So…I’ve been blogging on adjuncts and writing for a year now, and as I start my second year, I want to look back over what I’ve seen, what I’ve learned, and what it seems to mean. As I chew them over, these reflections have coalesced into a few clusters.
Across the board, the people I’ve interviewed for this blog have been exceedingly helpful and generous with their time. They’ve written lengthy and intelligent responses to numerous questions, and have gone above and beyond through putting me in touch with other people. Since these are all people who have their own writing and teaching to do, I say again, thank you.
The organizations I’ve contacted have been more uneven. Some, like CCCC, have been as helpful as any individuals. Others, who for the sake of politics I’ll leave unnamed, have been less so: I’ve gotten some bureaucratic answers and virtual closed doors. Please note: If I start an email by saying I’ve read everything on your organizational website, and I have some follow up questions, telling me the answers to my questions is on that website is…less than likely to make me want to join.
Two other observations. First, there are many organizations out there trying to profit from the plight of the adjunct, through offering training and/or certification. These vary wildly in quality, and as a rule they offer no evidence as to the efficacy of their programs beyond the occasional advertising blurb. Second, organizations trying to mobilize adjuncts seem to experience a lot of turnover in the support staff. To me this suggests adjuncts have (surprise surprise) a lot of demands on their time. This means yet another handicap in organizing.
The Changing Economy
This has been one of the biggest areas of surprise. When I started looking at education as a market, subject to the same global market forces reshaping the rest of the economy, it quickly became clear that simply looking at adjuncts and writing, or trying to find ways for adjuncts to get writing done, was only looking at part of the picture—and at a shifting part of an out-of-date picture at that. Oh, I’ve joined The National Coalition for Adjunct & Contingent Equity, and will be supporting them…but they seem to be doing old school labor organizing, augmented by the Internet, and that seems out of date. With things like outsourcing grading to other countries combine with widespread low paying writing gigs and ever more automated online teaching, the field will continue to mutate, and it will get harder to organize people, rather than easier. Likewise, the likelihood of adjuncts researching and writing their way onto the tenure track will become less likely, not more.
Surprises, Changes, and Lessons
Perhaps the biggest single surprise I encountered in this first year was how completely the people I spoke to had accepted the state of affairs (for the most part). When I left grad school, it was still assumed that the tenure track was a possibility, and that those of us who had detoured onto the tenure track would keep at our precious research no matter what. Now, I meet a number of adjuncts who not only don’t publish, they seemed a bit baffled by the question. This in turn helped me realize just how crucial the institutional context is, and how little attention is paid to it.
A related issue is that there seems to be few people really examining how this change in academic labor is influencing, well, everything: academic freedom, education quality, scientific testing, diversity, etc. There are a host of papers waiting to be written here.
And the final lessons from a year of writing this blog are personal. This blog has helped me remember how much I love writing, and how much I’d denied resenting avoidable crap. I don’t resent the work involved with teaching, or even having to teach a lot—but the situational crap is draining me.