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.



Elizabeth Warren Silenced in Senate for Reading Letter from Coretta Scott King!


Dear Commons Community,

In 1986, Coretta Scott King prepared a 10-page letter urging Congress to reject Jeff Sessions’ nomination to be a federal judge.  The letter from King to the Senate Judiciary Committee is credited in helping to block the confirmation of Sessions for the federal judgeship. 

Tuesday evening Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced while reading the same letter from Coretta Scott King on the Senate floor in opposition to Jeff Sessions’ nomination as attorney general.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell invoked Rule 19, which forbids speaking ill of other senators. Sessions was confirmed for attorney general.

A sad state of affairs!



Betsy DeVos Confirmed as Education Secretary – Now What?

Dear Commons Community,

Betsy DeVos was confirmed yesterday as Education Secretary with Vice President Pence casting the deciding vote as the 100 senators split 50-50.  Two Republicans joined 48 Democrats.   The New York Times has a scathing editorial referring to DeVos as “the perfect cabinet member for a president determined to appoint officials eager to destroy the agencies they run and weigh the fate of policies and programs based on ideological considerations”.  Ross Douhat in his column reminds his readers that the bulk of DeVos’s pro school-choice position places her only somewhat to the right of former President Obama’s and Arne Duncan’s pro-charter-school positioning, and close to centrist Democrats like Senator Cory Booker. The Chronicle of Higher Education  this morning comments that she has said very little about higher education and that she is essentially a “K-12 person”. So what are some of the possibilities.

First, we need to remember that the bulk of all education spending comes from states and localities and there can be fierce resistance on the part of the policymakers at this level to any major overhaul of the public schools. 

Second, her school choice position is directed more at inner city and religious groups than suburban and rural constituents.  Most parents in the latter traditionally strong Republican areas are fairly happy with their public schools and are reluctant to see tax dollars flow out of their districts.  As a result, the Republican Congress may slow down some of DeVos’ agenda.

Third, DeVos may end up  using her position as Education Secretary to criticize and bully public education, much like Bill Bennett did in the Ronald Reagan administration.  While there was lots of anti public education vitriol in the 1980s, there wasn’t much in the way of policy.

In sum, it was a sad day yesterday for public education but there may be some small glimmers of hope that all is not lost.




Missouri Passes Right-to-Work Legislation!


Dear Colleagues,

Yesterday, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens (R) signed a right-to-work bill that was sent to him by the state’s GOP-controlled legislature. That makes Missouri the 28th right-to-work state and the sixth state to pass such legislation since 2012.  Right-to-work laws give workers the option to stop supporting unions while still enjoying the benefits of union representation. Unions strongly oppose them because they tend to decrease membership and weaken the labor movement. 

Although they’ve been around for decades, such laws were confined mostly to the South and West until recently. They’ve become increasingly popular as Republicans have taken over state legislatures and governors’ mansions.  As reported in The Kansas City Star:

“…Gov. Eric Greitens on Monday signed legislation making Missouri the country’s 28th right-to-work state.

Hours later, organized labor struck back by filing a rarely used referendum petition seeking to freeze the law and put it before voters in 2018.

Greitens’ signature was thought to be the final step in a decades-long push by Republicans and business groups to enact a right-to-work law in Missouri. But if the law’s opponents gather enough signatures, the battle will carry on.

In right-to-work states, such as Kansas, employees in unionized workplaces can opt out of paying unions for the cost of being represented.

Proponents of right-to-work argue it will bolster Missouri’s economy by making the state more hospitable to businesses.

Unions vehemently oppose right-to-work laws, arguing that the real motivation is political: Republicans want to weaken a political nemesis by allowing some workers to benefit from the contracts labor unions negotiate without having to contribute to covering the costs of those negotiations.

By signing the bill, Greitens fulfilled one of his major campaign pledges. Labor unions spent heavily to defeat Greitens last year based largely on his promise to enact right-to-work legislation. He also mentioned the idea in his State of the State address last month, saying that “Missouri has to become a right-to-work state. 

Monday afternoon, Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis and Missouri NAACP President Rod Chapel filed a petition for referendum with the secretary of state’s office. They have until Aug. 28 — the day the right-to-work measure is scheduled to go into effect — to collect enough signatures to place the law on the ballot. If they succeed, right to work won’t take effect until Missourians get the chance to have their say in 2018.”

