Responding to ASU’s “response”

December 18, 2014

Thanks to John Warner at Inside Higher Ed for linking to this statement from Arizona State regarding the restructuring of full-time NTT instructor job responsibilities in the English Department. I agree with Warner that the statement is “weak sauce” but would go even further to point out the Orwellian nature of this aspect:

Generally, full-time instructors are not assigned professional development or faculty committee duties. In this case, full-time instructors that had those duties (previously 20 percent of their jobs) are having those duties taken over by others in the department so that the instructors can focus fully on teaching.

I really, really, really, really, really want somebody to explain to me how somebody’s professional development is to be taken over by somebody else. Huh? Does this mean a TT/T faculty member is going to attend that brown-bag lunch in your stead so you don’t have to? That as long as somebody is presenting at that local workshop, it doesn’t matter that it isn’t you? What the [bleep]?

And the point about service being taken over–sure, many of us who do lots of service see it sometimes as drudgery that we wish we didn’t have to. But only the most cynical of us really misunderstand the nature of it, which is to say that the word “service” is really a shorthand term (particularly at the department level) for “self-governance.” The simple substitution of one for the other demonstrates how nonsensical the claim is. “Your self-governance is being taken over by other people so you can teach more.”

If that’s what ASU means, then for goodness sakes, just say it. If not, then don’t do it.


If you needed to hear it from a white person, OK, but that’s part of the problem

December 9, 2014

I think a lot about being an activist and an ally in communities I don’t really identify with except as an activist and an ally. The lion’s share of that thinking has been about contingent labor activism, but especially over the last week or two (yes, I’m late in getting to it, and one purpose of this post is to issue a mea culpa) I’ve found myself extraordinarily frustrated as I try to work against white power and privilege. Short version, as a white person committed to fighting against oppression and violence, the way white people (no, not all, but FFS close enough) are reacting when black people take to the streets is almost always frustrating, sometimes infuriating, sometimes stunning.

The simplest way to get at what I want to say about all this (for now) is to tell a story of the last several days by juxtaposing four texts: one vile; one almost entirely useless response; one that’s important but can’t stand alone as a safety valve for its endorsers; and the other exactly right–right, that is, in terms of how I want white allies/activists/sympathizers to be thinking about our roles/places in what I hope is a renewed movement to end white power/privilege.

1.The vile one.

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This is a screenshot of a social network called Yik Yak. I’ve never been on it, but after a protest event last Friday on campus, this (among several others) thread appeared. There were others that were worse. Nasty, profane, hateful (if not legally defined as “hate speech,” still expressing something really sick) stuff. I don’t want to give any of the rest of it any more attention than it’s already gotten.

2. A faculty member sent several of these examples to our university upper administration, and our president responded with this email to all users:

West Chester University has a longstanding commitment to civility and our Values Statement which promotes the respect, dignity, and inclusion of all campus community members.  Unfortunately, in response to recent student demonstrations some individuals have used social media to promote hate.  We reject such conduct.  Each of us should engage in conversations that advance knowledge and bring attention to the challenges we face.   After all, it is a fundamental mission of the academy to promote the exchange of ideas through civil dialogue.  Threatening and intolerant language has no place in this exchange.  Thus, I encourage everyone to express their opinions respectfully.

The response isn’t wrong, in the sense of inaccurate. It’s just empty. “Don’t hate hatefully. Hate nicely.” Well, thanks for that. To be fair, the grapevine has it that our administration is considering further action, and I’m hoping that something substantive happens next. If it does, I’ll gladly update.

3. In response to the president’s message, a group of faculty activists have signed onto a letter that thanks him for his commitment to diversity and equity, but respectfully requests that he do more than simply issue an exhortation to be respectful. I wrote in an email to some of those faculty that we need to remind him, “Hate is not an opinion.” The letter, which I’m not sharing here because it isn’t mine to share, is important. Our upper leadership must know that we need them to lead during this very difficult time. We need to voice our dissatisfaction. But…

4. Based on a conversation I had with a colleague on Monday afternoon and a fantastic blog post another colleague/comrade  pushed out Tuesday morning on Facebook, I’ve gotten a lot clearer on why the letter to the president is of limited value, and could undercut more important work if we don’t make sure to push onwards from it.

