Just a little something I wrote in response to “Confessions of a Community College Dean” over at Inside Higher Ed, who in a very friendly, kindly way advised an adjunct faculty member to think about leaving the profession for her own good–because she was likely to remain in “adjunct hell” and because “colleges don’t hire to reward virtue; they hire to meet needs. If they don’t need you, your dazzling endurance and heroic selflessness and general wonderfulness are simply irrelevant.”
Adjunct Hell is the Majority Experience
Oh, they “need” you all right. The problem is that they’re _allowed_ to hire you on such exploitative terms. If it were against the law and accreditation standards to have more than 10% nontenurable faculty, their “need” for teaching and your need for a decent wage, health care, and genuine academic freedom, including curricular freedoms, would match up just fine. They “need” you bad, and will need you more and more in coming decades. The question is how to compel them to treat you as faculty deserve to be treated. So yeah, you can leave. Or you can stay and fight.
What CC Dean and his correspondent call “adjunct hell” is the majority experience for faculty. Contingent faculty and graduate employees (most of whom will either drop out or become contingent) vastly outnumber faculty in the tenure stream, and have done so for decades. “Adjunct hell” is not some ghetto for a minority—it describes the norm for college faculty labor.
CC Dean is about as sympathetic and thoughtful as an administrator can be, so I’m _not_ criticizing him. But when an administrator, however kindly, says employers don’t “need” you, what he’s really saying is something more like this: “the corrupt accreditation system and racist, sexist division of academic labor, which abuses the apprenticeship system in extracting student labor for a decade, then contingent labor for another two decades, before throwing people like you in a dumpster, works really well when you believe that this situation is your fault, and that you should work harder and harder to ‘earn’ a shot at decent employment, or else just smarten up and go away, taking your health care needs and fantasies about academic workplace democracy with you—because when you’re gone, we can hire another cheap teacher who believes she’ll win the lottery and get a tenure track job, and I will feel less survivor guilt not having to look at you.”
Even if they mean well, administrators can’t fix the problem. If they provide an obstacle to the cheap-teaching system, they just get replaced by higher administrators, trustees or legislators.
Tenure stream faculty—who increasingly are simply the candidate pool for administration in a system that now essentially reserves tenure for an ever-shrinking research faculty and the ever-growing administrator class-can’t, and won’t, either. Even the major unions for tenure-stream faculty don’t spend time on the piddling income of the contingent. (Though as I’ve told several academic union organizers, ignoring the majority contingent faculty has been like ignoring global warming—now the only question is whether it can be turned around at all.)
The only evidence I’ve seen for substantial change and a better future is in the efforts of a militant, organized contingent faculty. Check out COCAL and CGEU—these are the folks who understand the system and are transforming the conditions of academic work. Don’t leave. Get organized. Stand and fight.
When you’re organized, the kindly, cowardly, administrators and future administrators in the tenure stream will be better able to be their better selves. If you don’t see yourself organizing, well, go ahead and follow CC Dean’s advice. Or buy a lottery ticket
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