The Happy Academic: How much for that job in the window?

In my on-going service as a happy academic who nonetheless feels it important to offer cautionary tales to those who would themselves venture into the academic world, I’d like to offer this ad for a job that was posted on the WPA-L listserv:

Southwest Missouri State University is accepting applications for a Writing Specialist for the Academic Support Center at the West Plains Campus. Responsibilities include serving as an Academic Affiliate by teaching four assigned courses annually; supervising and training undergraduate writing tutors; providing tutorial writing assistance to students; working closely with students across the curriculum; assisting students in developing research, grammar and composition skills; working as a staff member of the Academic Support Center; administering English placement examinations to entering students; and evaluating the examinations and reporting results.

Master’s degree is required; an emphasis in English Composition and/or Writing is preferred. One year of teaching experience; excellent oral and written communication skills; and interpersonal skills are required. Occasionally the position requires working evenings and weekends. Salary range: $23,000 – $26,000/annually.

Now, I offer this for a couple of different reasons:

* The salary range, while undenibly horrible, is not the main problem with this job. There are many places where non-tenure-track faculty (some places called adjuncts, others called visiting assistant professors, at EMU called lecturers) make this kind of money. The really horrible thing about this job is all of the other stuff the applicant would be expected to do in this position for that kind of money.

* I have students every once in a while who say that all they want to do is finish an MA and teach in a community college. Well, if you can get that kind of work (and that is indeed a big “if”), this is what it looks like. Or I should say what it can look like, because the community colleges around here pay better and have more humane demands on their staff.

* Despite the fact that West Plains, MO is located literally in the middle of nowhere and they are paying a wage that is barely what folks make who teach part-time, I’ll bet they get 100 applicants for the job. The school is trying to exploit the job market woes of folks in English, and they are likely to succeed at hiring one of them, too.

“How can I avoid this?” you ask? There’s no simple and complete answer, but I’ll offer a few quick tips (assuming you’ve already thought very VERY carefully about going to graduate school and then pursuing an academic career in the first place):

* Go into composition and rhetoric, particularly if you are interested in things like the connections between technology and writing, and get a PhD.

* Don’t apply for such highly exploitive jobs. It just encourages schools.

* If you decide you want to be an academic and you stop at the MA or if you go into the unfairly competitive world of literature, recognize that this might be the sort of position you will end up holding.

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