This Lecture Series Brings Higher Education to DC Bars

Profs and Pints helps underpaid adjunct professors make a little extra cash—and entertain drinkers
This Lecture Series Brings Higher Education to DC Bars
Peter Schmidt watches a lecture at the back of Bier Baron.

When Peter Schmidt was a journalist with the Chronicle of Higher Education he saw two alarming trends: the cost of college was skyrocketing, yet much of the teaching was done by low-paid adjunct professors. After losing his job in the summer of 2017, Schmidt decided to do something about the issues he’d spent his career covering.

Enter Profs and Pints, one of DC’s more unusual lecture series. Schmidt brings college professors–mostly adjuncts–to local bars to give lectures on anything from tattoos to urban farming to atheism. Patrons pay $10 ($12 at the door) and get to enjoy some of their favorite beverages while they learn.

But Schmidt’s motivation isn’t simply entertainment. Adjuncts often work on semester-by-semester contracts, earning an average of $3,000 per class without the benefits and job security tenured professors have. That pay does not include time outside of class spent emailing students, extra office hours, and time before or after class spent offering individual help or answering questions.

Annie McLeer, a Service Employees International Union organizer for adjuncts in the DC area, says that while many adjuncts have unionized and negotiated for more security around their contracts, most rely on their spouses or another job to provide health insurance and retirement benefits.

“Tuition money is not going to academic salaries,” she says. “The number of non-academic professionals has increased. There’s a whole new set of employees that are not related to teaching that has just mushroomed, and highest cost for universities is wages and benefits for these people.”

About 70 percent of what Profs and Pints brings in on any given night goes toward paying the lecturer.

“It’s not a lot,” says Dr. Alan Rosenblatt, an adjunct at Johns Hopkins, George Washington University, and American University, who gave a Profs and Pints lecture in the fall of 2017. “But it’s something.”

Rosenblatt, who specializes in political science and propaganda, works as a consultant for several other businesses. But not all adjuncts are so lucky.

“When I was at the Chronicle we routinely interviewed adjuncts who were living out their cars,” Schmidt says.

Adjuncts are not the only people Schmidt is trying to reach through Profs and Pints. Schmidt is worried that students, burdened with ever-increasing tuition costs, might miss out on the opportunity for intellectual exploration in favor more practical coursework.

“When students are graduating with so much debt, there’s pressure on them to major in the thing that will get them a job, not necessarily the thing that they might be most interested in,” Schmidt says.

He hopes Profs and Pints will offer a way for the intellectually curious to explore their interests at a high level.

Right now, Profs and Pints holds about four to six lectures monthly at Bier Baron and La Pop, but Schmidt hopes to expand to other locations.

“You won’t get a degree,” he says, laughing. “But you will learn something.”

The next Profs and Pints will be Sunday, April 29, at 6 PM at the Bier Baron Tavern, 1523 22nd Street, NW, where Edward Lengel will speak about “Pets of the Presidents.”

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Vittoria Elliott
Editorial Fellow