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: http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/gifted-teachers-life-of-the-mind-was-also-life-of-near-destitution/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=article_left
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.