Purging What Seemed Essential

My wife and I are both kind of weary of the things we’ve accumulated over the decades, mostly independently before we were married. We may be the only couple you know with two overstuffed bookcases and six file cabinets in the garage.

Anyway, she started a couple of days ago going through things like old tax documents, 25-year-old syllabi… And her labors inspired me today to take one of the four drawers of preciously-collected research articles I carefully accumulated during and after grad school, and to go through them for keepers. A full-depth file drawer, authors carefully alphabetized A through E, probably more or less 300 photocopied articles.

I kept seven.

How much of our scholarship is like that, carefully copied and dutifully entered into the citational system, only to wind up compressed into a fireplace log or a weekly-shopper newspaper thirty or forty years down the line? It didn’t hurt me at all to discard all those ideas, I didn’t cringe for even a second when I got rid of the collected works of Denis Cosgrove and Mike Brill, smart people and all but still…

We have this idea that our jobs matter. But I think they don’t, not all that much. They give us food and rent. What matters is the ways we treat people. If we can use our jobs to treat people well, that’s great. If our jobs are indifferent to the ways we treat people, then we can be indifferent to our jobs. if our jobs require us to mistreat people, I think that requires us to consider changing jobs.

We spend so much energy on our disciplines. The definition of a PhD is someone who’s contributed original scholarship to her or his discipline. And, you know, it’s going into the recycling in the end, however original. What will last are the lives of the people we touch, and the ways in which we helped them be one or two percent happier and more fulfilled. I don’t need a discipline to do that.

The Causes and Impacts of Overpopulation

Let’s start with a raw number. The annual production of new PhDs is occurring at about 250% the annual hiring rate, maybe a little more. So the aquarium is getting pretty overstocked. How do you make yourself noticed among all the pretty fish? (It’s not unlike bachelor’s degrees; now that so many people have one, pretty much every employer regards it as a baseline for their job, even if the job itself may not have changed in the fifty years since your high-school-grad grandma did it.)

The National Academies of Research have done an interesting (and massive) study in doctoral education, attempting to rank all American research doctoral programs in all known fields. The methodology is complex, and seems reasonable, but one of the things to consider before we get to the findings is just how large the’ve discovered the enterprise to be, with over 4,800 different PhD-granting programs located at about 210 institutions:

  • Agricultural Sciences (of various sorts): 317 doctoral programs
  • Biological Sciences: 989
  • Health Sciences: 189
  • Physical Sciences (including Math): 916
  • Engineering: 798
  • Social Sciences: 930
  • Humanities: 866

So we know from economics, for instance, that the good faculty jobs go to only those who got their PhDs from a handful of schools: 25% from two schools (Harvard and MIT), 50% from the top eight. There are 117 economics doctoral programs in the US. If your program is merely good, you’re screwed.

And that was a study from ten years ago! As the oversupply of doctorate holders increases, it’s not merely that those with degrees from lesser schools will get teaching jobs at lesser schools, because those schools too are now receiving faculty applications from graduates of the uppermost programs who can’t all teach at R1s themselves. So smaller and lesser schools all the way down are also selecting faculty who graduated only from the elite programs, not from the merely excellent. I know someone who just got a teaching job in an undergraduate biology program who herself has a PhD from a top-5% doctoral program and served a six-year postdoc with one of the NIH programs. That’s like having Thomas Keller in charge of putting Pop-Tarts into the toaster… it seems like it might be boring before long. So they have to spend money on research infrastructure to keep her interested, drawing the school away from its core undergraduate education mission. (In another decade, she’ll probably have a doctoral program of her own).

Here’s a couple of examples, let’s leave them un-named…

  • a public highest-research university (R1) with eleven doctoral programs. According to the NRC ratings, not one of those eleven programs ranked in the top half of its respective discipline; seven of the eleven were in the lowest quartile of their fields.
  • a public high-research university (R2) with seventeen doctoral programs, again not a single one in the top half of its field, thirteen of the seventeen in the bottom quartile.

Why are those schools still allowed to offer doctoral degrees at all? What exactly are they selling, and to whom? What exactly do its students believe themselves to be buying?

Compare these with:

  • UC Berkeley, with exactly fifty doctoral programs: only one is below the 50th percentile ranking, and half of them are in the top 10% nationally in their fields.
  • University of Michigan, sixty-five doctoral programs, four in the bottom half, eleven in the top 10% (go to Michigan for philosophy, psych, and math)
  • Columbia, forty-seven doctoral programs, ten in the bottom half and ten in the top 10%. There may be some productive winnowing to be done here.

