A Cheeky Plea For Faculty Unity

If you haven’t noticed from my past entries that I like a bit of cheekiness (well, maybe even a lot of cheekiness), then you’re not reading my entries closely enough. Failure to read closely is the kind of thing that can you into serious trouble. Like when you email to your student: “I want that paper turned in PORNO!” You meant to type “PRONTO,” but well, you didn’t check over the email closely. (This actually happened to a faculty member whom I know.)

Back to cheekiness.

I am of the opinion that it’s time for adjunct faculty to step up to the plate and start shaping the course of the national debate about our own issues. Keith Hoeller has done so for over a decade (and gotten himself beaned by critics). There are part-time faculty writing about our issues (pay parity, pay equity, job security, participation in governance, etc…). Cary Nelson kicked it off with his essays, op-eds and books about the exploitation of part-time faculty and grad students, Marc Bousquet is a strong supporter, but I really believe that we have to speak for ourselves in the higher education and mainstream media. This means fewer bitch sessions in print, where we talk about how bad we have it, and more thoughtful analysis of what it means to our students, the profession, society, and higher education as a direct result of the things we have every right to bitch about.

Enter stage right: Steve Street. He’s a lecturer at SUNY-Buffalo State College. Take a few minutes and read the piece he wrote for the May/June 2008 issue of Academe, the magazine of the American Association of University Professors.

Street’s publishing his piece in the right place. AAUP’s membership is 92 percent tenure-track and tenured. AAUP’s membership profile: Middle-aged, white guys. These are the ones who are clinging to their privilege like starving babies clutching warm bottles of formula. (Please don’t give me grief about the nursing versus bottle feeding debate. I needed a metaphor, and decided bottles were safer than breasts, ok? The visual of a 55-year-old guy suckling from the teat of Mother Academe is just too—well—unsettling—even for me).

I’m not sure Steve Street’s cheeky plea for tenure-track faculty to use their votes over budgets and institutional governance to win higher pay and job security for part-time faculty will evoke a rush of support. But Hell’s Bells, you never know until you ask, right?

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