Adjuncts are Labor. Professors are Labor. Graduate Students are Labor.

Adjuncts are Labor. Professors are Labor. Graduate Students are Labor.  Staff are Labor. Administrators, well, that’s more complicated. What’s a “Chair” anyway? More on that later (and in the meantime follow that link for a good piece on definitions).

I am going to be writing regular columns for the Chronicle and Chronicle Vitae over the next few months (and hopefully indefinitely, but I’ve got about 15 columns planned at this point on various topics, though organized around language and how it shapes the decisions we make).

I wanted to start with a few pieces nominally about adjuncts, but in many ways really about the rest of us and our response to adjuncts. Here’s the first column – Sharecroppers. Migrant Workers. Adjuncts? – and some thoughts on it.

Resources: Adjuncts as slaves. Contingency in the modern workforce.

My opening anecdote is true. A friend, just about to finish his PhD and finishing a great 1-year, offered me a lift to JFK from Fordham’s Lincoln-Center campus. I paid for parking and tolls, glad to skip the taxi or the train. In the car, he asked me what I thought about adjunct rights as civil rights. I gave him a response then and this essay is the longer form version once I actually read the work to which he was alluding.

Over the past few years, an increasing number of voices have argued that adjunctification is best understood as something especially terrible rather than an all-too-typical example of the rise of contingency across the North American workforce. Why do advocates need to go to such rhetorical lengths to gain our sympathy? 

In the piece, which I hope you will read and share (thus increasing my chances of having more columns published there),  I do two things. One, I argue that adjuncts are not slaves, migrant workers, or sharecroppers. Two, I argue that people use this language because we’re not listening, or if we are listening, we don’t act.

The issue here is not that writers are loosely deploying hyperbolic metaphors. The real problem is that adjuncts and their advocates believe the rest of us aren’t on their side.

We tut-tut and say it’s too bad, but then throw up our hands, blame the budgets, and let the system continue. Civil rights, slavery, sharecropping, migrant laborers—these are terms that evoke sympathy and demand action within the neoliberal world of higher education in ways that just calling adjuncts “temps” does not.

The solution is not to see adjuncts as labor – the solution is to see yourself as labor.

 More to come.

Leave a Reply