Thursday, August 21, 2014

Adjunctification: Living in the Margins of Academe by Tiffany Kraft

Unfair labor practices are commonplace in American higher education, public and private. Hardly anyone denies the problem of adjunctificaton and contingency and, more epidemic, laborers on the fringe in any trade or profession recognize this deficit; yet we continue to work for less, essentially exploiting our worth, thus the possibility of a solution is vexed. 

And the issue is not unique to adjuncts, but many other university laborers, including students who are uniformly paid minimum wage for providing essential services. But how can a problem so transparent and pervasive fail to generate actionable change?  

Why can’t I get equal pay for equal labor? And why is silence the norm? These are self-posed questions that warrant wider consideration.

Multiple labor hierarchies exist campus wide, all arguably fundamental to the operation of the university, and the adjunct problem begs reformation right now… Nigh 75% of us are complicit in this problem, so why blame the complicit elite, the other 25%? Because the majority of them are content and quiet? 

I believe we are stronger together, as one faculty, than pitted against one another. So let’s question the hierarchy of the institution instead. Let’s reevaluate tenure, as “tenure has hamstrung colleges’ ability to fulfill their two fundamental missions of advancing knowledge and disseminating it” (James C. Wetherbe). Let’s also demand transparency and redistribute the top-down wealth, starting with the president of the university.

A realistic approach would embrace reorganization that values mutual interest in pay equity and job security alongside innovative teaching, research and publication, and continuing education. Though levels of teaching and/or research focus differ among universities and colleges, the stereotypical system holds ranked professors accountable for research and publication, but marginalizes the significance of teaching or vice versa. 

We need to find a new balance that values both teaching and research equally and imagine something other than the disparity of tiered faculty, a hybrid plane where both/and rather than either/or are equally valued and compensated. We should at least look to other models that manage to balance teaching and research pathways and roles more equitably.

Dan Kovalik, senior associate general counsel of the United Steelworkers, says the two-tiered faculty model is “destroying the academy,” and that our CEO-like presidents and administrators are not all to blame. Yet, even though the failure of our system is apparent to outsiders, we remain paralyzed. 

So why do we contribute to a fatally flawed and oppressive system when so many of us, like Vojtko, will die sick and penniless after years of service to our students and university? Why, when we are ripe for reorganization, do adjuncts fail to organize? For my own part, I am stuck in a spiraling cycle, afraid to lose what little seniority I have as an affiliate adjunct, and I am stretched thin juggling heavy course loads, which makes it hard to look for work elsewhere or dig my way out of this hole through publishing… [W]hat I find most oppressive is not the workload itself, but the cyclical fear of unemployment without benefits...
Fortunately, there is a growing body of academic colleagues advocating for change and pinning their names on the unpopular Problem of Contingency in Higher Education, including Joshua BoldtWilliam PannapackerJennifer RuthKaren Kelsky, the editors here at Hybrid Pedagogy, and more. We can no longer justify silence, denial, or complicity in the problem of contingency; rather, we have to work together toward an equitable solution.

It’s not too ironic that I turn to bell hooks, who reminds us that “marginality [is] much more than a site of deprivation; in fact […] it is also the site of radical possibility, a space of resistance […] It offers to one the possibility of radical perspective from which to see and create, to imagine alternatives, new worlds.” The new world I imagine is not radical but just; it is closer to the romantic ideal that I thought existed back when I was an undergraduate, before I realized that the corporatization of higher education has fundamentally flawed the idea of the university.

For the complete article by Tiffany Kraft, Click Here.

For “A Sample of University and College Adjunct Faculty Remuneration per Course in Illinois/ University and College Annual Tuition and Fees,” Click Here. 

For more information about the plight of the college adjunct faculty, click on the “college adjunct” link (under the masthead of this blog) or scroll down to “Taxonomies.”  There are 26 articles listed for your perusal.


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