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Wed Jul 15, 2015, 03:27 PM

That “Volunteer Professor” Ad

By Rebecca Schuman

Last week, I suggested that “assistant adjunct” might just be the worst job title in academia. It sounds like someone who DustBusts the crushed Bugles out of the regular adjunct’s 1990 Toyota Celica. But I realized I might have been wrong about that title when I came across this job ad for a “volunteer professor” at Southern Virginia University. Yep, professors who work for free. Well, not 100 percent free—they get “complimentary apartment-style housing and five meals a week.”

This ad has ripped across the digital universe of beleaguered Ph.D.s, many of whom work close-to-voluntary wages as it is. Some are in disbelief. (“Have we reached a new low in academic labor?” asks the University of Houston’s Dave Mazella.) Others are unimpressed. (“A benefit of volunteer teaching is to bring your own food to eat with other volunteers!” bemoans McGill’s Susan Rvachew.) Still others are resigned to it; one reader even told me she’d consider applying, just for the affiliation and library privileges.

Let’s be clear: That ad is not aimed at your garden-variety desperate recent Ph.D. (and more on that in a sec). But that so many people of about my age and qualifications believe “volunteer professor” is aimed at them says a tremendous amount about the precarious state of the American university. Reaction to the ad belies a culture in which the Life of the Mind is considered a higher calling too lofty for such déclassé considerations as remuneration. This mentality is what helps create the vast “oversupply” of Ph.D.s cramming into near-voluntary part-time work, for which they are supposed to genuflect silently in thanks.

This ad has ripped across the digital universe of beleaguered Ph.D.s, many of whom work close-to-voluntary wages as it is. Some are in disbelief. (“Have we reached a new low in academic labor?” asks the University of Houston’s Dave Mazella.) Others are unimpressed. (“A benefit of volunteer teaching is to bring your own food to eat with other volunteers!” bemoans McGill’s Susan Rvachew.) Still others are resigned to it; one reader even told me she’d consider applying, just for the affiliation and library privileges.

Let’s be clear: That ad is not aimed at your garden-variety desperate recent Ph.D. (and more on that in a sec). But that so many people of about my age and qualifications believe “volunteer professor” is aimed at them says a tremendous amount about the precarious state of the American university. Reaction to the ad belies a culture in which the Life of the Mind is considered a higher calling too lofty for such déclassé considerations as remuneration. This mentality is what helps create the vast “oversupply” of Ph.D.s cramming into near-voluntary part-time work, for which they are supposed to genuflect silently in thanks.



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http://www.slate.com/articles/life/education/2015/07/volunteer_professor_ad_it_says_a_lot_about_the_sorry_state_of_academia.html

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Reply That “Volunteer Professor” Ad (Original post)
n2doc Jul 2015 OP
Erich Bloodaxe BSN Jul 2015 #1
Igel Jul 2015 #2
davidpdx Sep 2015 #3

Response to n2doc (Original post)

Wed Jul 15, 2015, 03:45 PM

1. Depending on who you are, affiliation and library privileges is nothing to sneeze at.

With the affiliation, you can start applying for grant money if you've got your research projects lined up.

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Wed Jul 15, 2015, 04:36 PM

2. Sounds nice, to be honest.

I can imagine retired profs doing this, or even those on sabbatical who want to get away, teach a course or two while being far from other duties.

I mean, I know faculty who went on sabbatical for a year to Venice. When they came back, yeah, they had the mss they'd been working on, but they'd explored "Venice" from Turin to Naples.

Another went for 6 months to some place on Lake Como to work on her sabbatical ms. Came back and said it was great ... but, sadly, given the absence of a library she really got nowhere except 15 lbs heavier. (Yeah, that was her excuse: The seductive sabbatical grant put her out of reach of the resources she needed, so she asked for a year's extension from her publisher and on tenure review.)

I've also known grad students who were dissertation funded and who just vanished. One, my French teacher, went to St. Mary's Island in MD for a year. She grabbed copies of everything she could lay her hands on locally, arranged for transportation and access to the LoC every couple of weeks, and vanished to nowhere. Then just vanished. She had an impossible diss topic; I think it's a great topic, but still have trouble wrapping my brain around it. And I have absolutely, positively no idea how the hell to even start saying anything useful about it or approaching it analytically. Wound up, I think, getting a PhD in psych. (The topic: Consider a play. It has content, meaning. But the meaning is not just derived from linguistic content and actor gesture, but also form and context. Plays are ritual, not just words and actors. Therefore, the audience necessarily participates in the creation of the play's meaning, in its semiotics. Now, how does that meaning vary for the audience in a theatre, the audience watching the same performance taped and played in a movie theatre, the audience watching the same performance on tv at home, or the audience reading the play? What are the differences? How do you account for them? What are the constants? Would altering the performance space in a theatre change the play's meaning? If so, how? Okay, now my brain hurts again. My inner aspie says the play's meaning should be invariant, but part of me says that that's not true: Listening to Vivaldi's Winter vln concerto =/= listening to it taped =/= playing it. But to characterize, quantify, qualify the differences ... Yoiks.) No wonder she changed from Romance Languages to psychology.)

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Fri Sep 4, 2015, 05:23 AM

3. I've actually applied to teach online for University of the People,

which is basically free for students to go to college (they pay $50 application fee and $100 per class for examinations). As someone who just finished their doctorate degree there are two things I'm lacking: teaching experience and published journals. Until I get those my chances of getting a job is almost squat.

Granted I already have a full-time job so doing a little work for free on the side is nothing but time.

The type of setup in the article would be very hard to sustain for long due to no salary.

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