20 January 2014

Things Aren't Working Out for Sad White Men (Why Higher Ed Needs a New Narrative)

This guy isn't the problem (link here):

Though you'd be forgiven for thinking so if you thought that this was what academia is supposed to be like (check out the "classroom" shot at :33):


There's no comment thread to the NY Times piece, but I'm pretty sure the following is what's being said wherever the piece is linked to a unsympathetic audience (I've now read a lot of comment threads on adjunct issues):
  • This guy should get a real job.
  • This guy should move away from NYC.
  • This guy shouldn't have had a kid.
  • Any smart person would have KNOWN that getting a Ph.D was a sucker's game and avoided it in the first place.
  • You want real problems?  Look at someone Doing Job X/Recently Downsized but Neceessary Job Y/Trying to sell Credential Z!
In the context of global recession, growing wealth inequality, and the erosion of public resources for pretty much anything, the plight of adjuncts is easy to dismiss, particularly when it's presented like this, as one guy and his poor life choices in pursuit of a life of the mind.  I gather, we're supposed to see Dr. Hoff as more sympathetic because he's not a single mom with tattoos.  Or uncredentialed and dead, from a combination of mental illness and poverty.  (There's more to say about recent unionizing efforts among contingent faculty. There's also more to say about the whiteness here, and the way academia's adjunct crisis has happened alongside efforts to diversify academia.)

He does, as they say, look the part, a Grady Tripp manqué.  The part, though, has changed beyond recognition.  The story that needs to be told?  How the least valued participants in the academy are the ones entrusted with giving entering college students the critical writing, reading, and thinking skills that will lead to their upward mobility.


  1. Thank you for writing this.

  2. Trouble with the Grady Tripp comparison is that he's a literary star on the basis of a single novel he wrote and teaches creative writing at SECC (Some East Coast College).

    He is not an individual who slaved away doing a Ph.D.and then landed a top-of-the-line tenured position.

    From the get-go, Tripp is atypical.

    But you are right about this being the popular image of the college professor -- and it may indeed have had some bearing on reality, given Chabon based Tripp on a professor who taught him at Pittsburgh in the early 80s.

    An entirely different era.