And right you are. But since I’m a rich and powerful chunk of media capital with a stake in the answer, I don’t care what you think, and I’m free to compound the injury by holding a false “debate” on a question that unfairly asks one side to argue for its existence.
Enter The New York Times and its latest bungled attempt at analyzing higher ed, which just riffs on a piece reported by Robin Wilson for the Chronicle. As if framing a loaded question weren’t enough, they stack the deck, a couple of different ways. In the more obvious manipulation of the lineup, opponents of tenure outnumber proponents 3-2.
More importantly: in a debate about the “demise” of tenure,” the debate’s framers don’t include any voices of persons who are living the circumstances they purport to examine: the life of career faculty, full time or part time, with a teaching-intensive load and a nontenurable contract. One participant is on a nontenurable research contract–for a Harvard outfit that does management consulting for higher-ed administration, natch. But that’s like dressing up the testimony of someone who’s always driven a Rolls as the honest voice of straphangers–the near-volunteer faculty on freaking food stamps, like Monica, Andy, and many others.
As it turns out, 95% of the sense made in this debate is contained in the 40% assigned to the pro-tenure folks. AAUP president Cary Nelson patiently explains the centrality of tenure for academic freedom, and USC’s Adrianna Kezar, points to the real debate we should be having–about the high cost of nontenurable hiring in higher education, especially for the majority of faculty whose appointments are teaching-intensive, and the students they try to serve in the unsavory conditions management has created.
In the Opinion of L. Ron Hubbard…
Excepting a couple of minor points by the nontenurable researcher/management consultant, the anti-tenure side had little to offer beyond witless praise for The Market. Remember the the Planet of the Apes sequel where the surviving mutant humans live in a cave and worship the Holy Bomb that destroyed them?
It’s like that, including the gallows flavor to the campy humor, once you rip off the masks of the robed ritualistas:
Batting first for the NYT education-capitalist home team is Richard Vedder, perennial flack for the neo-cons at the American Enterprise Institute. His line here, that tenure “reduces intellectual diversity,” is just warmed-over David Horowitz, long debunked by any serious study. The fact is that more academics fear for their academic freedom today than in the McCarthy era–because they lack access to tenure, not the other way around.
Playing new kid in the lineup is Mark C. Taylor, a distance education entrepreneur with books and interests ranging from religion and organization theory to management and–I am not making this up–stealing dirt from the graves of famous persons.
Taylor’s data-free ruminations bear as much connection to the actual world of higher education as Scientology does to particle physics. He’s the fellow that bemoaned per-course salaries “as low as” five grand (!) and basically acts as if you could still arm-chair analyze the academic labor system, which is nearly 80% contingent, as if it were a “market” in tenure-track jobs.
Taylor’s retread analysis is straight outta 1972: “If you were a CEO,” he begins, and races downhill from there. Dunno, Mark: If I was the CEO of my neighborhood… If I was the CEO of my marriage… If I was the CEO of this poker game… If I was the CEO of your church… If I was the CEO of the planet… If my dad were my CEO… If I were the CEO of this one-night stand… If I was the CEO of this classroom… If I was the CEO of this audience at this Green Day concert…
Gosh, Mark. Seems like some social organizations and relationships shouldn’t have CEOs at all.
Wait, there’s more. Taylor goes on to, like, use math and stuff because it sounds good when you’re talking about money. He figures out the lifetime cost of paying tenured faculty and boggles, claiming that funding this commitment “would require” four million in endowment now and thirty million thirty years from now. Et voila! Clearly, then, paying faculty anything at all is impossible! QE freaking D, lads and ladies.
Of course the fact that most faculty aren’t paid out of endowments at all but, like, from tuition and appropriations and grants and stuff, does create some stumbles among the seraphim in Taylor’s elegant pin-top choreography.
I did say that the anti-tenure side contributed 5% of the sense out of the 60% of the space allotted to them.
That modicum goes to Cathy Trower of Harvard’s COACHE, like the handbag, with an elegant E for education.
Her project is like a higher-ed stepchild version, less mean and less well-funded, of Harvard’s toxic b-school/ed-school partnership–you know, the folks that brought you Arne Duncan.
