You never know what blog posts you write will strike a nerve. Last Tuesday’s entry was really no different than anything else I’ve written about adjuncts in this space, but I think the title, “The adjunct problem is every professor’s problem,” captured a sentiment that really needed to be said. Unfortunately for me, capturing a sentiment that needed to be said was clearly the easy part.
“What, Jonathan, do you suggest that full-time faculty do to stem the tide of adjunctification and put us back on course?,” asked one of the commenters to that post. You mean I can’t just pontificate and let action-orientated people decide what the next step is? Sigh. That’s a difficult but fair question, so after some thinking I want to see if I can offer three answers to that question this week, in increasing order of importance.
When I worked for the AFL-CIO in DC back in the last century, we occasionally spent the day organizing for the Washington local of the Hotel Employees/Restaurant Employees union (HERE). They handed us leaflets in many languages, then we’d enter some Marriott out on the Beltway, take the employee elevator up, getting off at different floors. From there we’d hand out leaflets until the security guards found us and asked us to leave, hoping the whole time that we wouldn’t get arrested. Afterwards, when they took us out to eat, the union guys absolutely refused to bus their tables. “They should hire more workers to do that,” they’d say. I thought of them coming back from my trip on Saturday when I saw that the Schlotzky’s in the Denver Airport has installed computerized ordering machines. You press buttons with pictures of your sandwich and condiments on it, then swipe your credit card. That way, only two people had to work the front of the house. It didn’t look as if their jobs had become any easier, and I’ll bet you anything that those two weren’t getting paid any more than before.
We as tenure-track faculty need to stop busing our trays and ordering by computer. I realize that this might seem to be a dangerous suggestion, particularly when there are lying liars in the Washington Post telling the public that professors don’t work hard enough. But I’m not suggesting that we all go Galt. What I’m calling for is more of a strategic slowdown.
When I heard Marc Bousquet talk in Boulder last December, he pointed out that when we someone teaches a class with 400 students and no TA there goes at least 3 jobs that could have gone to needy grad students right there. When we decide to use technology like Twitter to make such unacceptable conditions marginally acceptable, then we are simply making it easier for the powers that be to turn 400 student classes into 600 student classes. People off the tenure track don’t have the job protection required to protest such conditions, but those of us with tenure do.
The same thing goes with regard to administrative work. There are multiple proposals in front of our Faculty Senate right now designed to cut the size of committees and the Senate itself for that matter since the people who run those committees have had trouble filling vacancies. There’s also an absolutely insane proposal that would allow retired faculty to come back and serve on committees and advise students on a voluntary basis.
What groups other than Republicans and college professors would ever consider making their governing bodies less representative rather than more so? If the need for retired faculty to advise students isn’t an admission that we don’t have enough tenure-track faculty, what is? I say don’t let any administration off that easy. If they want to follow Walmart’s staffing practices, then I say just like Walmart we should tell our customers to complain to the management.
By the way, there are plenty of people around on campus who’ll do the work that you decline to do going forward. They’re called adjuncts and lecturers. I’m not suggesting that you exploit them more by giving them advising duties. I’m saying that we as tenure track faculty should try to bring them up through the ranks.
Convert adjunct positions into lectureships. Convert lectureships into tenure-track positions. I’m not saying hire your adjuncts without searching for the best person available to fill the job, but excluding your adjuncts from such openings because they’re your adjuncts is just idiocy. If they’re good enough to teach your students on a short-term contract, then they’re good enough to teach your students on the tenure track.