More on “The Ph.D. Now Comes With Food Stamps”

The recent Chronicle of Higher Education article, on the struggles of Ph.D. students and graduates on public assistance, raises a vitally important issue, one that deserves the full discussion now taking place online. I was glad to provide comments for the article, but, no doubt, space constraints made a fuller quotation of my longer replies to the Chronicle impossible. So here, to help continue the conversation, are two additional follow-up questions submitted to me via email on March 30, 2012, and my complete, unedited replies.

1. Are you surprised to hear that there adjuncts in the humanities who are on government assistance because they get paid so low?

I’m certainly aware of the inadequate pay scales that characterize the employment structure for many historians and others in the academy. Anyone familiar with the rates of pay for scholars teaching part time in colleges and universities has to be aware of the possibility that part time teaching could easily be compatible with eligibility for various forms of public assistance.

2. What do you think scholarly associations can do to address this issue and the deteriorating working conditions among a good number of adjuncts?

The AHA and other scholarly societies can, and do, establish and endorse best practices documents for employment of non-tenure track faculty, and use the various forums and publications available to us to advocate for such practices. We also have been involved in a substantive data gathering process through the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, which we hope will strengthen these advocacy efforts. The Coalition brings together a variety of organizations, including scholarly societies, the AFT, AAUP, New Faculty Majority, and others, working together to seek and then mobilize leverage in this area. The AHA, like other scholarly societies, considers the shifting employment structure in colleges and universities to be a major issue in terms of both fair employment practices, and educational quality. If we are to provide first class education to our students, we must provide their teachers with working conditions appropriate to those ambitions.


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  1. Melissa Bruninga-Matteau

    Thank you for bringing to light your further comments. If only I had the opportunity to do so, as well, rather than have my life choices disparaged.

  2. Alix Cooper

    I would just like to say that I really appreciate the courage of those who were willing to be interviewed by the Chronicle and speak honestly and openly about the difficulties facing adjuncts in today’s world. I find it extremely unfortunate that in the Chronicle’s online comments section, as in far too many online comments sections nowadays, some individuals chose to make ignorant and hurtful rather than productive comments. I commend the AHA for taking seriously the difficulties faced by historians who work as contingent faculty. Although I am not an adjunct myself, I feel—and I am sure that the vast majority of historians of all employment situations would agree with me—that in order to solve problems, we have to be willing to speak about them. Many of the best historians I know are in non-tenure-track jobs. Let’s support them.