Unlike her comrades, Trower actually thinks about tenure and correctly advocates for a less rigid understanding of it. Somewhat overdramatically, she proposes blowing up the tenure system and starting over with a new constitutional convention:
Some features of a newly imagined faculty workplace might include variable probationary periods, with extensions for parenthood, rather than a fixed seven-year up-or-out provision for tenure; a tenure track for faculty members focused on teaching; a non-tenure track that affords a meaningful role in shared governance; interdisciplinary centers with authority to be the locus of tenure; broader definitions of scholarship and acceptable outlets and media to “publish” research….
Most of these notions, of course, are very sensible, and versions of them are in place all over the country. No need to lug jerrycans of petrol to the bonfire. It’s not until we get to Trower’s stealthy last two suggestions (“tenure for a defined period of time; and the option to earn salary premiums while forgoing tenure entirely”) that we see that the NYT was perfectly fair to run her piece under the headlines “How to Start Over” and “Get Rid of (Tenure).” Trower conveniently left these out of the version she published two years ago in AAUP’s Academe.
Most Tenured Faculty ARE on a Teaching Track
If Trower were better informed about what’s actually going on, she’d be aware that all of her reasonable suggestions have distinguished histories as well as plenty of contemporary reality. Rendered most invisible by Trower’s crowing from the business-administration battlements is the suggestion that we need to invent a “tenure track for faculty members focused on teaching.”
In 1970, the overwhelming majority of tenured faculty were on teaching-intensive appointments. Even today, after four decades of hiring teaching-intensive appointments nontenurably (full-time and part-time), tenured teaching-intensive faculty out-number tenured research-intensive faculty as much as two to one.
The idea that “tenured” equates to teaching 6 hours a week or fewer is just silly propaganda. And I for one am sick of liberal bastions like Harvard and the NYT passing off propaganda as scholarship.
Including propaganda that has numbers in it: for crying out loud, my math-avoidant friends, the whole meaning of the expression that “there are lies, damned lies, and statistics” is that any paid mouthpiece, windbag or liar can claim to be “data-driven.”
I mean, Cathy, let’s be real here.
MANAGEMENT has spent the last four decades actively dismantling a long-existing “tenure track for faculty members focussed on teaching.” Now you lean out from the windows of your Lear jet to shout that we need to hold a constitutional convention to invent it?
You folks at Harvard oughta know that “data-driven” should mean something more than running a bunch of surveys. It should mean some reasonable attempt at a connection with the facts.
Regular readers know I’ve been pointing out the epic badness of the New York Times’ reporting on higher education for some time now. For what it’s worth, I have it on good authority that more than one academic journal is interested in taking a closer look at media bias in higher education coverage.
Of course this is a little like saying I know several clever Davids prepared to flip the bird at slow-witted Goliath. On the other hand, one of them might prove to own a slingshot.]]>
Eric Lee’s Labour Start clearinghouse for global labor news has just announced nominees for its first-ever award, Labor Video of the Year. Two of the five finalists are inspired by working conditions in higher ed. I think both are among the three likeliest to win.
My top choice is the clever, often hilarious series of 30-second spots produced for the three-month strike by the union representing 50% of the teaching faculty at Canada’s York University, CUPE 3903.
Eventually ended by an extraordinary legislative intervention, this legal job action was strongly supported by undergraduates and tenure-stream faculty, who joined the picket lines of contingent faculty and grad students at this leading research institution.
Featuring extremely high production values and great writing, the videos use just a few frames to effectively communicate the hypocrisy of the administration, and the explotation of contingent faculty and graduate students.
A close runner-up is The Janitor, tracking the daily experiences of campus custodial staff–many of whom are also current or former students.
In my view the strongest competition to both entries is provided by a snarky Australian effort, What Have the Unions Ever Done For Us? (Answer: duh, pretty much everything you take for granted in terms of the workplace, from sick leave to the eight-hour day.)
If you’re interested, LS offers a comprehensive bibliography of labor video. You can view and vote on all of the videos in this year’s competition yourself.
Other Left-Labor News
Don’t miss this year’s amazing line-up at Left Forum this weekend in NYC, including plenty of discussion of California events, and featured remarks by Piven, Jackson, Ollman, and Chomsky, among hundreds of others.