The blog post, called Dear White Protestors, sends a strong reminder to people like me that

Dear white protestors, this is NOT about you. 

The blogger, who writes under the name bendstowardjustice, makes the point strongly and repeatedly that white co-optation of black mobilization isn’t helping. As s/he puts it:

“All lives matter?” NO THEY DON’T AND THAT’S THE FUCKING POINT! Black people’s lives don’t matter, that’s why I’m out in the streets, to get people to realize that my life has worth. I have to protest to get people to even think about the possibility that if the police or some vigilante gun me down, it’s not because the genetic defects believed inherent in my blackness finally manifested and I had to be put down before I became more of a threat to white america. White america doesn’t need a reminder that “all lives matter,” it needs to be made to recognize and respect that Black lives matter.

It’s Black bodies that are bleeding and dying in the streets. It’s Black bodies that can’t breathe. It’s Black bodies that are seen and treated as threats to whiteness as we shop in Wal-Mart, play in parks outside our homes, walk home with a pack of Skittles, sleep in our beds. It’s Black bodies that have hung like strange fruit from the trees of this nation for centuries.

Point made.

In our local context, then, as much as I want to call out the racism and hatred of the people who anonymously posted their poison on Yik Yak, as much as I want to strong-arm cowards into suddenly having the courage to claim their hate; as much as I want our university president to stand up for the whole community, not just quickly remind people to hate nicer; as much as I want lots of things to happen, some of which are actually important; none of those should override the single most important thing that needs to happen, which is contesting-disrupting-fighting back against white power/privilege in all its forms, and remembering that our needs as a privileged class do not come first.


A response to Martin Kich’s response to “Dear ‘Whining Adjuncts'”: some notes about trust

November 14, 2014

Over at the AAUP’s Academe blog, Martin Kich, whose work regarding all things academic labor I tend to like and respect a great deal, has made a point on behalf of tenured advocates for contingent labor equity that I both very much appreciate and feel the need to respond to. This post began as a comment on his post, and once it got as long as it has, I decided I should just put it here instead….

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Martin, I’m glad you wrote this post as a follow-up to the original “To My Adjunct Colleagues” from last fall.

As a tenured faculty member who advocates for and organizes with adjunct faculty pretty regularly, I’ve felt some of what you’re describing here–the animus aimed at “the tenured” in very general terms, and a strong reaction against being lumped into the same general class as the worst of our tenured colleagues.

But I’ve learned two (well, more than two, but these particularly germane) important things over the years I’ve spent a lot of time working (and socializing/informally networking) with lots of adjunct faculty from all over the country:

1. Those generalizations aren’t all that overgeneralized–a lot of us TTs aren’t very mindful of how our choices affect our contingent colleagues, even those of us who declare ourselves sympathetic (if not “advocates”). It’s hard to win the argument that you’re a strong advocate for adjunct faculty, for example, if you insist on increasing support for research funding while denying access to the same funding for adjunct faculty who would do more research if they had resources (that’s just one example among zillions). It’s also hard to win the argument that you’re a committed individual ally when historically institutions (our campuses, our unions, our professional organizations) almost always overstate, if not belie) the commitment of TT faculty to our adjunct colleagues.

2. Because those generalizations are more accurate than we wish they were, it’s not particularly reasonable for us (actual advocates and allies) simply to expect trust from the adjunct-equity-activist community as the default. There have been too many of us who drop by for a cup of coffee, pledge our commitments to the cause, write some articles, maybe a book about contingency to get promoted, and disappear. Or who take sabbaticals requiring a one-semester contingent replacement to write that book and don’t notice how ironic that is. Or who assume leadership positions in organizations (professional/disciplinary, unions, AAUP, etc) and start making decisions about adjunct faculty without even consulting them first. And so on. In other words, there have been too many instances in which the exploitation of their contingent status has occurred in the ostensible context of advocating for them, and too many instances in which their movement-building activities have been colonized by people who then worked for their own ends rather than the movement’s.

So, while I agree that I’d love to be able to presume the trust of adjunct faculty who I believe I’m committed to working with, I’ve come to understand that it’s not reasonable to expect that–and not because of them, but because too many of us have proven not to be very trustworthy even when we’re not malicious.

