This guest post was submitted last spring when the pandemic had just started (in case any aspects feel a little “early-pandemic”)
University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire: A case study in Music
The University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire is known for its strong music program, particularly jazz studies, where the top jazz ensemble has seen multiple Downbeat magazine awards for best undergraduate big band and several alumni have gone on to have successful careers in the field.
Like many programs, music at UW – Eau Claire has endured budget cuts for years; but, it also had to weather Governor Scott Walker, who emerged as a leading union antagonist during a 2011 fight over legislation to roll back public employee collective bargaining rights, and survived a bitter 2012 recall election, tearing the state apart in the process. With national attention from right-wing media, he even ran for president. His time as a darling evaporated though, and in 2018, Walker was defeated in Wisconsin by Democrat Tony Evers in his bid for a third term as governor. Infamously, Walker stripped gubernatorial powers on his way out the door.
After collective bargaining was gutted, some faculty retired. Others moved just over the border to Minnesota. Some left the Midwest entirely as Governor Walker offered up Wisconsin as a petri dish for the “Right to Work” contagion. A few full-time, pre-Walker faculty remain.
“Because of the political climate, the 2010s saw the adjunctification of music approach warp-speed in Wisconsin.”
Why is Eau Claire a useful case study? Because of the political climate, the 2010s saw the adjunctification of music approach warp-speed in Wisconsin. Tenure-track lines left, and they didn’t come back. Somehow, every year, a new applied teacher would be found, in the illustrious “lecturer title series.” The faculty directory, which ten years ago would have been mostly full-time, now reads more like a yearbook of perennial adjuncts. In music, we depend on our teachers to write strong recommendation letters after our time with them if we choose to pursue graduate school. Who are you going to ask when you have had a different teacher every year, and that teacher is just trying to earn a living wage?
My fear is that the Coronavirus pandemic will give administrations a “get out of jail free card.” It will bring this small case study to a national trial. As Colleen Flaherty writes in her recent Frozen Searches contribution for Inside Higher Ed, “Administrators will eventually move out of this first triage phase and begin to think about staffing the next few terms, possibly with little notice.” How can there be pushback for adjunct hiring when the entire economy has collapsed, full-time hiring has not occured, and teaching needs are immediate?
Unfortunately, UW – Eau Claire shows us exactly how academia will look post-outbreak. The Department of Music and Theatre Arts did not hesitate to post two adjunct music jobs during the pandemic, including a flute lecturer at 44% FTE and a guitar lecturer at 27% FTE. For reference, the annual salary for this guitar lecturer would be right around $5,000. Further, this is an area of the country in which, unless you can get to Minneapolis regularly, the only supplemental income would be working the local bars on Water Street or something similar.
According to federal poverty guidelines, a two-person household with a total annual income below $16,910 is considered to be living in poverty.
The job ad also states that the Department of Music and Theatre Arts at UW – Eau Claire is “supported by 30 full-time and 11 part-time faculty.” Well, not by my count. Maybe this hasn’t been updated recently, but that ratio has certainly changed. What will it look like after Coronavirus? In fairness, UW – Eau Claire is not the only university already posting adjunct music jobs. Further, this is all just part of a trend that was already in motion. We can’t act too surprised.
Is this predatory hiring? Maybe the optics are not ideal during a pandemic to be hiring music teachers below the poverty line. But will we feel the same in June? July? August?
I am not sure.