Inside Higher Ed

I read Inside Higher Ed quite a lot, get their daily e-mail update. It’s a great headline-level news aggregation tool, not unlike Daily Kos or Truthout. And they do investigative work of their own, as well as posting opinion and career advice. You’ll hear more honesty about the adjunct world in IHE than in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, for instance; it speaks more to the masses in college life than to the leadership.

Anyway, I have a piece in IHE this week myself. You should go read it. You should leave a comment. (I love that TWO of the comments were “You just described my life.” We’re not alone, us working-class kids, we’re just invisible…)

The Next Big Thing

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.)

Don’t Judge a Book… oh, go ahead.

One of the most delightful aspects of working on The PhDictionary was receiving a copy of the proposed cover design. I was just delighted by every bit of it. (If you look on the back cover, down by the edge of the spine, you’ll see “Book and cover design: Matt Avery.” I love the fact that he was credited for his brilliant work; too many people involved in good projects are not.)

But when I look at my bookshelves, in the sections having to do with intellectual life in general and higher education in particular, the visual landscape is less engaging. About 15 years ago, I had a chapter in this book:


I mean, really. Is that a pepper mill? The top of a gavel? A McDonald’s hamburger in a compression tester? Why those shapes? Why those edges?

And why those colors?? The dense intellectual work signaled by Theoretical Perspectives in Environment-Behavior Research: Underlying Assumptions, Research Problems, and Methodologies is kind of undercut by the sparkle-pony lavender, no?

download (1)

We seem, in academia, to forget that ideas have aesthetic and emotional merit as well as intellectual merit. I can’t tell you the number of academic books I’ve seen that have solid-color covers with sans serif text; or have some six-dollar clip art in half transparency under way too many words. Academic writing is discouraging before you ever even have a chance to encounter the ideas, because it’s packaged in the equivalent of the labels they use for FEMA emergency rations. You aren’t going to enjoy this, the cover promises, but it’s good for you.

Spotted in the wild…

I have my copies of the book here at home in Vermont, but empirically, they’re the only ones I know actually exist. I’ve heard a rumor that there’s one in England, but I haven’t had visual corroboration.

Until yesterday. There’s been a confirmed sighting in the Great Lakes region…

Photo in the wild Midwest

And another sighting in New England…

Photo in the wild New England

The books weren’t outfitted with GPS transponders, so we’re relying on field spotters. If you have visual evidence of the book’s location, send it along and I’ll add it as it arrives.

Holy Cow!

A couple of early reviews of The PhDictionary have come in, and it’s gratifying to see that the response has thus far been welcoming. But just yesterday, Inside Higher Ed ran a review and a long interview that I did with their correspondent Colleen Flaherty. They really gave the book and its ideas a lot of room; I couldn’t be more pleased with the outcomes.

You can read the piece here.

The Book is Born!

The first advance copies of The PhDictionary will make their debut at the American Educational Research Association conference this weekend in Washington D.C.! Thanks to Elizabeth Branch Dyson and the entire U. Chicago Press team for making this a reality.