Alex Radison

  • Our final readings for the course put into words some of the frustrations that I (and I’m sure most of you) have experienced at some point or another in our (mostly short) teaching careers. As a part-time a […]

    • I agree with you about the strange dynamic between gratitude and frustration. It’s been great to learn more about teaching and have a chance to work with students, but it’s troubling to think of the job as symptomatic of the administrative failings in higher education. Your point, Alex, about hourly wages is pretty thought provoking. I imagine if I crunched the numbers and compared adjuncting with previous jobs I’d find something similar. This seems anomalous considering how much more difficult teaching is than anything else I’ve done, and unfortunate as one imagines all the misallocation of funds that must occur in a university-size bureaucracy. (Blackboard, for one glaring example from the readings.)

      Universities leverage the hierarchy of academia to justify low wages. At the same time, they use the hierarchy to assure students and parents that they’re getting their money’s worth. And they placate adjunct faculty in affective terms—something like “Don’t you realize how lucky you are to have this remarkable opportunity?” I’m really happy with my experience at QC, and I don’t mean to be cynical, but one doesn’t have to think terribly hard to begin to imagine the deep, deep flaws of the system. I sympathize with people who are trying to make it work, struggling to earn a living on adjunct pay rates. It seems next to impossible in this city, and yet administrations are, in their actions, if not their words, saying “tough luck.”

      When I was on Facebook, I used to always notice academic friends/acquaintances complaining about this very issue. It seemed at a little overblown to me at the time, thinking in terms of class. Anyone pursuing a PhD could probably find another, better paying job. I understand the issue better now, and relate to the struggle. I also recognize adjuncting is untenable going forward, unless I view it as a supplement to more lucrative freelance work, which I may very well do. Still, I am a bit mystified at the class status of an adjunct instructor with an advanced degree. How do we talk about this issue in relation to other, perhaps less privileged instances of labor exploitation? What can be done to change this situation? I’m especially interested in talking over the specifics of the labor union, and the potential for collective bargaining among adjunct teachers. Also, I’d be interested in hearing people’s thoughts on the academic profession, more generally, and how to navigate what seems such a precarious and forbidding job market.

    • When I think about the question of the exploitation of adjunct and graduate labor in the university, I can’t help but think of it within the specific context of English departments and to think that the current state of affairs feels almost inevitable considering the way in which our departments are positioned within the university, the role of English programs being largely perceived as a service position. English programs are looked to by the university, essentially, to generate students in all majors who can operate as competent writers in their respective fields. As we all know, that task is far too big to be met by full-time English faculty, and so adjunct and graduate labor must be over-utilized in any attempt to meet it. As we were told last week, ENGL 130 at Queens was shared among various departments specifically because English did not feel we could reasonably be expected to cover that additional course, even despite the comparatively vast size of our department: covering two required semesters of writing instruction, even with adjunct labor, was too big a task. And yet, conversely, we consistently feel as instructors that those two semesters aren’t nearly enough to prepare our students for the kinds of writing they will have to do in college. It seems clear that the job of training all students on campus to write at a university level is simply beyond the capabilities of one department, and placed under such a requirement, it seems inevitable that English departments will continue to stretch their budgets to poorly pay enough instructors to meet that workload.

      In response to such a situation, wherein it seems clear that universities need to provide more and better training in writing, but wherein the demands of our current training programs are already exceeding the capabilities of English departments, I can only imagine a solution that heavily centers WAC programs and, ultimately, demands a shift in the way universities understand the role of writing instruction, so that it is located more equally in all disciplinary areas. Writing is a central mode of thought and knowledge-building across the board in academia, and the careers of almost all academics depend on it. If we do not reimagine writing instruction as a central concern throughout university education, and if we continue to demand that English departments take on that burden alone, that state of affairs will continue to necessitate a huge population of part-time English faculty who the field does not have enough full-time positions to support.

    • Thanks everyone for your extremely thoughtful comments, and I agree with what everyone seems to agree. We’re expected to do too much for too little pay. And, I appreciate Sophie bringing in gender into the equation because it is an important thing to note.

