On March 22, a prominent group of education bloggers agreed to provide statements loosely organized on the theme of “why faculty like me support unions.” Unexpectedly Stanley Fish, a career-long opponent of faculty unionism, joined them. “I recently flipped,” he confessed,”and what flipped me, pure and simple, was Wisconsin.” In particular, it turns out, it was reading new Brainstorm colleague Naomi Schaefer’s Riley’s assault on faculty bargaining rights in that newspaper you find under your door in cheap motel rooms:
What Riley fears is that if colleges and universities were unionized, teachers with far out, discomforting ideas couldn’t be fired. It’s hard to imagine a better argument for unions (and also for tenure)…. Riley makes no bones about it. Letting the unions get a foothold “could . . . make the environment more left leaning.” The message is clear: keep those unions out so that we can more easily get rid of the lefties.
There are layers of irony in Fish’s conversion on the road to Damascus, but it’s hard to argue with his reasoning: one of the lessons of Wisconsin is that academic unionism is one of the few effective bulwarks against ideological cleansing.
Framed as a dialogue between Walter Benn Michaels and himself, the piece is particularly worth reading for Michaels’ withering replies to Riley’s psychic channeling of Ayn Rand. After circulating the usual unfounded canard of faculty laziness, Riley quotes the chief executive of SUNY Buffalo comparing unionization to “belonging to a herd.” In reply, Michaels observes that his own department is amidst a union card drive and ranked in the top 20 nationally:
It’s the hard-working ones who want the union most. Why? Because we think that the people who actually do the teaching and the research should have more of a say in how the teaching and the research gets done. [S]ince when does having a voice in what happens in your own workplace count as belonging to the herd? The president of Buffalo, despite the fact that Buffalo is itself unionized, apparently thinks that rugged individualism consists in shutting up and doing what management tells you to do.
As you’d expect from someone who describes his view as the product of a “flip,” Fish’s contributions to the dialogue lack nuance and context: it’s hard to imagine that Fish has suddenly discovered that most faculty are a lunch bucket crowd, some of whom qualified for food stamps on the wages he paid them while whacking down a monster salary as dean.
In Fish world, faculty unions used to wear a black hat; now they wear a white one, and his realization came about because of what he saw on tv: a dastardly governor twirling his mustaches and tieing a virginal faculty to the railroad tracks. Only the white-hatted union can save the innocent now!
The reality, as anyone who has actually spent any time in the academic labor movement can tell you, is very different: faculty unions have many flaws–and nearly all of them are the flaws of the membership themselves.
The lessons of Wisconsin and Ohio, at least in part, underscore just how seriously faculty and their unions have blundered–how we as a profession have been selfish, foolish, mean-spirited and short-sighted. All the ways, in short, that we haven’t been any better than Stanley Fish but rather, quite a bit like him, or at least striving to be like him, cheerfully shooting hoops and piloting his Jag down the freeway while the academy burned.
Our Unions Are Not Heroic (Because We Aren’t)
So why do I support faculty unions despite their many imperfections? You could say that I’m a critical supporter of American unions generally: they reflect our virtues–too often expressed at the eleventh hour–as well as our flaws. Our unions are often the final barrier against unsafe roads and hospitals, ersatz education and filth in our food. Unions represent all of us, not just those who pay dues into them. A democratic society cannot exist without vigorous democracy in the workplace.
On the other hand, union memberships have failed to live up to their own ideals for most of my adult life–thirty years now. Faced with the difficult challenges of a politically reactionary era–such as hostile regulation, outsourcing, forced volunteerism, and perma-temping–union memberships in every walk of American life have taken the path of least resistance, securing the benefits of older workers and selling out the young.
The members of education unions have been no exception. Faculty represented by the big education unions have turned a blind eye to the hyper-exploitation of student labor, the conversion of jobs to part-time and volunteer positions, the outsourcing of staff and the hostile regulation environment governing collective bargaining in private schools.
But blaming “unions” for the failings of their membership is like blaming the hammer for smashing your thumb. It’s not the hammer’s fault if it’s idle while you’re sitting in front of your television instead of helping mend your neighbor’s fence.
I support unionism the way a carpenter supports tool use. Unions can be misused or neglected by their members, but they’re indispensable to the job of democratizing and diversifying our workplaces, maintaining professional integrity and autonomy, and sustaining high standards in teaching and research.
The current crises in Wisconsin and Ohio have many lessons for faculty in higher education and their unions. I’ll just put forward five for now:
1. Tenure must unite the faculty, not divide it. The single most corrosive faculty myth to emerge since 1970 is the ludicrous notion that tenure is a merit badge for faculty with research-intensive appointments. The biggest reason higher education unions are powerless is that we’ve allowed administrations to cast the overwhelming majority of faculty on teaching-intensive appointments out of the tenure system: “Oh, they’re not real professors, they teach in a less prestigious university/just undergraduates/in the lower division/community colleges.”
Compare this pathetic, near-total collapse of professional identity, much less of solidarity, to the response of police and fire unions in Wisconsin, who defied the governor to support other public employees not even in their own professions–even when he exempted their unions from the axe.
2. Maximize the movement, not the revenue. Organizing graduate students and nontenurable educators would have made perfect sense in terms of sustaining a labor movement in education. But education union staff operating unapologetically under “revenue maximizing” principles have been slow to invest in the movement’s future, scoffing at the paltry “return on investment” of organizing folks already so poorly paid. (Which explains the inroads made by UAW, AFSCME, and SEIU among the nontenurable.)
Ditto for private schools affected by Yeshiva: the big unions have made a few challenges to this decision–all in all, a weak and sleazy piece of judicial activism that only passed 5-4 because of swing voter Stevens, who apparently hadn’t yet had enough of what he later called “on the job training.”
Today, Ohio public-campus faculty are facing Senate Bill 5, a bitter plateful of the fruit of the major unions’ failure to confront Yeshiva. Having shrugged off the decision when it applied only to private campuses, the unions are in a far weaker position to contest the application of its principles to public faculty in any U.S. state–ginning up already not just in Ohio and Wisconsin, but Alaska, Florida, and beyond.
Things could have been very different. Addressing the hostile regulation environment of private campuses is similar to the situation of organizing in right-to-work states: it would have required much more effort and involved much smaller economic returns, but it would have paid off in solidarity, sustaining a broad-based union culture in the academy, which in turn could have led to a legislative solution… which would have prevented the present specter, of a domino effect, with “monkey see, monkey do” application in one state legislature after another.
3. “It’s a great job if you can afford it” and “I don’t do it for the money” are racist, sexist sentiments. I’ve written about this many times before. Even in Wisconsin and Ohio, the police unions are more diverse than the faculty unions–because the extreme wage discount unfairly segments the academic workforce by race, class and gender. Only a small number of persons, disproportionately white, can afford the extreme economic irrationality of most forms of higher education teaching appointments. Defending irrational compensation schemes on the grounds that persons who start out on third base economically are “doing what they love” is really defending a system that denies everyone else a fair shot at doing something they love. The struggle to make academic compensation fair is a struggle to enormously enlarge the academic talent pool: way too many black and brown intellectuals are working at the DMV, fighting wars, and walking a beat instead of teaching at the state university. Too many teaching positions are filled by persons who can afford to work for the status compensation of saying “I work at the U.,” rather than the most qualified.
Every time someone with wealth, parental or spousal backing, and/or high household income brays about how they’d do the job for free, they put another brick in the wall in front of those who don’t have those advantages.
4. There is no democracy without active, embodied participation. Emma Goldman shocked the feminists of her day by saying that they shouldn’t prioritize winning the vote, that voting can provide the satisfying feeling of political participation without the substance. The struggle in Wisconsin has made clear to faculty that our politics can never be just teaching and writing, but has to be made real with boots on the ground and bodies in the street. If every professor’s coffee-shop oration and blog comment were instead a knock on the door in the effort to recall the power-grabbing state senators, the battle would already be won.
