Why I Quit College Teaching
and You Should Too

Eryk Wdowiak

25 February 2018

I quit because these days a new instructor -- a doctoral student -- would never have an opportunity to develop a website like doviak.net.

When I was in graduate school, my professors took a neutral view of this website. They never discouraged me from developing doviak.net, but they always encouraged me to focus on my research (which you can find at wdowiak.me).

Today, doctoral students -- are they instructors or are they doctoral students? -- would never have an opportunity to develop a website like doviak.net. Their opportunity to prepare their own notes and learning materials has been replaced by the online learning platforms offered by textbook publishers.

And students may no longer save money by purchasing a used copy of the textbook. Students must now purchase a new copy of the textbook with a new product activation code, so that they can access the publisher's online platform.

In defense of those online learning platforms, they provide detailed information about which questions students answered correctly and incorrectly. That information could help the instructor focus on the topics where students need help.

But making each student buy a product activation code is a very expensive way of gaining the same insight that can usually be gained from simply asking students where they need help.

More troubling is how the online learning platforms emphasize weekly homework assignments at the expense of semester-long research papers. Instructors get an extraordinary level of detail about whether students answered a particular question correctly, but students do not learn how to write a research paper.

And at worst, students are required to purchase a product activation code, so that instructors may be "relieved of the burden" of preparing for class.

I suppose that that is compassionate. The majority of faculty are so poorly paid that they must deliver pizza to support their teaching habit. Cutting class preparation time to zero gives faculty more time to deliver pizza.

At the City University of New York, doctoral students (employed as "adjunct lecturers") are only paid about $3600 per three-credit course. And after they successfully defend their dissertations (and are promoted to "adjunct assistant professor"), they will only be paid about $4100 per three-credit course.

At the full-time rate of 7 three-credit courses per year, an adjunct lecturer is paid $25,200 per year and an adjunct assistant professor is paid $28,700 per year. For comparison, someone working 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year for minimum wage would be paid $26,000 in 2018 and $30,000 in 2019.

Adjunct faculty are paid so little that some have slipped into homelessness. Attached is a recent NEA article about a professor who lives in her car.

Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions. So when colleges pay their faculty less than minimum wage, students receive less than minimum education. When faculty must work a second job just to pay the rent, they have little time to prepare for class.

I earned a Doctor of Philosophy. I did not take a Vow of Poverty.

I have no desire to deliver pizza or to live in a car so that I may have the privilege of helping students do their homework assignments at a textbook publisher's online learning platform.

I quit college teaching because faculty are discouraged from developing instructional websites like doviak.net.

You should too.


postscript:   After writing a first draft of this post, I saw an op-ed by Molly Worthen who suggests that online learning platforms are popular among college administrators because the software claims to provide data about what skills students are learning. She concludes:

Producing thoughtful, talented graduates is not a matter of focusing on market-ready skills. It's about giving students an opportunity that most of them will never have again in their lives: the chance for serious exploration of complicated intellectual problems, the gift of time in an institution where curiosity and discovery are the source of meaning.

That's how we produce the critical thinkers American employers want to hire. And there's just no app for that.

-- Molly Worthen (2018). "The Misguided Drive to Measure 'Learning Outcomes.'" New York Times.

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