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Contextual Pressure, Contextual Support

Scholars on the tenure-track have contextual support to write and publish. In the best positions, this takes the form of course release time and internal grants to fund sabbaticals, research trips, and reflective writing.

On the other hand, these positions can also carry considerable pressure, as evidenced by the classic phrase “Publish or perish.” In some institutions, this expectation that faculty members will publish—and not just publish but publish on a prestigious level and promptly—and even that books will be reviewed by the time tenure reviews occur. To be frank, this sounds counterproductive (and likely to produce conservative scholarship), but carrot and the stick do create psychic and temporal contexts for scholarly writing.

Writing without those, adjunct scholars may find themselves working more like creative writers, fitting in writing when they can, and yoking conference trips to vacations in order to afford them. There are, however, some elements of contextual support in place for adjunct scholars.

For example, the MLA has set aside travel funds for up to 150 “non-tenure track faculty” to attend their 2009 conference. Granted, these awards of $300 each won’t cover all costs of a presentation/job interview trip to Philadelphia…but it is a start, and it is a sign that the MLA is trying to address some of the realities of academic labor. Actually, they may sadly be being too realistic, since those funds are actually intended for “non-tenure-track faculty members and those without employment.”

Now, you have to join the MLA member to qualify for these funds, which does lend them political power, but it also makes sense: almost all academic conferences require membership to attend. (For more on this opportunity, visit this section of the MLA’s website: http://www.mla.org/resources/awards/award_finasst/assist_nontenure)

Other organizations are trying something similarly realistic. For example, CCCC (Conference on College Composition and Communication) is the major academic conference on composition (a field that has long used a disproportionately high ratio of adjuncts). CCCC funds a “Professional Equity Project” which gives $310 grants to potential attendees with “part-time or adjunct status.” What’s nice about CCCC’s project is that they make a point of spelling out some of the criteria they’ll use for awarding these grants. One of them is that they’re trying to help people with an ongoing interest in teaching writing; they make it clear that they’re trying to both help you develop professionally and make you part of a professional discipline.

What’s more, CCCC gives the home colleges of grant recipients an open nudge to match funding, noting that several administrators did so last year. This is both politically savvy as well as a nice and practical touch. Schools that do this would make conferences that much more affordable ($600+ travel money for one conference is fairly generous), and would provide their adjuncts acknowledgement of their achievement—this would help with the entire issue of institutional context. (For more on this opportunity, visit this section of the CCCC website: http://www.ncte.org/cccc/awards/pep)

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