5. Leadership comes from below. It’s hardly accidental that Walter Benn Michaels’ grad students unionized a decade before he did. The cutting edge of education unionism always has been, and remains, the working-class intellectualism of ordinary schoolteachers and parents. In the far less accomplished sector of higher ed, the best thinking can often be found among graduate students and nontenurable faculty, who represent nearly eighty percent of the teaching force.]]>
Certainly some of its viewers, as you might expect, tune in for the objectified porn-star bodies of the actors. But they stay because they identify with the characters in the story. I think it’s worth trying to understand this identification, in large part because it seems to be an identification with a mode of exploitation similar to our own.
With balletic violence, gorgeous CGI, and lovingly detailed mature sequences, this Sam Raimi production doesn’t at first seem calculated for the status-conscious intellectual (ie, the sort of person that exchanges prestige for salary). That said, one of the show’s persistent themes is the personal cost of pursuing psychic rewards–such as celebrity, or the esteem of one’s colleagues. The show invites identification with the gladiators on the supposition that the audience is also imprisoned by their own pursuit of affective compensation, of which our own teaching for love (and consequent super-discounted wage) is a leading example, not to mention our complicity in the super-discounting of the wages of others.
Dalton Trumbo, Meet Larry Flynt
Consistently winning its cable time slot in the 18-49 demographic, the show’s success suggests what even our friends at The New York Times (NYT) have to acknowledge appears to be a growing appetite for stories of class warfare. Of course this use of the term “class warfare” erroneously assigns it only to class struggle from below (as if the arduous labor of Palin, McCain, Boehner, Beck and O’Reilly to roll back medical care, education, and workplace rights isn’t the class war of the rich on the rest of us!) What the NYT reviewer means is to hint that recent trends in cultural consumption might indicate a growing will of the other 98% to fight back.
There are two paths into this version of Spartacus that any reasonably competent cultural-studies person might pursue: genealogical relationships, especially those with earlier versions of Spartacus, and transitive relationships with parallel iconography, like the masterless samurai of Kurosawa, Leone, Eastwood, etc.
The first approach would be largely a project of mourning–ie, exploring all the ways this latest iteration of Spartacus measures a retreat from the Left cultural imaginary tapped into by the blacklisted dream team of Dalton Trumbo and grand old Howard Fast. For decades a bestselling writer of openly anticapitalist fiction, Fast was imprisoned for resisting HUAC and forced to self-publish the 1951 novel on which the Kubrick/Douglas/Trumbo film is based. (Apparently Kirk Douglas produced the film largely out of pique after losing the title role in Ben Hur to Charlton Heston, but still deserves enormous credit for having the courage to employ these writers, and helping to break the blacklist.)
The contrast between the 1960 film and the present is especially obvious in the variant handling of the line, “I am Spartacus.” In the earlier production, the line comprised a climactic appeal to solidarity, shouted for Kubrick and Douglas’s sound crew by the crowd at a Michigan State vs Notre Dame football game.
In a nice turn, the contemporary version reimagines the line as a second-act complication, indicating submission: “I am Spartacus” in this version indicates the Thracian’s acceptance of his slave name, a la Kunta Kinte in the most famous scene in the mini-series Roots. Drawing this parallel to the more defiant and hopeful imagination of the mid-1970s (now thirty-five years in the past) is, however, similarly unflattering to the present.
The second analysis would recover part of the first–finding in this cynical Spartacus a free-ranging rebellion. He inhabits a modestly domesticated variant of the masterless samurai/Pale Rider trope, protesting “I burn for no cause but my own,” but grudgingly making an exception to that rule.
A figure for the salaryman who puts on the office costume–but rides his hog weekends– motivated by a goodfella’s desire to protect spouse and home turf, today’s Spartacus provisionally accepts the fraternity of the ludus and even more provisionally the dominion of Batiatus, an ambitious Capuan fight promoter reminiscent of Tony Soprano.
That the fight promoters are the next tv gangsters-as-lower-management is abundantly clear in Season 2, Episode 2, in which Batiatus is stomped in a butcher’s shop; the scene references a similarly-located assault in The Sopranos and attempts to top it with a long-running and full-frontal urination on the victim.
Both of these lines of analysis could be extended usefully, and doubtless will be, but I think they aren’t enough, not least because they bypass the repeated, clear references to gladiators as the adult film stars of their time.
The mapping of gladiation by way of the contemporary cultural space of porn is literal, with repeated scenes of gladiators sexually performing for an audience of citizens, who sometimes offer direction (a la interactive porn sites), zoom in for closeups of the action, etc. (I don’t bring up pornography in order to get into a moral debate. If I have a moral position on pornography, it’s probably something akin to class struggle: potentially the likeliest, best outcome of porn’s cultural victory is self-abolition: Can the universally explicit be visible as pornographic?) Certainly there are serious complaints to be made about the series in this department: for instance, it can legitimately be read as trivializing the contemporary traffic in women by its representation of male gladiators as sex toys for the Real Housewives of Capua. In any event, if you want to argue porn’s morality, take it up with the extremely thoughtful Jane Juffer or, say, the million-strong Netmums demographic–mostly British, mostly women under fifty, mostly with kids–75% of whom say they consume it.
The Grammar of Super-Exploitation
What interests me about Spartacus and the grammar of adult film is the question of delivering work without a wage, for an extreme wage discount, or over and above the requirements of a wage. In the technical sense, most wage work (excepting the hyper-compensated type) is simple exploitation: you produce more value than you receive back in wages, often a lot more, and that value goes to someone of the Real Housewives class, who buys jewels and a good conscience by making occasional donations to charity.
By contrast, working without a wage–or for a discounted wage–or for psychic compensation–or delivering additional work off the clock–generally involves some form of super-exploitation. The cutting edge of management practice is finding ways to maximize the employee’s donation above and beyond the wage: checking office email at 11 pm and 6am, taking calls on weekends and on vacation, working through lunch, etc. One of the vectors for this is making workplaces “creative” and “fun,” as Andrew Ross has analyzed; another is faux professionalism; another is providing elaborate nonwage recognitions, a la the military, church and education bureaucracies. Internships are both straight-up extortion (“can’t get a job without one”) and status awards (“I won the competition for the position!”)
Gladiators experience the most primitive forms of super-exploitation (direct enslavement, imprisonment and degradation). All of these “primitive” forms of super-exploitation are alive and well in today’s global economy, from prison labor to the traffic in women. And some aspects of gladiator labor are realized cinematically as the kind of locked-in dormitory workplace associated with Chinese manufacturing.
But the primitive forms of super-exploitation don’t explain the Starz/Netflix demographic’s identification with the characters and situation. The viewer identification has much more to do with fact that the gladiators also experience the most advanced or progressive forms of super-exploitation associated with Western workers employed in some of the most sought-after positions in the global economy: While gladiators do receive some material compensation (better food, occasional prize money, etc) they are ultimately paid in the coin of emotion. This is where the mapping of gladiation onto the porn industry delivers the most insight. The gladiators are almost exactly analogous to today’s porn “stars,” who support one of the most lucrative industries on the planet–but who can make as little as a hundred dollars per filmed sex act, might work on just a couple of films in a “career” that lasts a few months. The cost of plastic surgery, physical training and so on easily outweighs the earnings of many, a fact known perfectly well to most of the men and women struggling to get into the industry. The idea that all of these persons are delusionally trying to win a lottery of high adult-film paychecks misses the point. For the most part, they understand that they are also being paid in a kind of reputation that they have chosen to seek (perhaps mistakenly) even if they don’t get rich.
This is the heart of the series’ appeal–its insight into a core question of our time: “if the rewards are so slim, why do it?” And the series captures the complexity and honesty of the answer: that most of us are deeply pro-social in our motivations, that we strive most vigorously for nonwage compensation…. and that these generally pro-social preferences represent our vulnerability to the economic predators of our time.
