The Untouchables of Academe

On the 20th of November, the New York Times ran a piece titled “Decline of Tenure Track Raises Concerns.” In that piece, Keith Hoeller, an adjunct activist from Washington State, is quoted as describing adjuncts thusly, “It’s a caste system, and we are the untouchables of academia.”

Keith has written for Adjunct Advocate and we profiled Keith, as well, in our January/February 2007 issue. I have immense respect for the work Keith has done over the past years on behalf of the part-time faculty in his state, as well as part-time faculty throughout the United States. Google Keith’s name, and you will come away with a long list of accomplishments.

In the New York Times piece, Keith’s quote touches on something very troubling to me, the description of part-time faculty using the language of oppression. I have heard part-time faculty described as “slave labor” and “migrant workers.” I realize these are attempts to make comparative analyses for people wholly unfamiliar with how higher education works. However, and I have said this many, many times, part-time faculty are women and men with graduate degrees, not slaves, migrant workers or untouchables. Part-time faculty are free to leave their jobs to pursue employment wherever they choose. Slaves, migrant workers and untouchables are victims of race, culture and, perhaps, even religion.

The college-educated women and men who teach part-time in the United States (only about 11 percent of Americans hold graduate degrees) are victims of their own choices.

Listen to my blog entry here.

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