Resources: Adjunct Labor and Slave Labor

Over the past few years, a number of books and essays linking adjuncts to other historically oppressed peoples have been published. I’m writing an essay on the topic (that’s largely critical). Here’s some of the material with which I’m working, starting with the most recent.

  • Equality for Contingent Faculty: Overcoming the Two-Tier System, edited by Keith Hoeller. Reviewed at Inside Higher Ed here. Includes essays on “The Academic Labor System of Faculty Apartheid,” and “The New Abolition Movement.”- “Hoeller said the book’s biggest takeaway is that the adjunct faculty movement is really a civil rights movement. If equality for all faculty really matters, he said, “we should be against tenurism just as much as we are against racism and sexism. Contingent faculty are not inferior. They are equal and should be treated as such.”
  • Hoeller also wrote a piece for ADJUNCTS: SLAVES OF COLLEGES: “It calls into question the myth that the two-track system in academe is an equal opportunity merit system. It is not; it is in fact a caste system with the tenured faculty occupying the upper caste and the off-track faculty serving as the “untouchables.”
  • Featured in the cover art above, there’s a book called “ACADEMIC SHARECROPPERS: Exploitation of Adjunct Faculty and the Higher Education System.” The author, a long-time adjunct in business schools, writes, “Who are the academic sharecroppers? They are those who share, in a very limited way, in the largesse of education institutions-adjunct faculty. Historically, in literal terms, “A sharecropper was a farmer who was provided with credit for seeds, tools, living quarters, and food from the landowner’s store. In return, the sharecropper worked the land and received a certain part of the value of the crop.” In other words, the landowner made out, and the sharecropper barely got by. In today’s world, the academic sharecroppers’ world, they are used and abused. The exploitation of adjunct faculty is not illegal, but is certainly immoral and unethical.”
  • Catherine Wagner, a poet and tenured professor at Miami University writes that while she is not a sharecropper:

 “I work in one of the heavily used mansion-like buildings that dot the estate. Every weekday I walk down the hall past many doors. Behind some doors work my peers (tenure-line teacher-scholar-writers). Behind other doors work the sharecroppers (adjunct teachers, graduate teaching assistants).

The sharecroppers are inferior to me under the terms of the hierarchy on which the institution insists, and which it requires in order to continue to support itself (and me) as it did formerly. The support to which the university and I have become accustomed is collapsing. There is a terrible drought and a weevil. The drought we call a recession (although recession implies recovery and the recession as it affects sharecroppers is not going to end). The weevil is an infestation called student loans. It affects the robustness of the plants grown on the sharecropper estate. When everyone has cottoned on to the weevil infestation, they may begin growing their plants elsewhere without the help of the sharecropper estate. Then the estate will transform into I don’t know what.

In the meantime, when they are not out in the fields, the sharecroppers work in ten-by-ten-foot rooms that each contain three desks.

I really like Wagner’s essay. It’s beautifully written and makes an important link of the adjuncts to other forms of contingent labor in America. But I think the metaphor doesn’t match the important parts of her argument.
  • Here is an essay in the Times Herald, a Pennsylvania paper, with the title, “DeSIMONE: Adjunct professors: America’s modern slaves.” I never get to write my own titles so DeSimone might not have either, in which case this can be put on the editor. The essay itself doesn’t use such language (though does reveal exploitation and frustration). He wrote a follow-up essay with the title “Beasts of Burden.”
  • “”Part-time instructors are the slave labor of higher education,” said Philip Altbach, professor of higher
    education at Boston College. “You can’t build a modern university on
    the basis of part-time faculty because they are not expected to have
    a full commitment to the institution.” From H-Net, quoting an op-ed in the Tennessean.
  • “Adjuncts are the new 21st-century slaves. We work like dogs and get little recognition and financial compensation.” – From a Chronicle survey of Adjuncts
  • Bangor Daily News: “How are the pyramids of Egypt and the community colleges of Maine alike?
  • They are both wonderful concepts built from, essentially, slave labor. No, this isn’t a joke.”

  • “Many [adjuncts] are on food stamps. One of the reasons is that more and more schools are hiring adjuncts, the slave labor of academia.” From Patheos.
  • Here’s another “sharecropper” blog, this time from nursing faculty.
  • This one says – Wage slaves. This one also has “slave labor” in the title (and pushback in the comments).
  • This one says universities are the new “company stores.” Which is at least a labor metaphor.
Finally, two dissents.

2. Adjuncts Aren’t Slaves. Let’s Stop Saying They Are. – David Leonard, Chronicle Vitae

And an alternate construction from Minnesota.

Further resource – Union movement.

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