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Organizing the Academic Underclass President's Corner Academic Job Search Archives


September 2001

Volume III, Number 1

The Profession 
Organizing the Academic Underclass:The Experience at Indiana State University in National Perspective

by Richard Schneirov

Trevor Leffler, who has a master’s in Fine Arts from Indiana State University, is currently employed at three different universities and is responsible for the equivalent of seven classes each semester.ISU pays him $1,800 per class; Ivy Tech (a community college) pays him $1,000 per class; while Vincennes University pays $1,500 per class.With his round-robin schedule he puts 500 miles per week on his car.Leffler reports. “I am working most every waking hour on some aspect of my jobs with almost no time for personal or professional pursuits outside of teaching, which will eventually limit me in obtaining full-time employment as I have little to no time to create art and seek exhibition opportunities, grants, etc.”When he told one regular faculty member how many courses he was teaching, Leffler was told that he must be making “more money than the President of Indiana State University.”

Marty Mertens was a microbiologist for 15 years in the private sector before she fell in love with the humanities.In 1992 she received a master’s degree from ISU.Even before she finished her degree she began work as an adjunct faculty member.For the last ten years she has taught on campus and in the university’s prison program, including the Terre Haute Federal Penitentiary.Though she enjoys teaching in the prison program because the inmates are so eager to learn, like other adjuncts in that program she is also very dissatisfied.Prison teaching is dangerous (teachers are told that if taken hostage neither they nor the prisoner will get out alive); isolating (they have little or no contact with other instructors or even their department chairs); and frustrating (they are paid less for prison courses than for on-campus courses).Early in her career, after Mertens complained that her students had no books after half the semester was over, she was let go from the prison program for two years and was rehired only when a new director was appointed.For the past ten years Mertens has averaged four courses per semester but is still paid by the course and hired on a semester-by-semester basis.She would have liked to devote her life to teaching but low pay forced her and her husband to develop a greenhouse business, which supplies 80 percent of her yearly income.

Ralph Leck earned a doctorate in European history from the University of California at Irvine and came with his wife to Indiana State when she was hired on a tenure track line in the Foreign Language Department.For two years Leck taught three courses per semester—a normal load for full-time faculty—at a yearly salary of $14,500; then he was upgraded to a full-time contract at four courses per semester at roughly $18,500.His income supplied a small but crucial part of what was required to help support his wife and nine-year-old son.But in 2000, after more than four consecutive years of service, better than adequate teaching evaluations, and a manuscript accepted for publication, he fell afoul of the department chair and was let go without being given a reason.Leck did not receive notice of non-reappointment—even though the decision was made in early February—until mid-June, a violation of AAUP (American Association of University Professors) policy; but the university rebuffed national AAUP efforts to intervene on his behalf.Leck eventually found a job with National University in San Diego, where he now lives and works apart from his family.

In the past 25 years the percentage of faculty employed off the tenure track in two- and four-year institutions of higher education in the United States has exploded.In 1975, 43 percent of all faculty were either part-time or full-time temporary employees; that percentage rose to 57 percent in 1993; today approximately 61 percent of American faculty are off the tenure track.The percentage of part-timers is highest in the community colleges, where approximately two-thirds of all employees are part-time.It is lowest in research universities where graduate students normally take on the positions filled elsewhere by part-timers.The proportions of non-tenure track faculty also vary by discipline.They are lowest in the physical, medical, and social sciences and in engineering, while they outnumber their tenure track and tenured colleagues in the humanities, business, education and the fine arts ....

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The President's Corner

by George Huppert 

In my last column, I found it useful to peer over the shoulder of a New York Times reporter covering the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.In this way I was able to touch briefly upon a distressingly banal topic, namely the high jinks some of our academic colleagues engage in when they play at revolution.

Such gesturing is cause for amusement, but it is also cause for concern, because it turns conferences, committee meetings, journals, and classrooms into ideological battlegrounds, usually of a truly silly sort.Such practices have spread to other continents; they travel from one discipline to another, so that debates over the literary canon, already half forgotten in California resurface in South Africa, where a committee composed of (white) high school teachers decided to recommend the exclusion of Shakespeare’s Hamlet from the curriculum (too eurocentric).

It is probably true that American academics occupy pride of place in the contest for the most ferocious expressions of ideological bias in the western world.This distinction has been duly noted for some years now in serious critical publications such as the Times Literary Supplement and the New York Review of Books.More recently, the disturbing facts about academic politics in the United Sates are actually being discussed in textbooks written for beginners ....

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Student Affairs
The Academic Job Search:Another Path
by John Coats

In the May 2001 issue of Historically Speaking, Paul Hatley provided some excellent advice to graduate students and recent PhDs who wish to find a job in academia.He warned of the difficulties of the job search, emphasized the importance of demonstrating scholarly vigor, supplied useful hints on writing a meaningful cover letter, and suggested means to succeed in the interview process. Hatley stated, quite correctly, that a handful of schools supply most successful candidates for academic research institutions.Given this fact, many job seekers will appreciate the opportunity to apply to schools that value excellent teaching over extensive publication.In applying to teaching institutions, a somewhat different set of suggestions will help land an interview and win a job.

First and foremost, recognize that your research interests may be a secondary concern to a search committee.When a committee from a teaching institution places an advertisement that states they prefer teaching experience, they mean it.Three paper presentations and a published article may display your scholarly interests, but research does not demonstrate your ability to communicate the ideas, currents, and life of the historical world to students ....

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The Profession
Archives:A Second Look at History Careers
by Rae Sikula

Asked—too frequently—about career plans, most graduate students respond simply “teach” and then make some hopeful remark about the job market.My colleagues at Loyola take a slightly different perspective: while many do apply for faculty positions, the majority pursue or at least consider employment in museums, archives, government agencies, or even documentary film-making.While some of us choose these careers for practical reasons, feeling that public history offers the best chance of employment in a glutted field, others show genuine commitment to their work and look forward to sharing their interpretations with non-academics.Refreshingly, I find that few speak of these career alternatives as a threat to their status as “historians.”In the absence of tenure-track opportunities, this open attitude shows a willingness to redefine reputable work through serious, graduate-level interest in previously discounted areas.In addition, it may increase academic support for fields that play important roles in scholarship and education, but are left too often without the moral and financial backing needed to serve scholars well.

Certainly archives—my minor field—merits greater support.Increasingly archivists not only preserve the historical record, but also shape it, drawing upon their history education as well as their common sense.While their initiative often discovers important primary sources, they even more frequently decide which sources or source portions merit destruction or preservation—decisions that impact the possibilities of scholarship.If a historian is one who “interprets the past,” then today’s archivists at least approximate the definition by selectively documenting the past.

Still, how could the job be so difficult?Most graduate students would urge the archivist to “keep it all, just in case”—and yes, most archivists really would like to retain those crucial though bulky files in their entirety.Space, however, is a limiting factor.To maximize the capacity of repositories, archivists appraise each collection that arrives and decide whether to accept it, redirect it, or destroy it in whole or in part.Understaffed, they must choose quickly and without examining the records in great detail; overwhelmed, they occasionally resort to sampling techniques—saving, for instance, one set of agricultural data for every ten years.The proliferation of records in the past two decades ensures that, without broad expansions in funding, this appraisal process will grow ever more intense as records overwhelm repositories’ available space and the attention of their staffs.With space and money falling short, archivists must make value judgments that guide as well as preserve the historical record ....

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