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Sunday, October 4, 2015

But it had a Cost

It has been an unusually long time since I wrote here at Bad Cripple. In August I was enthused about the Fall semester but depressed. I retain my enthusiasm and ditched my depression in large part because my honors class is as usual filled with excellent students. I am somewhat taken aback the calendar has turned to October. Before I know it I will be grading papers--a job I enjoy in large part due to the fact my students know how to write well. More personally, I have been out of sorts for two months. August is always rough for me physically. I wither in the heat. By late August I am worn down. This September seems like it was hot as August and two months of heat has left me out of sorts. Beyond work, I have not been able to focus on anything. I have many excuses: I am worried about my mother's health. All week I have been thinking about my brother Jim. He died in April and today was a football day. I am a New York Jets fan and the team played in London. With the time zone change the game started at 9:30AM. I had the game on the radio as I cleaned up my house and I recalled Marty Glickman. Now that man had an interesting voice and an even more interesting life. This in turn made me think of my brother Jim and my father. My brother Jim loved the Giants and tailgating. The man was a master at making sandwich. In his honor I made a great sandwich for lunch. As for my father, every Fall we would go to late mass, then see my grandmother, and drive to watch the Giants play at Yankee Stadium. We watched the 3rd quarter only and listened to the rest of the game on the radio. Ate the game, my father had a beer and I had a coke. We each ate one hot dog. My father smoked a cigar. Oh, how manly I felt. Surrounded by other men we cheered on the Giants. I did not really care about the game, it was the experience. Life was good. It still is.

It is a gorgeous Fall day. I have no right to complain about my lot in life.  I live in a little town in Central New York and am currently looking out at a magnificent view of a lake. My rent was paid on time. My beloved labrador Kate is at my side. I have really good food in my fridge. My car is in good working order. Physically I feel fine though I am not thrilled with the aging process and being a middle aged man. Am I going to complain? You bet I am for my life and current position have come at a cost. Given the opportunity, I would without question not change my life in academia. My father was proud of me and urged me to do something important. Do not worry about money he told tell me repeatedly. Do something important. For him and me, important meant become an academic.  When I question life and career choices I close my eyes and think of the day I got my PhD at Columbia. My father and mother were very happy. Arnold Gold and his wife Sandra were there and happy like my parents.  I was married and my son was an infant. It was a great day and remains a cherished memory.

As I sat in the sun and ate my lunch I read two stories that deeply touched me. It reinforced how lucky I am and makes me wonder about my future. Last week the Seattle Times published a story about the life and death of David Heller. Heller lived in Seattle and for many years worked as an adjunct. Adjunct work is hard. Adjunct work pays poorly; Heller, at age 61, earned $18,000 a year, well below the poverty line. He had no job security. He was hired by the semester. He had no benefits. There are perks to being an adjunct. The administration has no interest nor commitment to an adjunct. We get to pick and chose the degree we want to be active on campus. We are cheap day laborers and just as invisible. We come and go and many teach at multiple universities at the same time. In the Puget Sound area, adjuncts are referred as "I-5 flyers". This is how 70% of professors nationally earn a living. In the Seattle Times a friend of Heller's, Charlie Fischer stated:

Heller was a symptom of the commodification of education. It’s increasingly about measurable outcomes or monetary results. Because an engineering degree has so much more economic value than one in say, literature, the former is supported while the latter is slowly devalued.“Dave was like an itinerant philosopher,” Fischer says. “There’s almost no role anymore for people like him.In his story, Fischer quoted a UW philosophy professor saying Heller was so dedicated “He would have lived in a barrel, if necessary, to devote himself to teaching.” That’s a great tribute to the man, but an indictment of the system that it almost came to that. Link:

At the time of Heller's death he lived in a tenant group house in Seattle's U District. He had a worn out bed, a fridge and a massive library of books crammed into a small space. I get this. I live Heller's life as do 70% of all professors. For most of my career, I have been underemployed and on the periphery of academia. I have been treated badly. I have been treated well. I have no idea what will happen from one semester to the next. I hate the summer because I am not paid. I can no longer teach during the summer--the physical grind is too taxing. If you factor in the prep work required to teach, I earn about $10 to $15 an hour. Some ask, why don't adjuncts object? Some do. In February 2015 National Adjunct Walkout Day was held. I did not walkout. I do what I always do--held my class, slapped a smile on my face, and did my job. I know what others have figured out but for complex reasons refuse to admit. If all adjuncts quit tomorrow the American collegiate system would literally fall apart. There is too much money involved for that to ever happen. College is a cash cow.

My future is unknown. I will hang on here at Syracuse for as long as possible. I have nothing to tie me down. I launched my son into the real world. I live alone in a small apartment. I have a borrowed desk. I have a bed and a drum table. I have one folding chair. I have a lot of books. It is a good life I lead. A solitary life.  I wish I could share it with my brother and father. Instead, I try to remind myself of the good times we had. As I noted, I am out of sorts.