Finding Time for Professionalization, or, Grading Less Isn’t Caring Less

One of the things that jumps out from our two surveys on the life of adjuncts and life after adjuncting is that most respondents who currently serve as adjuncts only spend 1-5 hours each week on their own professionalization (which we define like this: ‘publications, conference papers, etc.; i.e. things that ostensibly count towards tenure’ outside of teaching). This is surprising because the majority of respondents also claim to only be teaching two courses per term and spending 40 or fewer hours in all teaching-related activities (with most people responding in the 30-40 range, and some reporting as high as 60 hours each week). Which leads me to this question: What are people doing with their time?

Some people are clearly spending a lot of time caring for dependents – a fair number of respondents reported serving as primary caregiver for their children – and a number of current adjuncts reported working other, non-academic jobs (yes, people with PhDs do seem to wait tables). Here’s one example that I find particularly staggering:

I get up with three kids, get them dressed/fed/ready for school. Drive them to school. Drive to my workplace. Teach two classes on MW and three classes on TTH. I hold office hours between classes on TTH. I pick up my kids around 4:15 PM (later on Wednesdays). I am with my kids from 4:15-9:30PM. Then I prep for classes and grade until midnight-2:00 AM. If I get a lot of grading done on the weekend, I can go to bed earlier during the week. :)

But this doesn’t capture everyone, and, in fact, it doesn’t seem to capture most respondents. It seems like people are consistently underreporting the amount of time they spend working – either that, or most people are really committed to working a 40-hour work week. For most people, this is what should be the goal for adjuncting job – a policy of ‘minimal effort’:

I prep a lecture (recycled usually), do the reading, and teach the class. I have a new policy of minimal effort for anything adjunct related, so it doesn’t take long.

I have a couple theories on the under-reporting. One is that people systematically under-count the amount of time they are doing things related to work, but not work itself – e.g. sending work-related emails – that add up to significant amounts of time. Alongside this, we also under-count the amount of time we spend doing certain things, like course preparation, grading, reading and writing.

But that might fly in the face of the numbers we’ve collected so far. If people are only teaching two classes per term, and they’re spending 40 hours doing that, they’re spending way too much time teaching. Part of this may be that people are teaching new courses each term, in which case they’re constantly put into the position of developing new course content. Even if that’s the case, 20 hours per class per week if an awful lot of time to spend prepping, teaching and grading, especially when students are unlikely to spend anywhere near that amount of time working on course content.

The usual rule is that students should spend two to three hours prepping for class (depending on your institution) per hour of contact time. So for most students who are enrolled in full time course work, they end up working the equivalent of a 40-hour work week. If they’re spending that much time prepping, and the content is something we know, we shouldn’t be spending more time than they are. My general rule for a new prep (which usually means developing a powerpoint slideshow and rereading most of the readings) is two hours per day; after I’ve taught a class two or three times, I just make sure that I go through the slides prior to lecture so there aren’t any surprises.

One of the downsides of many adjuncting positions is that your courses are selected for you, rather than you selecting your own courses; or, as in the case of a close friend, your adjuncting position is dependent upon your willingness to teach a course well outside of your expertise (she works in Europe and was asked to teach on Native North America). In the first case, one of the things I’ve learned over the past few years is that every course is largely interchangeable. You might tweak the content a bit, but if your specialty is medical anthropology and you’re handed a course on kinship, just purge everything that isn’t in some tangential way about kinship from the Intro to Medical Anthropology syllabus and repopulate it with stuff you already know. Which is basically to say that you should always be teaching to your strengths, and that the need to master a new body of literature for one class is unreasonable and unlikely. More importantly, if something is wildly out of your wheelhouse, you have two options: 1) just say no – another adjuncting job will come along, and preparing for a class you have no expertise in and don’t plan to do again is a colossal waste of time, or 2) develop a new expertise – if the job offer could turn into a steady gig, it might be worth investing the time in developing a course that meets the institution’s need as well as your own. But, ultimately, you have to judge between those two positions.

The bigger time sink that has almost no potential for a positive payback is grading. (I have never heard a student say anything like ‘I want to thank you for the way you graded my paper – it really changed my life!’). Do you use take home essays, in class short answer or scantron tests, or something else entirely? I’m watching many of my adjuncting friends on Facebook complain about the hundred+ essays they currently have to grade, and I can’t believe that’s a good use of anyone’s time. For some reason cultural anthropologists want to assign papers all the time, but do students learn any more from writing a paper than taking a well-written exam? I would say no, and that the only thing that keeps us focused on papers is our individual resistance to tests. And if we’re grading papers as if we’re grading tests – looking for key concepts and definitions – why not just assign a test?

One of my best educational experiences was as a grad student in a class where we had to take in-class exams. They were so well written that they forced students to synthesize their thinking in the context of taking the test. And they probably took about 10 minutes each to grade – at the most – and more likely 5. A good test can do that in ways that papers should do, but often don’t. Because students wait until the last 24 hours to write anything, because they don’t revise what they write, and because they have multiple time pressures (like ‘as soon as this paper is done, I’m on vacation’), papers rarely get the attention from students that they deserve. And then faculty are in the position of having to attend to them, and attend to them carefully. The only place students should be writing papers are in upper division classes, where the student to teacher ratio is more conducive to supporting everyone’s full attention and students know enough to write a sensible paper that helps further their learning. So, with that in mind, try writing in-class exams for your next class – a little time spent writing a good exam can save tons of time on the backend.

