Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Gloss On The Term "Lifeboater" tm

If I have one accomplishment as a writer and scholar, it is coining the term "faculty lifeboater," which has caught on in the wider discourse on contingency and academia.  (The relevant post is here.)  It's certainly had a much bigger impact than any of my journal articles, that's for sure.  I see "lifeboater" popping up a lot on Twitter, usually attributed to better known, better writers like Rebecca Schuman and Sarah Kendzior.  Both have been gracious and non-jerky enough to give me credit for it on numerous occasions, so I can't complain about being ripped off or anything.  In fact, I am very thankful for the exposure they have given me.

It's actually been kinda interesting to see the term's meaning change from how I originally intended it.  (That's how language works, after all.)  This is how I defined lifeboaters in my post coining the term:

 "These are junior scholars who don't bother thinking about the naked exploitation of a system where adjuncts are paid as little as $1,700 a course, and do just as good of a job (or better) as they do. In their minds, they won, they're on the lifeboat, and fuck all those other people drowning around them."

I put junior scholars in this category because they have experienced the exact same contraction of the job market as their peers, and thus cannot plead ignorance about just how bad things are, or deny the role of luck and fortune in getting them on the lifeboats.  The drowned and the saved were both on the same sinking ship.  I tend not to think of tenured faculty and senior scholars of being in this category, I envision them on a yacht in the distance, turning their heads from the carnage and drinking their sherry and eating their caviar, in the worst cases, not bothering to notice in the less worse cases, looking aghast at the toll but not sure what to do about it the better cases, or actively changing course to rescue as many as they can, in the best cases.  (And yes, there are many t-t and tenured folks who do this.)

I certainly do not excuse the willful ignorance of the tenured oblivious, but I actually think that junior scholars who refuse to do anything about this situation are actually more morally odious, even if they don't have as much institutional power as others.  Knowing what they know, it's their duty to use their positions communicate the horror of the shipwreck to those unaware of it, and by not doing so, are a key component in preserving the status quo.  There's a reason that Dante put betrayers in the lowest circle of hell.

Much of my vitriol also had to do with knowing many assistant professor lifeboaters personally, and being filled with anger about their unconscionable lack of empathy.  They have been all too willing to watch their peers from grad school go under without saying a peep, even though trends in higher ed will soon be drowning them as well.  I have even heard them make excuses about the system to the faces of their own less-fortunate (and sometimes better qualified) friends and colleagues.

"Lifeboater" is now used to include pretty much anyone tenured or on the tenure track whose main complaint about the situation for contingent faculty is the shrieks of the drowning, not the actual fact that they are being swallowed up.  That alteration is just fine with me, since people who engage in such awful behavior deserve to be called out.  If something I once wrote helped bring that about, I couldn't be happier.

It's just that I will probably never hit a rhetorical home run like that again, and I want some credit attached to my name for it, dammit.  Call it petty or silly, but life is about small victories, and this humble blog will never be reckoned among the big guns.  So let the world know that it was I, Jason Tebbe, writing under the pseudonym Werner Herzog's Bear, who coined the phrase "lifeboater."  You don't have to mention my name when you use it, obviously, but if you want to credit someone, please credit little ol' me.  Thanks.


Anonymous said...

Have you actually looked at what's available online? Adjuncts are like junior assistant buggy whip makers.

I think it's time to face the obvous (to everyone else) fact: 90-99% of the higher education experience is free now. There will be pain.

I actually think an all-free-online education is superior to what you offer, but my view is not yet in the majority.

Good luck, seriously.

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

???? Who is this "you"? If you would look at the rest of the blog you'd know I am not an adjunct, I teach at a private high school. I love my job, and the students and parents at my school highly value the individualized, hands on learning they get there from people like me .

Please go grind your axe somewhere else.

Oh yeah, take your "good luck, seriously" and shove it, troll.