AAUP members, please be sure to vote in this year’s officer elections. Cary Nelson is up for re-election, and for the first time non-geographical at-large candidates are up for election to the national Council, representing a lot of new blood for the organization. (I was, ahem, on the nominating commitee, so I know.)
As I wrote in advance of the national day of action on March 4, those events were just the second act. The real question is what will happen when the West Coast schools begin their third quarter in early April. At UC Irvine, the possibilities are foreshadowed by a call for an M4 sequel, or a wave of occupations and other bold direct actions (like the blockade of freeway 1-880) on Tuesday, May 4, the 40th anniversary of the Kent State killings. I’ll write more about these events as the time nears.
By the way, if you are among the modest handful disappointed by my having to cancel out of the UC-Irvine Humanities Center colloquium last month, I’ll be up the road at UCLA on Monday afternoon, May 3, doing a tag-team event with Chris Newfield for Robert Brenner’s Center for Social Theory and Comparative History. The topic, unsurprisingly: “The Future of Public Higher Education in California.”]]>
Courtesy of AAUP’s new video series, Voices of the AAUP, you can catch me on tape for a change. In the short piece I respond to questions about faculty democracy and work-life balance.
More entertaining video is provided by the Ad-hoc Post-Tenure UnderAppreciated Band, and more important thoughts are shared by faculty serving contingently, for instance Jeanette Jeneault, Jonathan Karpf and Marcia Newfield.]]>
Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red
drops for history to remember. Then–I forget.
When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the
People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer
forget who robbed me last year, who played me for
a fool–then there will be no speaker in all the world
say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a
sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision.
–from Carl Sandburg, “I am the People”
A few months ago, Eileen Schell wrote me along the lines of the Sandburg poem above. “We have a habit of reinventing ourselves” with respect to the academic labor issues that are so evident in rhetoric and composition, she said, “People wake up and start things, then they atrophy or people get burned out and do other things or opt out.”
I guess this is the typical nature of anything, but I’ve found it to be particularly true of labor issues in our field. It’s on people’s radar screen, they work on it for awhile, then they get on to other things , burn out, or just drift away. Some avoid labor issues like the plague! Most people don’t know the history of labor issues in our field/larger culture, either, and don’t seem to feel responsible for our complex labor history—it’s almost as if every time labor issues come up, it’s there for the first time because people are feeling it differently based on where they are and who they are and how much time they have to even get into any of this history when they are fighting to survive. Yet there is a basic level of literacy that [we] should have, I think. That’s why I get impatient…
The occasion of our correspondence was messaging via Facebook with Seth Kahn to revive the Labor Special Interest Group (SIG) at this week’s Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) up the peninsula in San Francisco. If you’ll be at CCCC, and you want to participate, be sure to join Seth, Eileen, and a few dozen others at the Hotel Serrano at 5pm on Thursday, March 12.
If you can’t be there, be sure to watch for the splendid oral history of the Wyoming Resolution that Eileen is preparing with Jim McDonald. Already two of the major figures in the events leading to the resolution, James Slevin and James Sledd, have passed away. McDonald and Schell’s aim, they say, is to use “history as a whip” to those who encourage forgetfulness and silence. And rightly so.
I’ll be making a short appearance with Eileen at a workshop for faculty serving contingently, mostly talking about the successes, failures, and stresses connected with an effort to stabilize some writing faculty here at Santa Clara. In a nutshell, my conclusion is that the writing faculty involved succeeded to the extent they self-organized, and failed to the extent they relied on tenure-stream faculty and/or administrators to do the right thing/take pity on them/fix their problems from above, etc, etc.
The all-day workshop will be held at the Hilton Wednesday March 11 and is organized by the very thoughtful Greg Zobel. The workshop features a lineup of persons who are extremely visible writers, researchers and organizers in the movement. These are the best brains in academic labor, and well worth your time. They range from old hands like the essential Joe Berry to newer faces. Monica Jacobe, who is on her way to being a YouTube celebrity, will even sign your t-shirt.
Sue Doe: researching faculty serving contingently at a large university;
Monica Jacobe: the national picture of contingent appointments
Betsy Smith: using research in contract/union negotiations
Gregory Zobel: blogging about faculty serving contingently;
Sandy Baringer: newspaper writing, editing, and publishing
Michael Dixon: professor smartass
Bob Samuels: professional development funding;
Joe Berry: participatory action research; organizing
Marc Bousquet: employment security for faculty serving contingently;
Eileen Schell: translation of research to practice; the pov of administration.