If you insist on papers, develop a grading rubric. For my large, upper division lecture courses, which have teaching assistants as graders, I have students do two take home essays that are no more than three pages apiece (short writing forces students to either really consider what they’re writing or just fail the assignment); in both cases, I provide my TAs with rubrics that outline the expectations of the assignment. At first, the rubrics take a little getting used to, but eventually TAs report that grading papers gets down to 5 minutes or so, which is perfect. They don’t need to provide robust commentary – studies show that students don’t read most of it anyway – but students who want to talk about their papers can come to office hours. And if rubrics also include a list of possible grammatical and syntactic errors, you can identify problem areas for students while you grade. And rubrics also help to standardize what can often appear to be a rather subjective looking process for students – since I’ve started using rubrics in all my classes, my complaints related to grades have plummeted to maybe one per test.

This is primarily to say that in any teaching position – adjuncting, tenure track, or post tenure, it’s vital that you find ways to preserve your time while maximizing the educational experience for your students. Within limits. Especially in adjuncting positions, minimizing the amount of time you spend prepping for class and grading is necessary to be able to tend to your own work — five hours each week is not enough to break the adjuncting cycle. In the end, it’s not going to be that you’re willing to teach a course on Native North America that will get you a job – it’s your record of publications in your area of specialty.

30 thoughts on “Finding Time for Professionalization, or, Grading Less Isn’t Caring Less

  1. Matthew: I have lots of thoughts in response to your post here which raises important issues.

    1) Writing is thinking, and thinking is writing, at least for me. This is something that I try to pass on to my students, even tnough it creates more work for me. I’m not convinced multiple choice tests are a substitute examinations, except perhaps as a quick check for student activity. I’m impressed that the higher up you go in the academic pecking order, the more students are asked to write (e.g. at small liberal arts colleges with class sizes under 20). How do we ever expect our students to get good at thinking if we don’t ask them to think and reason?

    2) State universities are upping class sizes, which means that I lower my writing requirements. This is the fault of the university and the State of California, not me. Adjuncts in particular should not volunteer to pick up the slack with the State of California shafts the students. Yet, of course, I see many conscientious professors (temps and permanent) doing this.

    3) I have some questions about how much of our job should be to make sure that the students work, which is what assignments are all about, or in the words of our management gurus, “time on task.” Time on task though is a poor proxy for learning, thinking, of any of the other rather vague function a university takes on. I am currently teaching in Germany where the faculty are not expected to count how many assignments the student do, and in fact to do so is considered “kindergarten.” But then they have another culture of learning and education than is found in the US.

    Anyway, these thoughts are already disconnected, and I could go on much longer. But thanks for raising important issues.

  2. Thanks for this series of posts about professionalization, Matthew. I am looking forward to the rest. Since I am going to be one of the masses of new grads out there looking for a job soon, these kinds of questions are on my mind all the time.

    I think you provide a lot of good advice in this one about time management and navigating some of the hurdles that adjuncts (and even grad students) face when trying to weave their way through the system.

    A couple of responses:

    “The only place students should be writing papers are in upper division classes, where the student to teacher ratio is more conducive to supporting everyone’s full attention and students know enough to write a sensible paper that helps further their learning.”

    I disagree pretty strongly with the idea that students should only be writing in upper division classes. I think that writing early and often is crucial. Especially since I have taught seniors whose writing was clearly not developed in their first 2-3 years (and this usually meant that I had to do extra lectures about the writing process, mechanics, etc). I’d rank writing as one of the most important skills that students get from college, something that can definitely be useful the day they graduate. If students wait to start writing until they are in upper division classes, then that will just mean that teachers are going to have to work on these skills at a later stage. And it also means they get a later start on building up an important skill that definitely takes time.

    But, as far as I can tell, your argument isn’t really that writing early isn’t a good thing, but that teachers just don’t have time for it at those early stages (especially adjuncts). And I know this is definitely a reality. That’s the big issue here. I know adjuncts are facing serious dilemmas, and they have to make a decision between teaching and finding the time to do the necessary things to move up the ranks. This brings up some of the serious tensions that arise between professionalization on the one hand, and the role of teaching on the other. I think it puts a lot of adjuncts in a pretty bad position, especially if they really value teaching.

    “In the end, it’s not going to be that you’re willing to teach a course on Native North America that will get you a job – it’s your record of publications in your area of specialty.”

    That’s true–at least that’s basically what I get told all the time. I just think it’s ironic that we have to strategically devote less time to teaching (so we can publish), in order to get a permanent job teaching. Don’t get me wrong–I think publishing matters. But I think certain things are a little out of alignment in our evaluation process when publishing carries so much weight. It’s a sort of catch-22 that traps a lot of people, and I wonder how I am going to handle it myself.

  3. A good writing class requires a lot of feedback from the instructor to the student, and as Ryan writes, should be throughout the college career if anything is to be developed. Class size needs to be under twenty for the type of feedback needed to occur. This is what happens at the rich kids’ schools (i.e. the small private liberal arts colleges), and what the research on writing says is effective.