Given the number of fronts on which its politics are fairly regressive, the largest contribution the series makes to consciousness-raising is its consistent representation of affective compensation as a form of Monopoly money printed up by a cynical management. Indeed, the central characters’ struggle to reject the psychic wage–and management’s effort to seduce them into accepting it– is the substance of the series’ story line. It is not that the series opposes honor, reputation-seeking, or loyalty per se: it’s that the series understands these and other emotions are vectors through which economic predators snare their victims.
In this version of Spartacus the successful “lanista” and “doctore” (manager and trainer) are, first and foremost, managers of the arena’s workplace culture, providing the gladiators with rewards calculated to trigger the investment of their whole selves in their work: a sense of fraternity, accomplishment, professional reputation and public recognition.
The whole of Season 1’s interior action comprises the complication-filled but steadily rising acceptance of this manufactured workplace culture by Spartacus, who swiftly wins the title of “champion of Capua.”
His arc of acceptance is matched by a parallel, gradual disaffection with that same workplace culture by his chief rival Crixus, the immediate past champion. Just when Spartacus’s growing acceptance of a bargain with management is burst, abruptly returning him to his original state of implacable avenger, the evolving emotional life of Crixus carries us forward.
For Crixus, the transformation from true believer to revolutionary means abandoning most of the psychic rewards on which he’s built his identity–the recognition of fellow professionals, public celebrity, etc. It also means a painful repudiation of the belief that gladiation offers a professional, democratic, meritocratic venue, in which ability is inevitably recognized.
As we cheer along Crixus’s workplace epiphany, we are invited to have one of our own–to cast a critical eye on our own workplaces, and the management-engineered workplace cultures that enmesh us.]]>
Nonetheless he notes an interesting source for some doozy “last gasps” of lazy-prof stereotypes–faculty themselves. Gose speculates that the prof-on-prof stereotypers are trying to do the profession a favor, in the front line of faculty “policing their own” and targeting “perceived slackers,” etc.
The photograph and first third of the article are devoted to the emotional and contradictory views of Prof. John Hare, chair of English at Montgomery College, Maryland. According to Gose, Hare “became furious” at a distinguished scholar he doesn’t know, Florence Babb, the Vada Allen Yeomans Professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Florida and former president of the Association for Feminist Anthropology, then serving as graduate coordinator for the Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research. Recruited with the named professorship to Florida from the University of Iowa in 2005, her scholarship and service to the profession has been massive: multiple stints as department or program chair, numerous editorial boards, etc.
The trigger for Hare’s rage? Prof. Babb contested the university’s attempt to violate the contractual terms of its appointment letter in recruiting her and unilaterally downgrade the 2-course release associated with her service obligation in the Center to zero. Arbitrators eventually settled on reducing it to a one-course release, citing the figleaf of fiscal exigency.
One way of parsing Hare’s emotion is to see him as the chair of a teaching-intensive department himself trading in stereotypes about faculty with research-intensive appointments. Babb, by any reasonable estimation, works pretty hard, so Gose allows Hare to qualify his position pretty carefully.
It seems that Hare’s problem with Babb doesn’t depend on the factual question of whether she’s actually a slacker or not. It’s that she’s willing to look like one, fueling “public perceptions” that he claims harm all of us.
But the article itself says that these public perceptions are way down, so Hare’s own account of his rage just doesn’t make much sense.
What does? Is it the resentment of someone on a teaching-intensive appointment?
I wonder, but I don’t think so. By his own frequently contradictory account, Hare–like most folks with his kind of appointment–loves his job. Most of the folks I know on teaching-intensive appointment feel fortunate, like Hare, not to be subjected to the constant pressure of publishing, and to be paid for spending a lot of time with students on topics that interest them.
And as many irate commenters on the piece substantiated, it’s a fact that many jobs “in industry” are far easier than faculty appointments, especially research jobs, which tend to be radically underpaid for the difficulty of the work–it’s not the “ease” of the position, but the challenges and the self-directedness that accounts for the willingness of many to work twice as hard for half the pay.
Given what the most successful people in other fields earn these days and the kind of accomplishment it takes to earn the rank, it’s fairly hard to argue that distinguished research faculty in Babb’s bracket– earning $90,000 to $100,000 a year–are either overpaid or underworked.
In fact, as I’ve written before: plenty of undistinguished civil servants, firefighters and military officers have retirement compensation higher than the salaries earned for 60-hour weeks by extremely accomplished teachers and/or researchers in the humanities!
So what explains Hare’s irrational, data-free anger at Babb? Especially when the supposedly benighted “public” is increasingly able to do the relevant math?
The Gendering of Professional Service
One dimension of Babb’s situation that didn’t factor into Hare’s position or come out in Gose’s otherwise well-reported piece is the role of gender in who the University of Florida demanded “pitch in” and make “sacrifices” during the fiscal crisis.
It appears that Babb is the only female distinguished professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, and the only one actually forced to teach more. According to one source and multiple commenters on press reports of the case, of the many male faculty with her load and rank, many earning more, only one man was even asked to teach additional courses and, being eligible to do so–apparently as expected–chose to retire instead.
I was happy to see the comments on the Chronicle article overflowing with faculty, including the intrepid Bill Pannapacker, hastening to question Hare’s suitability as “our” spokesperson. Pannapacker targets Hare’s implication in the ideology of teaching for love, a topic I’ve written about several times before.
It’s too often assumed that “teaching for love” is a win-win situation: some people are happy with psychic rewards instead of pay, which saves a few bucks that institutions or legislators can then spend on other important projects. What’s the harm?
But a labor market arranged around working for love–rather than fair compensation–is actually one of the most sexist, racist and economically discriminatory arrangements possible. From a class point of view, as I emphasize in Gose’s piece and elsewhere: by making the professoriate an economically irrational choice, you stop sorting for the most talented people and begin to sort for the people who can afford to discount their wages. That cuts out most people, period, making the best jobs in the academy largely a preserve for persons with fortunate economic backgrounds or circumstances. And via the wealth gap, that primary economic discrimination has direct consequences for the racial composition of the faculty. By making it too hard to get a job, too arduous an apprenticeship, too poor of a return on education investment: only the wealthier among us are able to “irrationally choose” to accept psychic wages–and the wealthier among us are disproportionately white, just for starters. All of this has tremendous, documented consequences for the achievement and persistence of students from less advantaged economic circumstances and ethnicities poorly represented among the faculty.
As for gender, the rendering of faculty positions to the extreme of economic irrationality (six courses a year for $15,000, eg) assigns them disproportionately to women, especially persons–whether male or female–married to professionals and managers. The other, primary wage earner supports the economically irrational partner, a person teaching for what used to be called pin money. This structural feminizing of the job was traditionally associated with converting the positions formerly held by men (such as secretarial positions, once a high-status job) to those held increasingly by women, as Michelle Masse explains in a 2008 interview and is just one of the ways that she says higher ed forms a “pyramid scheme” especially for women faculty.
Broadly speaking across many disciplines and institution types women still tend to disproportionately hold low-paying, low-status, insecure teaching-only or teaching-intensive jobs while men continue to disproportionately hold high-paying, high-status, secure research-intensive and top administrative positions.
In an important new book, Over Ten Million Served: Gendered Service in Language and Literature Workplaces Masse and Katie Hogan take the conversation about gender and the distribution of academic rewards & responsiblities beyond the relatively well-understood territory of research and teaching to service labor. (Disclosure: the book includes a chapter adapted from HTUW.)
The book surveys the complexity of academic service, from the manifold senses of a calling (ranging from communitarian, sociable, and professional impulses to an opportunity to rebel or transform the academy) to close connections with the rise of a service economy, to specifically feminized forms of exploitation–ie, doing the university’s “housework,” or an undercompensated labor of care that in many circumstances falls harder on women. Women faculty face larger career penalties for not seeming to “care sufficiently” for the institution, and their research contributions are correspondingly discounted–I think analysis of the comments on Babb’s case at the Chron and other media outlets strongly supports this view!
