Category Archives: Adjunctified

Mea Culpa, Nicole Matos: The Confessions of an Essay-Topic Banner

If you don’t teach college-level composition (and, if not, good for you for making wiser career choices), you likely have no skin in the game of the controversy that College of DuPage Associate Professor, Nicole Matos, takes up in her recent article for the Vitae blog: “Why I Allow Writing on Abortion, Marijuana, and The Big Game.”

In brief, the issue is this: When they get to the point of assigning their students the standard-issue college argument essay, some English professors (and I am one of them) ban specific topics.

I, for example, have reached my lifetime limit of reading students’ views on things like abortion, gay marriage, and the death penalty in part because, yes it’s true, there are some viewpoints on these issues that I cannot judge fairly. What is more, as a queer man, I simply don’t feel there is any reason to expose myself to arguments about why my kind is destroying the family or how ISIS has the right idea when it tosses suspected homosexuals off the roofs of tall buildings.

I mean, let’s just face it: A lot of my students should come with trigger warnings.

Plus, I already know what Sean Hannity thinks about these issues, and I don’t need to read any more quotes from him to get the point.

But not all of my nixed topics are banned on ideological grounds. I also refuse to read about whether advertising is (or isn’t) causing an epidemic of anorexia/bulimia among young women, the role that video games do (or don’t) play in provoking real-life violence, or whether fast-food restaurants are (or aren’t) responsible for obesity in America.

First, the only thing such topics encourage students to do is to sally forth onto the verdant fields of information and return with their baskets overladen with other people’s fact-free opinions, which they then strew enthusiastically over their papers like poppy seeds on a bagel. They are not in a position to make a credible argument about such questions because almost no one is.

I keep telling them I don’t care about opinions; I care about what can be demonstrated with logic, reasonable argument, and evidence, but I often have the distinct impression that my microphone isn’t on. (I should report that to the administration. After they fix the air conditioner, which hasn’t worked since I first mentioned it three months ago, I’m sure they’ll get right on it.)

Moreover, what I’ve learned is that the likelihood that first- and second-year composition students will have anything original or interesting or convincing to say about these topics is roughly equal to the probability that one of them is going to turn in a solution to the problem of cold fusion.

A practice such as mine nonetheless leaves Matos aghast: “It never occurred to me to actually make certain perennial college-essay topics verboten,” she says, and I can just picture the adorable look of perplexity on her face as she says it.

Well. It never occurred to me to split infinitives or to abuse adverbs like that, but don’t let me wander off-topic.

At this point, it is fair to disclose that the posts on Vitae often make my skin crawl for the privilege they assume and for their saintly, superteacher air of superiority, but Nicole Matos’s comments on essay topics in composition courses were enough to send me on an emergency visit to the dermatologist.

Taking up my machete to slash away the truisms and sloganeering of Matos’s Stand-and-Deliver college-teaching fantasy, I came to believe that the true motivation for Matos’s didn’t-give-it-much-of-a-think piece was the joy of delivering a massive make-wrong to all those English (and other profs) who “abdicate responsibility for remaining reasonably impartial on all potential subjects.”

Because, yes; I admit it. I am one of those who do the thing that makes Matos weep. I cannot deny, in some cases, that “my views are so entrenched I cannot even assess the logic of another side.” I cannot, for example, assess the logic of saying that queer people should be imprisoned or killed. I cannot assess the logic of insisting that the death penalty is a deterrent to murder. I cannot assess the logic of claiming that evolution has yet to be proved.

Sorry, I just can’t. And I don’t want to. And I’m not going to. My classroom isn’t a place where students are free to express either hate speech or stupidity. I’m not interested in helping them find more convincing arguments for ignorance.

They don’t have to agree with my views, but they do have to choose a different topic.

One argument I would really enjoy having, though, is whether or not Prof. Matos is as “reasonably impartial on all potential subjects” as she claims. Frankly, I don’t believe it for a nanosecond, but that level of pious posturing is a tempting balloon. And I just happen to have a handful of hat pins.

Meanwhile, I am delighted for Prof. Matos that she has minds to work with that are capable of taking advantage of her no doubt exemplary ability to explain “where the greatest potential — and most common pitfalls” of “overexposed” essay topics lie. I applaud her ability to get her students to stop using Google and only Google for research, and to move beyond quoting the very first result that agrees with the position they had already formed before they started.