    When the Dean/Provost etc. start pushing class sizes higher for “budgetary reasons” quality is being sacrificed by the Dean/Provost. It should not be the responsibility of the faculty member to make of for the lack of funding. But often this indeed is what happens.

    @Ryan and Matthew:
    “In the end, it’s not going to be that you’re willing to teach a course on Native North America that will get you a job – it’s your record of publications in your area of specialty.”
    I think this is only partly true for and then only at the Research I. At teaching schools, taking on on your own class and getting good student reviews is more important than one more publication for a t-t position. (On the other hand eight different classes is not necessary, and the publication would help more).

  4. @Tony:

    “I think this is only partly true for and then only at the Research I.”

    That’s good to keep in mind. Thanks for adding this.

  5. Just a few quick points:
    1. You didn’t mention time invested in second jobs. For teaching two courses, my 4-year college pays me $756 a month, not even enough to pay off my student loans, much less pay for gas and groceries. If other adjuncts are getting supported by rich spouses, friends, or parents, I’m sure they’re investing their time into those relationships.

    2. Writing assignments aren’t just about teaching students to write, they’re also the primary way to get full and detailed feedback from students. If a students gets a multiple choice answer wrong, there’s no telling why, but an essay or response paper will tell you everything about the big gaps in their knowledge, or the big assumptions they’re making or not making. If you’re just relying on that one shameless student to ask a question in class, or just forcing your students to write to a rubric, you’re not really paying attention to them.

    3. In terms of the public face of anthropology, undergrad teaching is where it really matters. All those research articles behind pay walls or at expensive conferences are never going to be read by more than a handful of academics, but every undergrad you teach is going to spend the rest of their lives telling people exactly what they thought about their Anthropology class. Now imagine you’re teaching a human evolution course to a bunch of education majors in the Bible belt. Should you really just phone it in all semester?

  6. Sure teaching students to write and think is important, but is the best way to do this through the traditional college essay format? I can’t think of a single instance outside of college when your average individual will need to have the skill of essay writing. One of my current experiments is have students write blog posts (~500 words) and comments. This has many of the same benefits of essay writing, provides practice in a skill that has the potential to be more useful in the workplace, AND is easier to grade.

  7. I’ve tried blogging, too, and if it is keep the overall word count down, it can be easier to grade, and students tend to be aware that their fellow students are also potentially reading. This helps with the grading load a bit, but it is still not the same as multiple choice tests graded by Scantron.

    I get your point that the traditional Subject-Body-Conclusion is not widely used outside the university. But it is indeed, a good way to discipline the mind, and I think (hope) leads to a habitus that applies to better thinking habits in general. Hope springs eternal….

  8. @Matt and Tony
    I’m curious if your use of blogging and commenting is done in tandem with a live lecture or is strictly an online course. If done in tandem with a live lecture, I’d be curious how you feel about the results, particularly with regard to the structure of the writing and whether students think through their comments before posting.

    My experience with blogging and commenting with an online course has been that many students already have experience with blogging and commenting from outside of class and, whether they intend to do so or not, it definitely influences the form of their writing for class (which results in a very non-essay like structure). Moreover, I’ve found that commenting is done quickly and without putting much effort into thinking through their arguments. On some extremely controversial topics this can even become uncontrollably abusive. For instance, a topic on family, included a reading from Nancy Scheper-Hughes Death without Weeping which was instantly accused of being a pro-choice propaganda piece and that any of the students who wrote a favorable review of the article were baby-killers and going to hell. People are certainly entitled to their opinion, but the problem is that the abusive nature of the post shut down the discussion and the usefulness of that section as a way to learn about the ways people outside of the U.S. cope with conflict (in this case in the context of raising a family), which was the point of the course.

    Now I’ve taught this exact same class live as well, and do not remember anyone being abusive in class. I’ve always felt that face-to-face interaction prevents people from taking things to far. I figure it’s related to some kind of Goffman-esque social performance. But perhaps your experiences are different. One other thing I noticed though is that live classes are generally dominated by a handful of students, while online discussions tend to include a bit more discussion from a wide range of students.

    Still, my overall take away from the experience was that blogging and commenting was an even less useful skill to be teaching to students 1) because they already have internalized their own understanding of how it should be done and I’m not sure we’ll be able to change that in a class (live or online) setting and 2) because I can’t really think of any job that would consider that to be a useful skill that they would want well developed in their employee…perhaps I’m just not familiar enough with the current job market but it seems like essay writing is still a pretty important skill for some service sector jobs (NGOs, marketing, journalism, etc.) and most government jobs.

  9. Thanks for the responses so far. Here are a few responses to the responses:

    @Tony:

    1) I agree that writing can help students work through ideas. But I would rather not read that kind of writing. So, for all of my classes, I have reading questions prepared for students to answer each week, each of which requires a paragraph by way of answer. The questions help direct their attention to the text at hand (and relations between texts), and it also gives the students practice writing (and thinking through writing). But I don’t grade it — it’s purely an effort-based grade, meaning that if they turn it in, they get credit for it. In my experience, not being graded on these assignments gives students the latitude to really experiment with their thought. And when tests roll around, they’ve already done some writing-as-thinking.

