A major theme of my scholarship has been the idea of place. I first discussed place in my ACT article, Music Educated and Uprooted, where I use Simone Weil's 1952 analysis of roots: “A human being has roots by virtue of his real, active and natural participation in the life of a community which preserves in living shape certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations for the future. This participation is a natural one, in the sense that it is automatically brought about by place, conditions of birth, profession and social surroundings. Every human being needs to have multiple roots. It is necessary for him to draw wellnigh the whole of his moral, intellectual and spiritual life by way of the environment of which he forms a natural part" (footnote 7). In that article, I began to discuss the ways music education can be uprooting, for many people. There are many ways that professional music education generally, and university music education specifically, is placeless.
For many though, university music education can be rooting, that is, a placing experience. Many faculty have a "real, active and natural participation" in a community, which "preserves in living shape certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations for the future." They have daily contact with other faculty members, all aiming to do meaningful scholarship, each in their own way. I've seen faculties that thrive as a supportive community. Sadly, since graduating from my Ph.D. in 2015, my experience has not been.
In an article in Antipode, Skilled, Cheap and Desperate, Mark Purcell discusses the misbelief, the deception that university faculty jobs are a meritocracy. He writes, "Temps, adjuncts, lecturers, part-timers, non-tenure tracks: there is a growing majority of faculty in the American academy that isn't quite real. They are not fully there. They are in limbo in every sense of the word. They are not graduate students; they are not really members of the faculty. They are in between. They are waiting. ... They begin their career--publishing, teaching, attending conferences--even as they choke back the fear that their career will never really begin." This idea of being "not fully there" resonates with my experiences as a part-time faculty member at Penn State Altoona.
Upon arriving at Penn State Altoona in 2015, I contacted two faculty groups to offer my service. The first, which focuses on environmental issues, told me straight up that there were no opening for participation. The second, a qualitative research interest group, invited me to a meeting. When I arrived, upon hearing I was a part-time lecturer, they became less interested in my voice. Though I gave them my personal email, and they promised to contact me about the next meeting, I never received further contact. The next I heard from that group was at the end of the semester, through a university-wide email, when they shared all of the great things they accomplished at their meetings throughout the semester. This type of experience, early in my naive and hopeful university "faculty" "career" set the stage for the years go come.
Part-time adjuncting is a lot of work with little or no reward. I have had many interviews in the years since 2015 for full-time and tenure-line faculty positions, including far too many on-campus interviews (a grueling multiple-day process unlike anything else in other "professions"). This work certainly takes a lot out of a person, and the full-time non-tenure-line (1-year) faculty job I was offered this past year, I was unable to take for financial and personal reasons. I serve anywhere between 60 and 90 students semester, teaching 3 nearly-full, popular introductory music courses. The part-time adjunct salary at Penn State is very low (about 1/3 of the salary at IUP, when I was a part-time adjunct there), and hasn't increased in my time there (I asked, and I think it was 2012 or 2013 when the adjunct salary was last raised). Needless to say, one cannot live off of this salary, nor its lack of healthcare. But this isn't about low pay. My wife works very hard, and supports my dalliance as a "faculty" member. Rather, this post is about place. The material, economic realities of the job, though, do play a role in feeling welcome. Because while representatives tout the changes made to the approximately 25% of faculty who are full-time non-tenure track at Penn State (who now have titles, and can have career advancement), the 50% of faculty who are part-timers here are left invisible. I doubt Penn State is unique in this; but I suspect large, research-intensive universities take the most advantage of the adjunct class of laborers.
What is it like to be in a place where you are not wanted; where they want you to stay silent and do the bulk of the work of moving undergraduates through their curriculum to the more advanced classes taught by tenure-line faculty? What is it mean for a "faculty" who is not a faculty member to write this, when I can be fired at any moment without any recourse, from a job I've held and done my best at for more than 3 years? What does it mean to have to share an office with so many faculty members its impossible to have actual office hours? When a student wants to meet, I meet them informally and find an empty classroom. When I prep, I go to the library. What does it mean to never have any professional advancement, and to have interviewers look at your experience as a negative to hiring you for a tenure-line? What does it mean to see so many of your friends half way through their 6-year tenure track, while your engine is stuck in the mud? What does it mean to show up to teach, to do yearly compliances and trainings online, but to have no other connections to an institution? What does it mean to see that institution below your name on peer-reviewed articles, but to know that for most people that means a middle-class profession, but not for you? These questions and more are constantly floating through my mind, as I reflect on the placelessness, the uprootedness, the unsustainability of my profession. I suspect most adjuncts have left by now. I remain, no-place.