These are becoming increasingly difficult times for the labor movement.  There are real concerns that the U.S Congress may attempt to enact a nationwide right-to-work law 



Betsy DeVos Confirmation Set for Today:  Democrats Shy One Vote – Vow to Hold Out on Floor of Senate!

Dear Commons Community,

Democrats are shy one vote on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.  All 48 Democratic senators are expected to vote against her confirmation. Two Republican senators ― Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) ― announced that they would also oppose her pick. In the days since, constituents have flooded the phone lines of Republican senators in hopes of pushing the vote count to 51-49.    If no other Republican votes against her, Vice President Mike Pence has said, he will cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of DeVos.  As reported by various news media:

Scheduled for this [Tuesday] afternoon, Democratic senators are spending 24 hours straight speaking out against DeVos on the Senate floor. The effort is being led by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the Senate HELP committee, which deals with health, education, labor and pensions. Murray has expressed vigorous opposition to DeVos.

“Hundreds of thousands have emailed or called their Senators — jamming phone lines, swamping the voicemail system and shattering records,” Murray said on the Senate floor Monday. “Millions have engaged on social media —sharing information with their friends, signing petitions, and pressuring their elected officials. Democrats will hold the floor for the next 24 hours, until the final vote, to do everything we can to persuade just one more Republican to join us. And I strongly encourage people across the country to join us — to double down on your advocacy.”

At the same time, some teachers mounted their own, silent protest inside their classrooms. Teachers across the country sometimes wear red to school to show support for public education. But on Monday, amid the lead-up to the DeVos vote, some wore black.

It will be interesting to see how long the Democrats can hold out in the Senate but it is not looking good!



The Chronicle:  State Spending on Higher Ed Continues Upward Trend!

Dear Commons Commuunity,

Here is a short piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education commenting on the upward trend in state spending on higher education.

“For the fourth year in a row, state spending on higher education is up nationwide.

The annual “Grapevine” survey, conducted by the State Higher Education Executive Officers and the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University, shows a 3.4-percent average nationwide increase in spending over the 2016 fiscal year…

Hawaii, Idaho, South Dakota, and Virginia posted the largest growth, increasing by around 10 percent compared with their 2016 budgets. Nationwide, 39 states reported increases over the last fiscal year…Ten states reported decreases. Wyoming, Alaska, and Louisiana suffered some of the largest cutbacks, with reductions of almost 7 percent or more.

The nationwide increases in state higher-education spending over the past four years have been moderate. The current streak follows four years of declines, most notably a 7.5-percent drop in 2012.

In the five years since that sharp decline, the numbers are up 16.4 percent over all, according to the survey data.”

Good news!


Rev. Susan Russell, an Episcopal priest, Takes Down Kellyanne Conway over Bowling Green Alt-Fact!

Dear Commons Community,

Donald Trump’s special assistant, Kellyanne Conway, has been taking a lot of heat because of her twisting the truth regarding what she called “the Bowling Green massacre” that never occurred.  Here is what Conway said:

“I bet it’s brand new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized and were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. Most people don’t know that because it didn’t get covered.”

Reverend Susan Russell, an Episcopal priest, explains Conway’s problem.  Here is Russell’s comments.

“In case you missed it, Kellyanne Conway of “alternative facts” fame has been trending in both social and earned media since her statement [above] on MSNBC’s Hardball.

Of course, the reason it didn’t get covered is that it didn’t happen. And the resulting blowback has included some of the most entertaining tweets and memes in recent memory. But amusing memes isn’t the point here. Accountability is. Honesty is. Fact checking is. And our democracy is.

For the record, the actual facts Ms. Conway was conflating into alternative facts were that two Iraqi nationals were arrested in Bowling Green, Kentucky in 2011 for materially supporting Al Qaeda. Both were tried and convicted ― and the resulting investigation initiated changes in ― not a ban of ― our Iraqi refugee program. The story was covered widely ― including the ABC News story Conway herself pointed to … debunking her own claim that “it didn’t get covered.”

That was then. This is now. And what I’m responding to today are the “give her a break, it was just an honest mistake” folks. Naiveté is charming in an ingénue but dangerous in both politics and governance. And if politics and governance worked like basketball, at this point Ms. Conway would have been fouled out of the game.

