The Academic Meet Market: Job Fair Follies

By Kat Kiefer-Newman

I went to a job fair recently. The CCC Registry (California Community Colleges Registry) just had one in L.A. and my dear friend Emma and I optimistically packed up our curriculum vitae with the best of intentions. Attitude is everything at these academic meat-markets. I’ve been told I have attitude in abundance (maybe that isn’t a compliment). All of the hopefuls trudged with a purpose into the hotel ballrooms. We wore our best suits and cheap shoes that began to hurt after just a few minutes of jockeying for face-time with department chairs.

Despite the CCC Registry brochure with listings by departments of the colleges at the event, Emma diligently shook hands with every college rep in the place. I didn’t blame her; she’s down to one class this semester. Word on the grapevine out here is that even more cuts are happening for fall.

After glad-handing everyone on this floor, Emma determinedly trekked upstairs where schools had mini-workshops and brief one-on-one interviews. These weren’t hiring interviews, but “getting to know you” meets. It felt like “meats” to me, so I took a pass. I sat in the lobby and caught up on my people-watching. My suit itched, my adorable French twist looked like a day-old cinnamon bun, and my deodorant had failed somewhere between the Saddleback College and College of the Desert tables.

First to sit down near me was an irritated math instructor. I know he taught math because he loudly explained this into his cell phone as he complained that few math chairs were present.  When he finished, he left in a huff; next, a brunette and a blonde who respectively taught Psychology and English. Recent MA grads, they had two semesters of classroom experience as adjuncts. The brunette was frustrated that no one would take her cv, the blonde munched free candy.

Each of the colleges had gifts for job fair attendees, and this young woman had made several go-rounds to all of the tables filling two bags. She had gummy bears from a mountain college, mini candy bars from several of the central colleges, taffy and fudge from the Northern schools, and mints from Long Beach City. Maybe the mints were from the bathroom, though; it was hard to understand what she was saying around her joyful munching. The most ironic gift was an embossed sucker from one of the Orange County colleges. I didn’t even bother to grab a flyer from that school.

I smelled the hotel restaurant, which made me want more than teasing little sweets. I texted Emma about a dozen times with pithy, one word needs: Done, Hungry, Leave, HURRY, SOHUNGRY (that’s two words but I ate the space in my desperation).

Many of the adjunct army are quite content to remain part time. There are all sorts of reasons and I only need to hang out in the adjunct offices at either of my two schools to hear a list of them. But for some of us the goal is to find a spot somewhere on the tenure track. I am one of those, and regularly troll the HERC (Higher Education Recruitment Consortium) and the CCC Registry hoping for options. Some of our compatriots have had success with and, although I’ve never been in that lucky group. To “enhance my web presence” (whatever that really means) I’ve recently begun networking on with mixed results.

I don’t know if I’ll be going to any more job fairs for awhile. Every bewildered, angry, frustrated, tired, fed-up, and exhausted face that left (faces that had read hopeful, anticipatory, eager, motivated, and fervent before going inside) told the story of our times right now. What I mostly heard from the milling masses was perfectly worded at the end of my day by a fascinating man who considers himself first a writer and second an instructor: people will either go work in some other industry or hold on for dear life, we just need to decide which group we’re gonna be in. For sure.

About the Juggler: Kat Kiefer-Newman currently teaches as an adjunct instructor at two colleges in two different departments. In addition to her busy working (and driving) schedule she attends conferences presenting her research, is in the last stages of finishing her Ph.D., takes care of her elderly father, has recently packed up and sent off to college her second daughter, chats in status updates with her students on Facebook, does not hand out her cell phone number to said students despite their pleadings, and in her spare time she plays in her organic veggie garden. (And though she will never admit it, she also enjoys reading trashy vampire novels.)

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  1. Yes, as you point out, Emma, the problem is structural–and yet, when you talk to securely employed full-time faculty, the tone is often, “those adjuncts, they’re just not that good.” It’s astonishing how people who often regard themselves as progressive are blind to a social problem that they are actually benefiting from–massive numbers of underemployed educated people.

    Claudia Dreifus
    co-author, “Higher Education?”

  2. Emma – Thanks for being the topic of my blog this week! LOL

    Claudia – It really is frustrating how these situations are (and have) quickly become the norm. Recently I learned that here in California there are right now (or were, some have already closed) 8 total fulltime faculty jobs for speech instructors. Eight; in one of the states with more colleges. That number doesn’t inspire me to hope much.
    Thanks for commenting!

  3. This is so truthful and so depressing. To paraphrase that old union song, “Get thy behind me, TAFFY.” Junk food, instead of decency.

    As Andrew Hacker and I have been traveling in support of our book, “Higher Education?” the one thing we see again and again, is how invisible the adjuncts are to the regular faculty and administrators.

    Recently, I was speaking at conference on women and science and the research dean of a large public system was exhorting about all the wonderful opportunities for women she was providing. I said, “so many women are adjuncting as a way of doing the Mommy Track. How can you justify paying them 2,000 a course?” Her answer: “Well yes, you’re quite right. But there has to be another way to fund public higher education.”

    This really nice, socially-concerned woman was quite willing to accept that part-timers would subsidize the schools with below-scale wages.

    Claudia Dreifus, co-author of “Higher Education?”

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