If You Think The Treatment of Adjuncts Doesn’t Impact Tenured Faculty, Think Again

by Jonathan Rees

While this piece from the NYT‘s business section is designed for any worker, it should have special relevance for academics:

These are the kinds of comments I hear in my work as a consultant:

• “I’m overwhelmed, and with all the changes going on here, it’s getting worse. There aren’t enough hours in the day to do my job.”

• “I have new responsibilities that demand creative and strategic thought, but I’m not getting to them.”

• “I have too many meetings to attend, and I can’t get any ‘real’ work done.”

• “I have too many e-mails, and, given day-to-day urgencies, the backlog keeps growing.”

• “I feel like I’m not giving the right amount of attention to what’s most important.”

And here’s a common kicker, for those willing to admit it:

“I just can’t keep going like this.”

To quote the Talking Heads again, “How did I get here?” The answer is technology:

Though one person may now be producing the previous results of three, she’s not being paid three times as much. That’s the whole point of companies using technology and other improvements: fewer people are now needed for the same results.

But the workers who remain also tend to have much more responsibility. And they can’t just comfort themselves with the notion that their companies are more efficient than they used to be, because all of their competitors have the same new tools, and are using them to gain any advantage they can.

While those of us on the tenure-track have not yet been replaced by machines, technology allows our managers to develop new and annoying ways to track our productivity (whatever that means in an educational context). What we have been replaced by are adjunct faculty members who experience all of the problems of our coming all-online higher ed utopia and get none of the rewards. If we had more tenure-track faculty colleagues, there would be more people to share in the bureaucratic scut work that everybody hates. Instead, they get more classes and we tenure-track faculty get more technologically-inspired paper to push.

Yet their problem is our problem for more than just that reason. As this piece about the recent Left Forum conference explains:

“Adjuncts are the people under the stairs” who have lost control over their career possibilities and their lives, said Ms. [Debra Lee] Scott. “We have been deprofessionalized. And by de-professionalizing us, the administration has gained control and silenced the faculty. Now our influence is more managed, and they can keep us impoverished.”

Notice the transition there. They’ve deprofessionalized adjuncts, but have silenced the whole faculty. I don’t think that’s a mistake. While people like me may not be deprofessionalized (at least not yet), the fact that this has already happened to our adjunct colleagues keeps most people like me silent in the hopes that they won’t ever get around to deprofessionalizing us. I wouldn’t count on that strategy working in the long run. What we should be doing is demanding the redirection of productivity gains towards better compensation for faculty of all kinds.

Solving tenure-track problems without solving the problems of adjuncts (assuming such a thing is even possible) won’t make you any happier since you’re still going to get too much scut work because you don’t have enough colleagues who are payed to help you with it. More importantly, your chosen field will never get the respect it deserves as long as there are people who are being paid poverty wages just so that they can break into a profession that is hardly lucrative anyway. Heck, even business professors complain that they don’t get wages equal to what they could earn in the private sector.

In short, we’re all in this together. As Eugene Debs said in the Canton, Ohio speech that got him arrested:

I would be ashamed to admit that I had risen from the ranks. When I rise it will be with the ranks, and not from the ranks.

If calls to solidarity have no effect on you, then just think about your own longterm material self-interest. You’ll never earn the salary that you deserve as long as people are doing the same work that you are for substantially less money.

First appeared on Moreorlessbunk.


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