I am agog, when she offers her student writers such enormously beneficial comments as “What can you offer as evidence for that?” or “Are you sure you want to make your argument this absolutely?,” that they respond by rushing to revise and rethink, inspired as they have never before been (rather than merely rolling their eyes and (maybe) making a desultory visit to the Writing Center (which, they rigorously report, “doesn’t help). I mean, golly. It’s no more than one teacher in a million who can come up with incisive questions like those.

Heck, I’m just in awe of her evidently superlative skills at getting her students to read a college-level text and understand more than a third of it.

I don’t know what they’re putting in the water there at College of DuPage, but I sure wish we had us some here.

My days as a teacher, instead, are mostly spent in ways other than carefully crafting young minds. A lot of days, my job is to get anyone (anyone? Bueller?) to offer a minimally thoughtful comment on a reading that she or he has actually completed. A lot of days, I stand in front of a group of 18- to 21-year-olds and explain things like why verbs and subjects have to agree, a topic which, they swear, has never before been broached in their presence.

A lot of days, I meet one-on-one with students while seated on the floor in the hallway, given that I have no desk, no computer, and no office. Also no job security, no chance at tenure, and no contact with colleagues.

So again, brava Professor Matos if you’ve got rooms full of prepared, engaged students to work with and the time and resources to contemplate “the instructor’s role.”

Me, I’ve got kids traumatized by a lifetime of illiteracy education who can’t get their faces out of their phones. I’ve got seventeen emails from my administration asking me to fill out forms. I’ve also got to get to my other part-time job so I can supplement the roughly $10.50 per hour I earn for teaching.

And yes. I do know that all that is my fault. I am just not good enough.

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Smug, Smarmy, Self-Satisfied White Guy Schools His University Colleagues on Why They Aren’t Winners Like Him

Jason Brennan, an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University, tells adjunct professors across the country that they could always “get a job at GEICO” if they don’t like teaching conditions in today’s Ayn Rand-approved American university system.

In an editorial originally published on the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog (and since removed), “National Adjunct Walkout Day: Should We Feel Sorry for Adjuncts?” [or download a .pdf here], Brennan opines that

“[a]djuncts are people who played what they should have known, and in most cases did know, was a risky game, and lost. They are not like sweatshop workers in the third world who have no better options. They are more like formerly rich people who understand statistics, but who decided to bet the house in Vegas anyways. When they lose — even though they lose in a corrupt [and] unfair system — it’s hard to feel sorry for them. After all, they knew (or should have known) what the risks were and how bad the system is, and they played anyways. Further, there’s no reason why they have to wallow in adjunct poverty. They could just quit at any time and get a perfectly good job at GEICO.”

Brennan_J

Jason Brennan: can Resting Bitch Face be cured?

Brennan is the author of a number of books on capitalism, the economy, and the “free market” system that Rand Paul has admitted to using extensively in moments of private self-pleasuring, but he remains an assistant professor even after nearly eight years in academia. At Georgetown, where he has taught since 2011, tenure continues to evade him.

Still, the kind of ironclad logic that Brennan displays in “Should We Feel Sorry for Adjuncts?” has won him the accolades of tens. Take, for example, his stinging criticism of National Adjunct Walkout Day: “Fixing the [adjunct] system won’t mean that most adjuncts will get cushy [tenure-track] jobs. Instead, it would at most mean that a minority of them will get [tenure-track] jobs, and the rest will be kicked out of academia entirely. So, if you’d prefer to be an adjunct [with] bad pay to working at GEICO, then your fellow protesting adjuncts are your enemies, not your friends.

Devastating, until one considers that what the adjunct system really demonstrates is that Assistant Professors like Brennan are dinosaurs dying slowly in the poisoned air that has surrounded the planet since the collision of the neoliberal asteroid.

Adjuncts will do exactly what Brennan does and they’ll do it for a fraction of what it costs to give people like Brennan an office, a department secretary, and a healthcare plan.

Adjuncts are coming for your job, Jason, and your Libertarian overlords are going to give it to them. (If you know of something in retail or used car salesmanship that might be right for Jason after he becomes another victim of the “free market,” please contact him at Jason.Brennan@georgetown.edu.)

National March Convened

In reaction to Brennan’s editorial, organizers and protestors will travel to Georgetown in the coming weeks to meet with Brennan. After a group of ENG 101 adjunct comp professors explain the concept of the logical fallacy to him, a second group plans to kick Brennan repeatedly in the nuts.

Said one non-tenured professor, “Back in the day, I’d have kicked him in the nuts on general principles just for that look on his face.”

Added another long-time professor of political science who came across Brennan’s editorial on Facebook, “Because FB has still not installed the ‘I wanna punch a douche’ button, I just clicked ‘Like’ instead.”