Writing the adjunct experience is its own genre now, having emerged from the duress of countless contingent laborers who are tired of marginalization. We are academe’s scapegoat. What I want now is the chance to help others in my position by talking about solutions, not problems. We have heard and read ample adjunct narratives. Let’s talk about something other than the predictable statistics, and contribute our voices to action that seeks progressive change and empowerment.
Like many adjuncts across America, I am a qualified and collegial asset to my university, and I want to move beyond the political apathy and/or aggression that fuel this crisis. Let’s all contribute to a conversation that is thoughtful and ethical. There must be a moral imperative to discuss the truths of our profession and abide by a standard of ethos and equality. And there should be a way to extend this branch to adjuncts and other marginalized university employees with a formalized concern for working conditions.
In many ways, adjuncts are better positioned in the margins to advocate for change. I understand why most tenure-track faculty won’t add their voice to this uncomfortable issue, but what about those who have nothing to lose (myself and tenured professors)? Adjuncts are so marginalized that it makes more sense for us to speak out than to remain silent; indeed, those who don’t show concern are suspect. Why, as I say in “Adjunctification: Living in the Margins of Academe,” should we go quietly into that good night?
Of course everyone in academe is aware of the issue, but not everyone realizes that it affects us all. It’s time for all faculty to contribute to the revaluation of labor equality and hiring practices in higher education. We must stop undermining the profession, which only reifies the culture of fear and intimidation. So how do we do this? Here are some talking points:
Establish best hiring practices for all faculty. Form an exploratory committee of interested representatives to participate (graduate assistants, adjuncts, non-tenure, tenure-track, and tenured faculty).
Talk about pathways for part-time faculty that offer some form of job security. Even if this means one class per term on a multiple-term contract, this would ease some of the anxiety of terminal appointments. And it would cut the costs of new hiring, training, payroll, and human resources. When qualified adjuncts are converted to full-time faculty, teaching the equivalent course loads with equal pay as tenure line faculty, there will be less bloat, a higher quality of instruction and retention, and happier students.
Professionalize our marginal status. Adjunct faculty are essential to the operation of the department, and university in general. Small measures of recognition here would alleviate the stigma and isolation that contribute to much of the frustration. For example, put our profiles in the online department directory so students can decide for themselves what faculty members they want to learn with.
Forge opportunities to meet as one faculty unit; resolve to be an inclusive rather than exclusive society. Let’s humanize contingency. Adjuncts should no longer defer their place in line at the water cooler or copy machine: don’t concede ground to bullies, and don’t bully. Rather, cultivate a culture of fair play and mutual respect.
Demand fair and equal assessment. Quality standards matter, and innovative teaching methods and quality go hand in hand. Hold all faculty accountable, and be mindful of the working conditions that factor in a teacher’s success.
It’s not farfetched to imagine a model of fair practice. In fact, it’s plausible that this type of ethos would attract more quality students and instructors to schools and departments. Those who facilitate corruption (in silence, indifference, or openly) will eventually be outed by students, parents, and community leaders. To some, it might seem like I am asking a lot. But I am also conceding ground and pushing, rather, for improved working conditions that would make our marginal status more visible and valuable. I firmly believe that not all adjuncts are suited for tenure, but I do think a hybrid redesign of the current system is long overdue.
In order to move ground, adjuncts need to organize in a climate of disparity. And there are online organizing tools to help us. Yes, we are overworked, underpaid, and transient; this is why we need concerted expertise and the backing of a union to guide us. It is foolish to approach department chairs, deans, provosts and presidents individually, though many of us, myself included, have done so per the chain of command, to no avail. Collectively, our voice matters, and the collective debris is catching up to several universities right now. The erosion will continue unless we all band together, now.
The moment and mood are kairotic, and spring is in the air:
I. The Burial of The Dead
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
~ T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
I still believe that institutional change is possible. I have seen compassion at play in the minds of others who value progress even if it means “fighting to the death of [their] own tenure.” We’ve suffered silently for far too long. In our silence we are complicit; in our indifference we are complicit in the crime of our own violence and suffering. I choose to re-author my personal and professional narrative: I am a valued higher education teacher and researcher and I deserve the decency of a contract and equitable pay for my labor.
[Photo by kevin dooley]