Does that mean I think you deserved to be called an asshole? Of course not. But I would make a case (not a plea, but stronger than a suggestion) that you (and I, and other people who do work like we do) be willing to absorb a little vitriol from time to time. There’s a tendency among some of us (I don’t think this is what you’re doing–I’m generalizing some here myself) to want to respond to anger and frustration among adjunct faculty by tone-policing, calling for “civility,” accusing them of sounding like children having temper tantrums (a wide spectrum of descriptions that all serve as excuses not to listen to what they’re actually saying). Telling angry people they shouldn’t sound so angry is like telling depressed people they should just cheer up. It’s almost certain to make things worse.


“Yeah, but…”

September 4, 2014

It happens a couple of times a week. I write or post something about contingent faculty equity on a professional listserv or on Facebook. Then, as I described in one of those listserv posts last week:

I can probably count on the fingers on one hand the number of exceptions I’ve seen to this pattern when adjunct equity pops up on listservs or Facebook threads or even at conferences: adjuncts try to do something positive for themselves, sometimes ungracefully, sometimes quite skillfully; some people express support or agreement or something at least sympathetic; and then the Yeah-Buts start. “Well, but if they don’t want to teach composition they shouldn’t be doing it.” “Yeah, but they should just get other jobs if they don’t like these.” “Yeah, but if they were good enough to get hired into tenure lines, they would have.” “Yeah, but they don’t do scholarship.” Yeah but, yeah but, yeah but.

Y’all might be able to imagine how frustrated I get when that happens, and I’m not paying any personal price whatsoever for the intransigence and skepticism that gets expressed in those Yeah Buts. Imagine how furious it makes the people who pay a heavy price for it, and then think again about whether the voice they’re speaking is “whiny.” Is it shrill sometimes? You bet it is. Is it surprising at all? No, it’s not. Does it make the substance of the arguments any less real and nasty? No it doesn’t, but pointing it out all too often provides an excuse not to listen. If I could change anything about the way all too many people react to these conversations it would be that one.

My friend and and longtime collaborator on academic labor research and writing projects Amy Lynch-Biniek wrote a blog entry the other day that has encouraged me to answer the Yeah Buts more publicly. She makes two key points. First, more often that most of us tenured/tenure-track faculty want to believe, merit is not what distinguishes us from our contingent colleagues, many of whom have the exact same credentials and skill that we do; I would add that even among the many who don’t have the exact same credentials, there’s a lot more willingness to pursue those or at least move towards them than most of us seem to think. She also makes a point that I wish I could transplant directly into the brains of TT faculty everywhere:

The only way I am able to reconcile working in a field that systematically abuses the majority of its workers is to dedicate my service and scholarship to addressing the problem of labor in higher ed. Too many lucky tenured, though, believe as Stuckel does, that they are special snowflakes. Or, they turn their eyes away, saying “I can’t change it,” or “I need to focus on my students.” I call bullshit. We can change it, and improving the working conditions of all teachers is focusing on your students. The time for silence is over. In fact, there never was a time for silence. Become allies to your adjunct colleagues. Do something. Say something.

Her rhetorical style and mine are somewhat different. My version of that argument:

 If you’re willing to say “Yeah, but,” then try stopping at “Yeah” and see how it feels.

That is, rather than starting to tick off the reasons you shouldn’t be taking on problems of adjunctification, try thinking about why you should. Even as a thought experiment. Even as the kind of exercise you ask students to do all the time–“Imagine the other side of the argument and see if you can understand/articulate their positions! Maybe it’ll help you think a little differently! If one reason you buck against being active on contingency issues is the politics of your academic discipline, try thinking about beyond that context; there are adjuncts in lots of fields, and the working conditions they face are only occasionally less crassly exploitative than most.

As another thought experiment, try articulating the “buts” without the tepid gestures at sympathy and see how different they sound. “They’re not trained well enough to be in tenure-lines.” “They’re not talented enough or diligent enough to have gotten TT jobs.” “They don’t do scholarship, despite the fact that their positions make it nearly impossible.” “They should just leave.” If those sound harsher to you than they did without the “Yeah” in front, they should. Except that they aren’t. To my ear, it’s even worse to start with a handwringing expression of sympathy and then immediately to deny that it’s your problem or anybody’s but theirs.

