Today is National Adjunct Walkout Day. Around the country, adjuncts have organized walkouts and rallies and donation funds and many other efforts to bring people together and insist on fair wages.
And they are right to do so. As a tenured faculty member, I stand fully in support with this movement, I see their movement as my movement, and will continue do the following – write publicly on the issue, act privately within my university and department, be ready to stand in picket lines and participate in labor actions as they emerge.
I have written some adjunct-related pieces.
- A two-part essay on language. I argue that adjuncts are forced to employ hyperbolic rhetoric (adjuncts are slaves, adjuncts are migrant workers) because too many tenured faculty refuse to see themselves as labor. But when all faculty and staff stand together, we’ve already accomplished a lot.
- An essay on #FreeCommunityCollege – Community Colleges are packed with contingent labor. The Free Community College debate must include adjunct action for the sake of the students.
Here are a few additional thoughts, though nothing formal, and I welcome debate, dissent, and added thoughts.
The entire university system is now balanced on a tower of debt on the one hand and an exploited workforce on the other. It is unsustainable. I think part of the key moving forward is to link these two problems in the eyes of students and parents (and politicians), rather than the current method of short-changing teachers to keep tuition costs down (not that it’s working).
What does the future of higher education look like?
1. The whole university system collapses except for the super elite. We’re all adjuncts. It’s just about workforce training.
2. Students rebel against the adjunct system, realizing they are going into debt and the money isn’t going into instruction. Paradise returns!
3. We continue to stratify in sustainable if unjust ways, dividing the profession between research and teaching profs more explicitly. Both earning stable middle class wages, but tracked and hard for teaching profs to switch from one to the other. Adjuncts return to their original purpose as short-term offerings, ways to bring professionals into the school, and related functions.
I guess I’m working for #3, as I believe it’s realistic and possible that we could to turn most adjunct jobs into stable teaching positions with benefits, professional development, and a decent wage. I think we serve the students best when we are teacher-scholars (and I am very critical of profs who, at the elite level, try to avoid the classroom), both contributing to our field and engaging learners in the classroom. So I dislike the split model, but it’s better than what we have now.
How do we get there?
One way is for the accrediting bodies to demand that we meet certain thresholds.
A second is for students and parents to demand it. Adjuncts are usually terrific teachers (my basic premise is that everyone is brilliant), but part of what makes a great college prof is the ability to really engage with your students. Adjuncts don’t have the time. They often take time though, and then their wages per hour plummet even lower.
A third is for adjuncts, themselves, through labor actions and the support of other faculty, to force change.
Can we combine these three? I’m not sure, but I’m going to continue to write in ways that talk to fellow tenured faculty and to prospective students and parents of students, while supporting labor actions as they come up.
My pledge: I will not cross a picket line of adjuncts.