On February 1,  I had the privilege of gathering with a standing room only crowd at Occidental College to hear the Reverend Dr. William Barber offer a stirring lecture/sermon/call to action on organizing for moral resistance to the tactics of fear based division we’re up against in this new reality. 

And barely 48 hours later we saw that principle in full blown operation by his special counselor conflating a small truth into a big lie in order to frighten the American people into turning on their Muslim neighbors and capitulating to executive orders that are both immoral and unconstitutional.

This is how the Trump administration rolls … and is going to keep rolling unless we stand up and speak out and keep calling foul as often as we need to.

To reinforce that point, it is worth noting that as a result of the blowback Ms. Conway uncharacteristically issued an apology ― of sorts ― and admitted the error. You can read about that in a NYT article posted earlier today.

But here’s the deal. What is at stake here is not just getting back at someone you didn’t vote for or don’t like. What is at stake here are foundational values of our democracy.

We are a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal ― and in order continue to live into that high calling we have to be clear that all facts are not created equal and there are indeed no such things as “alternative facts.”

And taking a “small truth” about the arrest of two terrorist sympathizers and conflating it into “a massacre nobody told you about” is not an honest mistake. It is a heinous breach of trust by the special counsel to the president of the United States ― a breach that cannot, should not and is not being tolerated.

So no, Ms. Conway, you do not get the benefit of the doubt on this one. Or the next one. Or the next one. Because we’re onto you. And we’re not only not ready to make nice ― we’re not going to back down.”

Rev. Russell has it right.  Conway, Trump and his spokespeople purposely conflating the facts for whatever ends is indeed a “heinous breach of trust” and dangerous for our democracy.

Well-done analysis!


For “Doctor Zhivago” Lovers:  Try “Lara…” by Anna Pasternak!

Dear Commons Community,

For those of you who have enjoyed Doctor Zhivago but do not know the story behind it, Boris Pasternak’s grandniece, Anna Pasternack, provides a new analysis of the love affair that sparked the book.  Lara:  The Untold Love Story and the Inspiration for Doctor Zhivago (Ecco/Harper Colline, 2017), draws on previously neglected family sources and original interviews, and explores the passionate relationship of her great-uncle and his lover, Olga Ivinksaya. I found it a most interesting treatment of the topic with rich detail of Boris’s life, and lots of suffering, drama, loyality, and loss.  I read Doctor Zhivago decades ago and have seen the movie many times but I have never read anything about the details of Pasternak’s actual life.  The book makes the point that Olga suffered horribly on his behalf and in return, Pasternack channeled his passion for Olga into Doctor Zhivago

The New York Times Book Review summarized Lara… as follows:

“Thirty-four-year-old Olga Ivinskaya had been widowed twice and had two children when, in 1946, she met Pasternak, 22 years her senior. Pasternak began courting her immediately. At the time, he was unhappily married to his second wife, Zinaida, whose favorite activities included chain-smoking and playing cards, and who had attracted him with her exceptional housekeeping skills. Pasternak prized domestic routine, a necessary precondition for the exercise of his genius. Olga had worshiped Pasternak’s writing since she was a teenager, and she leapt at the chance to become his lover and artistic amanuensis.

Until his death nearly 14 years later, Zinaida would be unsympathetic to Pasternak’s feeble efforts to divorce her and marry Olga. Zinaida had many incentives to stay married to Pasternak; despite his unwillingness to submit to Soviet requirements, his international fame brought substantial economic and social benefits. Olga, on the other hand, became a victim of her lover’s prestige. In 1949, unable to arrest Pasternak for his private readings of drafts of the anti-Soviet Doctor Zhivago, the secret police arrested Olga instead. She spent several years in a labor camp but returned as devoted as ever, helping Pasternak finish Doctor Zhivago  and then attempting to have it published.

When Pasternak gave the manuscript to a young Italian visitor in 1956, he condemned not only himself but also Olga and her family. Soviet authorities were enraged by the international sensation that Doctor Zhivago  caused, and by the subsequent announcement that Pasternak had won the Nobel Prize. Pasternak was ostracized and harassed. In despair, he proposed a suicide pact with Olga; she talked him out of it. Pasternak was placed under heavy pressure to emigrate. He could have taken Olga and her family with him, but he felt unable to endure such a dramatic break with his old life. Finally, he refused the Nobel Prize. As he lay dying of lung cancer in 1960, Olga was not allowed to see or speak to him. A few months later Olga was arrested again, along with her daughter. Authorities wanted to cleanse the great writer’s reputation by blaming a sinful “adventuress” for the politically embarrassing Doctor Zhivago.”