Accompanying the story by culture reporter Patricia Cohen is a photograph of a forlorn-looking UT-Austin doctoral candidate in sociology who “after two dozen applications” still “has no job offer.”
Zounds! Shocking! He cut and pasted the addresses of twenty-four search committees into a job letter, and the capable young fellow still doesn’t have a tenure track job?By jove, it must be “the bad economy” causing this sad state of affairs!
Indeed so, Cohen informs us, duly noting that half the candidate’s rejection letters mention the economy and that there were “300 applications” to some of the positions the young fellow found interesting.
Cohen’s piece goes on to acknowledge that tenure-track positions “have been hard to come by in recent decades.”
But that’s an interesting locution. She may as well have said “the United States has not had legal apartheid in recent decades” or “Harry Truman has not been president in recent decades.”
In point of fact, Cohen uses this locution as butt-cover because her analysis is dead wrong. To prop up her thesis (which makes the news peg the causal focus of the story) she uses inapplicable evidence, like the 300 applications (news? not!) and quotes inexpert “authorities” saying ridiculous things.
As a result the reporting in the lead paragraphs of the story is essentially puppetry: after the sad grad student she has NYU grad-union buster Catherine Stimpson pop up to prattle, “This is a year of no jobs!”
Um, no. It’s actually a year of maybe 25% fewer tenure-track jobs. That’s a modest cupful in the overflowing bucket of reasons for the disappointment and possibly nontenurable future of our young sociologist.
Most of the people who won’t get tenure track jobs this year, like last year, and every year since 1968 (that’s all four “recent decades,” but who’s counting?), won’t get them because universities have substituted casual student labor for full-time faculty and staff positions.
Student Perma-Temping, Not “The Economy”
Why did campus employers substitute student workers for faculty and staff labor?
Because it’s cheaper in salary and benefits, and they prefer to use the money saved on salary to do different things–build business centers and stadiums, or go into venture capitalism by starting e-learning scams, trying to patent intellectual property, and so on.
That means that many campuses have undergraduate carpenters, truck loaders, nurses’ assistants, and nannies, and graduate students working as faculty.
At elite privates, the undergraduate truck loaders might come from the nearby public campus; at community colleges, the adjunct faculty might be graduate students who have gone non-status while hoping to finish their dissertation.
This isn’t good for anyone’s education: the only virtue of the arrangement is its cheapness, and that cheapness hasn’t lowered tuition; it’s simply served to provide money pots for high-rolling administrators to spend on favored projects and the expansion of the business curriculum. It’s also created a need to expand the ranks of management to train and supervise the constantly-churning mass of student and other casual workers.
Fixing this lousy arrangement could provide millions of jobs. Graduate students shouldn’t be teaching their asses off, and undergraduates should be working a lot less too. Many forms of this “work as financial aid” or extreme work-study are essentially using up and spitting out young people as disposable labor–costing them their chance at degrees, not enabling them.
It wouldn’t cost very much to support students on a kind of GI Bill.
And there sure are plenty of highly-qualified people eager to do the work that higher education employers have handed off to students and other casual employees.
That’s the issue, and it’s time we started holding the New York Times and its “cultural reporters” responsible for accurate analysis. Indeed, when Cohen reported on the dusty news of the Nixon tapes, recently, she put a lot more effort into getting the story straight, and when she still screwed up, editors at the paper complained about it. In public. In their paper.
Why don’t we hold her higher education reporting–which affects tens of millions of people right now–to the same standards that we hold her discussion of the Nixon tapes, which is at least moderately less urgent?
Ignoring Both Evidence and Testimony
It isn’t just the fact of four decades of student casualization that the piece fails to digest, or the fact that it misrepresents the hundreds of applications for a single position as a) news or b) having anything to do with the economy (unless “the economy” has been plotting against those students for over a decade, when they first went to grad school!).
