Over the last 7 years, I’ve blogged about the financial and professional constraints of being a faculty member at a master’s-granting, public institution, one of 23 California State University campuses, that’s tied to the fluctuations of a state budget and serves first-generation college students and a diverse student body.
…what that means for me personally.
…how that has influenced my professional scholarly output.
…why that has an impact on my professional advancement.
Last May, I was promoted to Full Professor and continue to hold a deep and abiding respect for my students and the CSU system. I also believe that my position now requires me to speak up about certain issues that impact our profession.
As we get deeper into the profession, our commitment to fostering the profession becomes incredibly important, that includes actively participating in shared governance committees on campus, valuing other forms of scholarly communication by actively participating on professional organizations’ committees, fostering communication with tenure-line faculty to help trouble-shoot career advancement, honoring and articulating the value of our contingent (but not-so-temporary) faculty, mentoring graduate students even if it’s only to lend an ear about their research goals, integrating and valuing innovative pedagogical strategies, recognizing different forms of student learning and honoring those outputs, making overtures across disciplines to collaborate effectively on campus – and so much more.
These activities are usually articulated as service work, but at this point in my career, I no longer need to seek credit for and record every. little. thing. My interests lie in figuring out where best to put my energies, expertise, and experience…and when to acknowledge that I’m not the authority in the room.
After seeing a few tweets by my Digital Humanities colleagues about keeping track of every request and the response (see Andrew Piper’s “The Legibility Project: Reversing the Dark Economy of Academic Labor“), I, too began to keep track of requests to peer review articles, peer review a new textbook, peer review a book manuscript, sit on an advisory board, actively participate in an organization’s governing body, run for a professional organization’s office, manage a journal, author an article, give a presentation (virtual or IRL), offer a workshop (virtual or IRL), lead a discussion, informally workshop a friend’s article, write a student letter of recommendation, brainstorm on a new idea with a colleague-friend, write a colleague letter of recommendation, review a tenure dossier, review a promotion dossier.
More, More, MORE!
Of course, there’s not enough time in the world to say yes to everything — and my students’ requests always come first.
So, when I get a request from a for-profit company to travel across country for a meeting to help them figure out how to sell more database and library subscriptions (that my library can’t afford already) for …..
$250 honorarium + all travel expenses
I’m not only perplexed why I’m receiving this invitation less than 4 weeks from the proposed meeting date, but also concerned that this honorarium represents an explicit devaluing of faculty, library, and staff intellectual labor – exploitation at its root.
Let’s break down the time value of money
What is your time worth?
The time value of money is an investment strategy that encourages investing long term in order to gain profits down the road. Think about your time and the value of it right now. How is it expended? What makes your time valuable? a commodity, if you will? How will you spend your time now to reap investment benefits later? Do you value prestige? scholarly output in the form of publications? innovative teaching? student-mentor relationships? collaborative projects? re-shaping your community through, e.g., curriculum re-design? building cross and interdisciplinary relationships and projects?
How will any of that be served by investing your time in a particular invitation to perform a specific duty?
Who will benefit from that shared time?
This doesn’t need to be transactional or even monetary — instead, what are you investing in?
If you need some research and scholarship to back up this idea, take a look at the 265,000 articles returned on a Google Scholar search about valuing academic labor.
INITIAL EMAIL INVITE:
Dear Dr. Katherine Harris, I hope things are going well and that your semester is progressing smoothly. I am writing to extend an invitation to you on behalf of xxx, the Senior Vice President and General Manager of ProQuest Information Solutions, who cordially invites you to present on your work at ProQuest in Alexandria, VA on March, 13th. [<—email sent to me on Feb 15, less than 4 weeks from the meeting; I have a full schedule this semester; this means travel on March 12, meet March 13, travel on March 14 & cancel several meetings + my 1x weekly grad class]
A colleague here recommended to me your work regarding DH pedagogy, and we were intrigued by your recent blog post “It’s Not About the Tools” [<—blogged & posted for SJSU Ecampus as an internal Digital Pedagogy conversation; maybe 25 people have read this post in the last week since it went up] and your interview for MLA commons in nov. 2015 [<—along with the other 3 editors of Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities and Nicky Agate, a video you have to comb through my online CV to find] and, if you have time, we would be thrilled to hear more about your work. [<—It’s not a prestige invitation for me…or for any other scholar of DH Pedagogy; this appeal to my ego doesn’t really work] As a content aggregator and content distributor for teaching and learning as well as research, we are interested in how we can better support teaching and research. [<—don’t charge so much to my kind of university?]