That is, if you don’t feel like the problems of contingent faculty are yours to address or think about, don’t even pretend like you do. If you feel like those problems are yours at all, then I’m asking you to make a concerted good faith effort to act on them rather than to respond to them with all the reasons you feel like you can’t. Of course you can.

At the risk of pissing off the NCTE publication gods, because there’s no web-based version of a publication called Forum: Issues about Part-time and Contingent Faculty for which I did an article (“‘Never Take More Than You Need,'” Spring 2013 issue) a couple of years ago, I’m going to list a set of recommendations I made in that piece here. None of them costs TT faculty a cent. One of them asks you consider being more judicious about asking for reassigned time, and another to be more mindful about how and when you ask for it. Otherwise, these could happen tomorrow at little to know risk for just about anybody.

First, and it’s a shame I feel I have to say this out loud: Meet your contingent faculty members. Learn their names. Talk to them as colleagues, because they are.

Second, and most lofty (read: impractical, but do it anyway): To the extent feasible, push for contingent lines to be converted, for pay equity, long-term contracts, full governance rights, and other rights enjoyed by full-time faculty. Our faculty union, which represents both contingent and non-contingent faculty, is working with our faculty senate and our campus curriculum committee to find seats for contingent faculty—and unsurprisingly finding some resistance. But we’re pushing and, I believe, making some progress.

Third, don’t take more reassign time than you need. On some campuses, getting reassign credits is a kind of game, or badge of honor. The losers of that game aren’t just the people who get fewer reassigned credits, but also the people whose job prospects are thrown into disarray as a result of the instability.

Fourth, find out the percentage of contingent faculty on your campus and what their compensation is. Compare it to other campuses, and post to The Adjunct Project spreadsheet. Share information from the spreadsheet and the blog with your colleagues, especially if your campus conditions would rate you poorly compared to others.

Fifth, work with members of your department to schedule sabbaticals/reassignments in order to maximize full-time spots for people who want them. For example, my system offers half-year or full-year sabbaticals. When I’m ready to take a half-year, which is all I’d want, I’ll do my very best to coordinate with other faculty in my department to see whether somebody is planning or willing to take the other semester of an academic year. I, personally, won’t take my semester until I can work that out. Once I have, and once the sabbatical is approved, I’ll work with my department chairperson and scheduler to ensure, to the extent possible, that one contingent faculty member gets a full-time load for an entire year as a result of an open full-time schedule for a year. Another example: My department chair asked me, a couple of years ago, whether I’d be willing to give up a general education writing course for an upper division course she needed to add at the last minute. I told her I’d do it under one condition—that she gave my rescheduled writing section to somebody who needed another section to become eligible for better benefits—that is, if she had to hire a new person for one section without any benefits, I wouldn’t do it. Neither of those ideas is terribly complicated or labor-intensive; neither costs anybody a penny. All it takes is a little foresight and mindfulness.

Sixth…, make your contingent faculty hiring and evaluation practices ethical and meaningful. Too many departments … are willing to hire and retain marginal teachers because they don’t cost much and are often willing to accept scraps of assignments. If we make it a priority to hire quality faculty and evaluate (and of course support) them well; and if we make it a priority not to retain faculty who aren’t doing the job well simply because they’re convenient, then we can go a long way toward addressing the darker, deeper underbelly of the situation, which I haven’t even tried to answer to in this piece.

As a final recommendation: go join and support the efforts of the New Faculty Majority. For every time you’ve said or thought, “Those adjuncts really ought to be organizing and advocating for themselves,” give NFM a dollar. For every time you’ve thought, “Those adjuncts should quit whining and do something,” give NFM another dollar. Then let’s talk about what else you can do after these baby steps don’t make you fall down and go boom.


