Mark Bauerlein Sucker Punches Adjunctizators

Evidently, while adjuncts are busy being too busy to ever meet with their students after class, too undedicated to students and jobs to care about it, too busy destroying the fiber of undergraduate education, we’re also contributing to the destruction of the humanities, as well. According to Mark Bauerlein, a professor at Emory University, in his “Brainstorm” piece posted on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s web site, the “…best defense against funding cuts, ‘corporatization,’ ‘vocation-ization,’ adjunctization, and other anti-humanities measures is the undergraduate classroom, particularly the general-education classroom.”

In essence, Bauerlein suggests humanities faculty stop gazing at their navels and realize that humanities is about teaching undergraduates to read and write. I have just one question: This is breaking news? Maybe to Bauerlein and his navel-gazing fellow Humanities professor pals. 

Just whom does Bauerlein think has been teaching America’s undergraduates to read critically and write over the last 20 years? Whom does he think has been teaching American undergraduates all over the country? The Adjunctizators of course—we teach the majority of the country’s 18 million undergraduate students, and half of all the courses offered at the 4,000 colleges and universities currently up and running. In case you blinked and missed his book launch party, or passed right by his YouTube interviews, Bauerlein’s the author of  The Dumbest Generation, published in 2008. The Los Angeles Times review describes Bauerlein’s book as offering up an “…ultimate doomsday scenario — of a dull and self-absorbed new generation of citizens falling prey to demagoguery and brazen power grabs.”

Hmm….dull and self-absorbed people falling prey to demagoguery and brazen power grabs? Sounds like a description of certain tenured and tenure-line people we might know and love (to see lose their jobs).

So, this tenured professor writes a book in which he calls an entire generation of the students whom we teach ignorant, dull and self-absorbed, then turns around and suggests that the answer to what ails the Humanities is to put more people like himself in the undergraduate classrooms around town? This is a purely rhetorical question, because I think we both know that Mark Bauerlein isn’t into teaching introductory courses and undergraduates.

If Americans can’t seem to understand what the hell tenured academics in the Humanities actually do, well, let me join them in their puzzlement and point to Bauerlein as a perfect example of the problem. Aside from writing his recent book, Bauerlein’s job, according to his college web page blurb, entails writing for “popular periodicals such as The Wall Street JournalThe Weekly StandardThe Washington PostTLS, and Chronicle of Higher Education.” He teaches, too. His courses are not listed on his college web page blurb. There’s no evidence that navel-gazing….er….publishing in “popular periodicals” is not Mark Bauerlein’s primary job.

So I called his department. This semester, he’s teaching a graduate-level course titled, “The Teaching of Composition.” Last semester he taught a single class, as well: “Honors Seminar in Literary Interpretation.” So, while Bauerlein suggests that more tenured and tenure-line faculty need to get back into the undergraduate classroom and teach writing, evidently, he doesn’t need to do it himself.

Just imagine for a moment the average American who reads that Bauerlein has taught one class each semester this year. That person might not understand how Bauerlein gets a full-time salary. Hells bells! I don’t understand how he earns six figures every year. To our neighbors, we’d have to point out that Bauerlein also writes for “popular periodicals.” That’s something the average American can get behind, right? Letters to the editor! Bauerlein gets paid to sit around and write letters to the editor, maybe some short op-ed pieces, offers up advice to his blog readers on The Chronicle’s web site, and perhaps a book review or two.

I have a radical idea: Let’s have Mark Bauerlein explain to my neighbor who works two jobs to send her kids to college why he teaches 4 hours every week and earns three times the median income for a family of four.  Frankly, I can’t explain that to anyone. Is it because he has a Ph.D.? Is it because he publishes in “popular periodicals?” Is it because he’s a snappy dresser? How can someone who writes a book titled The Dumbest Generation, and teaches a class about teaching composition write that “…humanities professors should abandon the flattering characterization of themselves as cutting-edge thinkers, creators of new knowledge, theorists of the barricade, and the like. Instead, they should assume more modest role of training 19-year-olds to read and write, and acquainting them with literary traditions.” 

I’ve got some news for Mark Bauerlein and his ilk: The role of training 19-year-olds to read and write is taken already by 700,000 non-tenured faculty, who are doing splendidly, thanks. There is, however, an opening for someone to explain to the American people what  Humanities professors do for a living. In plain English. Here’s a tip: it’s probably not very bright to begin by calling all of them dumb.

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