Among the countless insights that Masse and Hogan develop in the collection is the emergence of a complex and contradictory “service unconscious” among feminized faculty, male and female (ie, such as the angry and confused John Hare):
We know that our [willingness to serve] sometimes damages us and supports organizational structures we don’t want to reinforce. And yet we nonetheless persevere in these behaviors and articulate their value for the best of all possible reasons: the ways in which ‘helping’ and ‘serving’ please us and fulfill our deepest-held beliefs about the importance of existence in a community and the need to achieve change and support for our colleagues and students. We know that service and sacrifice are often necessary to bring about more just workplaces, but much of the service we are pressed into is not about creating just and fair workplaces…
Hogan’s analysis alone is worth the price of the book. She contends that academic women, and men in feminized sectors, are expected to be “superserviceable,” ie to williingly do labor not recognized as such. Across vast swathes of the academy, faculty have service-intensive appointments (especially involving labor of care for students or the institution) in which the nature of their service is not even recognized.
Using data from significant assessments of the labor performed by women in both nontenurable and tenured positions, Hogan documents the unspoken demands of the academic service economy. In a final twist, she argues that the same is true for the intellectual output of persons in feminized positions, especially feminism itself–ie, that feminist research and teaching is meant to be especially “serviceable” as well.]]>
MB: When did you first begin serving contingently?
MD: My first adjunct position was in my own graduate department. The faculty member who was scheduled to teach that class was awarded a large grant to work on an international research committee and plan an international meeting. The university gave him a course release, and the granting agency matched the university in funding an adjunct. I was very well paid at the time, $4000, for the class. I did a horrible job, but I learned a lot about teaching.
The next time I adjuncted, I was in my NIH fellowship. I taught for a smaller private school, and I did a much better job. I don’t remember how much I earned, but I got excellent student evaluations. Another university in the area asked me to teach a course, but my postdoc mentor told me not to. I was struggling with my mood, and having trouble keeping up with both teaching and my training program. He was right.
Just before I took a tenure track position at a small liberal arts college, I taught a course for a small university. I made $1300.
MB: Where did you hope it would lead?
MD: What did I want from adjuncting? The first time, I wanted the money and the experience. I got both. The other times, I wanted the experience. I wanted good teaching evaluations, I wanted something to put on my CV, and I wanted professional contacts and references. As a fellow in my PhD program, I was not required to TA or teach in any way.
MB: What did you imagine professorial work was like?
MD: My dream was to be a scholar.
I cannot tell you how much I loved the exchange and development of ideas, and I was oh, so good at it. I became an expert social theorist, easily crossing disciplinary lines. That’s what I thought I’d do. That I’d have mentors, and that I would mentor others the way I had been mentored. I thought I would spend my working life immersed in the discipline that I loved.
Okay, academia is not paradise. Like all professions, it has its share of bs. But Marc, I’ve had the jobs from hell, I’ve cleaned my share of toilets, emptied garbage, dealt with pissy customers, gotten poison ivy working landscaping—in the end, no matter what, I’ll take the life of ideas. All my working life, I felt I was working towards something, a life of scholarship, a life of the mind, in a discipline that I loved. It was the discovery and the synthesis I loved.
Along the way I did publish, and I started working on grant proposals. I was on my way to being funded.
MB: What was your path into the tenure stream?
MD: My first job out of my NIH fellowship was not tenure track. I landed a year-by-year instructor position at a large, urban, R1 institution, in my specialty. I was very happy there. I had a 2/2 load, and was working with the program director and another anthropologist on a grant proposal. I submitted it, and it was rejected, but I was invited to revise and submit to another program. I was also working with another faculty member on another potential project. I was awarded a small university faculty development grant. I enjoyed my students, for the most part, especially the majors and the grad students. The program had a strong relationship with the School of Nursing, and another program that studied aging. I taught a methods class to nurses, and we had nursing Phd students in our program. My teaching evaluations were excellent.
I enjoyed what I was doing and where I was living. I was getting involved in some community organizations, singing in a choir, etc. I had access to an academic library, which was delicious.
MB: But you were still trying to get a permanent position.
MD: While full time and benefits-earning, this position was contingent on the will of the dean. I didn’t know that my position would be renewed for the following year, until April, and fortunately it was. Here’s the rub. The position was converted to TT, and I was invited to compete for it.
MB: They converted the position, but not the person serving in it?
MD: Yes, and I had two strikes against me. First, I had done my research in the US. Anthropology departments want people with overseas expertise, and I knew they were looking for an Africanist. Second, I continued to struggle with my health, and that did at times interfere with my work. That made a difference, Americans with Disabilities Act or not. My story is as much about what chronic mental illness can do to career as it is about contingent labor.
MB: You don’t feel that your disability was accommodated?
MD: No. So I applied for my own job, and was shortlisted, but under the circumstances I am convinced that my colleagues had no intention of hiring me as a TT Assistant Professor.
I applied for a research scientist job at a smaller university, was interviewed and offered the job IF I took it immediately, that January. So I left my R1 job mid academic year. I didn’t want to do that, but you know, you do what you can. The position was unclassified, with no employment security. I got sick due to a combination of things (moving, new job, inappropriate medication, scattered medical care).
Add to the mix my own incompetence and a lack of professional mentoring. The PIs came down very hard on me, with “counselling” and letters of reprimand. Work became social nightmare. I was often ignored in meetings, one PI would snort when I offered an analysis, there was eye-rolling, back-turning, and constant nagging criticism. I often lost emotional control, having to run to my work space to cry.
I was suicidal, lonely, a mess. I resigned in lieu of being fired. I gave them six months notice. I accept that my failure at that job was my own; I was incompetent, and a lack of emotional control was immature and inappropriate for a professional workplace. But, in my defense, let me note the PIs treated other employees the same way. The work group even had a name for it: The Squeeze. Another research scientist called me about a year after I had left, to see if I would take part in a legal action against the PIs and the university.
MB: And after that?
MD: It took me a year to find a job, and this time it was TT. The institution was a religiously affiliated SLAC, with a 4/4 teaching load. Teaching anthropology at an increasingly orthodox religious institution became very difficult.
I was in a three person department, and one of my colleagues was extremely conservative. He refused to teach some of the sociology courses because he would get too emotional.
MB: He was emotional? With respect to his religious beliefs and scholarship or teaching?
MD: He refused to teach Marx in social theory, he refused to teach the sociology of marriage and family and the sociology of religion, he strongly disapproved of the teaching of human evolution (a cornerstone of my discipline). He had started the same time I did but he came on board as an associated professor, with a three year tenure clock.
There was more. I won’t go into it. The school was toxic for me. I broke down, failed miserably, made some of my own mistakes in terms of my relationship with this colleague, and in toeing the ideological line at that school.
MB: You feel that things could have been different if you’d made different decisions about your teaching?
MD: Here’s an example of a big mistake on my part. I taught the race and ethnicity class, and one year I presented a unit on Muslim and Arab Americans. I wanted to challenge my students’ assumptions and prejudices. I found a photograph of a woman wearing a hijab made out of the American flag and incorparated that photo into my PowerPoint lecture. Big mistake, for I offended many people, students and other faculty.
Meanwhile, I ran through the $25,000 lifetime limit on psychiatric care. Lousy health insurance is an important part of my story.
I resigned in lieu of being denied tenure.
MB: It doesn’t sound as if the mistakes are all on your side.
MD: The school was not able to fill my 4/4 position the first year after I left. They interviewed several people, and made someone an offer. It turned out that I was acquainted with that candidate. He declined the offer for three reasons: abysmal pay, horrible health insurance, and the campus culture.
MB: Tell us about your economic situation today.
MD. I was unable to find a job after I resigned from the religiously affiliated institution. I had to abandon my house,and move to another state to stay with family for a while. My house has now been foreclosed. I abandoned almost all of my scholarly journals and books, and most of my belongings. I liquidated my TIAA-CREF accounts to have something to live on.
Twelve years of American Anthropologist went to Africa via Books for Africa.
