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<< Return to SBL Forum Archive Bare-legged and trouser-less: a part-timer and graduate student in Academia

If you are not afraid of being stung by the nettles, come by the narrow footpath that leads to the lodge, and let us see what is going on inside.... There are the bedsteads screwed to the floor. Men in blue hospital dressing-gowns, and wearing night-caps in the old style, are sitting and lying on them. These are the lunatics.[1]

I read S. Wood's article in The Oregonian (2006).[2] I would have become depressed had I not already been there. "Hello, I am a part-timer and a graduate student." I am the object of scourge. I am the reason Academia is going to hell in a handbasket.

I just love it when people ask, "So, what do you do?"

So long as prisons and madhouses exist someone must be shut up in them.[3]

But wait, the article said a few nice things about part-time professors. Wood's intent wasn't so vicious, was it? My response is a reader's interpretation of the article's raison d'être. The article did not say how great part-timers were, or what a bang-up job they were doing. Inspiration's lightbulb was the seeming decay of Academia because of its out-sourcing of labor to the less-than-minimum-wage worker.

Are the criticisms of part-timers, as discussed in the article, fair? Perhaps. Not all part-time professors are good. Wood's article pointed that out as well as being sure to point out that some are good. But if we are going to make use of a statistical analysis on the quality of part-timers, perhaps we should do the same for full-timers. Shelby's conclusions are based on a basic assumption: the screening processes for full-time professors is much more stringent than for part-time professors; that because the full-time professors are linked into the system, they provide better quality and are better qualified.

I cannot dispute there is benefit in being "linked." Part-timers are not, and we cannot benefit from it. Yet is that the magical switch that changes a person from being a detractor to being a benefactor?

Through my educational history, I have seen my share of the good, bad, and the ugly. The very charges leveled at part-time professors (as highlighted in the article) could be leveled at those employed full-time as well. But any such charges made by part-timers would not be heard. We are criticized, labeled incompetent, never praised, the object of side-wise glances when the full-timers pass us by in the hallway (who conveniently forget what it was like to be a part-timer). Speaking outside the classroom is verboten; by engaging in such an illicit activity we might get all our classes permanently cancelled. We are removed from central Academic society and placed in restraints on its fringes.

Watch the nettles on your left.

Does this path lead to a job, or to a permanent residency?

Almost every job posting for a full-time position dictates a minimum of three years job experience. So I commit myself to my "residency" as a part-timer, faithfully building up my experience. But is it even worth it? Will a job be available for me? Educational institutions are everywhere consolidating religious studies departments. They give clever rationales, offer meetings for discussion, but the bottom line is this: the money isn't pouring into religious studies. Streamlining is more cost-effective. (Bravo! You're such a truist.) In general, this gives rise to more opportunities for part-timers. It also puts more previous full-timers on the job market, which takes away full-time opportunities from part-timers.

We—being graduate students looking for full-time work—do initially need the part-time positions. How else will we ever acquire the minimum amount of experience needed, especially those of us outside the so-called "H— Circle"? Fellowships exist. But they are not standard enough in religious studies to provide ample opportunity. I have sent my applications out for full-time positions, and I have practically memorized the response: "We had such a great number of qualified applicants.... Yours was not one of those chosen for final consideration." To those who have sent me such a response, I make this promise: I will be better than whoever you hire.

Sure, sure, pick your night-cap up.

Am I being cocky? Yes and no. But my only possession is now my hope for a better future. When I had dreams, I ventured a look at the Chronicle of Higher Education's survey of faculty salaries. For a brief moment I was excited, then I remembered the rejection letters I had sitting on my table. Those salaries are for those who aren't part-time. Being an adjunct doesn't pay the utility bills, the school bills or the rent, or put food on the table (which also serves as my desk). As a part-timer I am reminded constantly of my value. I have no private office space. Every classday I strap 50+ pounds to my back as I make my commute to teach for an hour and fifteen minutes and then return. I struggle emotionally with "being there" for my own students because I know that my own hope of finally completing my Ph.D. is in the hands of a committee who may or may not "be there" and read the next dissertation chapter this month. I deal with the same student complaints as those who are full-time. I teach the same standard of curriculum. "Cheer up, Mopey," institutions say as they sometimes throw little gatherings for their part-timers. But—and I can only speak for myself—I don't want a lithium-laced cookie and a cup of Kool-Aid. I want finally to say, I have landed my first full-time job. My age is falling off the calendar. My partner of nine years wants to start a family. My hair is falling out. My addictions grow worse.

These are the lunatics.

It is, in a word, depressing. Part-timers are isolated by the institution. Graduate students are isolated by their institutions and committees. In turn, graduate students isolate their partners as they focus on finessing the political hurdles and on finishing their degrees, while simultaneously trying to increase the amount of teaching experience and published scholarship on their curriculum vitae. Who, after all, wants another "Yours was not one of those chosen for final consideration" letter? So much effort, so much pain, only to hear, "Your class was cancelled." So I guess it's back to buying groceries with spare change.

Are part-time professors bad professors? Not as a general rule—a point Wood makes certain to mention in a quote. But we are the unsupported, the unloved, the "intellectual janitors" of Academia.

Lately, I have been eye-balling the human statues in the New York City subways as I pass them on my commute. Maybe they have it right; they stare at the institution from their external perches. Maybe I should don my blue gown again, cut some cardboard and upon it write in thick, black marker, "Part-time professor."

Do you have any spare change? I just received another letter.

And of all the inhabitants of Ward No. 6, he is the only one who is allowed to go out of the lodge, and even out of the yard into the street. He has enjoyed this privilege for years, probably because he is an old inhabitant of the hospital—a quiet, harmless imbecile, the buffoon of the town, where people are used to seeing him surrounded by boys and dogs. In his wretched gown, in his absurd night-cap, and in slippers, sometimes with bare legs and even without trousers, he walks about the streets, stopping at the gates and little shops, and begging for a copper.[4]

Jeremiah Cataldo, Drew University

[1] Anton Chekhov, Ward No. 6 and Other Stories (with an introduction and notes by the editor. trans. Constance Garnett. ed. David Plante; New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003), 177-78.
[2] Shelby O. Wood, "Full-Time Tuition, Part-Time Teachers: Oregon's Big State Universities Are Increasingly Using Cheaper-to-Hire," The Oregonian (February 5 2006). [Cited 1 May 2006]. Online:
[3] Chekhov, Ward No. 6, 201.
[4] Chekhov, Ward No. 6, 178.

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Citation: Jeremiah Cataldo, " Bare-legged and trouser-less: a part-timer and graduate student in Academia," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited April 2006]. Online:


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