15 January 2014

Adjunctivism, Adjunctification, and Allies

The room was empty at MLA14, then the twitterverse exploded, and now everyone has ideas about how about tenure-stream faculty should fight back against higher ed's growing dependence on adjuncts:
But for now, the adjuncts aren't going away.  In fact, their numbers are growing.  And yes, this phenomenon is a bad thing.

So how can tenure-stream faculty create solidarity with adjuncts while working for the broader necessary reforms?

  • Know them.  Learn their names.  Make eye contact in the hallway.  Make conversation while waiting for the photocopier.
  • Do they have access to the photocopier?  Find out about the working conditions for adjuncts in your department and work to improve them where necessary.  Do they have mailboxes and office space?  Do they have access to wifi and phone service? These colleagues may well be  your department's public face for undergraduates who will never otherwise have reason to think about the kind of subject matter you teach.  If these instructors lack the basic resources to do their jobs, it reflects badly on everybody.
  • Talk to them before you make assumptions about the role they should play in the department.  "They're paid so little--we can't ask them to do X" is a principle with limitations. It can protect adjuncts from the expectation that they do unpaid work, which is good, but it can also cut adjuncts out of decisions that affect them and conversations in which their input would be meaningful.    
  • Talk to them before you make assumptions about the specific kinds of advocacy they need within the institution.  Adjunct working conditions vary widely, depending on the hiring pool adjuncts are drawn from, the existence of a union, the kinds of terminal degrees that are relevant, and institutional history.  Don't assume the situations you've witnessed or heard about are the norm, as there just isn't one.
  • Does the idea of adjunct representation on relevant committees bother you?  Do the adjuncts in your department seem insufficiently professional to play that role?  Get involved in hiring. Work with the relevant units in your institution to establish procedures for hiring people you can value as colleagues.   Seek out ways to make professional development opportunities available to the adjuncts already in your department.  
  • Be inclusive.  Make sure adjuncts get invited to talks, social events, relevant meetings, colloquiums, and the like. Even if they don't come, such gestures convey to adjuncts that their work is visible and valued.
  • Support unionizing efforts, both on your own campus and at institutions near or similar to your own.  
  • Count adjunct achievements towards the merit of the department.  Find out what adjuncts are doing, and encourage the people who handle department publicity and accolades to include adjunct teaching awards, publications, grants, talks, and the like.

1 comment :

  1. The more I read about adjunct issues, the more I see that my situation is extremely rare--and the more grateful I am for it. EIU originally hired me as what they call Unit B faculty (non-tenure-track), but the position, even when I taught part-time, was salaried, came with benefits, and offered some perks like money to go to conferences and such. Of course, EIU faculty (both Unit A and B) are represented by a union, and that has a huge impact.

    The difference between Units A and B had primarily to do with service and research obligations (the tenure-track folks did all that plus teaching), and surely some differences in level of pay. But it was a living wage, and at least in my department I was treated like a valued colleague. It's a great model for how to do better.

    On the other hand, Unit Bs are still more precarious than As. In an atmosphere of declining enrollment, they will be the first to go, their contracts not being renewed. But at least the terms of their employment, while they have it, are more equitable than the adjunct system on so many campuses.