    2) I totally agree that we shouldn’t be picking up the slack for shortfalls in state budgets — and that goes doubly for adjuncts. If students aren’t coming out of high school with basic writing competencies, it’s not up to us in the social sciences to instill them with those skills — it’s up to our colleagues who teach composition courses. We should only be focusing on writing when it’s disciplinary writing. Only when we have a generation of students emerge from public schools and universities with minimal writing competencies will we be able to make the case that more funds need to be spent at stages earlier than college and university. Students should be competent writers by the time they get to university so that we can focus on honing particular writing skills.

    3) I have a colleague in Applied Math & Statistics at UCSC who told me that he hasn’t graded anything in his entire teaching career — it’s all scantron tests. Yes, the social sciences don’t have that luxury, but it keyed me in to the reality that many of our colleagues (who are generally better paid) spend less or no time grading, and that grading is not something we get compensated for or evaluated on. Teaching yes, grading no. And our colleagues across the Atlantic live in the same basic reality — less grading, more ‘tutoring.’ It’s worth thinking about how this impacts publication, tenure and promotion…

    @Ryan:

    1) I totally agree — in a perfect world, there would be support for writing throughout the university curriculum. And, like I mention above, I’m not against writing at lower levels, but rather I don’t think that we need to grade writing at lower levels — exams (and I’m not saying scantrons, but written exams) are a better way to assess students and to spend out time and teachers.

    2) Although being a decent teacher is important, for most professorial positions teaching is really secondary to research and publications. It’s a weird situation in that what makes a happy undergraduate is often a good teacher; but when gets students to come to your program rather than another one is the research profiles of the faculty in the department. As I’ll talk about in future posts, teaching experience is definitely important, but a little bit of teaching experience can go a long way. What you can’t get away with is little or no publications — and you definitely won’t get tenure without publications. But you can get tenure without being a great teacher…

    @JE:

    1) I’ll talk more about pay in a future post, but you’re right: a lot of people spend 20 or more hours each week working at a part or full time job while also adjuncting. The critical thing is really weighing the costs and benefits of any position: what hourly rate are you really earning if you’re sending 20 hours in adjunct-related activities and only getting ~$800 each month. That’s about $10 an hour — and fast food jobs pay better. But if you’re only working 4 hours a week, that’s more like $50. Still not great, but better. And there’s the CV line associated with teaching, but when you’ve taught the same class a bunch of times, that line is worth less and less each time it reappears.

    2) I would say a well crafted exam is a much better feedback mechanism than a paper. If students are making strange conceptual leaps or missing important content, that might only tell you that they haven’t taken writing the paper seriously or are bad writers. And if you’re grading papers as if they’re exams, why not just use exams?

    3) I’m not saying that anyone should phone it in. What I am saying is that we should teach to our expertise and to use our time conscientiously. Students respond to confidence, and a good teacher teaches what he or she knows, not something they read 2 days before the students. And, yes, undergrad teaching is the important face of anthropology, but no one should feel like it’s her or his responsibility to get students to believe in evolution (or anything else) — we should just be opening students up to new possibilities.

  10. Minimum wage is $7.25 in most of the country, and that’s what most service-sector entry-level jobs pay. You’d be lucky to get to $10, much less anything beyond that. That’s the real irony, as bad as adjunct jobs are, they’re far better than anything else available.

    You’ve completely missed my point about the writing assignments, it’s not about using them as exams, it’s about using them as an avenue of communication with the student, giving them a space to voice their ideas in full, and with a feeling of privacy. Students will bring up all sorts of issues and personal experiences in their papers, especially non-traditional students and veterans, things they wouldn’t be comfortable discussing openly in class (or in a blog post). It’s all part of the running discussion, and critical to engaging students and their own particular concerns.

  11. @Matt: ” I agree that writing can help students work through ideas. But I would rather not read that kind of writing. … But I don’t grade it ”

    Such writing certainly has a place in an undergraduate curriculum (and hopefully high school curriculum). But research shows, that neither this type of writing, nor that of peer response, is a substitute for the hard work of giving detailed comments, and then having the students respond to those comments. Does this take a PhD? Probably not. But then we need to re-think how universities teach writing, who is hired to teach it, and the skill and class sizes needed to teach it well. In California, except at the private schools, this does not happen at either the high schools or universities where writing continues to be taught on the cheap.

    The current system of kicking it down to adjunct and graduate students working for love and $10/hour is probably not the best way to develop a highly skilled writers or thinkers.

  12. Matthew, thank you for this interesting post. I teach at a liberal arts college, so I want to add some thoughts from that point of view.

    1) Teaching absolutely matters in terms of hiring. For entry level positions we recognize that not everyone will have a lot of teaching experience, but we need to see evidence that they will be (or can be made into) good teachers. Publications matter, of course, but bad or disinterested teaching is a deal breaker.

