Identity Theft & the AAUP Elections

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Listen to my blog entry here.

Did your heart stop when you read the title of the blog entry? Mine would have stopped, as well, had it been the truth. Over at the American Association of University Professors, it’s election season. The candidates for the presidency are Dr. Cary Nelson and Mr. Thomas E. Guild, J.D.. According to the candidate statement published by Guild on the AAUP website, Mr. Guild was a full-time tenure-line/tenured professor at the University of Central Oklahoma between 1979 and 2006. In 2006, he became Professor Emeritus. Dr. Nelson, who teaches at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, advanced from Assistant Professor of English to Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences between 1970 and the present.

On his candidate statement, Mr. Guild writes, “As a contingent faculty member I have a
keen interest in protecting our contingent faculty colleagues’ interests.” Mr. Guild is, of course, a retired, tenured faculty member. At Oklahoma City University, he is identified as a full-time faculty member (as opposed to an adjunct) in the directory, a Visiting Professor of Business Law. At the University of Central Oklahoma, he is not currently listed as a faculty member on the university website.

A colleague forwarded an email to me in which Dr. Nelson writes that “For what it’s worth, I gave up tenure 7 years ago. I had argued that people should do that to help open up positions for others.” Dr. Nelson, in another email message, said that he had worked as an adjunct “for the past seven years.” On the very extensive website entry of the English Department in which Cary Nelson works, under the Faculty list he is identified as the:

Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences, 1991-

Professor, Center for Writing, 1991-

Professor of English and Criticism and Interpretive Theory, 1982-present

Associate Professor of English, 1975-82

Assistant Professor of English, 1970-75

He is nowhere identified as an adjunct faculty member. He is not included among the instructors and lecturers in their separate listing on the English Department’s web page.

My sleuthing is in no way meant to denigrate the professional accomplishments of either candidate. Dr. Nelson has spoken out on behalf of part-time faculty, written books examining the working conditions of part-time faculty, and used his considerable energies to stand up for and beside his part-time faculty colleagues for over a decade. Thomas E. Guild has none of Nelson’s “contingent cred,” but according to his CV he has worked on behalf of AAUP over a long period of time. Be that as it may, Cary Nelson and Thomas Guild are not adjuncts any more than the whites, who marched beside Dr. Martin Luther King and spoke out on behalf of Civil Rights, were black. To claim to be an adjunct when one is clearly identified by one’s employer as full-time faculty, after having enjoyed the benefits of having held a tenured position for decades, is a form of identity theft. Whether it’s done for the purpose of solidarity, or simply out of the desire to be politic, it’s misguided.

I said pretty much the same thing in a letter to the Editor, when AAUP’s magazine Academe published “Crossing Class Lines.” In that piece by Anne Cassebaum, a full-time faculty member, she “decided to try” life as an adjunct at the university where she had taught full-time for 30 years, then wrote about it.

Part-time faculty make up about 10 percent of AAUP’s total 45,000 members. This number has remained steady over the past decade or so, while the numbers of temporary faculty have increased. As a result, it’s very interesting that both of the candidates running for the presidency are self-identifying “contingents.” Are they trying to woo the press, the professorate, or 10 percent of their organization’s membership? Whatever the case may be, when a part-timer runs for the presidency of AAUP it will be big news. Until then, good luck to both Dr. Nelson and Mr. Guild. May the best of the two full-time faculty members running, win.

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