Friday Night Out With An Adjunct Art Professor

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Higher education in the arts. An oxymoron, but only because I am educated and think I know what that word means. So, English adjuncts too, they also sit across from me like the man in the painting struggling with private demons day after day.

I have much to write on this subject, but I will try my best to keep it short and personal. Brevity is the new black. Our Internet God gets suspicious of words after they fill up a whole page without selling anything. So here goes…

Number one: Any provost of a college or university who partakes in the adjunct system of hiring experts at a pittance needs a light tar and heavy feathering. This gang mentality of tenure-track professorship vs. under-insured low-pay adjunct teaching is a paradigm replete with local collegiate classism. In a word it is disgusting. In a phrase, vile, petty, and incomprehensibly unfair. A nearby college where a friend of mine teaches will not afford him a private office on the hill. A room must be shared by all the lowly “unmade” adjuncts. Of course among the hapless professors in that room there may be a great teacher worthy of a private phone line, if not a club-issued award. The majority of students might sign up for his class because he is knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and talented beyond his rank in the art of pedagogy. But the provost and her good ole girls/boys club does not inquire about actual teaching experience or ability when interviewing for the private office. The credentials can be equal, but one of those lucky 40 or 50 applicants gets the prize of being able to support a family and leave his day-old travel mug on the desk. The rest painstakingly struggle with a used car payment and harbor serious reservations about extra sprinkles on their kid’s ice cream cones.

It just makes for a vile, petty, unfair, even childish system of higher education. It puts fear into all players, nourishes elitism, bullyism, gives men and women of the same age and caliber a false measuring stick to guide their lives by. It fosters competition toward the wrong ends (status and avarice), and of course the student body suffers. Heck, the latter have no idea about the immense gulf in pay, benefits and respect between the made and the unmade. They assume (their parents too) that the enormous sums spent on tuition is equally divided among the campus faculty, with slight variations in senior and junior pay. In fact, knowing the truth about below poverty income for their kid’s mentors, might make a significant number of parents rethink their plan to invest money in a school that is practically starving its local intelligentsia.

So no more multimillion dollar buildings please, while good people are getting paid bad wages. Don’t believe administration when it tells you, my adjunct professor friends, that your pay is that equivalent to a dishwasher’s salary because the money for the big building comes from a special fund allotted to construction projects. They are lying to you. Their line is called “management confidential”. Confidential means “lie” on a college level entrance exam. Don’t let them lie to you anymore. Tell your students what you get paid, and what Ms. Cheese, the senior professor, gets paid. Show the gap to close the gap. Ms. Cheese teaches like a wet cardboard box. Some of you, I am sure articulate more meaningfully on relevant subjects than Ms. Cheese could with the help of a marching band. The kids don’t need to know what past credentials their teacher has layered thick upon her super smart sandwich. They want public and self respect, knowledge, and the ability to prove what they are capable of. Similar to the needs of an adjunct professor struggling to make ends meet on a line weighted down by corrupt multimillion dollar colleges and universities.

Number two: The painting above is in reference to art faculty working everyday to silence their own art. What a conflict of interest! The more immersed and dependent on the university one is, the less his creativity can explore. The art teacher must be careful of how he is regarded among peers and powerful administrators. The problem builds over time to complete an endless circle. Careful teachers teaching careful art to students to become careful teachers themselves one day. Institutional art. In a hyphenated word, anti-art.

Yesterday the Agora Gallery, a well-respected vanity show place in New York, linked an article for its Twitter followers. It was about the possible culture boom wrought by the fracking gush in North Dakota. The Agora hires people who have art degrees. Art in North Dakota. An oxymoron like “mountain man of the Bowery”.  Men and women well drillers out to make some damn good art. They come home with twisted spines and chemical lung, and rush through dinner to express their dreams with pen or paint. I see it now, culture in North Dakota. Gay Paris. Painters in three-egg diners guzzling vanadium water instead of absinthe. Children being taught by well drillers who have aspired to art. Young adults graduating from the University of North Dakota with art degrees interviewed to adjunct at my local college. “Are you kidding us? We can get paid ten times that licking boots at the Marcellus Shale fields. Up yours with this insult to my climb out of poverty.”

So to art professors I say,

Good for art, bad for oyster-fed artists, but truly, all art teachers must be made adjuncts, and live on rice and beans, and sometimes beer, or else!

That, for the artists. The rest of university adjuncts need to mob up, and storm the Bastille of administration to tar and feather the politicos who dangle their lives on a string.

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