By now, mainstream media outlets have published hundreds, if not thousands of pieces about the plight of part-time faculty. On March 31st, The Nation joined the fray with a piece titled, “Higher Education Takes a Hit.” Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s crucial for pieces about part-time faculty to be published in mainstream media. Heck, I think pieces about higher education in general are missing from the pages of our mainstream media. Yeah, yeah, the New York Times, Washington Post, L.A. Times—almost every big name newspaper left that you can think of has a higher education reporter. The problem is those reporters aren’t often particularly well-versed in the arcane language that is higher education-ese. They are journalists who went to college, not insiders. This means that readers of those papers never really get the inside scoop on the multi-billion dollar industry that educates 18,000,000 undergraduates each year.
So when these reporters try their hand at writing about part-time faculty, well, it’s often the same old same old. That’s because the reporters often interview the same old people. In the case of The Nation’s reporter, he turned to Marc Bousquet and Cary Nelson from the AAUP. These two guys, who represent one of the stodgiest, least-effective and most entrenched of the education unions, blithely comment on their pet theories concerning the use of part-time faculty in Academe. Bousquet, proponent of the theory of the “University as Corporation” spoke about the minutia of administrative hiring (It doesn’t take a lot to imagine Nation readers glazing over and wondering what administrative salaries and hires have to do with their day-to-day lives.) Then we have Dr. Cary Nelson’s comments about the corruption of the Academy, the doddering old lecher-state preying on the untenured. Porn sells, but not porn featuring octogenarians.
Yeah, yeah, the Academy is rotting from the inside out. Again, I imagine Nation readers glaze over and, perhaps, make a mental note to make sure their kids have filled out their financial aid applications correctly. As long as there’s financial assistance available, you see, not a single college student or parent one gives a hot damn about the corruption of the Academy, and its deterioration into a multi-tiered system.
When I read pieces such as the one published in The Nation, sometimes I want to scream at the academics who give those pseudo-pithy quotes, and erudite observations: “For the love of deconstructionism, people, the average American doesn’t give a darn about that stuff!”
These really smart people who want to help adjuncts are utterly incapable of presenting a compelling picture of the situation. They get all tangled up in the details, the minutia, the footnotes of the situation, as it were. Americans are into their cars, email, television shows, families, friends, hobbies and, maybe, a book or magazine. We Americans lead shockingly uncomplicated lives. Minutia bores us. We don’t do footnotes. Unfortunately, those within higher education who are tapped to speak out on the use and abuse of part-time faculty present the most singularly boring and myopic reasons for Americans to care about what is happening within our country’s higher education system.
America, there is a crisis of faith and credibility in higher education in our country. Yes, there is corruption.
Now, how do we communicate that to the 303,000,000 million Americans who don’t work in the Academy? We have graduate degrees for heaven’s sake. We’re among the most highly educated people in our entire nation. Despite that huge advantage academics seem incapable of, in one or two sentences, explaining the problem so that Americans will be outraged enough to act.
“Give me liberty or give me death.” That’s the kind of talk that gets people whipped up into a frenzy.
So how can we get people whipped up into a frenzy about the exploitation of adjunct faculty? Here’s a hint: don’t start by complaining about low pay or lack of benefits, and for heaven’s sake please stop trying to whip up outrage by focusing on the growing number of administrators in higher education, because you know what?
No one cares.