My first job in my new state? Cashier at a big box store, $7.50/hour. A family friend, who is a faculty member in a science department at the local Mega University, gave me a temp/casual job as a research assistant. He paid me very well, but the job lasted only 90 days. I was not able to find another job I went into treatment this summer, and have continued with that.
I have been looking for some professional-level jobs. I have interviewed with the state department of health, with county governments, with non-profit organizations, others. No go.
I have lost my professional references That is absolutely the most painful part my story. The people who mentored me through grad school, postdoc, and my first two years out have told me that they will no longer support me in my attempts to return to academia.
MB: This is because of your disability?
MD: It makes me wonder if I had tried just a little harder to deal with and cover up my mental illness, would I still be employed? In teaching at a religiously affiliated institution, should I have just gritted my teeth and avoided controversial subjects, like comparative kinship and human evolution?
MB: Are you working right now?
MD: Yes, 12 hours a week at a retail job, $7.25/hour. I’ve thought about applying around for adjunct positions, but I don’t know what to say in the cover letter. I am applying for SSDI.
MB: May I ask where you get your health care?
MD: I get excellent health care through the VA. In fact, if it wasn’t for the VA, I’d be dead.
MB: You’re a veteran? Can you tell us about your family background and what made you think about
academia as a career?
MD: My father was a refugee from Central Europe; he came to the US as a boy, with his family, as part of the Displaced Persons act of 1948. My mother comes from a working class family in New England. My grandmother was 16 when she had my mother, and Grandma never finished high school. My mother left a turbulent and abusive home at age 18, met my father, got pregnant, married, and had my brother. My father got a position playing in a major American philharmonic, and the family moved to the Midwest.
My mother was driven, and she went back to college when we were still small, working her way through college and then an MA in history. I remember her sitting at the dining room table, typing her MA thesis. My father was finishing up his BS in Music Education.
My mother was accepted to a history PhD program in a Great Lake state, so we moved. My father taught music in a public middle school. I was 8 years old at the time. My parents’ marriage was falling apart, in a very nasty way. Add to the mix the a good dose of mental illness. My mother had become ABD, and had moved into university administration. She eventually married a colleague in administration, formerly a very famous historian.
MB: So you were a faculty brat—of a sort.
MD: Of a sort. I didn’t do all that well in public schools. I graduated okay from high school, and I joined the Army in the early 1980s. When I got out in 1986, I entered college at a big midwestern research instituion. I got into the honors program, ate it up, I loved college. I have always had my own difficulties with mental illness, but I got through summa cum laude, did an honors thesis, and was awarded a fellowship to the PhD program in anthropology at a respected school. Because of my chronic illness, I did not attempt to go overseas; I did my fieldwork in the US. In terms of my career, that was a big mistake.
My mother eventually finished her dissertation and landed a TT job as a historian. She has edited or written maybe 9 or 10 books. Two have won awards, and one was nominated for a Pulitzer.
MB: Have you asked your mother or her second husband for advice?
MD: I got a lot of support and encouragement from my mother and stepfather in pursuing a graduate degree. They were proud of me. In one of my mother’s books she acknowledges me for helping her to look at gender as social theory. When my career fell apart, my mother expressed some guilt about encouraging me to pursue the PhD.
I was encouraged to adjunct to develop my teaching portfolio. Then later, my mother encouraged me to look for adjunct positions as part of making a living.
MB: What are your mother and stepfather’s views of the academy’s accommodation
of disability and mental illness?
MD: My stepfather was born in 1915, and had a very old school view of mental illness; You didn’t admit it, you didn’t discuss it, it was a failure, especially for men. My mother told me never to discuss my illness with colleagues, or let perspective employers know that I had a mental illness. Members of a search committee would not consider a person with a psychiatric disability in part to protect themselves from litigation. In her view, a search committee would fear that a candidate with a disability would sue for discrimination if not hired. That may be true.
For many people with mental illness, there is always the hope, indeed the conviction, that each crisis will be the last crisis. The reality is that many people like me have a severe and persistent mental illness, but can be highly functional and able to hide their illness for a long time.
I think disabilities in general make people uncomfortable. Psychiatric disabilities are worse. The problem with seeking accommodation is disclosure. Look up “Normal is a Place I Visit.” It’s a paper by a physician who has bipolar disorder. She states that when you have mental illness, and others know, you lose your right to simply have a bad day.
MB: How do you think the academy should address chronic mental illness?
MD: You would think that academics, and especially social scientists who supposedly stick up for the poor and marginal, would be more comfortable with and forgiving of mental illness, but they are not. It’s part of a larger social phenomenon of stigma. There’s a lot of work being done on mental health recovery (not cure) being done at Yale. One of the team there came to the VA here to give a talk, I can’t remember his name. He pointed out that meaningful engagement in productive work was a big part of recovery. The idea is no longer to get someone completely stable and then back into the world, but to foster recovery by getting people back into the world with support. He then pointed out that employers were very reluctant to hire people with psychiatric disabilities, and that was a problem difficult for the care community to address. Employers often have to be given financial incentives to hire people in psychiatric vocational rehabilitation services.
MB: Not just academic employers, all employers?
MD: Right. These are almost all low wage employers. Clients placed in those jobs tend to leave after six or seven months, and that was thought to be a problem until somebody noted that six or seven months on the job was typical for all employees in these sorts of jobs. At any rate, I wish I had access to that literature to back up what I am saying.
Somebody in the audience asked the speaker what he thought about insurance parity for psychiatric care. He said it was great for people with relatively minor conditions. For those with more severe conditions, unless they have extensive personal or family wealth, they will end up very poor. As I can attest.
When somebody else asked him about social skill training for the mentally ill, he laughed and said it was overrated. Many of his high powered Yale colleagues have horrible social skills.
MB: That’s true anywhere–plenty of lawyers and plumbing contractors have poor social skills. So what should the academy do?
MD: Well, first it should live up to its ideals. One finds an ideology of enlightened inclusiveness in the social sciences and the humanities, but when it comes down to real colleagues, stigma takes over. What should we do, send everyone to NAMI talks? Maybe. What if all the members of the academy who have struggled with mental illness were to “out” themselves? It would shake up the whole academy when we find out that at least 20 percent of us have struggled with mental illness, and not just garden-varity take-your-Prozac depression that often seems fashionable. I say, let’s tell the world about the voices, the suicides, the ECT, the antipsychotics you take that make you fat, the failed relationships, crushed hopes, the shame, the debilitating insomnia … I think that I deserve a hell of a lot of credit for my considerable accomplishments given the difficulties I’ve had. Give me, and others like me, that credit!
The issue is not only stigma, but trust. Let me just add that we are all one happenstance – an illness, an injury – from disability. In five minutes, your whole life can change. As they say in the old Army training films, This Could Happen To You.
MB: How would you characterize the relationship between the tenure stream faculty and faculty serving contingently?
MD: I think benign neglect would be a good term. Work is more than just money, work is identity, dignity, and social relationships. Contingent faculty don’t have those things. Why should permanent faculty reach out to contingent workers when the contingent workers may not be here next term?
I also think that there is classism involved. Adjuncts may be invisible to TT faculty, the same way service workers are often invisible. TT faculty may also feel disdain for adjunct faculty. Why bother with losers?
I was fortunate that my colleagues in my first job were supportive of me. As a full time faculty member, while not TT, I did have daily interaction with colleagues and was able to form those professional relationships that are so important for professional development. And for the pleasure of friendship. I had time and office space to give to students, which most adjuncts don’t have.
MB: Why don’t more more employers understand how important that is to the educational relationship?
MD: Money. What did the religiously-affiliated school do to cover my classes after I resigned? It hired an adjunct, at $1800 a class. The adjunct was willing to teach all 8 classes. Do the math: that is $14.400.
MB: What’s the worst thing about serving contingently?
MD: Pay. Lack of other resources to do a good job. Lack of professional relationships. Lack of professional respect. Lack of belonging.
MB: What is your next step? What do you hope for now?