You have to know these things. You have to know that a school’s general reputation isn’t the same as its doctoral reputation, which varies from program to program. And you have to know that most schools have no vested interest in telling you any of it if they want you to go there.

The simple existence of a doctoral program does not mean that the doctorates issued thereby will be recognized as equal currency. Your degree will be read on your CV in components: I have a PhD in [discipline] from [university & department], studying under [dissertation advisor]. Your job chances are dependent on each of those three terms, far more than the fact of your graduate GPA.

There’s a lot of talk about restricting the numbers of people who get PhDs each year, and most of it is framed in terms of reducing the numbers of entrants (again putting the burden onto the individual student or prospective student). Why don’t we talk in terms of putting the burden onto the institution? Why should we have 4,800 issuers of the PhD, when we know that only a few of those will offer productive gateways to faculty life? Why shouldn’t we make each department prove itself every few years to keep its doctoral license?

The Education of Fear

I just finished reading Natalia Ginzburg’s book of essays, The Little Virtues. The title essay is her meditation on education and parenthood, both of which she believes are far too focused on instilling small virtues such as thrift, caution, prudence, tact and success. Better, she believes, to attend to the larger virtues of generosity (of finance and of spirit), curiosity, courage, frankness, and love of life.

The problem is that the little virtues, being little, can easily be made even smaller and thus taught and tested. We can easily tell when someone has “good manners,” by examining how they perform each of innumerable protocols of table service and social interaction. We can less easily tell when someone is compassionate, nor do we know exactly how to teach it.

And I think that higher education has almost fully made the transition from the large virtues to the small. We send kids to college so they won’t be unemployed. We tell them to major in things that are marketable, practical, in demand. We privilege the major over “gen ed” (such a waste of money, after all…), and spend freely chosen electives installing more armor on our already restrictive battle gear. The faculty at Pitt, for example, are up in arms about the possibility of more students having to take two semesters (six credits, five percent of their degree program) of a foreign language. “Adam Leibovich, chair of the department of physics and astronomy, wrote in an email to his faculty colleagues on the eve of a fully faculty vote on the proposal, ‘We need a large turnout of science faculty to have our voices heard so that resources are not taken away from us.’” Every scrap of curiosity and energy must be reserved for the major, the career prep. Possibilities for surprise, for sudden epiphany, are trimmed away.

About fifteen years ago, I wrote an essay that got me fired. (To be more precise, I’d just given four months notice that I was leaving for Duke, but I gave this essay as an invited talk one weekday evening to a group of educators, and the next morning was told that I should leave after a couple more weeks instead.) It was about high school, and the ways in which the education of fear had taken hold so strongly, an education to avoid pain rather than strive for glory.

That was fifteen years back. Now I see the same thing take place in higher ed, which has allowed itself to be discussed as part of the “K-16 system,” a phrase that fills me with loathing. College is, at its best, not job training of any sort, nor preparation for graduate school. College is a time to be surrounded by brilliant, curious people who are not our parents; people who are curious about vast swaths of the world, and thus raise our eyes to new horizons. A time of large virtues, boldly defended.

Filling In the Plaid

The American Institutes of Research has for a few years been running what they call their Delta Cost Project, in which they’ve tried diligently to investigate college costs and college spending. One fascinating data point we see is that employees per thousand students have remained pretty stable across time at different kinds of institutions. Take public master’s-level colleges, for instance, places like Grand Valley State in Michigan or Bridgewater State in Massachusetts, schools that we often call “regional comprehensives.” In 1990, those kinds of schools had 160 employees per thousand students; in 2012, 173. But even though overall employment didn’t rise all that much, the categories of employment changed a lot. The average full-time faculty per thousand students actually dropped a little, from 48 to 46. Non-professional staff (clerks, groundskeepers, maintenance workers) dropped quite a lot, from 62 to 45. Executive, administrative and managerial staffing also fell a little, from 11 to 9.

The two growth areas were part-time faculty, doubling from 21 FTE to 40 FTE per thousand students (remember, each FTE means two or three human beings picking up a course or two each); and “professional,” which means people in financial aid, student affairs, and co-curricular services, rising from 20 to 35.