What I learned at COCAL XI

August 13, 2014

[FYI: I had planned to write about COCAL already, but my union, APSCUF, asked me to write a piece for their blog. This is the piece I wrote for them, which will cross-post there. If you follow the APSCUF blog and want to talk about any of the issues here in terms of internal union discussions, let’s have that conversation there. –SK]

First, a loud thank you to APSCUF for sending me to New York City August 4-5 for the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor’s 11th biennial conference. If you’re unfamiliar with COCAL, the organization has emerged since the late 1990s as a–if not the–central venue in which adjunct activists collaborate to develop strategies and tactics to win better working conditions for contingent faculty. COCAL brings together contingent/adjunct activists from Canada and Mexico (both of which have hosted conferences) with their US counterparts, understanding contingency as a globalizing phenomenon.

I learned a lot at this conference, and before getting into the details, maybe the most important lesson is something I already realized (perhaps the most forceful statement of it by and for adjunct faculty comes from Keith Hoeller) but had reinforced more palpably than I could have imagined–

Lesson #1: While tenured and tenure-track faculty should and can be helpful advocates/allies for adjunct faculty equity, the real push for equity comes directly from adjunct faculty. I’m not sure how many other tenured/tenure-track people were there (I recognized a couple but expect there were some I just didn’t know), but the energy, talent, and commitment in the room were almost entirely adjunct-driven. If I could bring anything back to APSCUF from this conference, it’s a dose of that commitment for all adjunct members of the union; we know the talent and energy are here. The struggle for equity is everybody’s, including yours. 

Other people have covered the conference’s proceedings. This post from the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Vitae section offers a coherent overview of events. Inside Higher Ed’s coverage of the opening plenary session addresses the need to take direct action, including strikes (Stanley Aronowitz argued strongly for wildcat strikes; Cindy Oliver, president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of British Columbia, contended that any public employee besides emergency responders has a moral right to strike) and better to articulate the (academic) labor movement in terms of non-financial issues. Other panelists and audience members considered tactics available to faculty in non-union states. The second plenary, which I’ll say more about below, focused on specific strategies and tactics (mostly in union environments) for gaining and protecting contingent faculty power. The third plenary focused on linking arguments about contingent academic labor to issues of contingency in other labor sectors.

At that second plenary, called “Inside the Academy: The Cutting Edge,” I learned about a variety of efforts that I think translate pretty directly into possible APSCUF positions/actions:

Lesson #2: We need to support in every way we can SEIU’s Adjunct Action campaign, along with similar AFT and USW metro organizing efforts, even in areas that don’t directly affect our members. USW has been working in Pittsburgh, and AFT is organizing across the Philly metro area as well as one campus in Pittsburgh. While APSCUF adjunct faculty are members of our bargaining unit already and won’t be targets of those efforts, there’s no reason that we can’t and shouldn’t offer support–to the extent that it’s welcome. Not only are better conditions for contingent faculty an obvious good, but often APSCUF adjunct faculty work at multiple institutions, and we’re benefiting them by working to improve those institutions. 

[Updated AUG 20: It’s also important that we support non-union contingent faculty organizing/activist efforts like the New Faculty Majority. NFM has been one of the driving forces behind Campus Equity Week; has been working at state and national levels on legislation (most recently Senator Durbin’s proposal to extend student-loan forgiveness eligibility to adjunct faculty who haven’t been able to maintain full-time schedules); and so on. 

Lesson #3: Genuine adjunct equity goes beyond compensation. Donna Nebenzahl, representing the Concordia University Part-time Faculty Association (CUPFA), described their successes on two important fronts. In their last contract, they negotiated a $240,000 (Canadian dollars, but still) professional development fund specifically for part-time faculty. The dollar amount aside, the key concept is the commitment the union and university have made.  I strongly call on APSCUF to make a similarly strong commitment to our adjunct faculty, as members of our bargaining unit. Likewise, Condordia part-time faculty have (to borrow Nebenzahl’s words) “permeate[d] the governance of the university” by winning representation on hiring committees, curriculum committees, and other governing bodies. APSCUF permanent faculty members need to support our adjunct colleagues in this regard–there’s simply no good reason not to. 

