April 07, 2003

A Koan for the Academic Proletariat

The Invisible Adjunct asks the question, "what is a visiting assistant professor?"

The answer is, "it depends." Sometimes a visiting assistant professor is a visiting assistant professor--that is, a tenure-track assistant professor at one school who is taking a year to visit and teach at another. And sometimes a visiting assistant professor is a visiting assistant professor--that is, a temporary, non-tenure track, low-status employee added to the faculty to fill some of the great holes in the teaching line.

Posted by DeLong at April 7, 2003 12:20 PM | TrackBack


In a previous career, I was informed by my department chair of how the deans filled his days with petty matters -- like squabbling over the title of adjunct professors. Being an "adjunct associate professor" paid a monstrous $300 more per course than "adjunct assistant professor" -- but those deans wanted to make sure that the resume in question could hold up to the former lofty title.

Posted by: P O'Neill on April 7, 2003 02:05 PM

Could we find some work for these folks to do? They have too much idle time.

Posted by: Chuck Nolan on April 7, 2003 02:43 PM

[Snort]. Anyone who posts comments on this blog has too much idle time.

Posted by: andres on April 8, 2003 07:10 AM

Quite right that the term "visiting assistant professor" can refer to an assistant professor who holds a tenure-track position at one institution but who is visiting for a year or two at another institution. This was of course its original meaning. But it now has another meaning: these days it also, and probably more often, refers to someone who is not on the tenure track and who does not hold another institutional position. At what point does it become little more than a polite fiction, designed to gloss over the grim reality of low status and low pay? I don't have a problem with the use of the term "visiting assistant professor" to describe a temporary one- or two-year non-tenure track job. But I do have a problem with the use of the term to designate someone who holds a semi-permanent to permanent but non-tenure track position: ie, to someone who is not really "visiting" but who is more or less permanently installed in a department though in a non-tenured line with lower status and lower pay.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct on April 8, 2003 07:56 AM

I think that the term for Brad's second kind of visitor should be "Couchsurfing assistant professor." You're visiting where you are, but you don't have any other home. (I'm likely to become one soon.)

I don't know anything about pay structures, but I imagine at some places assistant professors--visiting or no--get paid more than lecturers or instructors of any stripe. So it might not be good for the academic proletariat to ban non-time-limited "visiting assistant professorships," if that meant that those were replaced by lectureships. (Which also probably look worse on your CV.)

Posted by: Matt Weiner on April 8, 2003 10:09 AM

Yes, visiting assistant professors often get more money, plus benefits (benefits like health insurance are huge: they can mean the difference between genteel poverty and, well, poverty).

It's not a question of banning these positions. And if the academic proletariat were in a position to ban them, they wouldn't be an academic proletariat. It's a matter of figuring out what these terms mean, what they actually refer to, in order to better understand the state of job "market" in one's field.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct on April 8, 2003 11:57 AM

Caveat: There are 1500 four-year institutions out there and the only generalization that's true for all of them is they all award BAs.

There's a double euphemism here. It isn't just that these people aren't visiting (one of them said: "I've unpacked."); it's also that the gripe isn't (or isnm't only) the lack of tenurability. It's the lack of promotability which matters. A newly hired non-tenure-track assistant professor and a newly hired tenure-track assistant professor will likely be offered fairly similar salaries (partly because new tenure-track assistant professors aren't exactly being showered with riches). But seven years down the road (or so, see caveat) the tenure track person will jump the tenure hurdle, be promoted, get a raise, later he'll get another promotion, get another raise. All the while the non-tenure-track assistant professor remains an assistant professor, earning roughly what she earned when hired.

Probably, also, the non-tenure-track assistant professor will shoulder a heavier teaching load, since there's no publish or perish tenure hurdle coming up in seven years.

Nor will the non-tenure-track assistant professor ever serve on a committee with power (RPT, salary or similar).

So, yes. This is an academic proletariat.

But it's still better than being an adjunct.

Posted by: jam on April 8, 2003 04:47 PM
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