    2) Time grading and student peer review. I also struggle with what is the best balance between my time and what my students get out of the course, especially in terms of writing skills (which I emphasize heavily). I’ve found that one way to handle this is peer review. Having students comment on each others’ writing accomplishes three things. First, it gives students a sense of how well their peers write, what works and what doesn’t, etc. Second, it teaches the very essential skill of giving constructive and diplomatic feedback, which is important everywhere. Since all the students know each other, they tend to err on the side of too nice (rather than trolling, described in the comments here for internet classes). And thirdly, it teaches students that you have to think carefully about the advice you get, since your reviewers won’t all agree with each other, and you won’t agree with all of them (unlike dealing with prof. advice, where they do whatever you ask – as well as they can – just for the grade). I always tell them that writers don’t have to do what people advise, but they do have to be able to articulate why they *won’t* do it.

    In short, peer review gives them useful feedback, teaches them important skills, and frees up some of my time. I still have to grade papers, but they tend to be better papers after going through this process.

    Also, rubrics. Yes, those help a great deal — it makes grading faster, and helps the students understand why they receive the grade they do.

  13. I’ve used peer review once or twice, and have not gotten it to work well. The writing consultant (an English Professor) at Chico State told us that good peer review is possible–but only if the students are trained to do it well. Such training though takes up class time which should also be spent on disciplinary content.

  14. Tony, I appreciate your comments. Yes, peer review is difficult to make work, and I wouldn’t claim it is universally successful in my classes. But I disagree that this is a waste of time, especially for anthropologists. If part of our discipline depends on understanding people who are different from us (and encouraging that in our students), then I would argue that helping our students communicate effectively and diplomatically with each other is also part of our “disciplinary content.” In addition, I think it is good training for their careers. Most of my students — especially at the introductory level — are not planning on being professional anthropologists. These basic life skills are just as important for them, and – who knows? – may have a more lasting impact.

  15. @JE:

    For the purpose of continued dialogue — and to clear up any misunderstanding on my part — it might be helpful for you to describe the kind of writing assignment you’re talking about and the kind of class it gets assigned in.

    What you’ve said so far has me thinking about a distinction I often make, which is grading for content or grading for effort. I often find that students think they should be graded for the effort they put into their papers, rather than the actual content of them. Part of that effort is often a performative quality that has been instilled in them by earlier teachers: they should discuss themselves and the struggles they’ve had with the content rather than talk about the content. A lot of my instructions on undergraduate writing in my classroom is to avoid this very kind of thing…

    @Clare:

    I’ve tried peer review in the past, and, like Tony, have had mixed results. I’ve found that the best way for it to work is to give the students a peer review rubric, so that they’re reading their peer’s paper with an eye for very specific things (which, in turn, gets them thinking about the same qualities in their own writing). So it’s not free form peer review, but it does get them reading one another and talking with one another about writing.

    I should also mention that my department has started a peer tutoring program for undergraduate writing (thanks to the effort of my colleague Megan Moodie). We assign junior and senior Anthropology majors as writing tutors to writing intensive (and sometimes not so writing intensive) classes, and they meet 1-on-1 or in small groups with struggling writers. The tutors get paid for it (like any student employee), and after 3 years we’ve seen profound results. So far, it’s depended on very little investment (~$7500 annually + faculty doing some service, in this case me), and it might be a model worth exporting. We’ve already exported it to our History department, but if people are interested in looking at the model, I can send you more information — just send me an email.

  16. When I attended the workshop on “writing across the disciplines,” the professor teaching it emphasized that peer review can be effective–but that the students need to be trained in how to respond effectively. The training takes up a couple of classes by itself–which is where the problem emerges, and requires feedback from the instructor. And therein of course lies the rub.

    I also use rubrics to grade, and fine them very effective. I typically give the rubric to the students before the paper is due.

    I think that the overall problem is that no one of us can teach all of these things in each of our classes. But somehow, the students should be exposed to different techniques of writing/learning across the course of their college career in a systematic fashion. And therein perhaps is the rub. Writing is not typically organized into the curriculum in a *systematic* fashion, rather in a hit or miss way that reflects the nature of college curricula today.

  17. I would love to attend a “writing across the disciplines” workshop and in fact my university is hosting one over the summer. Unfortunately only full-time tenure track professors are allowed to apply. It’s ironic that my employer relies on adjunct employees to do the majority of the teaching, but only invests in providing teacher training for the minority of employees who are full-time but spend most of their time doing research.

    @Matthew – this could be an important topic for some future post about adjunct professional development. Everything that I’ve learned about teaching (post-grad school) has been through either trial and error, or informal conversations with others – typically here on SM or with my wife who is an outstanding teacher.

  18. @MWM: I use a variety of writing assignments, some open and informal, others strictly focused on content, and some on analysis, with clear guidelines for students to follow.

    The informal assignments (response papers) usually aren’t actually graded, but aside from the usual benefits of encouraging students to be active readers and focus their thoughts for class discussion, they’re also a key form of communication between the student and the instructor. If a student asks a question, raises an issue, or expresses some critical misunderstanding in a response paper, I can address it in the next lecture/discussion.

    Even the content-oriented assignments, like an essay-question quiz, give students the space to answer in complete sentences, complete thoughts. Even if you only grade those quizzes for content, you still get a sense of how the pieces are coming together for the students, how they are integrating the bits of information into a broader, systematic understanding of the subject. Future lectures and discussions can then be tailored to fit the struggles of that particular class.

    The question of whether to have a final exam or a final paper as the key evaluation is something else altogether, my point is just that writing assignments are important for student-teacher communication and feedback.

