Professor of Desperation

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Jul 22 07:01:21 MDT 2002

Professor of Desperation

Bad pay, zero job security, no benefits, endless commutes. Is this any way
to treat PhDs responsible for teaching a generation of college students?

By Eric L. Wee
Washington Post, Sunday, July 21, 2002; Page W24

As dreams go, Larissa Tracy's is simple. She'd get up and head to work at
Georgetown University. She'd stroll to her wood-paneled office lined with
her medieval literature books. Light would stream in through the windows as
she'd wait to teach one of her classes later in the day. But before that
she'd have time to chat with colleagues about work and teaching and life.
Maybe she'd get lunch with one of them. Or maybe she'd work on an article
about the lives of female saints in the Middle Ages, her specialty. In the
summers, she'd travel and attend conferences. Life would be good.

She often thinks about that dream on days like this. On this chilly October
morning she's merging onto Interstate 395, near her Shirlington apartment,
and heading south on her daily 50-mile trek to Fredericksburg. It's 7
o'clock as her black Mazda Protege slides into the fast lane at 80 mph. She
pushes hard on the accelerator and begins eating her toast. She needs to
pass her first marker, the Quantico Marine Base, by 7:30--otherwise, she'll
be late for her first English composition class at Mary Washington College.
The clock doesn't stop ticking after that: She'll teach four classes at
three different colleges today. And those are just some of the six classes
she's teaching this fall term, double the normal load of a college
professor. Or what used to be normal.

Tracy's itinerary today has the precision of a train schedule: English 101
at Mary Washington from 8 a.m. till 8:50 a.m. Office hours from 9 till 10
a.m. Another English class from 10 until 10:50 a.m. Back in the car by 11
a.m. Up I-95 to George Mason University. Another class from 12:30 p.m. till
1:20 p.m. Talk to students for a few minutes. Back in the car by 1:45 p.m.
and race to Georgetown University. Grade papers and prepare for class while
eating lunch. Class on Shakespeare and film from 3:15 p.m. to 4:05 p.m.
Back in the car before the meter expires and head home. Then she grades
more papers until midnight. Six hours later it all begins again.


Louis Proyect
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