Even Cohen’s inexpert sources are trying to tell Cohen the truth. She eventually quotes Columbia’s Andrew Delbanco on the gap between apprenticeship and “insecure laborers,” notes that half of all positions are part time, and pastes in several sentences from one of Bill Pannapacker’s “don’t go to grad school” op eds at the Chron. She even quotes Luke Menand, who like Delbanco is no expert on academic labor, saying that grad students spend too much time working.
However the analysis –or the germ of an analysis–implicit in these comments makes no dent on the piece’s cheerful need to hang on a news peg, ie, that “the economy” did it… in the stock market… with a brass endowment.
But the truth is that campus employers did it… in their administration of higher education seminars… with student labor… and the collaboration of tenure-stream faculty… who were just like most other U.S. senior workers, in collaborating with management to keep their good deal at the expense of young workers.
Was that so hard? Sure, it’s easier to play “the market” explains everything, but that kind of faux analysis is best left to Karl Rove and Fox News. And for crying out loud, journalists are living the same permatemping as the faculty, under the same quality management gutting the public sphere under both Republicans and Democrats–all you have to do is watch The Wire.
Dear Ms. Cohen
Yes, Catherine Stimpson and Luke Menand have graduate students, but they also have livers without therefore being expert gastroenterologists.
You didn’t have to call me individually, but you ought to have talked to someone at AAUP. Cary Nelson, Jane Buck or Gary Rhoades could have set you straight, or staffer Gwen Bradley, who specializes in permatemping. All of the academic unions have reams of data and good analysis of these issues–you didn’t talk to any of them? At your own paper, Stanley Fish’s obtuse and narcissistic mention of a recent book on the question by Frank Donoghue sold several hundred copies for its publisher, Fordham. Your readers clearly want a real explanation by folks actually thinking about the issue, not random bloviation.
Since you were featuring a grad student in sociology, you could have called one of the premier sociological thinkers in the country and experts in the crisis of higher education employment, Stanley Aronowitz. Or his colleague at the head of the CUNY union, Barbara Bowen.
You don’t like CUNY? Okay, at NYU you could have called Randy Martin or Andrew Ross. What about Joel Westheimer, who they illegally fired for supporting the grad student union, despite having the support of his entire discipline? Or any of the grad students themselves, who are doing better analysis of their employment than Stimpson.
Let’s do a better job next time, Ms. Cohen.
We expect more from the New York Times, and given the role that educators play in making that paper a leading national voice, we deserve better. Or else perhaps we should be looking for alternatives.]]>
Last week’s appointment of Wilma Liebman to chair the NLRB is extremely welcome news to graduate employees and other academic workers.
The author of a scathing dissent to the Bush mob’s truculent Brown decision, Liebman adds serious credibility to hopeful interpretations of the Cabinet-level nomination of Hilda Solis.
Obama will not fix academic labor’s problems from above, but he will ensure that labor has the chance to exercise workplace rights. (Though the choice to practice workplace democracy, as those with experience will attest, is just the beginning of a long and arduous road!)
Liebman’s acceptance of the position is particularly heartening:
Democracy in the workplace is still basic to a democratic society, and collective bargaining is still basic to a fair economy. The statute we administer is the foundation of America’s commitment to human rights recognized around the world.
You can view my interviews with NYU and Chicago grad employees on this YouTuibe playlist. Graduate employee unionization in the U.S. is more advanced at public institutions, and organizing at private schools stalled for a while in the aftermath of the reversal of the NYU decision in the Brown case, but there has been a resurgence of militancy among grad employees at private institutions.
GSU and GSOC-UAW are at very different stages of the organizing process. The interview with members of Graduate Students United at the University of Chicago is a snapshot of an emerging union drive at a private institution. They reflect on the benefits of organizing, whether unionism is an end in itself, and on the nature, purpose, and extent of democracy in higher education.
The activists from GSOC-UAW at NYU are at an entirely different point in their experience. They reflect on a successful organizing drive and first contract, setbacks with the NLRB, a failed strike, the strategy of continuous organizing, the administration’s response, and other topics. Their struggle represents some of the greatest successes and also some of the greatest setbacks in graduate employee labor organizing so far, and as such is especially worthy of detailed study.
