Congratulations 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. Perhaps your full-time colleagues wouldn’t select you for full-time work because you are not likable. 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?”, 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.
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”.