MD: I was denied SSDI. My most important goal in life is to prevent myself from becoming homeless. My next goal is to stay “homed” and able to keep my dog with me, too. I am now in a 3 week 75 hour course to become a Certified Nursing Assistant. It’s pretty tough work, but health care is the only sector of the economy that is hiring. In fact, the enrollment in these courses, in my case offered by the Red Cross, has increased dramatically due to the recession. My class has 31 students, and many of them have degrees. Many are desperate.
MB: So a lot of people doing this work originally hoped to do something else.
MD: The work of a CNA is often hard, demeaning, and dangerous. Nursing assistants often suffer from back and shoulder injuries and are frequently assaulted. Pay is low, about $10/hour. I cried for two weeks when I realized it may be my only option to prevent homelessness. It’s important work, needed work that deserves more remumeration that it gets, but I worry about my ability to do it, physically and emotionally. My illness makes it dangerous for me to work overnights. Someone who is familiar with job turnover studies will know what I mean when I say that I am going into this work with “the intent to leave.”
However, I am trying to make something of this by approaching it as a opportunity to be an anthropologist. There is a ton of ethnographic research on nursing homes. There is a ton of research done on nursing assistants. There is nothing written from the NA’s point of view.
MB: It’s all from the point of view of patients/customers or management?
MD: I am extremely concerned about patients in long term care and their families. But there is nothing about the content of the CNA courses or the way CNAs are trained. Most of the research on CNAs is based on survey data. It’s an opportunity. I’m keeping a journal of the training and doing content analysis on the text book. I’m all over Google Scholar looking for literature. It’s out there. Unfortunately, without access to an academic library, it is very difficult to get full text papers, and next to impossible to get the scholarly books. I was rebuffed by a librarian at the public library here when I approached her as an “independent scholar.” I wonder if in the world of public libraries, “independent scholar” means “quack.” At any rate, getting a scholarly book through ILL in my local public library is not free, and it certainly is not easy.
Library! give me a library!
My postdoc mentor has responded so positively to my approach to being a CNA, and that is a gift from heaven.
My hope is that I can produce some scholarship that will improve the working lives of first-line caregivers as well as the people they care for. All the literature I’ve see indicates that where nursing assistants are better off, nursing home residents are better off. I think low wage workers and the frail elderly are vulnerable groups whose voices need to be heard, and whose needs deserve to be addressed. That’s me, the critical social theorist.
MB: As an anthropologist, do you see issues with academic culture that you’d like to see explored?
MD: Real versus ideal behavior. Anthropologists tend to be socially, economically, and politically liberal, some even radical. But it is easy to make moralistic statements about social justice from a position of relative financial and social priviledge.
Right now, my anger and resentment make it difficult for me to formulate clear, unbiased research questions. I’m angry, I have my share of self righteousness, but if you were to offer me a place at the banquet, I’d fawn all over you.
Next, video featuring Paul Lauter, Paula Rabinowitz, Gary Rhoades, Jamie Owen Daniel, and others. Contact me if you’d like to tell your story: I’m particularly interested in talking to faculty serving contingently, graduate student employees, and undergraduates working while in school.]]>
All reports of this kind are a compromise, and not all compromises are successful. The authors of this report are frank about being divided on the issue of nontenurable faculty between the meliorative, pragmatic and sometimes apologist position long represented by committee chair David Bartholomae and the view, long represented by committee member Paul Lauter, that a permanently nontenurable faculty is “an illegitimate exercise of institutional authority.”
The effective compromise between these positions is the committee’s endorsement of rights and privileges for the nontenurable that are as similar as possible to those of the tenured. (Elsewhere, I’ve written about this kind of compromise under the heading of “the intricate evasions of as.”)
I don’t think this tension would have been magically resolved by having nontenurable faculty on the committee—I co-chair AAUP’s committee on faculty serving contingently, and can say that most welcome just about any melioration of their condition, but not the patronizing apologetics that usually accompany the fairly pervasive intrusions on their academic freedom, sense of professional belonging, personal dignity, workplace rights, and economic security—often by tenure-stream faculty serving as their immediate supervisors, union reps, and department chairs.
But I do think representation on this kind of committee should map closely onto the profession—with graduate students, faculty serving contingently, and tenured faculty with a track record on the issues in reasonable proportion. (On the AAUP committee, I’m the only tenured member, and serve as co-chair over my own repeated objection.) Many of the facts and lived realities that caught the MLA staff and some of its committee members by surprise are decades-old news to the majority of college faculty.
For me, the single most troubling line of apologetic pursued by the report is its discussion of the “freeway flyer” stereotype of faculty serving contingently.
Who’s not a Freeway Flier?
On page 13, the committee suggests that freeway fliers are only those persons who report a household income of less than $25,000, calculating by this arbitrary and whimsical standard that the group comprises less than twenty percent of all those serving contingently. By contrast, the authors note,
as we know from anecdote and experience, some part-time non-tenure track faculty members are also spouses or partners tenured and tenure-track faculty members; others have full-time jobs elsewhere, or want to maintain contact with the university but prefer not to be subjected to the conditions—especially the publication requirements—of a tenure-track appointment.
Hm. Really not good. Is the report saying that someone teaching on multiple campuses and unable to get degree-appropriate tenure-track work isn’t a “freeway flier” or distressed member of the academic community because they are either a) spouses or partners of tenure-track faculty members or b) married to someone else with a decent income? Isn’t it a problem for this largely female workforce regardless of their marital or cohabitation choices? Given the gendered division of labor here, isn’t this veering into sexism?
Few faculty serving contingently would support this definition, which arbitrarily excludes most freeway flyers from their own lived experience and self-definition and imposes the skeptical ignorance of the dominant gaze. Kinda like: “Well, gee, you don’t look gay.”
What’s the big deal? Well, it both excludes and diminishes the experience of Anonymous, who has lived her career, as she says, “thirty seconds from humiliation,” has a spouse with a decent income, but nonetheless works in the field for which she trained because she needs the money. What about Monica Jacobe, who has been an adjunct on multiple campuses for the better part of a decade and has never made $30,000 in a year? Because they are married to men with doctorates earning more than $50,000 and less than $100,000, the household income of both women is in the upper 20 or 25% of all part-time faculty in English: woo-hoo! Nothing to look at here, folks. These ladies are rolling in it.
It’s hard to understand the point of this particular observation except as apologism or an inept swipe at the Cary Nelson crowd. It’s not as bad as those agitators and malcontents are saying. The adjuncts I know always seem pretty happy when they come to dinner with their spouse. Why, if you look at the numbers, lots of these adjuncts are happy and doing pretty well–some of them are married to millionaires!
A better way to get at this issue would be to track the role of gender, and the role of restructured academic employment in how individuals got into these positions. Instead of implying that everything’s peachy if you’re married to a professor (just ask Melanie Hubbard or the blogger Adjunct Whore), and hinting that they don’t really want to publish, why not ask faculty serving contingently if they’re doing so involuntarily because their spouse’s employer doesn’t have a rational spousal hiring policy? Or because the employer doesn’t make reasonable accommodations for childrearing?
Even the discussion of those who “prefer” part-time employment is problematic. It’s not as if preferring part-time employment means that the individual endorses the conditions under which they serve.
Why not ask if the person would prefer secure “fractional employment” over freeway flying?
Why not ask faculty with children if they’d prefer to be able to move from part-time fractional (and teaching intensive) employment to full-time and/or research-intensive at other points in their careers? That would be actual flexibility, by the way, not the cheap administrator tyranny we have at present.
There are other complaints and cavils to make. The report addresses gender, however imperfectly, but not class and race, or the intersection of class and race in the “wealth gap.”
The committee takes the step of recommending a set ratio of full-time and tenured to part-time faculty to graduate students, but doesn’t explain how it got to the different percentages, or justifying those percentages in the context of other recommendations.