      I also wonder how much we need to also turn to the students for decreasing our labor. Well, yes, the majority of our demands are on an institutional level, the students, especially incoming freshman, EXPECT a certain level of hands-on attention like Sophie and Giselle talk about giving high school students. In an extremely small way, forcing the students to acknowledge that we don’t have the time/money to give that level of attention early on might be beneficial. I know a lot of the extra work I put in (answering emails that a fellow classmate or the syllabus could have answered, for example) would clear up.

      However, I also know that the majority of us care for our students and would go that extra mile if it was asked of us. You don’t get into teaching if you don’t care on some level, which makes the question of labor even more difficult. I want to do everything I can for these students and dedicate hours of every day to helping them, but I can’t afford to. I go to school full time, teach two classes, and do work study, and that’s all before actually having a life outside of school and work.

      The fact of the matter is, we all deserve to be paid more. However, we won’t get paid a more livable wage until full-time faculty petition for us on a more widespread level. And, unfortunately, that won’t happen on a larger scale until the full-time faculty get paid more reasonable salaries. Can we go back to the days when educators were paid as much as doctors?

  • I had a similar experience as you in the honors program here at Queens, where I was given freedom to choose my project and complete it how I saw fit. Never before had I been so engaged in my academic writing; in fact, before that, I can’t think of a single essay I wrote that I actually cared about… All I wanted was my A and to move on to the…[Read more]

  • As a life long gamer,  the debate on whether or not video games are a serious art form worthy of study or just “mindless play” is something I’ve given a lot of thought to. James Gee’s What Video Games Have to T […]

    • I haven’t played video games for years, but I was pretty into them when I was younger. I definitely came up against the “grandpa” effect Gee speaks of: It was a forgone conclusion that video games were a waste of time. As a result, I don’t think I ever really considered their value as a learning tool. I’m sure I wasn’t so analytical as that—I wasn’t thinking in terms of “learning tools”—but I certainly saw the games as more a distraction than a viable pursuit in themselves. I’m still reasonably fluent in “game-language,” and I enjoy playing on the rare occasion when someone has a console. I wonder, though, if I lost interest in high school in response to the skepticism that surrounds gaming. I remember simply not caring anymore, ceasing to suspend my disbelief, but I’m sure it’s more complicated than that.

      In response to your point, Alex: I’m also curious how to teach video games. I’m interested in what this “legitimacy” would do to broaden the conversation about their place in culture. How would a more active critical discourse surrounding games affect public perception, affect the views within the “affinity group,” and influence the kinds of games that get made? Likewise, how can video games be seen as a pedagogical tool—a supplement like a blog that can create some variability in the classroom? I played “Number Munchers” and “Mario Teaches Typing” when I was a kid, but I haven’t played another game for class since. I’d be curious to see what an advanced video-games course would look like. As well, I’d like to discuss how this field might connect back to our core concern of college-level writing.

  • “For our purposes, such an approach could invite self-reflection about the meaning of intellectual property—what about it we should value and what we should consider with scrutiny”

    I’ve been wondering about this in the context of creative writing as well. Thankfully, there have been no instances of blatant plagiarism in my class, but it’s s…[Read more]

  • I took issue with DeLong’s piece. Not because systemic racism can’t or doesn’t affect creative writing, but because she never presents her argument. She says: “At another institution I saw how the energy given to the creative writing program contributed to and stemmed from the race-blindness of the faculty members in the English department,” but…[Read more]

  • I totally agree with your analysis of the Jonas incident. Cynthia clearly was not comfortable walking the line between disliking the content and awarding the technical proficiency of the writing. She was so repulsed that she lost all sense of objectivity, whereas Elbow suggests (or at least implies) that we should be able to recognize a paper as…[Read more]

  • I also feel a bit conflicted with regards to narrow vs broad assignments. In my undergrad career, I encountered mostly structured writing assignments. These assignments definitely helped me to become a better writer, but at the same time, I really didn’t care about most of them. It wasn’t until the honors seminar where I was truly given free reign…[Read more]