Academe’s Titan Steaming Toward the Iceberg

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I remember when Dr. Cary Nelson first spoke out nationally in support of part-time faculty. It was electrifying, and he gave a voice to many who were simply unable to voice their opinions without risking their jobs. Cary Nelson continues to speak for part-time faculty. For years, it was difficult to get adjuncts to write for Adjunct Advocate magazine because they were so frightened of retaliation.

After interviewing Marc Bousquet, reading his book How the University Works, and several of his postings at Inside Higher Ed, it is obvious that he, too, wants to be a voice, like Dr. Nelson, for part-time faculty. However, there is a huge difference between speaking out on behalf of part-time faculty, and telling them what they should do.

Marc Bousquet (though not only Marc Bousquet) has referred to long-time adjunct activist Keith Hoeller, as anti-union. I can imagine Cary Nelson giving just about anyone a piece of his mind. (I had the pleasure during a recent interview for our Podcast Interview Series.) However, I simply can’t imagine Nelson referring to any part-time faculty activist as anti-union. What does “anti-union” mean, anyway? Maybe we should ask the House Committee on Part-Time Faculty Anti-Union Activities. AFT officials have called me anti-union, as well, and officials recently refused a request for a written interview out of fear that their views wouldn’t be presented fairly in the magazine.

Marc Bousquet urges in his most recent piece for Inside Higher Ed, in essence, that a part-time faculty activist, and his many colleagues, who have a much, much greater personal stake in the situation, and who have a much longer institutional memory of the struggles part-time faculty have endured, need to be more temperate and reflective. I’ve published pieces about the legislation those same activists have gotten passed to the benefit of their colleagues. I’ve published pieces about the class action lawsuits instigated by the same activists on behalf of their colleagues.

Are these gains the results of lack of reflection and intemperance? It’s best to let the Washington State part-timers with the $800,000 settlement comment. Interestingly, Washington’s thousands of part-timers, represented by Dr. Schroeder, could have had multi-year contracts today, but WFT officials refused to endorse the proposed legislation because, according to a WFT official, WFT didn’t propose it; Keith Hoeller and his colleagues convinced a legislator, without giving the politician a single penny in campaign donations, to introduce the bill.

I have reported on union indifference to part-time faculty concerns, and the bargaining of incredibly lop-sided contracts, for longer than I care to say. As far as I can determine, FACE has not won concrete gains for AFT’s part-time faculty members.

As far as I can determine, WFT doesn’t have friends in the legislatures where FACE legislation is being introduced; the group has politicians to whom hundreds of thousands of dollars have been donated directly and indirectly. This is money, for instance, from the dues of the thousands of WFT members whom WFT President Dr. Sandra Schroeder represents (including Keith Hoeller, but not Marc Bousquet), but who’ve not gained a single job or a single dollar in pay increases from the expense of the push for FACE, or the $500,000 “pilot program” funded by the Washington State Senate.

If full-time faculty want to support their part-time colleagues, that’s going to mean respecting and following the lead of the part-time faculty who are (and have been) leading over the past decade. I think we’re watching as part-time faculty come into their own in terms of defining how they will lead their own movement.

I’m probably being way too trenchant (the acerbic side of the list of synonyms), but street cred is street cred, and from what I have seen and reported over the past 18 years, Keith Hoeller and his Washington State part-time colleagues who belong to WFT, and pay their dues, have got it hands down. The best thing is that the Washington State part-time activists represent just the tip of the part-time leadership iceberg out there. I think Cary Nelson helped calf the iceberg of part-time faculty activism and leadership. Meanwhile, Marc Bousquet and Dr. Sandra Schroeder (AFT), et. al. are left steaming full speed ahead, sure the safest way to cross the ocean that separates full-time and part-time faculty, is an old-school, paternalistic brand of “support,” organizing and unionism, Academe’s Titan.

Unless something changes drastically within the leadership of the nation’s higher education unions, I think the Titan and the iceberg of new part-time faculty leadership are set for a collision, unfortunately.

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