The Next Big Thing

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Sorry to have been away. Between a significant client deadline, splitting and stacking firewood, working the town dump on large waste and scrap metal day, and trying to figure out the last quarter of a story I’m writing, it’s been a long week.

But I come bearing good news. The University of Chicago Press, and my miraculous editor Elizabeth Branch Dyson, have been happy enough with The PhDictionary that they want to try another one. So just this week, after three months of conversation and a really fun proposal to write, I received the contract for Contingent: The Making of the Adjunct Underclass, and What it Says About Our Colleges, Our Students, and Our Nation. (No small ambitions here, eh? A friend told me last night that she was reading E. O. Wilson’s The Meaning of Human Existence. If he’s gotten that right, I guess we’re all finished with scholarly life, we’ve reached the end of the project.)

Here’s the pitch:

The college teacher who, as part of her driving between four classes on two campuses each semester, has to add a stop to renew her application for public housing vouchers. Her best student who, since that teacher has no office and no college e-mail, meets her for “office hours” at the student food court. Her tenured faculty supervisor, whose own days are a swarm of interruptions, endless meetings that drag him away from students and research alike and into the service of bureaucratic structure. Her college administrator, scrambling to create a new low-residency degree program, and to locate affordable staffing to make it economically beneficial to the institution.

These are the stories of modern higher education, so unlike our image of the contemplative scholar on the manicured grounds. These are the adjunct faculty and post-docs who have undergone enormous training and achieved remarkable intellectual performance only to find that it has left them adrift and at risk; their tenured colleagues whose workplace demands are changing beneath them; their students fitting college into busy work lives; their administrators, desperately working to make their enrollment numbers.

As the middle class loses ground across all fields, the middle class job of college teaching is also being actively undermined. Contingent tells the story of how this adjunct underclass has been made—not by accident, but by institutional and cultural decisions about what college should be. It explores the damage that contingency does, not only to the adjunct faculty themselves, but to students, to the permanent faculty and administration, and to the nation. And it proposes 21st century solutions that can help higher education reach its lasting goals of intellectual and civic leadership.

Not bad, huh? Planned for release in Fall 2018, which means I have to have it finished in Fall 2017. A 13-month project. So keep buying The PhDictionary in the meantime 🙂 All your friends need a copy, no? All your grad students and newly hired faculty? I thought so, too.

(To be serious, though, if you have read The PhDictionary and have a couple of extra minutes to write a brief review for Amazon or Goodreads or something, or even a couple of extra seconds to choose n number of stars for it, that would be a huge help. People really love coming across a book that’s been reviewed by funny, clever people, who you all are.)