Excellent Address of the Problems with the Academic Field of Humanities

A friend shared this on facebook, and I wanted to share it here (and there). The author and winner of the Truman Capote Award, Kevin Birmingham, discusses the impact of adjunctification on scholarship – in his case in literature, but many of the patterns he notes occur also in biblical and theological studies.

Working at more than one school? Check. (Up to three at a time so far).

Median pay of $2,700 per course? Check. (Although Loyola Chicago does pay more and goes out of its way to create a good environment for its adjuncts, at least in theology).

Donations going to athletics rather than faculty? Not at my current schools, but as a graduate of a Big Ten school (MSU) and an SEC school (UGA), I’ve definitely seen it — Saturdays where the library was not open because they could not afford the staff to manage a flood of drunk football fans; religion classes taught in uncomfortably small, outdated classrooms while the university spends thousands repairing the grounds after tailgating. Most athletic programs lose money for the school, and even with a high profit football program like UGA or MSU, they yield a net loss when the money is distributed to other athletic programs and infrastructure. They will never want for money due to a simple restriction of flow: athletic money is athletic money, but academic money is not just academic money — it’s also athletic money when the football team (or basketball team) needs it. The counter-argument is that athletics draws in undergrads in a competitive market and alumni donations (when they are not made directly to the athletic department). I would appreciate greater transparency on this, though, and greater scholarly critique.

All of this warrants further discussion down the line, but the end result is that the current career model in the humanities depends on producing too many PhDs in the field, only training them/encouraging them into faculty positions which there won’t be enough of, then building a surplus pool of adjuncts who are cheap and who can be let go at a moment’s notice if the school needs to shift money away from the department. This is not accidental or simply the result of a bad economy (10 years ago). While I knew this going in, I’m also lucky to have other options. Few others are, and the more undergrads and grad students know about the academic field before they spend the years and money becoming qualified to work in it, the better.


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