Even as it recommends more tenure in the “lower division,” the report privileges the “upper division,” as if it is necessarily worse to have adjuncts in the upper division. Perhaps the resources of full-time tenure-track faculty are best deployed in the “lower” division—as some recent research suggests.
The report talks about graduate employees as instructors of record but bypasses the issue of their workload, their prospects in the profession and—again–the role of class and the ethnic/racial wealth gap in relentlessly influencing who is eligible to make the economically irrational “choice” to even think about the undergraduate major and the graduate education that fifteen years or more down the road will allow them to join the professoriate.
MLA staff need to much more comprehensively engage the scholarship of higher education employment, and should make a much larger effort to bring the majority faculty serving contingently into active membership and leadership.
In general, this report is a very welcome contribution and significant departure from some of MLA’s bad old ways in the bad old days. Many faculty serving contingently will nonetheless feel that some of its compromise moments represent mis-steps.
These mostly have to do with the managerial orientation of the committee’s chair and–column for another time–the administrative bias in the organization of MLA itself, which caters to department chairs in the ADE/ADFL arrangement, and as a result has steadily privileged the dilemma of the person who “doesn’t have enough resources to staff the department’s offerings” over the situation of the person being pushed into one of the scheduler’s McJobs.
I’ll be saying more about this report in my two appearances at MLA, as will Paul Lauter, one of the committee’s authors. (Which, together with our interview, will be an opportunity to correct any errors on my part!) I’d be glad to see you there.]]>
Part 1: Key facts and kudos
Part 2: Complaints and concerns
Part 3: Interview with Paul Lauter
Most of my blogging between now and early January will relate to the worst-timed gathering in the profession, the Modern Language Assocation annual convention Dec 27-30, with a strong bias toward faculty in English studies.
Feel free to tune out if you don’t care about what happens to one of the largest teaching faculties in the country, encountering nearly every student—including disproportionate encounters with those who don’t earn degrees or never make it out of the first year.
I wouldn’t blame you for not caring much about these teachers—the Modern Language Association has only recently taken real notice of them, having abandoned meaningful consideration of lower-division disciplinary issues to NCTE’s Conference on College Composition and Communication. Ditto for workplace matters, which the late Phyllis Franklin once announced to me was “really AAUP’s job.” English studies is still reaping the fruits of Franklin’s leadership today—a rich, briskly efficient disciplinary association that can’t quite bring itself to reach into the crapper where the discipline’s most immiserated faculty desperately swirl….
That’s why the recent Report on the Academic Workforce (large pdf) is a mixed bag for me personally.
On the one hand, I’m happy and relieved to see some of the major recommendations in this report, and think it takes a number of critical, long-awaited steps in data gathering, angle of analysis, policy thought, and disciplinary self-reflection. It’s the first time I can say that the MLA has made a thoroughgoing effort to describe how faculty are really employed in English, and make recommendations based on that reality. It’s a must-read for anyone in the field.
On the other hand, despite welcoming most of the recommendations, graduate employees and faculty serving contingently—not to mention quite a few of us writing on these issues—can be forgiven their disappointment that it’s taken MLA so long to act on observations and demands that have been made with perfect clarity over the past quarter-century, since the events leading to the landmark Wyoming Conference Resolution. (In one of the interviews she gave about the report, Franklin’s successor Rosemary Feal claims that the shift to a nontenurable faculty has been “rapid and largely unnoticed.” Um, not really.)
It’s a long report, and I have a lot to say about it, plus—I hope—an interview with Paul Lauter, one of the report’s authors, and one of the earliest and best analysts of the role that permatemping began to play in English by the early 1970s. A couple of key facts in this post; more key facts and kudos in the next; complaints, concerns and interview with Paul to follow.
+ Between 1993 and 2004, the hiring of nontenurable faculty continued to dramatically outpace tenure-track hiring in the profession as a whole. In terms of raw numbers, however, most disciplines actually gained tenure track lines, or at least held steady. Political science gained 2.5% new lines; philosophy and religion packed on 43%.
English, however, lost over 3000 tenure track lines, an average annual loss of 300 positions. This amounted to slightly more than 1 in every 10 tenurable position in English—literally a decimation. If that trend proves to have continued—and all indications are that it has–by early next year we will have shed another 1500 lines.
+ Rewards in English are profoundly stratified by gender. While men hold the majority of tenure-track lines in Carnegie Research and Master’s institutions, women hold a substantial majority of tenurable lines at the less prestigious baccalaureate and two-year schools.
Only a third of tenurable positions in community college English departments are held by men. Additionally, women continue to substantially outnumber men in nontenurable positions—both full and part-time at every institution type.
Part 1, with more key facts and kudos regarding some of the recommendations, will continue….]]>
Here are five key pieces of legislation for The One to jump on–like, yesterday– if he wants future historians to give him the “FDR meets Lincoln” treatment he craves. As I’ve previously written, Obama doesn’t have the luxury of hedging his bets, robbing Peter to pay Paul the way Clinton did. He has to go all in and actually accomplish things.
First, he’s got to work for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. The Reagan-Bush mob has used the law and regulatory power dishonestly, as a bludgeon to deprive U.S. workers, including faculty and staff, of internationally-acknowledged rights to organize. 60 million Americans would join unions tomorrow–if there were real protections for human rights in the workplace.
Second, he’s got to stop fooling around with the tissue-paper health care “proposals” he had stuck to his shoes throughout the campaign. He needs to get behind something like Rep. John Conyers’ HR 676 Medicare for All single-payer plan. Watch the news in early January for the 20 (yep, 20) major labor organizations launching the “Labor for Single Payer” campaign.
Third, women on average lose half a million dollars over the course of a lifetime due to the gender wage gap–and that’s just comparing full-time to full-time. Add in the ways that “part-time” employees are ripped off–especially in higher ed–and it’s a boatload more. So it’s time to strengthen the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which passed the House last year, to include 100% equal pay for equal work for part-time employees and then get it past the Senate.
Fourth, as long as we’re on the MomsRising.org agenda, Obama had best pass unemployment modernization–and also strengthen that bill to include provisions specific to faculty serving contingently.
Fifth, back when higher education provided real opportunity and not free job training for corporations, it was free or nearly so. Every state that actually spends money on higher education has slashed that spending over that past four decades: time to put real Federal billions on the table as matching funds with one string for the states accepting it–make public higher education free, period. Cost: $25-40 billion federal, similar in the states–an amount that Adolph Reed presciently said in our interview over a year ago, “that Congress passes out as a tip in corporate welfare.”
Redistribute the wealth? You betcha. Special thanks to Maria Maisto of adj-l for links provided in this piece.]]>
With everyone else getting bailed out, higher education is at an absolutely critical juncture, with profound implications for academic actors at all institution types, and their ambitions to serve racial and economic justice.
On the one hand, yesterday’s major AFT report on the permatemping of the faculty urges the necessity of reversing course on academic staffing. That would imply a greater investment in higher education, almost certainly including substantial federal leadership and funding. Most of the public don’t have any idea how many of the faculty are untenured, and are shocked–not in the Casablanca sense–to learn how much they’re paid. When they are given the true picture, every ordinary taxpayer gets it: something’s wrong when faculty earn less than bartenders; nobody would trust an accountant earning less than a living wage, etc.
On the other hand, as education “leaders” across the country have already made clear, their intentions aren’t really to get together and demand a “bailout” or a “new New Deal for higher ed,” etc. Why not? Instead they seem all too ready with even more grandiose plans for austerity.
That’s because administrations have found four decades of austerity useful to establish greater “productivity” (more work for less pay) and more “responsiveness to mission,” which is to say, more control over curriculum, research, and every dimension of teaching, from class size to pedagogy.
They anticipate the coming years will be even more of an opportunity in this respect. In addition to massive world-historical spending on the military, police, and prison sectors, the diversion of public funds to the financial and industrial sector gives the rhetoric and tactics of austerity a needed shot in the arm: just when we were about to stop falling for the “oh, this year it’s austerity again” rhetoric and demand restoration of public funds to a public good, we have the whole government standing in front of flags with their empty pockets turned out.
