In my last post, I made a reference to this horrific event. As word of this has filtered out, we’ve seen an array of reactions, but the general consensus is that people are finally starting to realize how precarious a position most people who work in the academy actually have. (Even tenure is not as stable as it once was.)

So what to do about it?

My friend (an outstanding composer as well – if you’re in central NJ on SundaySaturday, go to his recital!) Christian B. Carey mentioned this idea on Twitter yesterday, and I think it shows some promise: Why not have consortia of colleges that, between them, can hire an adjunct at nearly-full-time status and split the costs of benefits? It’s not perfect, as you’ll see from the discussion, but some systems (Mike Berry mentions the Washington State higher ed system) are doing things like this already.

Another solution, of course, is to separate health insurance and access to care from employment. The new exchanges may help with regard to that, but we need to pressure all states to expand Medicaid (since many adjuncts are below the poverty level) and/or push for a single-payer/Medicare for all system.

Here at UMM, at least in music, we’re lucky – for the majority of our adjuncts, this truly is a second or third gig. We also offer some pot-sweeteners because of our distance from major population centers. We have an “adjunct coordinator,” and we make it a point to include contingent faculty in the governance of the discipline as much as possible. Still, I have been in positions where adjuncts have been mistreated, and having lived that life myself and knowing how challenging it can be (and knowing current adjuncts), I recognize that we need to fix this. It is unsustainable over the long term.

What thoughts do you have on the adjunct crisis?

I read this at The Chronicle of Higher Education earlier today, and something about it really popped for me.

As both of my readers will recall, I spent the spring semester serving in a minor administrative capacity. This all-too-brief introduction to real academic administration* got me to contemplate the critical issues facing academia. Among the issues that have been on my mind:

(1) Treatment of adjuncts. How we treat these freeway flyers can have dangerous consequences; this is nothing short of shameful. No doubt I’ll have more on this later.

(2) The continuing destruction of our commitment to higher education. At a time when we’re asking – nay, demanding – that everyone get a college education, we are defunding our public higher education system at a breakneck clip. This can’t end well.

(3) MOOCs and online ed. This is where the above article comes in. I’ve taught online, and I can see certain situations where it can be quite effective. But, just as there’s no substitute for a fresh tomato from your own garden, there’s nothing like a master teacher, working in concert with excited, ready-to-learn students, operating with a real sense of place. Small liberal arts colleges, like the wonderful institution that pays me every two weeks to do things I love, are uniquely positioned to provide this opportunity. Take advantage of it. Support your local college.

*I’ve headed up theory-composition programs, but those positions lacked budgetary and other responsibilities.


Maybe not actually random, but any connecting threads may not be immediately obvious (and may be present only inside my head).

(1) Why are those of us in academia going along with this? We saturate the market, and those of us who are both good enough and lucky enough (and make no mistake, both are in play) to get the ever-elusive tenure-track gigs are still afraid to rock the boat until we’re given that imprimatur. So, why don’t those of us who are tenured agitate more? Oh, wait, we do…but even tenure isn’t enough to keep us from getting canned if The Powers That Be decree it so.

We can honor the memory of Prof. Vojtko by fighting – all of us, tenured and non-tenured, full-time and part-time, faculty and admin – for more full-time lines, honest and real tenure processes and protections, and a recommitting to the ideals of fairness, honest discussion, and academic freedom that made our universities the envy of the world.

(2) Why is Nelson Riddle so good as an arranger? (Mostly rhetorical.) His charts always work.

(3) Which of these (warning: link is a .pdf) papers would you like to know more about? I’m going there (flight and registration done today, working on a cheaper hotel in walking distance) and will report back.

(4) Why isn’t the fact that, y’know, the chemical weapons are likely coming out of Syria touted as more of a Good Thing?

(5) Haven’t I said enough?


In my previous post, I asked what could be done.

I think you’re looking at one path.

Blogging with commentary has the potential to help reshape scholarship. We are already seeing some experimentation with this, and in an age when publication can be instantaneous it is patently absurd that major journals in most fields take anywhere from 18 months to 3 years in the submission-to-publication process.

Further, blogging allows for ideas to be “workshopped,” with input during the whole process, rather than a big hit of commentary after submission but before publication (assuming the work is even allowed a “revise-and-resubmit”). In this way, authors can work out issues and problems in a timely but not rushed manner instead of trying to do a large amount of revision in a short amount of time.

Further still, a more transparent process means people are able to see different intellectual trends and major players thereof develop in real time. Instead of “anonymous” responses, people put their name – or a reasonable pseudonym, let’s be honest – on the line. If it’s a question of making sure that only actual scholars in a field will have a chance to take part in the commentary, there are ways to maximize security. I actually like the idea of enlightened amateurs taking part, but I can see how it could be problematic.

Finally, it can conceivably cost nothing (or, at worst, the price of webhosting and DNS registration). I am using a free blogging platform. The material can be put out, reviewed, and accessed for no financial outlay (beyond the cost of Internet access).

