Sunday, August 11, 2013

When Tenure-Track Faculty Take On the Problem of Adjunctification. From Social Science Space.

By Jennifer Ruth

I am part of an unofficial group of tenured faculty at a state institution that relies on many non-tenure-track faculty, but we are not the tenured faculty Ivan Evans refers to in his piece “When the Adjunct Faculty are the Tenure-track’s Untouchables.”

When we went on the market, getting a tenure-track job already meant you were the one person standing in the rubble-strewn city of your profession. There was no denying the corpses. At the very least, we understood that luck played a bigger role in our fate than merit had. We hadn’t earned something so much as been spared something else—namely, the miserable life of the freeway flyer. And we drew the obvious conclusion from this, the survivor’s-guilt conclusion: we would prove worthy of these tenure-track jobs only if we dedicated ourselves to creating more of them for others. We would fight the neoliberal adjunctifcation of the professoriate in the name of our no less talented but less fortunate friends.

And so we did. Before we were tenured, we began working together on our campus to overcome the defeatism pervasive at the time – the defeatism that said, the erosion of tenure is bigger than us, it’s bigger than academia, it’s the post-70s outsourcing economy. To fight it would be to drown ourselves trying to swim upstream. For months, every other week, three of us would invite a new handful of people we considered influential on campus to have drinks– tenured faculty and chairs, people who were positioned to do something about the problem. It’s not that we were excluding non-tenure-track faculty – far from being our untouchables, they were our friends with whom we had coffees, lunches, dinners; with whose kids our kids shared playdates—but rather we took seriously what some of them were saying, which was You guys have the power, and thus the responsibility, to reverse this trend. We don’t.



  1. When is a drop in the ocean not a drop in the ocean?

    1. When that drop flies right in your eye, Bubba. When I served as department chair, I did my damnedest to help our junior faculty. Of course, I'm rare among university faculty in having had real leadership training, in the military.

      Sadly, when the financial crisis hit, I had to make some hard decisions. I did my best to be decent. When we no longer had the budget to be decent, I did my best to be fair. Now that the budget situation has improved, it's not easy to hire back our lab instructors, since I helped them all get real jobs in industry. So our senior faculty are overloaded. I wish the less-productive ones had a better sense of civic duty and would take on more teaching, to let the productive researchers get ahead, but civic duty, loyalty, and responsibility were all abandoned during the time of Ron Reagan and Maggie Thatcher, the milk snatcher. And of all people, her picture adorns this article!

  2. While this sounds promising, it also supposes that those in TT positions have time to do all of the work that she advocates. I've been on the adjunct roll, driving my way from job to job, and never once did I meet a full timer who seemed to have time to champion on my behalf. Everyone seemed overworked (usually due to budget cuts) and fearful about doing enough research to achieve tenure.

    Now I'm in a TT position and have no adjuncts to champion. My school struggles to find adjuncts to cover courses because we live in a rural area, so when we do have a class or two that needs to be covered, mostly, we are simply given an overload. The few adjuncts we have are hired (3 in the last 7 years?) do not cover GE, but specialized courses that the full time faculty do not have expertise in, so they are hired as 'artists in residence' for a brief amount of time, or as "special consultants." My chair does this so they can be paid higher rates than that of adjuncts.


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