The second half of the book is filled with raw emotion and detailed descriptions of Olga’s life in a gulag ( she has a miscarriage while interned),  the harassment of the secret police, Pasternak’s death and funeral, and the subsequent imprisonment of Olga and her daughter, Irina.

Doctor Zhivago while widely popular outside of the Soviet Union, was not published there until 1988.  In 1997, I was one of several faculty doing a two-week seminar in Salzburg, Austria, for members of ministries of education staff  from around the world involved with revising college curricula to use technology to teach English as a second language.  There was one attendee who was a professor and who had taught at several universities in the Ukraine.  One evening, we were discussing our work in our home countries, and I mentioned Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago.  She had never heard of the book.  A couple of months later, she sent me an email thanking me, an American, for introducing her to it.


48 College Presidents Take Stand Against Trump’s Immigration Ban!

Dear Commons Community,

Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber and 47 other American college and university presidents sent a letter this past Thursday to President Trump urging him to “rectify or rescind the recent executive order closing our country’s borders to immigrants and others from seven majority-Muslim countries and to refugees from throughout the world.” “If left in place,” the letter says, “the order threatens both American higher education and the defining principles of our country.”

The letter was initially drafted by Eisgruber and University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann.

The text of the letter follows.



February 2, 2017

President Donald J. Trump
The White House
United States of America

Dear President Trump:

We write as presidents of leading American colleges and universities to urge you to rectify or rescind the recent executive order closing our country’s borders to immigrants and others from seven majority-Muslim countries and to refugees from throughout the world. If left in place, the order threatens both American higher education and the defining principles of our country.

The order specifically prevents talented, law-abiding students and scholars from the affected regions from reaching our campuses. American higher education has benefited tremendously from this country’s long history of embracing immigrants from around the world. Their innovations and scholarship have enhanced American learning, added to our prosperity, and enriched our culture. Many who have returned to their own countries have taken with them the values that are the lifeblood of our democracy. America’s educational, scientific, economic, and artistic leadership depends upon our continued ability to attract the extraordinary people who for many generations have come to this country in search of freedom and a better life.

This action unfairly targets seven predominantly Muslim countries in a manner inconsistent with America’s best principles and greatest traditions. We welcome outstanding Muslim students and scholars from the United States and abroad, including the many who come from the seven affected countries. Their vibrant contributions to our institutions and our country exemplify the value of the religious diversity that has been a hallmark of American freedom since this country’s founding. The American dream depends on continued fidelity to that value.

We recognize and respect the need to protect America’s security. The vetting procedures already in place are rigorous. Improvements to them should be based on evidence, calibrated to real risks, and consistent with constitutional principle.

Throughout its history America has been a land of opportunity and a beacon of freedom in the world.  It has attracted talented people to our shores and inspired people around the globe. This executive order is dimming the lamp of liberty and staining the country’s reputation. We respectfully urge you to rectify the damage done by this order.


Robert L. Barchi, President, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; Kimberly W. Benston, President, Haverford College; Joanne Berger-Sweeney, President, Trinity College; George Blumenthal, Chancellor, University of California, Santa Cruz; Lee C. Bollinger, President, Columbia University; Richard H. Brodhead, President, Duke University;

Robert A. Brown, President, Boston University; Kimberly Wright Cassidy, President, Bryn Mawr College; Ronald J. Daniels, President, Johns Hopkins University; John J. DeGioia, President, Georgetown University; Nicholas B. Dirks, Chancellor, University of California, Berkeley; Christopher L. Eisgruber, President, Princeton University;

Adam F. Falk, President, Williams College; Drew Gilpin Faust, President, Harvard University; Patrick Gallagher, Chancellor, University of Pittsburgh; Howard Gillman, Chancellor, University of California, Irvine; Amy Gutmann, President, University of Pennsylvania; Andrew Hamilton, President, New York University;