I’ve long thought of higher ed as being in an era of transition, from stripes to plaid. Historically, the divisions that mattered were the vertical strands of departments and divisions, the academic communities who offered courses and majors. But there’s a growing community whose bands run orthogonally, the “cross-cutting initiatives” of offices of undergraduate research,  writing across the curriculum, service learning and community engagement, dozens of others. All of these were originally things that a few individual faculty members did, of their own volition. But somebody decided that those practices should be more widespread, more institutionalized, and created an office with a director and staff. Over the past twenty years or so, these horizontal bands have come to have a meaningful impact on the vertical pattern, making a plaid that’s increasingly dense.

An example, from a small private college in the upper midwest. This school had long prided itself on its study-abroad focus, but that had been operated by one professional staff member and one support person. Now, there’s a director, two assistant directors, three program managers, and an office coordinator, plus ten part-time student workers. Each of those is a twelve-month employee. Those seven permanent employees probably earn about as much as five assistant professors, more or less. And the choice to allocate resources that way has to be acknowledged as a choice, as something that could be done differently.

There’s no right answer to the patterning of higher education, no optimal ratio of vertical faculty to horizontal co-curricular staff. Both have important roles to play in students’ intellectual lives. But we need to be aware that both dimensions exist, and that their proportions are changing. And we need to recognize that doctoral education only designs its participants for one of those two dimensions; you don’t need to be a scholar to run a powerful study-abroad program. As the horizontal bands grow, as vertical employment declines and becomes more contingent, the changing patterns make the PhD an even riskier career path.

What Is College For?

We live in an era of multifunctional devices. Computers with phones and cameras. Watches that measure your step count. As a wag once put it, if you can nail together two things that have never been nailed together before, you can sell it to somebody.

So it’s no surprise that colleges are also, increasingly, multifunctional devices. They act as forces for economic mobility for individuals, and workforce development for regions. They act as extensions of the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, and they provide minor-league franchises for the NFL and NBA. They allow teenagers to become adults, and provide credentialing and screening for various professions. They cement the privilege of the privileged, they give voice and opportunity to those without.

A few years ago, Louis Menand wrote an article for the New Yorker about the confused roles of college, and the confusion caused for those who participate in the enterprise. And it influenced my thinking quite a lot, at least in part because it was a good premise left so incomplete. To borrow the subtitle of his article, why do we have college? He offers two reasons.

  • It sorts by talent. Millions of kids graduate from high school each year; which ones are academically best? The selective schools will tell you that by whom they admit. The simple fact of getting into and getting out of Yale or Stanford is more important than what you did there. We pretend that the precision of the GPA matters, but really, there are only three categories of college performance: drop-out, unremarkable, and remarkable. So if you multiply the selectivity of your school by which of those three categories you achieved, it tells the rest of us everything we think we need to know about you on your first resume, and allows HR departments and grad-school admissions officers to quickly cull the herd.
  • It is an enculturation device. It provides training in “the things that people like us should know,” an army of missionaries bringing the unwashed and half-finished into civilization. It offers familiarity with western civilization’s greatest hits, from Plato to Plath.

But Menand misses more than he hits. Here are some others.

  • It takes kids away from their families. One of the functions of education has always been to surround kids with adults who aren’t their parents, and thus to give them alternate models of adulthood.
  • It provides challenges to independence. High school is about compliance within complexity, and came to the fore during the great wave of industrialization, when factories needed men who could fit unquestioningly into whirling, dangerous mechanical processes. College is about choosing what to do and figuring out how to do it, managing your time and finding your own resources, failing and recovering along the way. By doing this, it prepares its students for more complex and fluid professional work.
  • It provides networks. One of the sorting mechanisms of college selectivity is to place kids into groups of kids with similar prospects in life, so that by the time they’re thirty, they have a huge contact file of friends they can call on for business and collegiality. They offer suitable dating and marriage pools, prepare their graduates for the appropriate country clubs and chambers of commerce.
  • It offers productive unemployment. Like the depression-era WPA and CCC and the contemporary armed services, colleges are a massive social support for people not prepared to enter the workforce. Just as child-labor laws were enacted at least in part to protect adult employment prospects, colleges take twenty million people out of the population defined in employment statistics, and holds them out of the way for a little longer while the grown-ups make a living. It reduces employment competition even as it helps those not yet competitive to feel okay about it, to have a named role within the system.
  • It challenges cultural stability. College is where burgeoning adults are trained to question, where students move from the comfort of knowing to the thrilling confusion of not-knowing. It introduces students to complex social and cultural problems, helps them move from narrow to broader interests, helps them see that they have a role in issues that are “not their business.” We think that higher ed is about gaining knowledge, but it’s also about choosing a world of dissatisfaction with the things we think we know, and bringing that aspiration for more into all of our stable systems.
  • It offers an on-ramp to adult responsibilities. It is a halfway house to first apartments, responsible drinking, responsible sex, productive time management. College allows kids to screw up in ways their parents never would, even as it stands by and helps to clean up the mess and reinforce the life lessons that come from mistakes.

