Ask Michelle

I have fallen on my face because I didn’t answer this email, but then I thought this

 could be a good one for everyone to see and weigh in on . . . when and if you’re ready.

So here’s the question: M asked me “what is the future of higher education teaching? I have heard over the recent years about colleges and universities hiring more adjunct professors. I am concerned because I have considered becoming a college professor.”

Let me start by saying that Higher Education is an industry, just like many others including law, health care, government, beautification, and on the list goes. And it tends to follow the trends of such industries as well . . . as much labor from poorly paid people as possible.

While those of us who have spent loads of time locked in the ivory tower would like to believe that higher education does not behave in similar fashion, then you have to ask and answer the following question – why is there a huge increase in contingent professors and a sharp increase in administrators at the same time?

Administrators do not teach (generally), or if they do, it’s at much lighter teaching loads. Further, administrators tend to earn the most money in the University hierarchy.

Meanwhile, Adjuncts, Lecturers, and many others actually earn little money. While students pay full price to take the courses, the course is actually paying a fraction of that to the people who actually teach. Adjuncts often teach 4 – 5 courses per semester to make ends meet. 

To add insult to injury, an increasing percentage of the contingent teaching is done by people who hold PhDs. That’s right, these are people who did two years of course work, passed their oral comps, did at least one year of research, and then wrote and defended a dissertation.

They likely incurred huge debt in the process, even if the program was “fully funded” (and no program covers the costs of childcare so that you can actually have time to write the dissertation).

Programs are hiring fewer and fewer professors with PhDs. It’s not to say that these positions aren’t out there, it’s just that there are less of them.

That doesn’t bode well, M, if you are considering becoming a college professor.

And a PhD can equip you to do so many other things that people don’t consider. Once you get out from people who think the only purpose of having a PhD is to teach, you realize there’s options for you.

Many work in industry, many of us become entrepreneurs covering all sorts of work, and that’s the tip of the iceberg. Get the PhD, but don’t necessarily limit your horizons to teaching in the ivory tower. Think of all the other ways you can deploy your intellectual curiosity. Because you deserve it.

If you want a question answered about living in law or academia, send me a note and I’ll gladly answer it here on my blog!