The folks of GSOC argue that politics, politicians, and legislation follow activism and self-organization. As they point out in the clip above (part 3 of 4) the TRACBRA legislation that would ensure bargaining rights for teaching and research assistants — that’s a gesture, a drop in the bucket. It’s important, but nowhere near as important as self-organization.
See part 1 of the GSOC-UAW video: A Union Cannot Stand Alone.
See part 2 of the GSOC-UAW video: A Culture of Continuous Organizing.
See part 3 of the GSOC-UAW video: Politics, Organizing and the NLRB
See part 4 of the GSOC-UAW video: Shame on You, NYU.
Also see the book edited by some of the folks interviewed here, The University Against Itself with Andrew Ross, and a special issue of Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor, edited by Christopher Carter, Beyond the Picket Line: Academic Organizing After the Long NYU Strike.
Carter has written an especially good assessment of the core point made by the GSOC folks in this video–the crucial role of campus alliances, in his just-released Rhetoric and Resistance in the Corporate Academy (Hampton, 2008). Chapter 4, “The Student as Organic Intellectual,” tracks the importance of undergraduate USAS activists in GSOC’s successful first round of bargaining.
Graduate Students United (at U. Chicago):
Part 1: Why Grad Employees Unionize
Part 2: Ballad of the Dissertators
Part 3: Pushback
Part 4: Unions and Academic Democracy
17th Annual Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions Conference
Hosted by GESO in New Haven, CT. July 31-August 3 2008
8th International Conference of the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor
Hosted by COCAL-California, San Diego State University. August 8-10, 2008
4th Annual Canadian Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions Conference
Hosted by GTA-Union at the University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario. August 7-9, 2008.
The real draw was the more timely panel featuring Stanley Fish debating critics of his notion that faculty should shut up and “do their jobs.” (Staging a meeting between Horowitz and an articulate critic has been done before.)
As many others have pointed out, where students have been given the chance to protest grades based on faculty political bias, they rarely do so. The few complaints made are even more rarely upheld, and are just as likely to be claims of right-wing bias.
In my view, Horowitz is manufacturing a problem in order to push a real agenda: ie, by making exaggerated and often simply ridiculous claims about left-wing bias in classroom instruction and the “danger” that faculty political beliefs represent to student learning, he wishes to sweepingly institute affirmative action for right-wing scholars in hiring, and employ “intellectual diversity” as a wedge to force conservative ideas onto curricula.
The author of The Art of Political War: How Republicans Can Fight to Win, Horowitz has openly identified himself as a partisan political operative, receives substantial right-wing foundation funding, but wishes to represent himself as casually thrown up by a grassroots student movement.
On the other hand, faculty and graduate students are finding that their academic freedom is under actual, sustained and intensifying assault.
This is most obvious among the faculty serving nontenurably, now the overwhelming majority of college faculty. Not counting graduate students, or factoring for widespread administrative under-reporting, in 2005 at least 70% of all U.S. faculty served on nontenurable appointments.
Nontenurabililty is the norm of academic employment; therefore it is now simply normal for college faculty to enjoy little to no protection of their academic freedoms, as Cary Nelson makes clear in one of the more popular videos in our series. The precariousness of their employment means that most can be retaliated against for almost any speech or action, without the administration engaging in due process (or even giving a reason) by the simple expedient of non-reappointment.
As reported in this month’s Academe, in one particularly egregious case investigated by AAUP’s Committee A, a North Idaho faculty member serving contingently was retaliated against by an administration that had a beef with her tenured spouse.
The report concludes:
The case of Jessica Bryan exemplifies the plight of many contingent faculty members: vulnerable and insecure no matter how long and how well they might have served their institution. An experienced, highly regarded parttime English instructor with thirteen uninterrupted semesters of teaching at North Idaho College, Ms. Bryan was informed by e-mail on the last day of the fall 2007 semester that the administration would not offer her any courses to teach in the spring (or any time thereafter, it would appear) despite the fact that other part-time instructors junior to her in years of service were being assigned courses she had taught for more than six years and the administration engaged new instructors to teach some of those courses in fall 2008. When she asked for a substantive explanation for its decision not to reappoint her, the administration, through college counsel, declined to do so. When she requested an opportunity for faculty review of her claim that inadequate consideration had been given to her qualifications and that the decision resulted in significant measure from impermissible considerations, the administration, again through college counsel, told her that the contract governing her temporary appointment afforded her no such rights.
