Despite the growth and success of feminist archaeology, women in archaeology still face issues not necessarily encountered by their male counterparts in the 21st Century. Legacies of past discrimination, particularly the perceived and/or actual demands of family life, have resulted in disproportionate fewer women working at research institutions in many disciplines, including archaeology. This disturbing trend has profound implications for not only the direction of current archaeological research, but also the training of future scholars.

This blog is a forum for advocating for women archaeologists so that we can move beyond legacies of inequity to a future that strengthens a feminine voice in archaeology and a feminist perspective. We contend that the very practice of archaeology is skewed towards a masculine and hierarchical perspective that excludes consensus building and “minority opinions” when interpreting the past. We argue that the feminine voice brings unique and necessary elements to the discipline of archaeology, through values such as mentoring and collaboration. We also clarify that a feminist perspective is not limited to any one gender, class, race, ethnicity or sexuality. Rather a feminist perspective is a radical point of view; one that recognizes that women’s success professionally and personally is integrally tied to larger socio-political movements dedicated to the eradication of homophobia, racism, and androcentrism.

Our hope is to solicit advice, perspectives, and experiences from all realms of the archaeological profession- including tenure-track and adjunct faculty, CRM professionals, and those not currently employed or underemployed. The ultimate goal of the blog is to shift the realities of power experienced in the daily lives of women archaeologists by discussing, inventing and offering solutions to the challenges of professional life.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Welcome Back to the Classroom!

Many of the struggles that female archaeologists are facing today are embedded within larger social and economic trends. One such trend is the growth of the temp industry, as described in this NPR story from July 26th. Not only is the temp industry booming, fewer temp positions are becoming regular, fulltime employment. The academic equivalent of a temp job is an adjunct teaching position. When I heard the NPR story, I immediately reflected on my own experiences with searching for academic jobs both before and after I completed my PhD.

I was encouraged by my dissertation committee to begin applying for tenure track positions as soon as I had my first few chapters drafted. These well-meaning mentors seemed to think that the label of ABD, was just as golden as PhD in the eyes of search committees. But my numerous applications seemed to disappear into a blackhole. It became discouraging. I even had one colleague, who was already safely ensconced in a tenure track position at an institution that I applied to, tell me that I would have had an interview “if only I had my Ph.D.”. In the meantime, I was fortunate enough to land an adjunct position to pay the bills and get some experience while I completed my dissertation.

My experience is not unique. Many of my colleagues from graduate school encountered similar situations. I watched as many in the cohorts ahead of me often worked two or three adjunct positions while completing or shortly after completing their PhDs. We often joked about how we had to “pay our dues” by working that adjunct gig at a community college or small state school on our way to something bigger and better.

By bigger, it was implied that we would get offered tenure track jobs at R-1 institutions or esteemed private institutions. By better, it was assumed that these schools would be the sorts of places with low teaching loads and high prestige where we could further our research goals. Better also meant no longer worrying about your job future every time your contract came up and finally receiving pay and benefits that made that decade of graduate school debt worth while.

This secure, prestigious, and well-rewarded tenure track position was the dream that our mentors had prepared us for. There was never any talk about alternative career paths: such as working for the government or private sector in Cultural Resource Management, or for small museums or county governments to develop public outreach programs for school children, or teaching gen-ed requirements at a community college.

I rather naively thought that once I had those magic letters behind my name that the job search would become easier. After all, I was passionate, doing cutting-edge research, and I had worked diligently to gain experiences, skills, and publications that made me a valuable hire. Of course I never imagined that I would complete my PhD. in the midst of the first recession of the 21 Century. A recession that strangely mirrored the housing crisis of the early 1980s that severely impacted my family’s well-being when I was a child.

I noticed that those tenure-track positions were becoming something of an endangered species. Year after year, more of the positions available read: “1-year visiting position”, “visiting lecturer”, “adjunct lecturer” and so on. Prior to the recession, some of my colleagues managed to find their way into a tenure track position after spending a few years as an adjunct.

Adjunct positions once were often viewed as a stepping-stone by myself and the cohorts that preceded me. Now adjunct positions may be your only option in maintaining an academic career in archaeology. There is an undeniable financial and psychological impact for PhDs who may spend their entire careers working multiple low-paying jobs, ostensibly as a “teacher”, but still expected to (and wanting to) contribute to scholarly research.

I have worked as an adjunct for three different colleges or universities. Other than teaching similar courses, the only other similarity between these institutions is their overwhelming mistreatment of adjunct faculty. Not only are adjuncts paid less, given few to no benefits, they are often treated as second-class citizens by their own departments, as though we are in these temporary positions because of inferior teaching, research, or work ethics. However, my adjunct colleagues are often extremely hard working and highly qualified individuals, despite having fewer resources than their tenure-track counterparts. For example, adjunct faculty are often barred from applying to internal funding resources for research or travel at universities.

While the economic woes of the past few years have certainly intensified the increasing reliance on adjuncts, this trend it is part of a substantial shift in higher education in the United States. This August 20th article by anthropologist, Sarah Kendzior, indicates that the majority (nearly 2/3rds) of all teaching in the US is done by adjuncts!

I write about these issues here, not to complain about the unfairness of the system, but to bring awareness to graduate mentors so that they can more adequately prepare their students for careers outside of academia. I also want those in the protected tenured positions to wake up and fight back against what I see as an attack against higher education. Adjunct faculty do not have the same rights and securities as their tenured counterparts. We are not able to speak out against injustice. We are less able to pursue or publish research that might be considered controversial or political. We are virtually powerless.

The tenure system is there for a reason, to protect academics from fear reprisals if their research is considered “dangerous”. The loss of tenured positions to the adjunct model of higher education is an erosion of academic freedoms. Those with the power to protect academic freedom must fight for all of us!

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