I am told the SMT Conference this year will feature a session on peer-review. If I don’t end up doing a research trip in October, maybe I’ll go there and check it out.


On this Labor Day, we have an untenable situation. The board of the Minnesota Orchestra Association (MOA) has locked out the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra for just about a year now. Several musicians have left, and the group is in real danger of disappearing for good.*

Make no mistake – this was intentional. The board, composed of crony-capitalist charlatans and Ayn Rand acolytes, set out to do this. They saw a thriving, healthy non-profit organization that respected its employees and realized that the mere existence of such a thing was a threat to their Capitalism Über Alles, enrich-your-friends-and-strip-the-rest-for-parts, why-should-there-even-be-a-minimum-wage mindset. So they did what they always do; they set out to destroy it.

Whatever problems unions may have, and I am not so blind as not to realize that there are problems, I would rather be run by a union boss than by the CEO class (a group still upset that they can’t get the ultimate in cheap labor – slavery – because of that pesky 13th Amendment) any day of the week. We are not cogs. We are not simply another working expense. We are human beings, and you will give us the respect and dignity we deserve.

Or we will take it from you.

There’s always a Bastille that needs storming somewhere.


*Oh, maybe not for good, as I’m sure they’ll take the Louisville Orchestra approach and try to hire high school kids.

For other views on the wholesale and wanton destruction of the Minnesota Orchestra:

  • Bill Eddins (Sticks and Drones); The Cheap Seats
  • Daniel Gilliam; MOA Cross-blog contribution
  • Drew McManus (Adaptistration) Arrogance is a weed that grows mostly on a dunghill
  • Emily Green (guest author); It’s Time to Make Music Again
  • Emily Hogstad (Song of the Lark); “Patron Advocates”
  • Frank Almond (non divisi) Calling the questions
  • Henry Peyrebrune (guest author); The Holy Grail
  • Holly Mulcahy (Neo Classical) A Journey Of Legacy, Appreciation, and Heart
  • Jim Lieberthal (guest author); A quiet opinion
  • Joe Patti (Butts in the Seats); Of Blogs and Boards
  • Kevin Case; False Equivalence
  • Lisa Hirsch (Iron Tongue of Midnight); Minnesota Orchestra: Down To The Wire
  • Rolf Erdahl (guest author); Reflections on Robert Frost’s Mending Wall
  • Scott Chamberlain (Mask of the Flower Prince) An Un-Strategic Plan
  • Tom Peters (guest author); Baseball and Beethoven: The Minnesota Orchestra, the Marlins and the Perils of Market Correction.
  • (Literate people will understand why I used that title.)

    I have not yet decided if I agree with President Obama’s plan for limited military intervention in the Syrian civil war. I wish to examine what evidence I can further. I can, however, comprehend some of the domestic politics around an international issue, and I’m going to explore those. Of course, the mere fact that there are domestic politics of this type around an international issue is a different subject, but that can be tackled at some future point.

    (1) A common question is “Why are we getting involved now? Why is a chemical weapon attack worse than a normal attack?” This is a fair question. Historically speaking, the use of chemical weapons was so mortifying when the German Army used them in World War I* that an entire international treaty was written to ban them. We (mostly) abhor warmaking, and obviously any violence should be avoided, but the use of certain weapons has long been considered to be beyond the pale even under the rather nebulous rules of engagement common in most wars. The position of the President and his administration is that this clear flouting of international treaty and custom sets a dangerous precedent.

    (2) On the political side, I believe that it is absolutely vital (more on this in a moment) that the President seek an authorization for the use of military force. I further believe that each Representative and Senator should weigh the evidence and vote his/her conscience. The party whips should stay out of this. Finally, I believe that any member of Congress who decides to oppose this simply because they don’t believe in handing the President a “victory” on any subject – that is to say, anyone obstructing just for the sake of obstructing – should be summarily censured and/or expelled from whichever chamber. Ultimately, though, we the people are responsible for such hideous representatives, as there is a sizable chunk of the population (let’s be honest here – red states, rural areas, racist exurbs) that has elected a cadre of Tea Party buffoons whose sole purpose is to prevent any governance at all. I have often said that the misnamed Tea Party is a cancer upon our body politic, and nothing I have seen has convinced me otherwise.

    (3) About the AUMF – I said it was vital, and I mean that from a political perspective, but legally it’s unnecessary under the War Powers Resolution of 1973, so long as the President then goes to Congress within 48 hours. It has been violated once or twice, but never has a violation led to a Constitutional showdown. If that were to happen here, I suspect that ending would be different, as the aforementioned Tea Party buffoons are looking for any reason to impeach.**

    It’s messy. I don’t know where it all ends. But let’s have the debate, and let’s have it be an honest debate that puts what’s great about America forward. After all, the fact that we’re having the debate at all is a testament to our system of governance.

    *Seriously. World War I is understudied, but it is at the core of pretty much every chunk of world history that follows.

    **They have their unspoken reason, of course.