt:

“At the height of my adjunct “career” teaching writing, world religions, and general humanities courses, I taught up to 12 courses a year at three different institutions in the Houston area. I juggled about 400 students a year in my courses, and each student wrote three to five papers. Do the math — that’s a lot of grading.

I worked that oxymoronic full-time adjunct load for a decade — in addition to teaching a few continuing-ed courses just for kicks and extra income. In short, I taught more students and graded more papers in a decade than most of my full-time colleagues at the same university would teach in their entire careers.

For a while, I was sort of an adjunct guru. I self-published a book called How to Survive as an Adjunct Lecturer: An Entrepreneurial Strategy Manual and ended up writing a monthly advice column on The Adjunct Track for The Chronicle. I also provided coaching to other non-tenure-track instructors to help them figure out ways to work the system and squeeze as much money out of it as possible. The idea was to come as close as they could to an income that honored their knowledge and credentials — or to at least not have to wait tables on nonteaching days to make ends meet.

I did well financially. I made my mortgage every month and managed to save a little. But I shoveled my share of hate mail from people who said I was justifying an exploitative system when, really, all I was trying to do was find a way to survive (maybe even thrive for a few moments) within it.

Back then, there was talk of revolution, of course. Most of us, at least in the humanities, had read enough Marxist critical theory in grad school to envision ourselves joining in some sort of massive collective uprising to overturn academe and force it to give us full-time jobs. Many of us would have settled for having our own desks, school email accounts, phones, photocopying privileges, and maybe free access to the campus health clinic: Adjuncts of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but the rolling briefcases you pull around in lieu of an office!

It seemed clear to me then — as it does now — no such revolution would take place. The market is still glutted with fresh Ph.D.s, especially in the humanities, who will accept adjunct positions just to stay in academe and not feel like they wasted their time and money on an expensive degree. I can’t blame them. Even if a university’s contingent faculty could manage to organize enough to collectively strike — a big “if” — the campus would shut down for a week or two, but soon would find plenty of replacements to staff the vacated positions.

Also, it seems to me that in our post-2008-recession era, adjuncting is now just another example of the gig economy. Adjuncts do short-term contract work alongside Uber drivers, Taskrabbit workers, and people who sell their skills on Fiverr. Increasingly more people are freelancers in America’s late-stage capitalism. Fewer and fewer companies pay full-time salaries with the hefty benefits packages of even a decade or two ago. The country as a whole, it seems, has become more comfortable with — or at least resigned to — contingent employment models. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.”

Her conclusion:

“They were good times. They were exhausting and frustrating times, too. I’m glad they are over.  I never intend to grade another paper.”

Jill’s story is important for those of us who teach in doctoral programs designed to develop academicians.  While applications continue to be strong for Ph.D. programs, we have to be honest with our students and ourselves about career possibilities.