The Uncertainties and Challenges of Academia Under COVID-19

Solicited by the OAH Committee on the Status of Women in the Historical Profession. Endorsed by the OAH Committee on Part-time, Adjunct, and Contingent Employment (CPACE), OAH Committee on Community Colleges, and the Labor and Working-Class History Association (LAWCHA)

Saturday, April 17, 2021, 12:00 PM - 12:30 PM

Type: Paper Session


This panel contextualizes the uncertainties faculty and recent Ph.D. graduates experienced under COVID-19. It will examine how faculty confronted challenges in multiple fronts, from child care closures and homeschooling children to encountering additional service expectations, to addressing the impact of COVID-19 on University campuses.  Assistant professors also faced the closures of archival institutions while trying to finish writing their manuscripts on a tenure clock schedule. For lecturers, a lack of health care and basic resources required to teach online courses became even more accentuated under the pandemic.  The cancelation of tenure-track positions and searches triggered additional stress to recent Ph.D.s who were already experiencing a shrinking job market in academia. In short, this panel explores the ways academics have responded to this crisis.  

Papers Presented

From Work-Life Balance to Covid Childcare Crisis: Taskforce on Gender-Related Faculty Issues

This talk will discuss my experience serving on two university-wide task forces on related issues—since 2018, on a Gender Equity Task Force created by Georgetown University President’s Office, and now on a Provost’s Ad Hoc Faculty Taskforce on Childcare during Covid. Both experiences show the sclerotic nature of university planning, lack of commitment of financial resources, and difficulty pivoting to thinking about care as a public, rather than personal problem. These problems—which should have been dealt with by staff and administration—were tasked to faculty in the name of “governance,” thus keeping us away from our research and exacerbating the very problems we hoped to solve. I will discuss proposed solutions to care challenges for faculty and what solutions, if any, we came up with. I will emphasize that as a full professor with a small child I was in an unusual position of being able to advocate for those more junior and with more to lose, and the harmful internalization of “productivity” norms among faculty.

Presented By
Katherine Benton-Cohen, Georgetown University

The Certainty of Uncertainty: Adjuncts Lack of Security in American Academia

This paper will examine the insecurities linked to being an adjunct instructor. I find ways to supplement my income by working at several institutions at different ends of the spectrum in my field without receiving any benefits and mostly being a minimum wage worker with a graduate degree. This paper will also cover my search for security outside academia by learning new skills via professional development and venturing into new industries. Using the skills, I have learned in academia and the lessons learned from the bureaucracy of higher education, I am trying to enter into new fields. I became my boss and created my security by taking control of my fate and not allowing departments in higher education to dictate my status. I am finding the confidence to venture out into the great unknown of copywriting and believe in myself so much that my dreams come to fruition and further the conversation to create a union for adjunct instructors. Should adjuncts demand benefits for our hard work at these institutions by discussing the lack of guidance, help, and professional development at some schools for new hires. When asking for help some of us are denied any help or given some excuse like "We do not have orientation for adjuncts." The explanation usually is that we should have learned from watching our former professors teach. It feels like a burden when you desperately need a peer to help you. Some departments, have a sink or swim, dog eats dog world mentality, and lastly, the great divide between tenured, tenure track, full-time instructors, and adjunct faculty are quite detrimental to the psyche of the adjuncts. Adjunct opinions are not valued when giving their advice on enhancing the students' class experience. The overarching theme of Adjunct experience is the lack of respect and worth of the adjuncts, the grunts of the department. This paper will give my viewpoint from my own experiences as an Adjunct Instructor working at a four-year institution and a community college. Should I continue in academia, and would I recommend new graduates to venture into these shark-filled waters?

Presented By
LaKisha Lasha Brown, Texas Southern University

The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Assistant Faculty

I was a fellow at the Huntington Library in Pasadena, California, nearing completion of my first book manuscript when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. My contribution to this panel will explore the impact of academic library closures on individuals like myself; the stresses and added pressures of living with and assisting vulnerable family members facing their own professional challenges; my university’s handling of the pandemic, especially regarding assistant faculty; and my experience pursuing publication during the pandemic.

Presented By
Sarah Katherine Rodr, University of Arkansas

From Bad to Worse: Finding a Job during the COVID-19 Pandemic

I received my Ph.D. in History from the University of California, Santa Barbara in Spring of 2019. My teaching and research interests are Chicana/o/x and Latina/o/x history, race and ethnicity, and immigration. Before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the academic job market, I was already experiencing a difficult time securing a job right. I applied to over 40 jobs during the 2018—2019 year before being offered and accepting a one-year Visiting Assistant Professor position at San Francisco State University (SFSU) just a month before commencement. After a month at SFSU, I started applying for tenure-track jobs. Most schools extended their deadlines because of the excessive amount of applications they received. I interviewed at several places between December 2019 and February 2020, but when everything began shutting down because of COVID-19 in March 2020, many schools I applied to postponed their searches or outright canceled them. I became scared. Not only did I have to convert four classes to an online format and learn to teach online within a week’s notice, but I also had to look for employment opportunities for the following year. The only jobs available were adjunct and part-time positions. There was nothing available in terms of tenure-track or one-year positions for people in my fields. I was scheduled to be a lecturer at two different universities in fall 2020, but in July 2020, I was offered a one-year postdoctoral position at the University of Michigan for the 2020—2021 year. This position, created specifically for recently graduated PhD’s affected by COVID’s impact on the job market, will give me one full year of employment. This means that I will be applying for jobs again in the fall for the 2021—2022 year, hoping to secure a tenure-track position then.

Presented By
Francisco Beltran, University of Michigan

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: Ver Castillo-Mu, University of California, Santa Barbara

Presenter: Francisco Beltran, University of Michigan

Presenter: Katherine Benton-Cohen, Georgetown University

Presenter: LaKisha Lasha Brown, Texas Southern University

Presenter: Sarah Katherine Rodr, University of Arkansas