In Defense of "Nameless Bodies," Fast-Food Faculty" and "Vampires"

Waiting, as you might imagine, is not my strong suit. I can line up, stay on hold, and suffer through all of the other situations in which waiting is required, but I can’t help but imagine life without waiting. Well, I waited impatiently for the new blog format to be implemented. I like it. It’s a system called Word Press. Perhaps you’ve heard of it, or perhaps you even use it for your own blog. In any case, it was worth the wait.
While waiting, I jotted down topics for future entries. I’ve decided to start with the September/October 2008 issue of Academe. In the magazine of the AAUP, the theme of which is “The Future of Tenure,” AAUP’s President, Dr. Cary Nelson, has published a piece titled, “Across the Great Divide.” If you have a moment, and have taken your blood pressure medication (or scored a Valium from one of your part-time buddies who can still afford his monthly refills), navigate over the the AAUP site and read the piece.
It is a pile of composted banana peels, and that’s putting it mildly.
In the first graph, he writes, “…the anti-tenure mice have been nibbling away at tenure for thirty years….” And who are these rodents? Nelson doesn’t name them. I will, though. Tenured and tenure-track faculty come immediately to mind. They have enjoyed drafting off of the hard work of their part-time colleagues for, well, forever. Hate teaching intro. courses? You don’t have to, oh tenured one. There are part-timers to teach the intro. courses. Time for a sabbatical to work on your opus? No worries. A one-year replacement will certainly be found from among the droves of Ph.D.s graduated within the last two years.
Of course the most voracious of the anti-tenure mice have been the labor unions. The AAUP, AFT and NEA have all stood by for the last four decades and watched as the numbers of non-tenured faculty grew at alarming rates. All the while, the same unions negotiated fat raises, nice benefits and cushy retirement plans for the full-time faculty whom they represented. The unions still do that, even while taking dues money from tens of thousands of part-time members. The new way to screw the part-time members is the “equal percentage raise” mumbo jumbo.
For years, academic labor unions, led by AAUP, simply negotiated heftier raises for their full-time faculty members. Why? Negotiators’ hands were tied; administrators were cheap bastards; full-time faculty did “advisory” work. This meant that over the past thirty years, full-time faculty pay in some unionized colleges rose at a rate double that of the unionized part-time faculty. Today, we have the “equal percentage raise.” It’s just that, well, 10 percent of $100,000 and 10 percent of $2,500 aren’t equal. AAUP, AFT and NEA leaders, including Cary Nelson, have never spoken out against this practice.
While avoiding these unpleasant truths in his piece, Cary Nelson promulgates many untruths about part-time faculty. Part-timers are “transient,” he writes. This is the most insulting of the myths. According to a study done by the NEA, part-time faculty remain, on average, seven years at their teaching jobs. On the AdjunctNation site, our own survey of users who teach part-time found that over 60 percent of those who responded said they’d taught 4+ years at their current job. Nelson should know that the transience of part-timers is a myth. Particularly since he had the hubris to run for the presidency of AAUP while loudly proclaiming himself a “part-timer.”
In his piece, Nelson refers to part-time faculty as “fast-food faculty,” “vampires,” and “nameless bodies.” He bemoans the erosion of faculty “rights.” Only tenure is the cure.
Ok. Let’s assume for a moment Cary Nelson is right. Why, then, has the AAUP leader never suggested that tenure for part-time faculty is as crucial as tenure for full-time faculty? Doesn’t it stand to reason that all faculty need tenure and the protections that Nelson writes are so crucial. Don’t all faculty need to take part in faculty governance? Don’t all faculty need access to due process, fair evaluations and institutional support?
Well, maybe Nelson doesn’t argue this because he writes in his piece that tenured and tenure-track faculty “anchor” job security and academic freedom for others. They do? Maybe I’ve missed the numerous articles written by tenured faculty in support of higher salaries, benefits, academic freedom and job security for the nation’s 700,000 faculty off of the tenure track. I must have been napping when the tenured faculty employed by the University of Tennessee system rose up en masse to support their non-tenured colleagues when those thousands of part-timers recently went to the Tennessee Board of Trustees with a request for a modest pay increase.
The truth is that the majority of tenure-line and tenured faculty are quislings, content to exploit the part-time faculty employed within their departments economically, socially and intellectually. Well, perhaps dubbing the remaining 300,000 or so faculty on the tenure-track quislings is a tad too harsh. After all, they’re not supporting the interests of a third party, but rather their own.
At the end of his piece, Nelson argues that “every campus also needs an effective AAUP chapter, an organized, principled faculty voice prepared to speak truth to power.” I couldn’t agree more. I look forward to the day when AAUP’s president stops spewing divisiveness, untruths, and heaping blame on the “nameless bodies” who are the backbone of higher education. According to Cary Nelson, the mere existence of part-time faculty is responsible for what ails higher education and his so-called “tenure” movement.
What ails higher education and the “tenure movement” is demonstrated by this fact:
AAUP spent almost 65 percent of its revenue on overhead last year, and just 14 percent of its money on member recruitment.
 
 
 
 

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