What can tenure-track faculty do about the adjunct problem?, Part 2: Speak up, speak out.

28 03 2012

Apparently, our new robotic overlords will be taking pity on a few of us. From the NYT:

Michael Kutzer and Christopher Brown, robotics research engineers with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, explained that current robots are being designed to work alongside people, not replace them, in the work force.

For example, the researchers are working on miniature robots just a quarter of an inch wide that could help doctors go inside bone during surgery, and another robot, about the size of a deck of cards, could help in hostage situations by allowing police to inconspicuously scan a room.

In each instance, humans are still needed to control the robots. The two engineers believe Amazon’s new robots will do the same thing: helping speed things up in the warehouses.

The problem with that assessment is that just because there are a going to be a few people working alongside all the robots will not mitigate the fact that that a significant number of people will be unemployed anyways. If they weren’t, there would be no labor savings from introducing the robots in the first place.

The same thing goes with online education, MOOCs and all that. Just because somebody needs to be there to press the buttons doesn’t mean that there won’t be a lot of unemployed people created during that transition either. In fact, if you peruse some of America’s more conservative journalistic institutions, you’ll notice that they’re already dancing on our graves. “Just watch that ivory tower topple,” wrote the WSJ recently. They do realize that people actually work in the industry whose demise they revel in, don’t they? Are we supposed to lay on our hands and wait for the allegedly inevitable?

It should come as a surprise to no one that some of the people in our ill-fated industry have better jobs than others. Here’s the thing though: technological obsolescence will cut across all job categories. Of course they’ll go for the weaker among us first, but if you don’t think they’ll get to the tenure track eventually then you’re fooling yourself.

I feel like a schmuck bringing up David C. Levy again because he’s obviously stirring the pot on purpose. Nevertheless, this counterargument is extremely helpful to our cause:

Faculty-baiting might exist because people have certain perceptions of how college professors operate, some experts said. “I do not think we do a good job of explaining what we do,” said Jerry Jacobs, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. Jacobs, who has researched faculty life, said that students often graduate from research universities without a clear understanding of what a professor’s job entails. “Meanwhile people see that the costs of college are going up and to them, faculty at colleges don’t seem to work 40 hours a week like high school teachers do,” he said.

A lot of adjuncts teach six classes now in order to make ends meet. They are the canaries in the higher ed coal mine. If you can’t stand up for them now, why will anyone stand up for you if they try to replace you with a machine and hire an adjunct to tend it? That’s why doing the right thing by speaking out in their defense is really a form of self protection.

If we let every job become adjunct, nobody will have any problem replacing them with machines. In fact, they’ll act like they’re doing you a favor (and at that point they probably would be). On the other hand, if you speak up and speak out now, the job you save might ultimately be your own.*

* That includes those of you with tenure. Heck, those of you with tenure have no defensible reason for not speaking out already. After all, isn’t that why tenure exists in the first place?


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28 03 2012
RAB

LOVE the last sentence!

28 03 2012
What can tenure-track faculty do about the adjunct problem?, Part 3: Don’t mourn. Organize. « More or Less Bunk

[…] you worry about how much anyone else is earning? Well, I hope I’ve answered that question already. However, if those answers didn’t sell you on co-operation, let me give you one more: Here […]

31 03 2012
Sunday Reading « zunguzungu

[…] What can tenure-track faculty do about the adjunct problem?, Part 2: Speak up, speak out. […]

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