Philip J. Hanlon, President, Dartmouth College; Sam Hawgood, MBBS, Chancellor, University of California, San Francisco; Ralph J. Hexter, Interim Chancellor, University of California, Davis; Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., President, University of Notre Dame; Pradeep K. Khosla, Chancellor, University of California, San Diego; Marvin Krislov, President, Oberlin College;

David W. Leebron, President, Rice University; Ron Liebowitz, President, Brandeis University; Wallace D. Loh, President, University of Maryland, College Park; Anthony P. Monaco, President, Tufts University; David Oxtoby, President, Pomona College; Christina H. Paxson, President, Brown University;

Daniel R. Porterfield, Ph.D., President, Franklin & Marshall College; Carol Quillen, President, Davidson College; Hunter R. Rawlings III, Interim President, Cornell University; Clayton Rose, President, Bowdoin College; Peter Salovey, President, Yale University; Michael H. Schill, President, University of Oregon;

Mark Schlissel, M.D., Ph.D., President, University of Michigan; Valerie Smith, President, Swarthmore College; Barbara R. Snyder, President, Case Western Reserve University; Debora L. Spar, President, Barnard College; Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D., President, Stony Brook University; Sonya Stephens, Acting President, Mount Holyoke College;

Claire E. Sterk, President, Emory University; Marc Tessier-Lavigne, President, Stanford University; Satish K. Tripathi, President, University at Buffalo; Mark S. Wrighton, Chancellor, Washington University in St. Louis; Henry T. Yang, Chancellor, University of California, Santa Barbara; Nicholas S. Zeppos, Chancellor, Vanderbilt University.

Teachable Moment at Berkeley after Violence!

Dear Commons Community,

Wednesday night’s violence at the University of California, Berkeley, has been followed by a good deal of soul searching at the campus over the issue of free speech. As reported in the New York Times:

“Fires burned in the cradle of free speech. Furious at a lecture organized on campus, demonstrators wearing ninja-like outfits smashed windows, threw rocks at the police and stormed a building. The speech? The university called it off.

Protest has been synonymous with the University of California, Berkeley, from the earliest days of the free speech movement, when students fought to expand political expression on campus beginning in 1964. Those protests would set off student activism movements that roiled campuses across the country throughout the 1960s. Since then, countless demonstrators have flocked to Sproul Plaza each day to have their voices heard on issues from civil rights and apartheid to Israel, tuition costs and more.

But now the university is under siege for canceling a speech by the incendiary right-wing writer Milo Yiannopoulos and words like intolerance, long used by the left, are being used by critics to condemn the protests on Wednesday night that ultimately prevented Mr. Yiannopoulos from speaking.

Naweed Tahmas, a junior who is a member of the Berkeley College Republicans, the group that invited Mr. Yiannopoulos to campus, said the cancellation had made him more determined to fight for freedom of speech on campus.

“I’m tired of getting silenced, as many conservative students are,” he said. “If we support freedom of speech, we should support all speech including what they consider hate speech.”

When the event was canceled, the Republican student group reacted by writing on their Facebook page, “the Free Speech Movement is dead.”

More than 100 faculty members signed a letter opposing the visit by Mr. Yiannopoulos in recent weeks. “We support robust debate, but we cannot abide by harassment, slander, defamation, and hate speech,” they wrote.

On Thursday, heated arguments broke out at Sproul Plaza between students who said Mr. Yiannopoulos — a provocateur editor at Breitbart News who is known for his attacks on political correctness and offensive, racially-charged writing — was too inflammatory to be invited to campus and those who argued that he should have been allowed to speak.

The university made it clear they believed the people who resorted to violence on Wednesday night — a group, clad in black clothing and carrying sticks — had come from outside the campus. The university estimated on Thursday that the rioting had caused around $100,000 in damage.

Whatever the origins of the violent mob, the university was and remains divided over the meaning of free speech at a time of national political tumult.

“I think we need to have a serious conversation about protests. This is going to be a big part of our lives for the next four years,” said Kirsten Pickering, a graduate student at the university. She and others described the violence as a “potential teachable moment.”

The tensions in the country have surely been ratcheted up during the past year with the violence and incendiary language heard during the presidential election and recent positions taken by President Trump.  However, I come down on the side of free speech and that all views should be heard – left, right, and in between.