Friday, October 5, 2012

Conference and Essay Proposals for Contingent Faculty

Recently, I got an email asking for stories of contingent faculty and how their experiences in the academic world differ from those in tenure-track positions.  The idea of writing an essay proposal and then an essay about this topic appealed to me as I was an adjunct professor for a long time before becoming a full time lecturer at Montclair State University.  My thought is that one of the issues in the world of contingent faculty is the difference in degrees; specifically, although an M.F.A. is considered a terminal degree, those who have them are often passed by for more permanent positions in favor of those who have Ph.Ds.  And this creates the kind of competition that can define the world of academia.

I'm not against good old healthy competition and I believe it motivates us to work harder and to engage with the academic community in a more concrete way - and more often, for that matter.  However, the world of a creative writer - one who can certainly teach academic writing quite well (and we do!) but who's focus is more on creative writing and who most likely holds an M.F.A. is a different world than that of a Ph.D. candidate in rhetoric and composition.  Publishing is an important aspect of being part of the academic community.  For me, however, it has always been creative.  I have had mentors encouraging me to publish in literary journals and to apply for creative grants that require creative publications for years.  I have focused on The Paris Review, The New Yorker, Fence.  My graduate thesis is an 80 page long collection of poetry that I am constantly revising and sending to publishers and presses. I have participated in workshops, Summer programs, applied for grants and fellowships, all based on poetry.  And now, after years of learning how to teach writing, years of working as an adjunct at several different universities in one semester, years of fighting for the full time lecturer position I have now, I am competing against people with academic dissertations who get to be called “Doctor” and get paid more than me because their terminal degree is apparently more accepted than my terminal degree.  And somehow, I have to publish.  And I’m talking in the scholarly world, which is apparently, to use an overused metaphor, a whole different ball game.

The wonderful part of this is, I am embracing the challenge.  I am researching, writing, looking at the issues that my writing students face analytically, using APA format.  I am becoming the scholar that I only touched upon in graduate school in between poems.  My question is, how do other contingent faculty members deal with the expectations, the competition, the divide between creative and academic?