Academic Dead End

I’m going to preface this post by saying that I enjoy my job and know that I am helping a lot of people (they tell me this pretty regularly). That said, everything else below is also true.

It seems strange to call a position in collegiate level education “a dead end job”. Culturally, we’re primed to think “dead end job” refers to food service, retail, etc., not positions that require a Masters degree. However, after a great deal of thought, I think the label is appropriate. After all, I’ve spent nine years in just such a position, with the same employer (for certain external reasons, plus assurances were made by said employer and never followed through), at a near poverty annual income. Frankly, people who have six or more years of post-secondary education cannot live on a pittance, really no one can at least not well.

So, why is this a dead end position?

In nine years, there has been no chance of promotion. There has been no opportunity for transitioning to full time (despite assurances of regular internal hiring, which hasn’t happened). There has been no raise, so someone with 10+ years makes the same hourly as the person hired yesterday. In fact, we’ve had a mandatory 20% pay cut, “to cut costs”, while the school created and hired new, six figure salary VPs.  There’s no incentive to do well, as pay remains the same and there’s a cap in hours that apply the same for the best and the worst.

I say all this not to complain, as such.

Rather, I say it to inform people about the model that’s been more or less standardized across higher ed for the last 40 or so years, at least in the U.S., though I hear it’s catching on in Canada & Europe too.

This is an unsustainable model for higher education. Colleges & universities cannot continue to rely on hourly positions, single semester contract positions, low annual pay positions that require a Masters degree and prefer doctorates. In the end, this practice harms undergraduate education, graduate teaching assistants, and doctoral graduates all; not to mention the fact that it shifts full time faculty more and more to administrative duties (shrinking pool of full timers to draw from) rather than teaching and conducting research.

4 comments on “Academic Dead End

  1. Calmgrove says:

    You’ve highlighted aspects of this before, I believe, and although I’ve ‘liked’ this post I don’t like this systemic and cynical abuse, constantly undervaluing dedicated educationalists. This parallels similar developments in parts of Britain but is depressing wherever it happens. It reminds me so much of that image of the individual sitting on a branch they’re actually sawing.


    • I’ve discussed briefly, but we’re gearing up for the new semester (technically started last week, but Writing Center opens tomorrow), and I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Particularly since I’ve been tracking my number of job applications versus interviews ratio, which is depressing.


  2. Lizzie Ross says:

    I’m about to retire from a full-time academic position, and I know that my college will not replace me with another full-time professor, for two reasons: my program is small, but more importantly, adjunct (“contingency”) faculty are less expensive than are full-time faculty. I can at least say that adjunct faculty at my college are represented by our union and are guaranteed benefits like job security and health/dental insurance, as well as employer contributions to retirement funds. I agree with what you wrote above: the current model is flawed in so many ways, and barely resembles the academic world I entered 40 years ago.


    • Most of the adjuncts in my state aren’t union, sadly. Our governor tried, a few years ago, to introduce legislation that would effectively prevent public employee unions. Voters weren’t happy and brought it to the ballot where it was trounced. Up until the mandatory pay cut, my current position was considered faculty, but they reclassified us as staff (learning support staff) to get around pay & benefits issues.

      Liked by 1 person

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