Pedagogy, Neoliberalism, and Academic Labor: a #digped Discussion

On Friday, October 4th from 12:00 – 1:00pm Eastern (9:00 – 10:00am Pacific), Hybrid Pedagogy will host a Twitter discussion under the hashtag #digped to discuss whether and how pedagogy should respond to neoliberal arguments that education should focus on creating a productive labor force. In particular, we want to engage a conversation about what some have argued are two significant, and potentially related, consequences of a neoliberalist socio-political agenda: the adjunctification of college and university instruction, and the creation of zero-opportunity employment for recent graduates.

The case of Margaret Mary Vojtko made much more public a conversation that’s been heating up in academe. Vojtko, an adjunct professor at Duquesne University, passed away at 83, shortly after the university didn’t renew her teaching contract. Although many facts and facets about the woman’s life, wages, health, and relationship with her employer have been uncovered and discussed — and opinions aren’t equal on all sides about her story — Margaret Mary has quickly become the patron saint of the discussion of fair labor practices related to adjunct and contingent workers. The plight of the adjunct is not only very real, it also serves as a marker for the kinds of employment available for those who receive an advanced degree.

But the problem doesn’t stop with those underemployed teachers (who make up an estimated 6875% of higher education instructors). In many cases, these instructors are working to educate and graduate classes of students who will enter a teaching workforce already overpopulated and underpaid. Those teachers who, like Vojtko, show up day after day to teach classes (sometimes for as little as $1,200 per course), may literally be educating students into nonexistent or below-minimum wage jobs.

Although Stanley Fish has stridently argued college professors should save the world on our own time, many of us believe a failure to address the economic realities in which our students labor and will labor — both within and without the academy — does them a grave disservice. Yet just as often we disagree about what the pedagogical response to those economic realities should be. Even ignoring them altogether could be interpreted as a pedagogical response to neoliberalist influence on education and education policy.

The goal of this #digped chat will be to examine our role as pedagogues in a system wherein education does not always result in opportunity. We’ll look at our complicity in adjunct labor practices — whether we are tenure track, part-time, contingent, or alt-ac — and whether there is pedagogical value in making explicit for students how their college experience is and will be shaped by an increasingly bleak job market. Here are some questions to consider in advance of the discussion:

  • What are our responsibilities to education labor? If we are tenure track or contingent, should we be actively seeking to balance the scales of employment in higher education?
  • Are students really less prepared than ever for the jobs they enter upon graduation? Or is the market simply saturated by well-educated, qualified people in a job market no longer designed to support them?
  • How honest should we be with our students about academic employment — the difficulties of obtaining full-time work, the paucity of jobs, the likelihood of low wages — and the state of the university?
  • Can we strike a balance between promoting the value of lifelong learning that often occurs outside formal institutional boundaries and demonstrating the continued relevance of institutions specifically dedicated to learning?
  • Does the value of a college education or a particular major field of study lie solely in the increased earning potential it can garner? If not, how do we respond to concerns that choosing a less-lucrative field of study may have long-term economic consequences for students?

Add thoughts and questions below in advance of the conversation and join us on Friday, October 4th at 12:00pm ET. Note that we’ve changed the time of our regular #digped chats. Check out to see when to join us in your own time zone. For those unable to attend this week, Hybrid Pedagogy’s #digped occurs on the first Friday of every month. Our next #digped conversation will occur on Friday, November 1, 2013, same time, same place. If you have suggestions for future topics, feel free to tweet them to @slamteacher or @hybridped. [Photo by ThePatronSaint]

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