The Adjunct Underclass – discussion of issues

The following is my discussion of academia, inspired by The Professor Is In’s interview with Herb Childress, on the occasion of the publication of his book: The Adjunct Underclass.

I wonder if there are useful statistics about how the “five times as many PhDs as spaces for them” (not to mention that it’s annually, not cumulatively) pans out re class origins and other factors. I’m a white male, okay, but I’m also from a rural, blue-collar, working-class context in which I was the first person to do a university degree, let alone an MA, PhD (UCLA, 2003), IT certificate, and MLIS (2018). Most of my relatives have been farmers, truck drivers, shop workers, homemakers, and so on.

I still feel like I don’t fit into academia, despite having taught dozens of innovative university courses (from 1999 to 2008, many as a part-time adjunct), publishing three well-reviewed books (from 2011 to 2016), contributing academic book chapters and journal articles, and presenting numerous conference papers. There are almost no post-docs in my field of musicology (or in my more specific areas of cultural studies, popular music, and film & television music), and most people at conferences have assumed I’ve been in a tenure-track position somewhere. However, in reality, I’ve also worked part-time in the performing arts (semi-professional choral singing), arts admin, and writing/editing, and temporarily full- or part-time (or volunteering) in web development and library work. I’ve also gone through bankruptcy and have frequently scraped by on welfare.

I’m in Canada, so at least I have free health coverage and ways to get free or affordable pharmacare. I’m now working as a part-time customer service representative for a government-run liquor corporation. I often feel like I should have started at something like this job in my late-teens or early-twenties, instead of having wasted several decades attempting to land successfully in academia.

People who keep trying to reassure others that they’ll get academic jobs are lying. It’s also too late for me to sort out an alternative-academic career path. At 53 (so, also dealing with the unspoken realities of ageism), I’m now giving up on “the dream.” Getting off of welfare and getting up to a working class income a little above the poverty line is the best I can hope for.Reply ↓

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Performance Studies conference

I’m interested in proposing a paper for the 2016 Performance Studies Network conference at Bath Spa University. However, would the subject matter of my forthcoming listener’s guide to the music of thirty-year Bath area resident Peter Gabriel actually count? His “diverse, interdisciplinary developments,” “global perspective,” and so on certainly do seem to fit the themes of the conference, even though all of the confirmed activities are so far restricted to contemporary art music and world music. How could I afford to go, though?

Letting Academic Things Go

Kelly J. Baker just posted an article called “Goodbye to All That,” about abandoning her recently-contracted plan to write an academic book on the cultural history of zombies. I have very similar feelings about my work on music in The Simpsons, including my proposed academic book, related possible journal articles, and already-presented conference papers (e.g., 20062013). Without a tenure-track, professorial context, I have to let those types of academic things go and possibly reimagine them as public music history projects instead. I’ve already made that transition from my dissertation on the rock band Rush to Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion (2014) and am currently working on Experiencing Peter Gabriel: A Listener’s Companion (2016). So, I don’t see why I should stop now. Maybe, I’ll be able to get to the point of making a living wage at it!

“Public Musicologists” Ignore Public Musicology

Institutionally-unaffiliated PhDs in my field are routinely swept under the carpet. Amanda Sewell’s report in the August 2015 newsletter of the American Musicological Society about an early 2015 conference on the Past, Present, and Future of Public Musicology confirms this by not bothering to mention my paper.

My contribution was called: “The Untapped Doctoral Majority of Potential Public Musicologists.” The paper begins by covering such things as:

  • the over-supply of musicology PhDs for the number of academic positions
  • what some musicology PhDs actually end up doing outside of academia

It continues by covering my:

I also then explain that I created music history instructional videos and that I adapted my dissertation on the Canadian rock band Rush for a public book called Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014). I end the paper with an example from Chapter 1 of my forthcoming book in the same series: Experiencing Peter Gabriel: A Listener’s Companion.

I have done almost all of that work outside of conventional institutional contexts, so does that mean it doesn’t qualify as “public musicology”?! The Musicology Now (blog) version of the report is only slightly better, with one, highly-misleading sentence about my work: “Durrell Bowman (independent scholar) spoke of the challenges he has faced in the decade-long search for an academic position in musicology.” Both my assigned title of “independent scholar”–which I loathe, in favour of “public music historian”–and the falsely-reported subject matter of my paper–which is actually a whole bunch of things I have done in Public Musicology–may explain why the editor of the AMS newsletter decided to exclude it. Not surprisingly, the newsletter version of the report also excludes the following sentence: “Felicia Miyakawa (academic consultant) explained why she left a tenured position and chose to pursue public musicology.”

I can’t speak for Miyakawa, but “we” are not amused.

Academia

Recent thoughts about Academia:

  • Here’s an example of how silly academic music job postings can be: “Primary responsbilities include teaching music theory, musicianship, composition, musical instrument digital interface, and low brass private lessons.”
  • Academia in the humanities exists so that many of the 50% who are lucky enough to get “permanent” jobs can move around to better jobs, whereas the other 50% never get to have permanent jobs at all.
  • On the other hand, a dissertation is an elaborate information system, developed through an iterative and incremental life cycle. In other words, that’s pretty similar to what systems analysts do! So, maybe there is hope for me in my new proposed career in computer applications development.