Alternating with the plenaries, the other major events at the conference were three breakout meetings of “interest groups” focused on specific strategic problems: working with media; negotiating equity; legal issues (Affordable Care Act; discrimination issues; etc); building a national agenda (working with unions and other organizations across institutions and regions); and organizing (with) students. The charge for the interest groups was loose, but the gist was to develop a short strategy statement, and if there was time to develop whatever tactical recommendations we could in order to operationalize the strategy. I joined the student group, learning at the beginning of the first session that organizers expected us to stay in a group for all three (I had planned on attending the media and national agenda groups as well, but deferred to the preference of the people who had done the work of putting the conference together).

I wasn’t able to attend the closing session at which all five groups presented their final results, but (with the permission of our group members and facilitators) I can share what the student group developed, and one member of the national agenda group has already blogged theirs, a project they call the Democracy Index. That group is undertaking an effort that resonates with and builds from what many contingent labor activists have been trying to do for years–develop a method for praising institutions that do well by their adjunct faculty, and just as importantly, calling out institutions that do wrong. There have been attempts in my field (Composition/Rhetoric/English) to push our professional organizations (MLA, CCCC, NCTE) to censure departments/programs with bad labor practices, and the response has always been that bylaws (and, they argue, laws about non-profit status) prevent them from censuring/punishing anybody. The Democracy Index doesn’t call for censure, specifically, but instead proposes to publicize rankings and reports on institutions’ treatment of adjunct faculty: compensation, but also access to professional resources, academic freedom, and shared governance (see Lesson #2, above).

Lesson #4: Throughout the conference (and certainly in other adjunct activist venues), one of the common tensions is over how to prioritize compensation vs governance and professionalization issues. Is it more important to make sure everybody can pay their rent and buy food first, even if that comes at the expense of governance rights, or do we establish governance rights first in order to demand compensation equity more effectively? The answer to that is largely local, of course. APSCUF does reasonably well in terms of compensation, particularly for full-time adjunct faculty, but adjunct access to governance rights and professional development is inconsistently supported. We must do better. 

The interest group on organizing with students produced a statement of Core Principles and Practices (click this link to download the file, which we saved as Student Strategy Document). Our conversations focused on the need to balance the ethics of democratic organizing (not coercing students into supporting adjuncts), the common issues that students and adjunct faculty face, and the needs of adjunct faculty.

Lesson #5: The work we did in the student group reinforces the need for our Student-Faculty Liaisons, at both local and state levels, to be involved in efforts for faculty equity of all statuses, including adjuncts. Many of our students already work contingent jobs. Many will graduate and, without a tectonic shift in the economy, find other contingent jobs. We can fight contingency in unison, without exploiting students to do it, if we’re careful and attentive to the ethics of what we ask for. 

Again, I’m very grateful to APSCUF for sending me to New York, and I’m grateful to all the organizers and participants at the conference for their welcome, their energy, and a commitment I hope I can share across the union and with adjunct activists and sympathizers everywhere.

I’ll end with this request, a campaign I’m involved in that garnered some attention and support at the conference too. A few weeks ago, the good folks at State APSCUF posted a piece I wrote about this petition to David Weil at the Department of Labor , calling for signatures from faculty at all ranks/statuses, managers, staff, students, parents/guardians, families, anybody with an interest in quality higher ed. As of August 10, we’re approaching 6800 signatures. Please sign and share.

 


About that job satisfaction survey…

August 2, 2014

Once, maybe twice a year, I get an email survey from somebody or other (the Chronicle of Higher Ed is one of them) asking me to help determine whether my university is one of THE BEST PLACES TO WORK! I always answer them for a couple of reasons. While I don’t expect my individual feedback to be taken terribly seriously, I feel compelled to offer it. And because one of my academic specialties is research methods, I rarely turn down an opportunity to take a survey just so I can study it.

It hadn’t really occurred to me that I never see the results of those surveys (and that’s not an accusation) until yesterday, when I saw this article (press release, really) from the University of Arkansas touting their results from the 2013-2014 COACHE survey out of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

The good news is that tenured/tenure-track faculty at the University of Arkansas by and large seem to like their jobs. Just a snippet of the happies:

The broad category of “teaching” was a main area in which the U of A faculty satisfaction levels ranked in the top 30 percent of institutions. In response to specific questions related to the effects of enrollment growth, 81 percent of the faculty reported being either satisfied or very satisfied with “the portion of your time spent on teaching;” 79 percent were satisfied or very satisfied with “the number of courses you teach;” and 69 percent responded that they were satisfied or very satisfied with “the number of students in the classes you teach.” U of A faculty also expressed satisfaction with the university’s senior leadership, again placing in the top 30 percent of of the participating universities in this area.

