By Jennifer Ruth
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.