  19. I’m watching many of my adjuncting friends on Facebook complain about the hundred+ essays they currently have to grade, and I can’t believe that’s a good use of anyone’s time.

    The majority of Facebook status updates from my friends who are adjuncts or junior faculty in anthropology departments are complaints about the same or some version of, “Sorry, kid, you should have used your time better.” Project much?

  20. Insist that teachers teach. Insist that they assign and read and grade papers seriously. To that end, demand an end to the factory model of education. Insist that adminintrators be paid at the level of full professors and not more.
    And ffs stop pretending that every PhD is a genius doing ‘important’ work. For the vast majority all they will be remembered for is their teaching.
    Better to be remembered for being good at it, and for giving a shit than not. All I’m hearing is the whining of petty bureaucrats who know nothing but bureaucracy. Love your students, love your families and get on with your lives. Professionalization isn’t the life of the mind, its social climbing.

  21. @Matthew:

    “…but rather I don’t think that we need to grade writing at lower levels — exams (and I’m not saying scantrons, but written exams) are a better way to assess students and to spend out time and teachers.”

    I can see your point–and do think that shorter written exams can be a good way to go. But, despite some of the issues with assigning and grading essays, I still think they can be pretty valuable–depending on how teachers engage with students. But a lot of this depends on how much time teachers really have to devote to students, grading, etc.

    MWM wrote: “Although being a decent teacher is important, for most professorial positions teaching is really secondary to research and publications.”

    Ya, that seems to be the case in many places. It’s too bad that teaching does not at least rank at the same level, since that would change things a bit in terms of what “counts” toward professionalization. I just don’t see the reason why research and pubs should rank above teaching. But that’s another issue…

    “It’s a weird situation in that what makes a happy undergraduate is often a good teacher; but when gets students to come to your program rather than another one is the research profiles of the faculty in the department.”

    I have heard this before. Seems to be that good teachers–well recognized teachers–would be a draw as well.

    “What you can’t get away with is little or no publications — and you definitely won’t get tenure without publications. But you can get tenure without being a great teacher…”

    True, but this isn’t necessarily the best scenario if you ask me.

    @Matt Thompson:

    “It’s ironic that my employer relies on adjunct employees to do the majority of the teaching, but only invests in providing teacher training for the minority of employees who are full-time but spend most of their time doing research.”

    That is ironic. I think it would be good to do a post about how adjuncts work through these kinds of things.

    @Seth:

    “For the vast majority all they will be remembered for is their teaching.”

    Good point.

    “Better to be remembered for being good at it, and for giving a shit than not.”

    I definitely agree with that.

    “Professionalization isn’t the life of the mind, its social climbing.”

    Another good point to keep in mind–professionalization is about moving up the ranks of the system as it is currently structured. That’s what it is. That’s why I tend to be skeptical about some of the professionalization stuff. It’s good to learn how things work, sure, but we also don’t want to get lost in our desire to move up the academic ladder.

  22. @ Ryan:
    “Professionalization isn’t the life of the mind, its social climbing.”
    Another good point to keep in mind–professionalization is about moving up the ranks of the system as it is currently structured. That’s what it is. That’s why I tend to be skeptical about some of the professionalization stuff. It’s good to learn how things work, sure, but we also don’t want to get lost in our desire to move up the academic ladder.”

    Thanks for making this really important point. It speaks precisely to why I’ve been speaking up about the racist-sexist bullying I’ve experienced. It’s not about solipsism or trolling–quite the opposite–but asking why does one really want to teach anthropology in the first place and what (kind of anthropology) are you really teaching. A lot of what is being taught in relation to professionalization, especially in the corporate neoliberal university, is not about valuing people because they are people like you, but is about valuing people for what they can do for you and your career, (de)valuing them in relation to (academic) status hierarchies. The consumer approach to education is not simply limited to students, and it may be worth thinking about how we may ourselves be encouraging it.

    What really stands out for me in your comment is your reminder that this is advice for playing the proverbial game as it is presently structured. Certainly worth thinking about.

    Thanks for the comment.

  23. @Seth, Ryan & DWP:

    Several commenters have brought up “the life of the mind” as something to preserve or protect from professionalization or “social climbing.” I appreciate this concern and see it reflected in many departments’ ambivalence toward professionalization activities. But I have several concerns about this opposition. First, the dichotomy that people often make between ‘pure’ academia (‘the life of the mind’) and professionalization as social climbing is a false one, as any reading in science studies will quickly illustrate. Second, while I am sympathetic to the critique that “professionalization” practices are the ways that the corporate model of the university is internalized and naturalized, it seems to me that the refusal of individuals to play the game will only hurt those individuals’ careers — it will not change the institutions and only ensure that people who are interested in institutional change aren’t part of those institutions. To make institutional change we need coordination of many individuals on a large scale in a way that interrupts the institutions. This would be great and I would support it, but such organizing really isn’t the project of my posts.