If you’re wondering why I’ve highlighted the fact that only tenured/tenure-track faculty responses seem to have mattered, then you understand how I felt when I read the article. Every time an article or report specifies or emphasizes the working conditions of non-contingent faculty, I can’t help but wonder (therefore, I’m doing your wondering for you if you didn’t already) two things: (1) How would contingent faculty responses to this survey change the results? and (2) How much of the job satisfaction enjoyed by non-contingent faculty happens because contingent faculty do what they do?

The article makes the point, twice, that contingent faculty are excluded from the results, at least the ones being reported here. The survey went to all faculty including contingents, and I’d love to know more about what they said. Apparently someday those results will be forthcoming.

In the meantime, I want to ask some questions about the non-contingent faculty responses. If you’re an individual non-contingent faculty member who feels like I’m accusing you of something by asking these questions, I have mixed feelings about that; if you’ve already decided I am, then we should have a conversation about why.

1. When “81 percent of the faculty reported being either satisfied or very satisfied with ‘the portion of your time spent on teaching,'” how much time are they spending? I realize this piece is posted by a university on its own website, so the audience is (ostensibly) people who already know or wouldn’t care, but I’m curious. More specifically, I’m curious about how much of that time spent teaching is defrayed/deflected onto graduate student workers in fields that employ grad students as actual teaching assistants. Your teaching work is a lot easier if somebody else is grading your papers/exams and answering emails for you.

2. I also wonder about the kinds of courses. If the University of Arkansas is like most flagship state universities, non-contingent faculty probably aren’t teaching many lower-division courses. I won’t rant (here) about my loathing for faculty at any rank or status who complain about teaching general education, but I expect it’s a lot more happy-fying for non-contingent faculty to teach two or three upper-division and graduate courses than for contingent faculty to teach almost if not all gen-ed (for the record, I should clarify–while I get mad at people who complain about teaching gen-ed courses, I don’t think anybody should ever have a job that mandates they teach nothing but). Or put (OK, you got me) somewhat more accusatorially, how much of that happiness is because low-paid contingent faculty/grad students are teaching the courses the non-contingents are happy not to be teaching?

3. About the number of students in classes: See #2. Also, I don’t know if this is true at Arkansas, but it’s true in some places that contingent faculty have higher course caps for the same courses as non-contingent counterparts. So a tenured faculty member may have a cap of 21 in a general education writing course, while adjuncts get 26 in the same course. Like I said, I have no idea if that happens at U of A, but ever since I started hearing that it happened anywhere I always have to ask.

I can already hear some of the responses to this post–not the questions, particularly, but the tenor and push of it:

“But the contingent faculty don’t have to do any research or service, so they should teach more.”

“But what am I supposed to do about it, even if I think it’s unjust?”

“But I need to teach the courses in my specialty area because it’s my specialty area.”

And so on. I have some things to say (surprise!) about all of those and the rest of the predictable litany, but those will have to wait for another day. I’m sure the suspense will keep you awake.

While you’re awake, here’s some homework for you. :)

Sign this petition to David Weil at the Department of Labor calling for an investigation into adjunct faculty working conditions at US colleges and universities.

Sign this petition to the Department of Justice calling for an investigation of corrupt contingent faculty employment practices.

Sign this petition to the Department of Education calling directly for better adjunct faculty pay.


The worst thing about contingency is contingency

July 26, 2014

Prompted by a very interesting conversation this morning on my Facebook over this blog post, which contends among other things that:

Though peo­ple are loath to admit it, the tenure-track posi­tion is the most scru­ti­nized and pressure-packed of fac­ulty posi­tions when talk­ing strictly about pro­fes­sional expec­ta­tions. This, of course, is because exist­ing depart­ment and insti­tu­tional bylaws require more reviews, paper­work, hoop nav­i­ga­tion, and file pro­duc­tion from this employee class than any other. Hav­ing suc­cess­fully nav­i­gated the tenure process twice now in two dif­fer­ent insti­tu­tions, I could go on for months here. As a mat­ter of fact, one of the things I did before leav­ing my pre­vi­ous insti­tu­tion was to help change our depart­ment bylaws in order to make life less ridicu­lous, bur­den­some, and puni­tive for those on the tenure track. (For exam­ple, there is no need for your 2nd year reten­tion file to be 300 pages by require­ment, is there?)