So why does this list matter? It matters because how we define college has everything to do with how we define the role of the faculty. If we focus only on the specific content delivered within the specific three-credit box of a course (a model not so different than high school, after all), then all we need is a low-paid temporary worker who’s qualified to offer that box of goods. But if we see college as something more systemic, as an intervention into individual lives and collective culture, then we’d shift more toward a stable, permanent body of faculty members who know and embrace those larger roles over the duration of a student’s experience, a reliable family of non-family who recognize that their own value is far more than simply the things they know.

Evidence? I don’t need no freakin’ evidence!

One of the most amusing data points I’ve seen in the past few weeks (aside from “It looked like a million, a million and a half people”) comes from our friends at the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA). As reported in their Institutional Policy Report 2014, nobody really has a firm idea of how many postdocs there actually are…

Historically, institutions have not kept accurate records of postdoctoral scholars, although more and more institutions are doing so today. As a result, it is not clear precisely how many postdoctoral scholars are currently employed in the United States, but the NSF estimates there are between 30,800 to 63,400.

That’s funny. Isn’t the NSF supposed to be all scienc-y and stuff, all about measuring things down to the nanometer? 30,800 to 63,400 is a pretty big range. Also, with that kind of imprecision, it seems disingenuous to have any numbers at all after the comma… I mean, 30,800? Really? If you’re going to be off by 100% or more, it doesn’t seem necessary to have that many significant digits. They might as well have said “an awful lot.”

Anyway, the NPA put forth a counter-number.

The NPA’s member postdoctoral offices estimate they serve about 79,000 post-doctoral scholars; this number is thought to be closer to the true total, though still incomplete.

“About 79,000.” Much better phrasing. The “about” there is crucial, because it lets us know that we’re still in the realm of ballpark figures.

One thing the NPA does know with precision is how many university offices of postdoctoral services there are: 167, up from “less than 25” back in 2000. And why does NPA know that? Because those institutions pay NPA dues, and therefore deserve recognition.

(To return to an earlier theme, this is another example of institutional money not in a classroom. Each office of postdoctoral services eats up at least one staff position, probably reasonably well paid; they might actually put on services, which cost money; each school pays an NPA membership fee; the annual meeting—March 17-19, in San Francisco—is a minimum of $400 per person to register and $240 a night for the hotel… the symbionts are feeding well, even as the host complains of anemia.)

Anyway, why don’t we actually know how many postdocs there are in the US? Why don’t we know how many adjuncts there are, really? (The fudging of those numbers will be its own small chapter in the coming book…) Because no one in power is served by knowing those numbers. We don’t collect data that we don’t want to know.

Policymakers are proposing all kinds of metrics for undergraduate institutional success, from retention and persistence rates to graduation rates to indebtedness after graduation to rate of return on investment as demonstrated by average wages. All possibly useful. But they utterly ignore metrics for graduate education or the experience of scholars after graduation. Almost 40% of financial aid goes to grad students (even more if you count institutional aid like TAships and RAships and waivers), but the status of the grad student, adjunct instructor and postdoc researcher are out there in the plus-or-minus 100% range, even as they account collectively for a massive component of our institutional landscape.

I saw a pair of socks in a shop yesterday, as my wife and I stopped on our way back from the Women’s March in Montpelier VT (with its own police estimate of 15,000 to 20,000 attendance). They were cartoon socks of a slovenly guy in a lounger watching TV, and the text on the foot read “Let her have her way… she’s probably right anyway.” And underneath, the care instructions for the socks said “Wash warm, tumble dry medium heat, or whatever.”

In our understanding of the adjunct and postdoc communities, we’re definitely relying on the vocabulary of “or whatever.”

