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May 13, 2004 10:14 pm

A Story That Will Not Die ...

After stories by the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Village Voice, Erin O'Connor points to "The Case of the Invisible Adjunct" in the Boston Globe about IA and the adjunctification of higher education."...I've got mixed feelings about the way IA has become, in the wake of her departure, a sort of faceless poster girl for the degradation of academic work," Erin concludes.
On the one hand, the human interest that surrounds her story has made it possible to publicize a problem that needs all the publicity it can get. On the other hand, the hand-wringing has a bitterly ironic quality to it: What IA wanted was a job teaching college history; instead, she has become facelessly famous as the woman who was wrongly denied that opportunity. Meanwhile, I have to wonder whether any of the gainfully employed academic historians who have publicly mourned the fate of IA have tried to find a place for her--a real, lasting place for her--in their profession. It's obvious from IA's site what a fine teacher and scholar she is--the Invisible Adjunct's blog may quite reasonably be read as one of the longest and most eloquent job interviews in history. She's readily reachable by email; if reporters can talk to her, so can prospective employers. So what's the problem? Inquiring and frustrated minds what to know.
Exactly. Invisible Adjunct has all the qualities one might want in a great teacher and scholar. Her management of wonderful conversations on the net for such a long time should make any alert history department anxious to hire her. Is there such a thing as"an alert history department"?
Update: In the discussion at Critical Mass, Tim Burke and David Salmanson tell us why O'Connor and I are unrealistic.
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Jonathan Dresner - 5/13/2004

While it is true that departments could have invited the Invisible Adjunct to apply (and it would be interesting to know if any had), for the merit she gained as the proprietor of the website to count she would have had to claim it. She did not.

There was good reason to be concerned: though her website was popular and intelligent, it was nonetheless highly critical of the hiring and management practices of the Department/University system. Though I consider her critiques justified and well supported, departments which do employ adjuncts might have been reluctant to bring in a faculty member so clearly opposed to their customary practice. (Note: It might not even be the department; Deans are usually involved, at least a little, in hiring, and so any school that employed adjuncts at all might feel such reservations.)

I could be wrong: there might well be forward-thinking departments that would consider her web-expertise, her ability to begin and sustain remote conversations, her institutional wisdom, all positive contributions to her application. But I'm quite sure that there are places where her secret identity would have effectively eliminated her from serious contention.

Derek Charles Catsam - 5/13/2004

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. While I really admired IA and her site, how can any of us know the quality of her teaching and scholarship? While it might be cute to impugn all history departments in one fell swoop, it would be nice to, say, see her vita and maybe know something about her work beyond the echo chamber of her website.
The problem is not necessarily who is being hired (I would imagine that most departments who hired someone other than IA honestly felt they were getting the best candidate, or is there some conspiracy out there of which I am not aware?) but that we produce too many damned PhDs. This is especially acute in modern US history where it often seems that getting a job ranks right up there with winning a lottery.

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