The scholarly infrastructure of the humanities is disappearing (opinion)
I was appalled to read Steven Mintz Inside Higher Education July 18 blog post, in which he claimed that “[a] an increasing number of humanities scholars are moving away from what were once considered professional obligations. consideration of candidates for promotion and tenure goes against the fact that, supposedly, humanities professors have given in to a culture of individualism and self-promotion in the face of low salaries, poor reward structures and siled and fragmented disciplines.
While the issues of low pay and poor reward structure are certainly real and pervasive, the idea that humanities academics have turned into Bartlebys, that they have simply become indifferent to the larger field or don’t care to engage in voluntary work that supports the profession is nonsense. The current struggle to fulfill obligations to the profession is not a matter of lack of interest or will. It is about precariousness, despair and exhaustion. Same The New York Times took the time to note the catastrophe unfolding in the humanities labor marketand that was long before the worst effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were felt.
As reported by the American Association of College Teachers (AAUP), 62% of all current faculty are contingent, meaning they are either adjuncts or full-time lecturers with no prospect of tenure or advancement. Adjunct faculty typically earn between $3,000 and $5,500 per class, which means if they teach a 4/4 load, they earn $12,000 to $22,000 per semester, or $24,000 at $44,000 per year. Since the median rent in the United States is now more than $2,000 per monththis means that precarious teachers can spend more than 50% of their income on housing alone.
The American Federation of Teachers, which conducts the ongoing survey of 2022 contingent faculty, paints an even bleaker picture, stating that “75% of faculty are not eligible for tenure and 47% are in part-time positions.” AFT’s previous surveys of contingent faculty members found that “[o]a quarter of respondents earn less than $25,000 a year” and “[f]Less than half of survey respondents have access to employer-provided health insurance and nearly 20% rely on Medicaid.
Community college professors fare particularly poorly, with 79% holding full- or part-time positions (as reported by AAUP and On the inside Higher Education).
Additionally, the humanities have one of the worst gender pay gaps in terms of salary. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences reported in 2019 that there is a 27% pay gap between men and women with a doctorate in the humanities, the second largest gap of any field studied other than the life sciences. Doctorates in the human sciences. were also found to have the lowest median earnings of any field.
Additionally, the AAUP reported that the real salaries of professors fell by 5% overall in 2021-2022 after adjusting for inflation, the largest one-year decline on record.
All of this means that the vast majority of humanities teachers – those who are contingent and/or who teach at baccalaureate institutions or community colleges – have limited time for research. Teaching a 4/4 or a 5/5 to make ends meet, or because an institution requires this load for all teachers, is a far cry from teaching a 2/2 or a 3/3 in a research-intensive university or a selective liberal arts college. The equation becomes even more complicated when one takes into account the number of different courses; the amount of work to assemble and teach four sections of the same course is considerably less than the amount of work required to teach four different Classes. And that’s not to mention teaching a 5/5 or a 6/6 due to contract requirements or lack of staff. The Washington Post reported the increasing frequency of this problem, especially in colleges that serve low-income students, in an article last year.
In addition to all of the above, the COVID-19 pandemic has created an incredible amount of extra work, requiring more online teaching, often for professors who have never taught online before and have had to learn from platforms. and entirely new teaching techniques. Students have needed more support as they struggle during class during the pandemic — from extra help during office hours to more scaffolded assignments, emotional support and counseling referrals, or referrals to campus resources for help with textbook and technology costs. The effort and time spent helping students through this national trauma has been nothing short of heroic, but has left most of us with little time or bandwidth to serve the profession.
The devastation inflicted on college parents, especially women, during the pandemic has also been well documented; the lack of support structures and childcare has taken its toll on academic productivity. Studies show either decline in female academic productivity overallespecially for early career researchers, or significant decreases in particular areas. Either way, worries about tenure and promotion – when so many have published less or been unable to publish – have certainly exacerbated the deficit of scholars willing to do review work or lead. committees. Service to the profession is often not counted or seen as incidental in promotion and tenure reviews, and for those who have published less in the wake of the pandemic, their focus will naturally be to catch up. lost if possible. Those in adjunct or lecturer positions generally have no hope of tenure or promotion. Why, then, would professors spend their precious free time (after teaching four or five classes per term) doing a service that does not pay them and offers them no hope of advancement?
Finally, the massive elimination of programs and positions in the arts and humanities during the pandemic has been the subject of many reports – from Marquette University at Illinois Wesleyan University at Ithaca College – and the closure of two-year and four-year establishments was widely covered. These twin trends have left many professors unemployed or jostling for positions, exacerbating the crisis of precariousness in the humanities.
The ability to produce quality scholarly work and to perform the services that produce the quality scholarly work of others requires both time and economic security. He demands salaries that correspond to the cost of living. This requires reasonable teaching loads. This requires having enough faculty to meet all of a university’s governance needs, without unduly overburdening anyone, but especially women, parents, and early-career scholars. It requires the ability to think beyond the next day or the next pay period.
Condemning humanities scholars for not investing in a profession and workplace that has clearly not invested in it is misguided at best, and outright cruel at worst. For most of us, it is quite clear that we will be lucky if we have a profession left.
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