A fine hoax of attitudes towards adjuncts in the Chronicle

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERACongratulations to the Chronicle of Higher Education for running a very convincing hoax. They recently published a “letter to the editor”, entitled “Is That Whining Adjunct Someone We Want Teaching Our Young?” It’s a terrific attempt to mimic the attitude of academics who deeply, thoroughly disdain adjuncts.

The spoof has many fine qualities:

  • Intergenerational attitude.  The “author” cites her many years of experience and implicit age (“I have had full-time employment with benefits both inside and outside working in academia for over 30 years”), in order to set up an unfavorable contrast with younger adjuncts (“we do live in a new world where every child is special”, “society has raised a bunch of entitled young adults who claim to be victimized”, “our new generation of graduates”).  Adjuncts’ youth matters a great deal here, since it lets the author speak from greater experience, wisdom, and hierarchical position. Intergenerational conflict within academia hasn’t broken out into the open yet, so this “letter” does a fine job of unearthing it.
  • Total lack of historical, social, and political context.  There isn’t any sense of the recent and drastic decline in tenure-track positions, and the massive increase of adjunct hires. The author doesn’t mention research institutions’ persistent overproduction of new PhDs into a terrible market. Instead the writer reduces the adjunct issue to personal stories, or exalts it to a cosmic level: “Perhaps the position is filled, or the tumblers in the universe just didn’t fall into the right place for you.”  “Sometimes we fail to achieve happiness no matter what our line of work or income is.”
  • Personal attack.  Adjuncts are adjuncts because they are terrible academics:  “maybe you aren’t aware that you are annoying your colleagues with your opinions about everything, at every meeting, and at every event.
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    Perhaps your full-time colleagues wouldn’t select you for full-time work because you are not likable.

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    Perhaps you have a reputation for mediocrity, or you don’t fully engage your students.”

  • A fierce tone of condescension (“Now our adjunct professors are spinning such garbage with such drama”).  I’m reminded of the pedagogy of intimidation, best known in pop culture through The Paper Chase‘s Professor Kingsfield.
  • Dismissal of possible mental illness (“Do we want the person who was not able to be self-sufficient, pay their electric bill, or put food on their table… [to be] teaching our young?”).
  • Brilliant irony.  Note the way the letter describes adjuncts advising undergraduates and how it resembles tenured faculty advising rising graduate students: “Would you advise your own students to work part time with no benefits when there are plenty of full-time opportunities in this world just waiting for them?”
  • Criticizing adjunct voices.  We can’t tell if the title, “Is That Whining Adjunct Someone We Want Teaching Our Young?
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    “, came from the author.  But this bit did: “Don’t spend a lifetime sacrificing for something and then complain about it.”  Adjunct criticism and self-reflection collapses totally into the whining of foolish, young, unjustly entitled people.

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Plus there’s a quiet accusation of laziness leveled against these young adjuncts, as in “they may not land their dream job, but that they still have to work” or “No wonder our new generation of graduates is filled with pipe dreams and no work ethic.”  I haven’t heard much of this particular sentiment, so I’m grateful to the author for adding to our picture of attitudes towards part-time untenured faculty, who often work at multiple institutions during the same semester.

What a splendid hoax!  Clearly nobody would really be willing to put their own name behind such an opinion in public.  Well done, Chronicle.  Congratulations to the creative mind(s) behind the very convincing spoof of “Whining”.

(link via Rebecca Schuman on Twitter; photo by erokism)

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20 Responses to A fine hoax of attitudes towards adjuncts in the Chronicle

  1. VanessaVaile says:

    I shared it on Facebook ~ where it is now making the round of adjunct groups there.

  2. VanessaVaile says:

    Reblogged this on As the Adjunctiverse Turns and commented:
    Bryan Alexander responds to Chronicle clickbait with all the gravitas it merits

  3. Kat Skills says:

    Thanks for your rebuttal to the Chronicle’s verbose trash attacking the character of adjunct instructors. What arguably bothers me the most is her insistence to pass judgement on something (adjunct complaining) that unequivocally does not affect her beyond having to get a flyer in her mail box, or hear about Margaret Mary Vojtko. While I concur that it is likely this person is a shill (because no one could possibly be so misguided and smug), I do think she is being used as a red herring. How can one person so completely compact all adjunct fallacies into one narrative? It’s almost templated. Being that there has only been a 23% increase in tenure track positions over the past 40 years and a 286% increase in contingent part-time faculty, I’d like to hear her sound reasoning for supporting a system that by her logic will propagate teachers that somehow don’t cut it and fall short of her self-assessed standard of excellence.

    • Well said, Kat.
      I don’t believe the letter-writer thinks in terms of systems. Her argument is based entirely on individuals interacting with the universe without mediation by institutions or structures.

  4. Reblogged this on PrecariLeaks and commented:
    And here I was thinking that someone could actually be that stupid. Faith in humanity restored!

  5. Yes, Bryan: thank you for such a great piece. This takedown of the piece is outstanding.

    The *only* justification I’d give for such a wrong-headed, abhorrent piece is that Stukel was seemingly writing a letter to the editor, not–I hope–a researched, solicited, and/or vetted article. Regardless of whether the medium is print, web, or both, we’ll always have awful letters to the editor.

    This is not to let CHE off the hook for running such obvious clickbait, of course. The editors knew the reactions and hits the site would get by running such an Ann Coulter-like piece. Has anyone contacted CHE’s editors to ensure that this was simply another short-sighted, reactionary letter to the editor one sees all the time in media?

    Perhaps Stukel just wanted some attention or to poke fun at us for the benefit of “our young.” She got all the attention she deserved from those of us who know the truth.

  6. Reblogged this on The Consulting Editor and commented:
    A very smart & apt takedown of what we hope was a hoax perpetrated by the Chronicle.

  7. ellenandjim says:

    I did not realize it was a hoax. It’s too shameless probably to have been real or published.

  8. Thank you, Bryan, for undermining ignorance with wit and clarity. I was enjoying a day at the Oregon Coast with my family when I was directed to the dreck via Fb. In contrast, as we walked through the Passages of the Deep “Open Sea” exhibit, five species of shark, huge bat rays and great schools of anchovy and mackerel swam together harmoniously.

  9. jrhoskins says:

    Reblogged this on The Adjunct Crisis and commented:
    One thing I like about Bryan Alexander’s brilliant response to the pseudo-academic Catherine Stukel’s hackneyed screed, besides his simultaneous indictment of the judgment of the Chronicle’s editors, is that it doesn’t have spelling errors.

    • A few English degrees help. As does spell-check.
      Did you read further, down in the comments? The letter-writer engages seriously with her critics.

      • jrhoskins says:

        I did read into the comments. That’s where I noticed her repeated misspelling of “definitely” as “definately” and the use of “wreak” for “reek.” In the informal venue of online commentary, I am generally accepting of typos and the like, but in this case, given Stukel’s denunciation of fellow academics, I am less forgiving. And I have a hard time taking her seriously. Interestingly, it seems she has softened her position somewhat. Thanks again for your post. I enjoyed it.

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