Being an adjunct professor, as Carl and the three other professors he shares an office with are, is kind of a pit. They work insanely long hours, teaching and grading, before they even get to spend time on their own research. It’s a largely thankless job, and it pays miserably. And they rarely get the opportunity for a tenure-track job, like the one Carl has — we’ve fudged that a little.
In our short story, Carl, our protagonist, is trying to navigate a relationship with Phil — who is both Carl’s student, and nearly two decades older than Carl — while navigating his own prospects for tenure. Just before the story opens, Carl’s had his tenure hearing before his faculty committee, and is now just waiting, impatiently and increasingly frantically, for word on whether he has tenure — and a job — or not.
But in the world of academia, in the US at least, a career spent as an adjunct, without ever getting the opportunity for tenure — i.e., adjunct hell — is an increasing reality for post-doctoral students. And the trials and tribulations of that life — the misery of the hours, the frustration of the bureaucracy, the annoyance of the really obnoxious libertarian Carl’s forced to share an office with — makes for a good backdrop on which to paint our story of May/December relationships, and highly dubious professional choices.