I didn’t react well to the claim, even though it is “strictly about professional expectations.” As what some people might describe as a rabid activist for adjunct labor equity, I immediately and strongly contested the author’s allocation of institutional power, which says that pre-tenure tenure-track faculty aren’t very powerful either, and that the commonplace adjunct rhetoric claiming that tenure-track faculty could just fix it all if we wanted to is wrong-headed.

The conversation on Facebook got a little testy, as many of these conversations do, but it got me thinking about some things I wanted to say in more detail than the Comment boxes invite.

One of the points I was trying to make is that I fully agree about how stressful it is to be a junior tenure-track faculty member. Every single thing you do or say feels monitored–and sometimes is. As tenure-track positions become rarer, the stakes go up. It’s common to get bad advice–sometimes from people who mean well, sometimes not–and difficult to know what’s what as a new person navigating an unfamiliar institution. And so on. I think the author of this blog post gets all that right.

I think he’s right too when he says that the generalized animus towards tenure-track and tenured faculty is misplaced. Not many of us are as active in pursuit of labor equity as I’d like for us to be, but very few of us are as actively willing to see contingent faculty suffer as many contingent faculty seem to think we are. Or put another way, there are lots of us trying to do at least some of the right things. It’s not enough, and I’m not saying that calling out complicity in an unjust system shouldn’t happen. I am saying generalizations like “All tenured faculty are happy to have adjuncts doing their work for them” are incorrect and unhelpful. I’ve come close to throwing it in a couple of times when faced with an onslaught of that animus; there’s only so many times you can hear yourself accused before you walk away.

In fact, I would go even further in contesting some of the common wisdom about the differences between adjunct and tenure-track positions. He doesn’t address the “We do the same job ” trope, for example, which makes me crazy. Yes, there are adjunct faculty who do research and service to the extent their positions afford it, but those are rarely requirements (I would be fine if they were–this isn’t an argument about qualifications). Even as a tenured full professor, I can get fired if I stop doing them–and rightly so. It would take a long time and I’d get lots of chances to fix it, but the fact that my position requires it and my adjunct colleagues’ don’t makes my job different. Before you respond that they teach more than I do, no they don’t–not in my system, where the full-time teaching load for both contingent and non-contingent faculty is 4/4. I had this argument early this summer on a national listserv of adjunct activists, and it didn’t go over very well.

So I’m willing to concede that I overreacted to the author’s position, given that I’m agreeing with his major points and adding to them. With that said, I’m not fully satisfied with the tension he leaves unresolved and think this next part needs saying loud and clear.

Are tenure-track faculty under a great deal of pressure? You bet. I’m in my professional teens as of this year (starting my 13th year out of grad school), so it hasn’t been that long since I was untenured. And I was untenured in a place where the politics surrounding tenure and promotion aren’t nearly as vicious and capricious as they are in many (Union Yes!).

But, and this is the point I was trying to make originally on the Facebook post, the pressure on tenure-track faculty simply isn’t comparable to the stress on contingent faculty whose jobs may shrink or disappear without notice or explanation; whose benefits, if there are any at all, are often tied to their teaching loads in such a way that losing a course could cost them much more than simply the lost salary (which already sucks); if you’ve read this much of this post already, you know this litany already. In practical terms that risk is not as prominent for some contingent faculty as for others, but it’s never not there. Pre-tenured faculty at most institutions can, I realize, lose their positions in the first two or three years without cause, the risk of which is horrifically stressful, but even then–during the academic year, they’re guaranteed full-time work, full-time benefits, and full-time pay.

As long as contingent faculty jobs can be changed or taken away for any or no reason at all, their employment situations are worse than mine. No matter how complicated an institution or a political dynamic, I just can’t see that any other way right now.


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