How to live the academic life without a teaching job

Steven Trierweiler may not have a job, but he's got a place to go each day with a desk, a phone, and - most important for a scholar sending out resumes - free use of a photocopier.

In many ways, even without a paycheck, Mr. Trierweiler is living the academic life. As an associate at Five Colleges Inc., he can check books out of college libraries and make long-distance business telephone calls. He even can apply for a foundation grant, using Five Colleges as his sponsor.

Trierweiler, who is completing his work for a PhD in psychology, says he'd rather have a teaching job. And he keeps applying for one, usually along with 160 to 200 others for each position. Recently he found out about a last-minute opening to teach next fall. He applied, along with about 40 others. He didn't get the job.

This grim picture facing young humanities scholars (the situation is somewhat brighter in the sciences) is one reason for the associates program at Five Colleges Inc. - a consortium of Smith, Mt. Holyoke, Hampshire, and Amherst colleges and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The five schools, clustered within 13 miles of each other in western Massachusetts, have been cooperating formally through Five Colleges since 1957. The activities it sponsors include student and faculty interchanges and cultural organizations.

Originally, says Five Colleges coordinator E. Jefferson Murphy, the purpose of the associate program was to attract and keep top faculty by offering help to their spouses, often scholars in their own right, who were unable to find work in their fields. Later, the concept expanded to include promising young faculty who couldn't be given tenure and found it hard to get a job.

The problem is not confined to western Massachusetts. The US Department of Labor, while predicting growth in most occupations during the 1980s, says college and university faculties nationwide will actually shrink 9 percent. And the secretary of the American Association of University Professors reports that of 750,000 higher-education faculty in the US, about 300,000 have only part-time positions. Another 100,000 are so-called gypsy scholars, who move from job to job, sometimes more often than once a year.

The Five Colleges associates program began last fall with eight scholars, each nominated by a member school, who were selected for two-year appointments. Four more joined them this spring. Their office space is the third floor of the handsome Five Colleges Center in Amherst. Still in its infancy, the associates concept has already won an award from the Academy for Educational Development as part of an ''outstanding program for attracting and retaining young faculty members.''

But does it work? ''We keep in close touch with the people in the program,'' says coordinator Murphy. He says the associates report that it gives them ''a sense of well-being.'' And it's keeping spouses of faculty active in their academic pursuits. But it's too early, he acknowledges, to know if it will help scholars find jobs in higher education.

''I was pleased to find there was some kind of identity offered here,'' says Trierweiler, who moved here recently when his wife joined the Smith College faculty. ''This is the beginning of a recognition that (universities) have been overtraining scholars for years,'' he says. He plans to use the time as an associate to finish his dissertation, apply for teaching posts - and perhaps plan a career change. ''I'm trying to decide whether to leave academia for the first time since I started graduate school,'' he says. ''I'd still love to teach. But that's one pleasure I may never have.''

The program doesn't require associates to confine their job hunting to academic posts. ''If you want to write a letter to (General Motors), they'll do the letter,'' says Miriam Levin, an associate who holds a PhD in history.

But most associates are published authors and experienced teachers who love their profession and don't want to change. Teaching, says Dr. Levin, is still her goal. ''I know I can do it,'' she says. ''I like doing it. It would be fun to do and I have something of interest to say. That's the real frustration.''

Yet partly because of the program, ''I still have hope'' for an academic career, adds Trierweiler. The contact with other struggling scholars helps. ''You realize,'' he concludes, ''you're not alone.''

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