Friday, August 11, 2006

Making the Political Personal

It’s hard to believe that a white male would lecture a woman about solving the social problem of low wages with a personal decision (don’t work there), but apparently at least one guy missed the Women’s Movement of the 1970s.

The personal is political. Quietly opting out of a social situation doesn’t change things and entrenches the privilege of the white male doing the lecturing.

Treatment of adjunct instructors at the colleges your kids attend is one of the dirty little secrets of the academic world. For teaching one class, I earn $125 every two weeks. I spend $40 a week on gas for the car.

An adjunct teacher earns about one-third of a full-time professor’s pay with no benefits. Adjunct professors rush from job to job, trying to scratch together a living, stuffing their records into file boxes in the backs of their cars. An adjunct who dropped dead of a heart attack, whilst commuting between three campuses, is legendary at one campus where I work.

I’ve been participating in an online workshop to upgrade skills, swap information, and stay posted about what’s going on at one of the universities where I teach. As usual, the topic of low wages and decreasing job opportunities came up. A large pool of applicants who rarely see each other, all of them living around the poverty line, is an effective way to keep the malcontents in line.

I received a personal email from a fellow participant, snug in his office as an associate dean and department chair, about negotiating higher wages for myself and refusing to take jobs that don’t measure up.

Women still earn 75-cents on the dollar to men. Responses to wage requests continue to be patronizing and unprofessional. When a man negotiates, he’s a hard bargainer worthy of respect; when a woman negotiates, she’s a whining bitch who can leave if she doesn’t like it.

During my 30 years in the work force, women have gained a mere two-bits in the quest for economic equality. Meanwhile, wages and union protections have eroded for the entire work force.

According to one Nobel Prize winner, the graduate rates of science students are so low, the USA is sliding toward Third World status. One of the reasons for low attraction of science students to those studies: teachers are underpaid.

But shhhh, don’t say anything about it if you’re a woman, because there’s some white male who will make the political personal, perpetuate the social problem, and relegate anyone who speaks out to the margins of society. After all, it’s just my problem. Solve it yourself, babe.


What’s the Future of Science Education? The audio interview conducted by Ira Flato for Talk of the Town can be found in the Health and Science listings on the National Public Radio website at I’ve been unsuccessful at getting the direct page link to work.

Wage Gap Information is compiled and regularly updated by Dr. Hilary Lips, Director of the Center for Gender Studies at Radford University, at

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