The Entrepreneurial Academic

In her new manifesto for freelance academics, Vitae columnist Katie Rose Guest Pryal stated,

In the new, corporate model of higher education, academics of all stripes, but most commonly those in contingent positions, find themselves pushed to the margins—of their departments, of their very institutions. If you’re lucky enough to have a contingent full-time position, you often still feel like an outsider. If you are an adjunct, then you almost certainly do. And even if you have a tenured or tenure-track position, if you aren’t a lifeboater with your head in an unmentionable place, then you can probably see that the system you are part of is unsustainable. Its future is rocky. You might worry that you’ll need to relocate some day—and what will you do then, when there aren’t any tenured jobs to be found? Welcome to the new world of The Freelance Academic.

This is really what I’ve been saying for a decade. Underneath the surface of this article, there is a reminder of our current economic context. We all—academics (and artists) included—live in the Entrepreneurial Economy. Guest Pryal makes a valid point that academics need to think of their institutions as clients. The reality is that every employer is, in fact, an employee’s client. Employers have certainly long treated employees as though that were true. If you’ve ever had a contract that stated “employment at will” or titles like “clinical,” “contingent” and “adjunct” faculty, you know what I mean. But, as the American academy learned in 2010-2011, tenured faculty can be fired, in droves, due to budget cuts or politics. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you teach, or what level of job security you think you have, the academy (much like the economy) has changed. Irrevocably.

Regardless of what Americans do for a living, in this new economy everyone needs to develop multiple revenue streams. That’s as true for tenured faculty as it is for anyone else whose work is related to academia regardless of their employment category. This is the same thing that I tell students when I lecture on making a living in the arts. Creating additional revenue streams concurrent with full-time employment puts some extra cash in your pocket, which is always welcome. Developing that practice takes time—as building any business does— and doing that while you have the safety net of full-time employment is priceless. If you set up that machine while employed, it will make life much less stressful should that employment status ever change.

While I wouldn’t call this article a manifesto, it is as potentially useful to academics on the tenure track as it is to freelance academics. I am looking forward to reading this new column on a regular basis.