The Good Old Days

In her brilliant New Yorker essay this week, TV critic Emily Nussbaum likens the last election to comedy writing, saying essentially that we’ve just elected Don Rickles or Andrew Dice Clay or the cast of South Park. And she writes about the toxicity of nostalgia, citing a South Park episode about its own election fervor:

Meanwhile, an addictive snack called Member Berries—they whisper “ ’Member? ’Member?”—fills the white men of the town with longing for the past, mingling “Star Wars” references with “ ’Member when there weren’t so many Mexicans?”

It’s easy, when we think that things are impossibly confusing, when we think we’re getting a bad deal, to imagine the remedy as reverting to some prior era when things were still good, before the fall. But really, there’s almost never a good old days to go back to, when you look closely.

Higher ed is like that. Which of these ideal, golden pasts do we want to revert to?

Do we want to go back to the 19th century, in which only the male children of power went to college, in order to be groomed to take over the family empire? In which women were relegated to “normal schools,” in preparation to be elementary teachers?

Do we want to go back to the 1930’s, when education most often ended after grade school, and only single-digit percentages of adults had college degrees?

Do we want to go back to the 1950s, when racially segregated colleges were the norm? (I was astonished to see that George Wallace’s University of Alabama “stand in the schoolhouse door,” which I would have placed about 1955, was actually in 1963. “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”)

Do we want to go back to the 1970s, when we still talked casually about “co-eds,” as though it was a novelty for women and men to be in the same classrooms (classrooms taught almost exclusively by men)?

There isn’t any “back” that I want to go back to. No prior generation holds the prepackaged answers for tomorrow’s problems. We’ve got to face them on our own, imperfectly, knowing that we will create our own unintended consequences for the next generation to solve.

Back When the Teachin’ Was Easy…

I started playing pool, like everyone does, with the ten-dollar house cue in the wall rack. I finally bought one of my own, for about $80, and it was miraculous. It made me a better player. A few years later, I spent $400 on a cue, a surgical instrument that made the $80 cue feel like a dull axe. And now I have a cue from the angels, a marvel of precision that I just love to have in my hands, a cue that enables a far greater repertoire than anything I’d tried before.

It’s a fact that a fine instrument is easier to play than a clumsy instrument, the thousand-dollar guitar more sensitive and less brutish than the fifty-dollar guitar. But we give kids crappy instruments because we don’t know if the investment will pay off. A professional could make a fifty-dollar guitar sound halfway decent, but they get the expensive one because they’ve demonstrated their commitment.

This isn’t dissimilar to the way we treat students in any field; the ones who need the most support get the least.

Those of us who taught first-year writing at Duke had a 2/3 teaching load. Teachers at most community colleges have a 5/5 load; at most other public undergraduate schools, a 4/4. First-year writing courses at Duke were capped at 12 students. Try to find a freshman comp course less than twice that size at most undergrad schools. First-year writing courses at Duke were all taught by people who held PhDs, people with substantial and demonstrated capability in academic discourse.

So those Duke kids, the ones who’d grown up with money and books and professional conversations at dinner, whose parents and grandparents were all insiders, learned academic writing with a remarkably well-tuned (and expensive) instrument. We could focus inordinate amounts of time on the critique of each paper, on the construction of each assignment. We could develop new writing courses every semester, with plenty of time to locate interesting readings and place them into interesting dialogue with one another, supported by an astonishing library and close support from a large library staff. And Duke’s students—the ones predestined to succeed, the ones who’d already had every advantage—could afford that opportunity, as part of a school whose own admissions office now claims approximately $70,000 per year cost of attendance.

Those other kids—the ones who mostly didn’t have invigorating intellectual home lives and didn’t grow up with books all around, the ones who have to work full-time during the school year to make it, the ones who went to crappy feed-lot high schools, the ones who might thrive if only they had more attention and more support—go to schools where unaffiliated adjuncts teach way too many courses to way too many students. It’s a raw consumer logic, in which those with advantages can purchase greater advantages, and those who already start a couple of laps behind have to carry extra weight.

When I teach pool now, I give everybody the $400 cue to work with right from day one. It teaches better habits, opens more doors. It brings joy. It just feels like the right thing to do.

Water Dreams

I woke up this morning with architectural curricular thoughts in my head. It started out by listening to the rain dropping off the eaves onto the decaying leaves outside my bedroom window. “Be fun to have a whole course about water… Architects don’t know enough about water… they think they know—about drainage and flashing and caulk and stuff—but we don’t get at the base issue, what water is and where it comes from and how it moves.”