To provide you with some context about this talk, ProQuest runs a monthly seminar series for employees where we invite researchers (all levels from undergraduate to faculty, all disciplines) and librarians (all academic library types) [<—so they do this often and have been offering a paltry honorarium for awhile? Shame. Shame!] to discuss research processes, desired outcomes, pain points, and interaction with the library, as well as how vendors such as ProQuest should improve their content and services to support research and library services, [<—I wonder if they looked up SJSU and if we subscribe to their pricey-est databases?] and we would be delighted if you were able to join the Alexandria gathering as a guest speaker to present to our team. [<–I’m still not sure what they want from me.]
If you are interested, I can work with others at ProQuest to help arrange your travel, cover your food/lodging, and provide you with an Honorarium payment of $250.00. [<—WTF?? SO YOU LOOKED AT MY CV & STILL THINK MY TIME IS WORTH ONLY $250?] Please let us know if you are interested in presenting to us.
..in which I express my dismay & use the opportunity to make a point about faculty & librarian’s time while keeping in mind that ProQuest is a for-profit company, not an opportunity to address a new, scholarly audience that might have insight that advances my ideas or inspires a collaboration…
Thank you for contacting me about this opportunity. It sounds like an intriguing meeting.
I have some concerns, though, about the Honorarium especially considering my senior position in the field and the time it will take to travel across country for a meeting. As a senior faculty member and scholar, a typical Honorarium to present my work for a 3-day travel event is upwards of $1000. [<—I’ve been paid this a few times for digital pedagogy workshops that last a full day; other times, I push together a few scholarly speaking engagements that will in the end pay for my time & travel because the audiences were valuable to me; many other female scholars have warned me not to undersell myself when asking for remuneration; one scholar even said that women should look in the mirror, ask for increasing amounts until you begin laughing — that’s what you should request as the honorarium — but we don’t talk about these things, hence why I’ve written this post]
Since I’m in California, I would have to spend an entire day traveling to the East Coast. The same goes for the return trip. That also includes the cost of getting to/from the airport as well as maintaining my connection to my students with wifi in all of the locales, including the airplane. Also, food during these travel days can be quite costly. With all of that, an Honorarium would be eaten up by expenses to travel to/from Proquest. That means for traveling and presenting on my long-standing work in Digital Humanities pedagogy, I would be essentially doing it for free and giving my valuable time to Proquest with little notice (we are already in the thick of the semester with meetings and class schedules set).
I provide details about all of this not to shame or denigrate your generous offer, but instead to provide insight into the rationale for the Honorarium amount. If Proquest would be willing to pay me what my time is worth, I would be willing to consider the offer.
THE BRIEF COUNTER-RESPONSE
...because I got the feeling that he didn’t know he was hitting a hornet’s nest with this invitation…
Thanks so much for your email and your suggestions. I’m sorry I wish that we could offer a larger honorarium. We have a standard honorarium rate which we pay all of the speakers. [<—SO THEY’VE BEEN OFFERING THIS PITTANCE FOR AWHILE? ….AND OTHER SPEAKERS ARE TAKING IT? A history of taking advantage of faculty/scholars/librarians/staff? Predatory or exploitative?] We do cover all of the travel / food / lodging costs for the speakers. So we would cover the cost of to-airport travel, food while traveling, and any other costs incurred during your trip. [<–If you ever think it’s prestigious to be flown around the country, take a moment to value your time. This is not a vacation. It’s travel across country in 48 hours, which will leave you reeling with the change of time zones, also while probably still having to keep up with your teaching load. Also, there’s someone else in line — they’re just going to invite the next person on the list and not offer a better honorarium. Shame! SHAME!]
It is absolutely understandable if the rate is too low and you are not interested in the invitation. Absolutely no worries at all. Based on your suggestions I will push to have this rate increased for next year’s invited speakers. [<–I get the feeling that this person doesn’t have much clout and will make a suggestion that will fall on deaf ears…because others accepted this $250 before. We need to demand more from these kinds of for-profit companies.]