Yeah, I’m saying what you think I’m saying.
Many administrators welcome austerity
It’s what they live for. It’s what they know how to do; it’s their whole culture, the reason for their existence, the justification for their salary and perks, the core criteria for their bonuses–the quality way, 5% or 10% cheaper (or 5-10% more entrepreneurial revenue) every year.
Ya gotta be a good earner or pay the price, as quality-manager Tony Soprano liked to say. Toyota plus yakuza, what we used to call “Japanese management theory,” but which now has the unique American flavor of super-casualization and astonishingly crude, hostile anti-labor legislation. (Because we have capital’s gangsters serving in both parties across the nation.)
Not to put too fine a point on it, they’re sweating the serfs in a pretty old-fashioned way: I don’t care how ya do it, ya gotta get me another ten percent next year, or you can “choose” whether you teach more classes or close your department. And they get direct seigneurial rewards–box seats at the jousting, the best cuts of the roast animal, jets and suites for their trysts.
Those of us on the ground in higher education will wonder how much more “productivity” is in fact possible, given that “leaders” have been taking advantage of the rhetoric of crisis for forty years to wring more “productivity”–faculty today teach more students more cheaply than at any point in the history of higher education.
Most of that cheapness has been established by the abuse of the apprentice system–substituting student labor for faculty labor, including increasingly undergraduate labor–or by abusing the notion of “flexibility” to establish a permanently “temporary” faculty working for peanuts. As I’ve been warning for fifteen years, the academy is moving toward realizing a sick ideal: reserving tenure for those who self-fund (by grants doled out by corporations) and those who administer a 100% casual labor force.
[I’ll save a full-fledged discussion of “technology” as a magic productivity bullet for another day, but David Noble and I agree, and most technology vendors admit, that courseware “productivity” gains are all about justifying larger class sizes, greater standardization, and the use of cheap nonfaculty, parafaculty, or student labor. There are good uses of classroom technology, and they all involve more, not less, faculty labor time. Where courseware does sometimes “improve teaching,” it’s generally because the teaching methods had already eroded to “information download” in the first place, typically in huge lecture halls followed by course-content testing.]
This is not a partisan political issue–as I’ve said before, Clinton and Gore via “quality in governance” are just as responsible for “increasing productivity” (but gutting education) by permatemping and extracting donated labor via “service,” “interns” (make your own joke here–I’m not in the mood today), and the like.
Republicans and Democrats share the wrong idea that squeezing the faculty has been to “control costs,” when in fact it’s just been to accumulate pots of either money (to spend on administrator perks, salaries, and sponsored projects or favored activities, especially big-time sports or, at religious institutions, social engineering) or capital (buildings, endowments, media infrastructure, investment in ventures and partnerships).
As a result of bipartisan belief in the fiction of benevolent austerity, the faculty infrastructure has crumbled. Most nontenurable faculty don’t do service; the remaining tenurable minority have seen their service loads double and triple, in addition to increased research expectations, larger classes, greater assessment burdens, longer terms in administration, and so on.
Even among the few tenurable faculty that won’t serve in some administrative capacity or as grant-getters, most have shouldered the permanent, career-long burden of participating in the perma-temp/apprenticeship system: admitting, training, supervising & evaluating grad student employees and/or hiring, training, and supervising the permanently temporary. The majority of both groups leave within a few years, creating a constant cycle of hire-train-supervise-evaluate, and then hire again.
Faculty senates have become in most cases all but toothless–administrations actively encourage and preserve them as a useful “garbage can” for faculty opinion, an “energy sink” for troublemakers, as any higher-ed organizational theorist will tell you. Many faculty unions just preserve the interests of the tenured minority at the expense of student and casual faculty labor. Shared governance is in disarray–at most institutions, the administration has near-total control of the faculty: certainly of the nontenurable majority, but also of the tenurable, because their numbers are so small, or because they are married to a vulnerable nontenurable person, or because they have become acculturated to act self-interestedly, chase corporate dollars, etc.
After four decades, the results of this near-total administrative control and a cheap, “highly productive” faculty workforce are clear: it stinks. Student success rates by any measure are a racist, class-specific national embarrassment. White men have the highest paying jobs in higher education; women work disproportionately in insecure positions and poorly paid fields, and higher education as “job training” reproduces similar trends in the larger economy.
Consequences for Diversifying the Faculty
Faculty identifying themselves as of Hispanic or African heritage comprise about 9% of the faculty, at a rate of about one-third of the percentage of persons similarly identifying themselves in the general population (less if one includes those identifying as multiracial).
This substantial disproportion is the more noteworthy considering that rectifying the disproportion has for some time represented an area of substantial agreement between most faculty and administrators, as well as substantial external actors in legislatures, foundations, corporate philanthropists, etc etc. , and that numerous initiatives have been in place to address it for decades.
Some of the reasons for this have to do with what Kozol dubs the “savage inequalities” of K-12 education and the larger society, including the wealth gap. Non-Hispanic white households are on average seven times wealthier than African-American and Hispanic households: impoverishing the public sphere, including education and higher education, disadvantages the poor and therefore disproportionately disadvantages African-Americans and Hispanics.
Higher-ed quality management has radically increased that disadvantage. By relying on the “psychic wage” to push actual compensation for faculty work lower and lower, so that the majority work for what used to be called pin money, with much of the same gendered implications, they’ve turned faculty work into an “irrational” economic decision–a luxury lifestyle choice that persons from wealthier circumstances are far more likely to make than those from modest circumstances.
Since non-Hispanic white households are wealthier, they’re on average more “free” to make this choice than others.
The unfreedom to choose faculty life runs all the way down a decades-long series of decisions about one’s education–where one goes to school and feels comfortable in school, where one majors and where one’s peers are majoring, whether one can choose graduate school and in what field, and how one feels about the way graduate school is funded, etc. It is a structural and cultural reality, with structural inequalities influencing cultural values, norms, and fields of individual perception and actual possibility.
As today’s Chronicle reports, stark disparity persists in the number of minority students earning doctorates despite three three decades of concerted federal, administrative, and foundation efforts. A Council of Graduate Schools study has concluded that diversifying doctoral programs rests on fundamentally improving “the academic climate for all of their students.”
The same is true for diversifying the faculty. No true diversification of the faculty can occur as long as the majority of teaching is done as lightly-paid volunteerism by those who can afford it as a lifestyle choice.
We cannot afford to let Obama take the austerity bait and “make college more affordable” by further eroding the faculty infrastructure, substituting online test modules and undergraduate tutors for faculty interaction. This will only compound the train wreck of the past four decades.
AFT is right. To diversify the faculty, improve learning outcomes and make higher education a place where the ethnically and economically subordinated can once more enjoy freedom, Obama must provide leadership on “reversing course” in academic staffing.
He can make college more affordable while reversing austerity in staffing by investing in it, and “incentivizing” states to invest in it, especially by demanding high ratios of full-time tenurable faculty–including tenure for those who primarily teach, and are vetted for good teaching by other good teachers by reasonable, sound holistic measures, not fake quickie metrics. He can provide leadership by demanding accountability from management.
Obama is a poker player. That’s a good thing–poker’s not gambling; it’s a game of political skill, nerve, daring, and ambition.
He has no choice but to call the bet handed him by the economic situation, but the right play is to raise the stakes, as FDR was eventually forced to do: “I call your several trillion and raise you a couple more!”
Having the courage to raise the stakes will separate Obama from Clinton for the history books in the way we hope and need. Clinton guarded his chips. Obama will have to go all in.]]>
The top 10% of American households represent over 70% of U.S. net worth (and 80% of stock ownership).
The bottom 90% splits the rest.
By the way: ever ask yourself how the degree-inappropriate salaries of higher education shape the racial composition of the professoriate? The chart below contains all the information you need to figure it out for yourself. Which group is best positioned to subsidize not just graduate school but a lifetime of low wages?
Median net worth by race, 2004