And then I thought, well, you could have a series of courses, about all of the base elements that buildings experience. A course about water, and about wind, and about fire, and about earth. (And about politics, and about money, two other base elements that buildings must contend with.)

So each semester has one of those courses, that’s six semesters. Then we add the British architect Frank Duffy’s notion that any building is made up of component layers, and that each of those layers needs to be able to slide against one another rather than being firmly imbedded. His layers (he had four, to which two more were later added by the writer Stuart Brand) were Site, Structure, Skin, Services, Spaces and Stuff. Each of those change at different rates, accomplish different kinds of work. So there’s six parallel courses, the second course of each semester.

The third course of each semester would be about people and buildings. People as workers, as clients, as nurturers, as residents, as guests, as connoisseurs.

And the fourth course of each semester, what we’d call “general education” or “liberal studies,” would be about the core values we espouse for every life. A course about rigor, and a course about curiosity. A course about joy, and a course about generosity. A course about love, and a course about death.

So there’s six semesters. Each would have one course about the context of the world, one course about an aspect of physical places, one course about human roles within those places, and one course to help us dream. Semesters seven and eight would be independent, the guided senior thesis in which each student would pull this work together into their own unique narrative.

But alas, such a curriculum could never exist. Like many faculty jobs, a great deal about higher education is contingent rather than values-based. This curriculum could never successfully address transfer students, whether coming in or going out, without losing most of what made it singular. It wouldn’t be comfortably flexible enough to deal with single parents and workers trying to fit a couple of courses at a time into a hardscrabble job schedule. It wouldn’t be aimed at a knowable credential, or fluid enough to match the workforce needs of specific industries as they emerged or ebbed. It wouldn’t match disciplinary expectations, or accreditors standards. It wouldn’t gain the support of legislators and bureaucracies who see education merely as workforce development.

A truly unique college experience would require a singular, monastic devotion on the part of everyone involved, from president to trustees to teacher to student to nervous, fearful parent. And we’re all too contingent for that.

 

The Chasm

I’ve tried very hard in working on this project to focus outward, to talk about what’s happening around me, to find facts and make connections. But I woke up from a nightmare this morning. The details of the dream aren’t relevant. What is relevant, if perhaps only to me, is the deep, aching fears that this project revives.

The grief of not finding a home in higher ed—of having done everything as well as I was capable of doing, and having it not pan out… of being told over and over how well I was doing and how much my contributions mattered, even as the prize was withheld—consumed the better part of a decade. It affected my physical health. It affected my mental health. It ended my first marriage. It re-opened all of my fears from childhood about abandonment and rejection. It was a chasm that opened during the job search of 1996-97, and from which I didn’t really fully emerge until I left higher ed altogether in 2013.

Or perhaps, as my dreams tell me, I haven’t emerged yet at all.

Over the past year, I’ve helped a college with its accreditation efforts. I’ve put on a few faculty development events. And now I’m writing about the contingent academic workforce. And I realize how much I resent it all. I realize how much I resent being a caretaker of an industry that could not care for me. I resent being the one who tries to be fair, who tries to take a balanced, holistic view of the misfortunes of hundreds of thousands of my contingent colleagues, and the safe and often unremarkable permanent careers of hundreds of thousands of others.

Every contact I have with higher education brings me right back into the chasm. Into envious comparisons with others. Into the commonsense conclusion that of COURSE I wasn’t good enough, of COURSE I did something wrong along the way. Into trying to be rational and analytical and strategic about something as fundamental as my own identity as a scholar and teacher and colleague.

I went with my wife on a research trip yesterday in support of her current project. We were in Hennicker, New Hampshire, home of New England College. As we drove through the compact campus and its white clapboard buildings, I was immediately beguiled once again with the life I wanted, to have been the kind wise man who led generations of students into a richer adulthood on a protected, monastic grounds. The music of a good college campus always makes me sing, and having that song inside me again even momentarily makes me realize how much the silence has ached.

The problems with the adjunct structure of higher education are not merely quantitative. It’s not just about how badly adjuncts are paid, not just about the inadequate opportunities for our students to build enduring relationships with the faculty who guide them. It’s also about fear, grief, despair… the messy, hidden human elements that finance and policy always miss. This emerging project is not a memoir, not an autobiography. But the reason I’m doing it is because it matters so much to me, and the reason it matters so much to me is because it still hurts so badly. Researching and writing this book has brought me back into the chasm in ways that I hadn’t anticipated.