    What is the project of my posts is to encourage a realist, very mundane understanding of academic work as involving not genius or revelation but material, enskilled practices within a social terrain of unevenly distributed power. Around me I see smart people constantly failing to secure university work in part because they idealize it, and then hate the parts of it that don’t match up to that ideal. I propose a different basic understanding of academic jobs as first and foremost *jobs*. Anyone who has sat through faculty meetings, gone through merit and tenure reviews, taught classes of 300+ students, and worked through revisions on books and articles could tell you that idealizing the job is just going to get in the way of actually getting it done — but, strangely, many of them don’t tell you. Our training programs promote idealism — promote the separation of thinking from doing — and the students who come out of graduate school believing this suffer as a result. They don’t publish because they don’t think their articles are good enough or can’t figure out how to edit them to reviewer specifications in an efficient manner, they suffer over-teaching because they feel responsible for teaching their students to write; and, because of these basic misrecognitions, they generally miss the chance to establish a career in the small window after graduation.

    My goal in these posts is to describe some of the strategies and tactics that very low-status (just credentialed) individuals can use to gain traction in the contemporary university generally. I also hope to promote a more pragmatic understanding of our work generally, because only in that way will we begin to address how our assumptions — like those that underpin inequality and privilege — shape our institutions, our careers, and our students’ lives.

  24. @MWM:

    “But I have several concerns about this opposition. First, the dichotomy that people often make between ‘pure’ academia (‘the life of the mind’) and professionalization as social climbing is a false one, as any reading in science studies will quickly illustrate.”

    My point is more about seeing things for what they are–and I think that’s really what you’re saying too. I agree with you that it’s pointless to set up some romantic dichotomy between the pragmatics of professionalization and some idealistic notion about ‘pure’ academia (whatever that would mean). But, I’d argue that these two get conflated all the time throughout the academic training/education process. The training process blatantly promotes a very idealistic version of academia, despite the realities of departments, job markets, etc. I’d prefer to see professionalization for what it is, rather than confusing it for something it’s not. It’s about moving up and trying to “make it” within the system as it is currently set up.

    “…it seems to me that the refusal of individuals to play the game will only hurt those individuals’ careers”

    You bet. I think many people clearly recognize this issue. Hence the reason why so many “play the game.”

    “…it will not change the institutions and only ensure that people who are interested in institutional change aren’t part of those institutions.”

    That is probably the case.

    “To make institutional change we need coordination of many individuals on a large scale in a way that interrupts the institutions.”

    That’s true.

    “What is the project of my posts is to encourage a realist, very mundane understanding of academic work … Around me I see smart people constantly failing to secure university work in part because they idealize it, and then hate the parts of it that don’t match up to that ideal. I propose a different basic understanding of academic jobs as first and foremost *jobs*.

    I think this is a good project, especially part about breaking down the idealism, which does create a lot of problems. I’m not trying to take things off track here. I think it’s good to think about things in terms of “jobs.” But we can also have a lot of pride in various aspects of those jobs, I think. One of the issues though is that there’s a lot of confusion/lack of clarity about what our jobs are really all about. Are we teachers or researchers? Both? Some people do both, and some are better at one or the other. But in terms of professionalization, we tend to rank and value people in a very limited way (ie as if they are all going to be researchers).

    “Our training programs promote idealism — promote the separation of thinking from doing — and the students who come out of graduate school believing this suffer as a result.

    I agree with you completely. Definitely.

    Thanks for the feedback and I am definitely looking forward to the rest of your posts. I am not trying to be overly contentious here–just bringing up my comments and thoughts about professionalization from my POV as a grad student who’s going to finish and be on the job market in about a year. I think a lot about what’s worth it, what’s not, and where I want to take things after 11 years of training.

  25. Sorry that this response does not directly respond to Matthew and Ryan’s last comments; I was writing it and had to step away, and it was supposed to directly follow my first response to Ryan. i will respond to the other responses too, as I am not trying to derail the conversation, but do think the issue of differential race/gender positioning (in relation to teaching needs) to be folded into this conversation on professionalization:

    @Ryan: your comment is also important for reminding some of us about the ways in which ‘neutral’ advice on professionalization is often not race/gender neutral, even if intentioned to be. Evaluations of teaching skill and competence are highly subjective, and raced/colored/gendered. We aren’t all in bodies which result in either students, colleagues/professors, or administrators assuming that we are competent enough to teach the class we are walking into (especially intellectually, especially for those seen as dark-skinned subhumans of questionable intelligence on the low end of the IQ bell curve–or just seen as affirmative action lackeys). These different pressures and expectations of/for teaching (in)competence affect how people choose to approach teaching, how much time they put into it, especially since some of us are really not in a position to be seen as ‘just phoning it in’ since we are already seen as (intellectually) deficient interlopers (even, and sometimes especially, when he have credentials from the so-called best schools; because “nonwhites just get jobs and fellowships thrown at them” and we ‘all’ know that some people only get into elite schools to fill a quota as they certainly can’t be smart enough… ).

    Race and gender–and more precisely racism, sexism, colorism–affect time and energy put into teaching and grading, especially for those of us not seen as fit to be teaching and/or expected not to teach about topics that make (white) students and colleagues/professors angry and uncomfortable:
    One is the discussion of stereotypes and identity work. For instance, African American women may be seen as “mammies” and expected to be nurturing and caring and when they are not, they face anger and disappointment from students and colleagues (see Douglas’ and Wilson’s essays). Another example is Lugo-Lugo’s chapter, which discusses the stereotypes of the “hot Latina” and how they play out for her in the classroom where she must negotiate her identity as a Latina and a professor.

    Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/university-venus/presumed-incompetent#ixzz2N3m5Fche
    Inside Higher Ed

    Also: http://thecollegefix.mobify.me/post/12062 (I declined linking to The National Review article about this so as not to encourage racist verbal abuse/trolling, but it is worth asking how self-congratulatory ‘progressive’ anthropologists who claim to be antiracist should be given how the “keep your ‘privilege’ critique at home” vitriol I’ve talked about is in line with the worst forms of right-wing racial resentment politics, and angry responses to legitimately trying to *teach* others about being mindful of one’s privilege and its relation to structural inequalities.)

  26. Regarding the focus on it’s a job perspective and/as ‘professionalization': yes, and this is why you don’t have many black anthropologists in general, or black anthropologists studying whiteness in particular, getting right back to the issues in Ryan’s race post.

    Yup, the successful black students who know how to ‘professionalize’ themselves well “don’t get into white people’s faces talking about race” or privilege.

    So yes, it’s a job, and yes, if you want a job teaching anthropology or teaching by coming out of an anthropology teaching program, then this is the approach to take to maximize employability.

    Rather sad, and frightening, given what this really means for sanctioning abuse so as to get a job, and what it means for the ability of some of us to study what we think is important so that anthropology doesn’t continue to be ‘white public space’.

  27. Great discussion, thanks to all contributors.

    I don’t think that there really can be an opposition between explicitly articulating successful professional strategies and working to change the structure of the academy. Why should there be? The current system seems to me to rely on people professing the ideals (life of the mind) while actually practicing the most ruthless strategies, and censuring anyone that critiques, and therefore makes explicit, the way those strategies work (as DWP has pointed out). So I take Seth’s comments the way they were intended, I think, as reminding us of what our ideals actually are (and I suspect most would agree). But the same sort of comments are probably made by senior administrators while they do nothing to stop the encroaching conditions that make these strategies all the more necessary as a matter of survival.

    Why not make explicit what it is we have to do to make a living? Yes, we are workers, this is a job, we can be bureaucrats. Most bureaucrats I have met also have ideals and never set out to be bureaucrats, but are too afraid and ashamed of articulating the conditions that they work in and how messed up the system is. Making all of this explicit can only help us critique these conditions (isn’t it a perfect opportunity for DWP or someone else to point out all the inequalities? and actually be understood because we’re speaking concretely now?), and hopefully get to work creating something that actually matches the ideals we want.

  28. @mio: thanks for the comment.

    Yes, we need to talk (honestly) about how the academic sausage is made (in anthropology). Especially on post-Prop 209 campuses, including and like the UC campus Matthew teaches at, which profess “equity, diversity, and inclusion”, while actually encouraging (and covering up when they can) all manner of racist and sexist abuse and exclusion (certainly made worse by the Bell Curve racial logic underscoring Proposition 209 and the entire neoliberal rightward national–and academic/educational–shift seen from Bakke up through the as-yet-to-be-decided Fischer v. Texas case now before the Supreme Court).

    And to extend the meat/sausage metaphor (and to add a bit of levity): let’s be honest about the false advertising of the academic sausage, where in beef sausage is advertised on the package but we’re really eating horse meat. The ideal of the life of the mind and an antiracist anthropology is being advertised, but this is not the reality.

    So yes, I agree with you that we should be honest about the inequality and abuse in the academy, and challenging it.

  29. Just to clarify: I am not taking a swipe at Matthew or UCSC. A larger comment about post-Prop 209 UC climate, and the advertising of what departments/the University officially says about campus (racial) climate v. the reality. (DDR or Receivership? So maybe everything is not actually fine in some departments. But who is being honest about how the sausage is being made is always the question.)

  30. MW-M: “First, the dichotomy that people often make between ‘pure’ academia (‘the life of the mind’) and professionalization as social climbing is a false one, as any reading in science studies will quickly illustrate. Second, while I am sympathetic to the critique that “professionalization” practices are the ways that the corporate model of the university is internalized and naturalized, it seems to me that the refusal of individuals to play the game will only hurt those individuals’ careers — it will not change the institutions and only ensure that people who are interested in institutional change aren’t part of those institutions. To make institutional change we need coordination of many individuals on a large scale in a way that interrupts the institutions. This would be great and I would support it, but such organizing really isn’t the project of my posts.”

    It’s clear at this point that there’s no conflict between science and neoliberalism. You imply as much and I won’t dispute it. In fact I’d highlight it. The uncontested religio of science is anti-humanist: motion for motion’s sake. “Onward…”

    The girlfriend alluded to in an earlier comment is a research scientist and on the top of the academic food chain, able to jump from one tenured position to another if she decided she wanted a change of scenery. She’d planned out her career in grad school by asking where the funding was going to be and followed the money. Her graduate assistants were told they should not have time to clean their own apartments, that she was paying them enough to hire cleaning ladies. My mother was divorced with two kids under 5 when she was in grad school. She did not have servants.

    My call to Insist that administrators be paid less should have been a bit of a givaway since there’s nothing to be done. My father was involved in both strikes at Temple. They didn’t work. People backed down.

    If I were going to go into the academy at this point I’d stay away from any “major” institution, on principle, especially in this country.

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