MY COUNTER-COUNTER RESPONSE
…in an attempt to break down the intellectual labor required of such an invitation with the hopes that this person will transmit the egregious exploitative nature of offering such a paltry stipend to their guest speakers…
Dear xyz, Thank you for the responding email.
I’m deeply dismayed that ProQuest has a policy to pay faculty and staff this incredibly devaluing $250. The travel to/from ProQuest HQ is definitely *not* a vacation and hence isn’t a perk to this invitation. I’m also not sure, given the fact that ProQuest takes faculty and scholars’ research to re-package into a searchable database with no remuneration paid to the faculty, the purpose of the meeting. It seems like the meeting provides a senior faculty member (me) an opportunity to *help* ProQuest continue to sell their databases and products back to our libraries, sometimes at a cost that libraries cannot afford. For, you see, you have invited a faculty member from a master’s granting public institution that has budget tied to the rise and fall of the state economy — and so too does our library’s ability to maintain expensive subscriptions to ProQuest.
In addition, you’ve sent an invitation to a teaching faculty member with less than 4 weeks notice already when the semester is in full swing. My responsibilities are not simply research. I teach, have service commitments, and many committee meetings to help run our public university.
Additionally, traveling across country will not garner me any professional advancement.
I hear you that if others have taken this opportunity to speak at ProQuest HQ and consider it an honor just to be asked, please consider who ProQuest has invited and what type of institute they hail from. Also, ProQuest seems to be taking advantage of faculty and staff by not offering them a livable wage in order to visit their HQ. Here’s the breakdown:
1 day of prep
1 day of travel to HQ
1 day for meetings
1 day of travel return to California
In all, though ProQuest will cover travel expenses, the value this company places on faculty and staff intellectual labor is a mere $63.50 per DAY.
Though you sent me an invitation based on my recent blog post for SJSU’s ECampus, I’m not sure ProQuest looked into my previous work and my senior position in the field — it’s easily available online here at my TriProfTri blog: https://triproftri.wordpress.com/about/
ProQuest can see from that CV information that I’m a full professor. Regardless of my personal professional standing, if ProQuest is offering this amount to junior faculty/scholars or library faculty, that’s unconscionable and deeply disturbing, especially since ProQuest sells for a product the very professionally-produced scholarly communications that it then re-sells back to our institutions.
I understand that you are not the person who sets this honorarium. I ask that you convey the above to your managers and VP.
I will post about this on my well-followed blog as well as tweet it out to my well-followed Twitter account under the same name – the Digital Pedagogy and Digital Humanities groups will all be very interested to know about this devaluing of their time.
I invite ProQuest to respond as well as to change its practices in the future — not a promise to check on maybe revising this honorarium, but to instead set a schedule in advance, invite faculty and staff with a recognition to their time limitations for teaching and other responsibilities, and offer a living wage of at least $1000 to anyone ProQuest invites to speak with them about improving ProQuest products in order to sell them to our universities.
I look forward to your response and from that of your managers. I’m happy to contact your managers directly about this matter.
What would I be investing in to travel across country and speak at this corporation’s headquarters? What would I be disengaging from in order to make this commitment happen? Why would I value this corporation’s meeting over the other things that I value?
You may have answers to these. To me, this invitation boiled down to a large company that has gotten away with undervaluing or exploiting all of its guest speakers with this idea of prestige.
$63 a day
Think about that.
63 dollars per day
Dunn & Bradstreet estimates ProQuest LLC’s revenue at $324 million per year. From its own website: “ProQuest Central is the largest, multidisciplinary, full-text database available in the market today. This resource provides access to 40 of ProQuest’s complete databases, with a variety of content types across over 175 subjects, making this the broadest single research resource in the world.” (Since ProQuest is a privately-held company, it doesn’t make its earnings public except upon request.)
But, with all of this revenue, ProQuest doesn’t seem to value the very people who produce their content?
Oh yeah, ProQuest probably owns your dissertation, too….
So, they can’t pay their guest speakers more than $250?
ProQuest, if you’re reading this, I invite a response in the comments below.
If you are junior or untenured or contingent faculty and are considering taking this gig if you happen to be the next Digital Humanities or Digital Pedagogy person in line, I will float you that $250 not to take this piece work. (jk!)
Otherwise, pass it along. They’re banking on us not talking to each other.