So far from the intellectual “threats” and “dangers” that Horowitz imagines, most faculty are in fact reticent and easily intimidated, living perpetually “30 seconds from humiliation,” just as Anonymous describes.
The report goes on to suggest the “chilling effect” that the absence of protections has on the contingent faculty majority. They might well have added to that the chilling effect that the ability to do this to one’s spouse or partner has on many of the tenured–some estimates calculate that at least a third of all faculty partners are other faculty.
Dangerous? One can only wish that every campus had a handful of faculty who were half the threat that Horowitz imagines.
Coming attractions: new video featuring Paul Lauter and Gary Rhoades, among many others….]]>
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.]]>
Above, Part 2 of my interview with Melanie Hubbard, a Columbia Ph.D. with articles, an NEH fellowship, and a book contract, who has never been interviewed for a tenure-track job while serving on full-time contingent appointments for 10 years. You can also see part 1, and read Hubbard’s own article on her experience, which I’ve partly extracted below.
Knowledge workers are now disproportionately female, providing a downwardly mobile second income – and volunteer labor – if they choose to remain in the profession at all. Think about it: In order to earn a modest yearly income, say $33,000, an adjunct would have to teach 20 courses at $1,650 per course – an impossibility, and twice the workload of her salaried peers.
Americans would not tolerate having their surgeries performed by itinerant doctors paid by the piece (Dr. Barber will be doing your prostatectomy for about 20 bucks in the back of his car – he’s not a urologist, but don’t worry, he does these all over the state), so why would we tolerate the reduction of the teaching profession to wage slavery? Why do institutions with adjunct rates above 40 percent continue to receive accreditation? Perhaps the public is simply unaware of the problem, but students are aware.
“I’ve been going to this school for two years, and you’re the first real professor I’ve had!” a student said to my husband. That was 15 years ago. Students are paying much more for much less: Tuition has outpaced inflation by 3-1, while the full-time professoriate has dwindled in the midst of surging student enrollments. First- and second-year courses are now routinely subcontracted, so students are getting less than they ever have while working harder and harder, or amassing crushing debt, to pay for it.
Of the “abysmal” prospects for those wishing to become professors, Robbi Rhodes, a graduate student at Ohio State, told me, “I don’t think I’d encourage students to go to grad school – not in good conscience.” About to finish her dissertation in Victorian literature and science, she’ll give her own job search another year. And if it doesn’t work out? “I’ll go to medical school.”
The hard truth is that colleges and universities have figured out that it pays to exploit the workers. Financial setbacks and pressure from states unwilling to fund higher education have led to a corporate profit-seeking model which bears little relation to the educational mission.
This near-famine for the professoriate has direct consequences for students. Studies indicate, for instance, that the more community colleges rely on part-time labor, the lower the graduation rate of their students. Part-time faculty generally share office space with as many as 50 other part-timers, making student conference time haphazard at best. But individual attention is the backbone of most real education, and the student’s relationship with a faculty member forms the basis for the all-important letters of recommendation the student will need when applying for a job or further education.
–extracted from Professors Take The Long Course in Poverty by Melanie Hubbard, St. Petersburg Times, January 6, 2008]]>
The videos will begin releasing again in May, about 1 per week. They include great interviews with AAUP past president Jane Buck and California faculty unionists Robert Samuels, Susan Meisenhelder, and Elizabeth Hoffman; a twofer with Steven Mailloux and Patty Harkin, a blistering conversation with Sid Dobrin, a view from the dark side of administration with Joe Urgo, gloomy thoughts on the future of academic freedom with John Wilson, and much, much more. Each video takes about 8 hours to edit and publish, so once a week is about the best I can do. And when I’m doing family videography, the series goes on hold!
While I’m traveling this month for a series of book-related appearances, I’ll have my video gear and be collecting another 20 or so interviews–with academic staff, faculty serving contingently, and working undergraduates, as well as with thinkers and activists like Stanley Aronowitz. If you’ll be near one of my talks and are interested in telling your story on camera, please let me know and I’ll reserve a few minutes to talk. Each interview takes about 20 minutes, and I can store about 10 per trip on my camera’s hard drive.]]>