What Tenured Faculty Could Do, if They Cared About Adjuncts

tags: higher education, academia, adjuncts, tenure

Herb Childress is a higher-ed consultant and writer. He is the author of The Adjunct Underclass: How America’s Colleges Betrayed Their Faculty, Their Students, and Their Mission (University of Chicago Press).

Earlier this year, shortly after my book The Adjunct Underclass (University of Chicago Press) and an accompanying Chronicle piece came out (“This Is How You Kill a Profession”), I found myself speaking at a college that was in the midst of faculty-labor negotiations. At a rally for the adjuncts, one of the tenured faculty members and a leader of the full-timers’ union — a union that had just won its contract — spoke in support of his part-time colleagues about to negotiate their own rates and conditions. “Why should you be paid so poorly to teach a course that I’m paid so extravagantly for?” he asked, with that wink of privilege under the guise of “solidarity,” reminding everyone that he was a member of a club that would never accept the rest of them, and that he was pretty OK with that.

In all of our talk about adjunct instructors and postdocs and visiting professors and artists in residence, we sometimes forget that there really are tenure-line faculty still out there. What role could they play in the crisis of contingency? Why, for instance, did this particular university have two different faculty unions, one for the important people and an entirely different one for the rabble? And why did the adjunct union have to charge its members 1.3-percent dues on terrible pay, while the permanent faculty union charged its members only 0.7 percent of their much more “extravagant” pay to create a far larger fund?

It’s easy for permanent faculty to claim that their hands are tied, that the real power rests with deans or provosts or CFOs or whoever the local demonic force is thought to be. And it’s true that the faculty do not control financial resources and do not have the ability to open new lines or accelerate permanent hiring. But it is absolutely not true that faculty are powerless to affect contingency. Here are a few things that faculty can do — as a faculty body, as departments, and as individuals, without anyone’s permission needed — to improve the lives of adjunct instructors and students. If we saw ourselves as members of the same team, these are some of the things we could accomplish.

Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Education

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