There is nothing more disappointing to me about academia than our lack of collective consciousness. I think that has to do most with the prevalent hierarchies that start before you’re even accepted into graduate school. First you get into the best school you can, competing against everyone else who applied that year. Then you fight for funding against your fellow graduate students. Then you often compete against hundreds of others for the choicest job possible. Once you make it to the top of that hierarchy, you compete against your colleagues for as much of your university’s limited resources that you can snag for yourself.
Tenured professors go through a remarkable hazing to get where they are: Yearly evaluations, publish or perish, tenure committees. Make it that far and you are a success. Like Andrew Carnegie before you, you suspect that anyone who doesn’t make it as far as you must have some character defect that held them back. Why should 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 today, gone tomorrow.
I’m not just talking about being replaced by a computer program. In the age of permanent austerity, your department can disappear right out from under you. [First they came for the Classicists…”.] Education reform in the United States is so vicious that certain lying liars who shall remain nameless want you to teach six to eight classes each semester. Academia is so heartless that something like seventy-five percent of the teaching faculty at American universities don’t have job security or a wage that reflects their years of education. And as I said previously, you’ll never get what you deserve as long as someone is willing to do the only aspect of your job that education reformers really care about for a lot less money.
That’s why you have to organize. As a labor historian, I am an advocate for collective bargaining in all instances because it raises wages and improves working conditions. That’s why any contingent faculty member who won’t sign a union card is certifiably insane (assuming the organizing union is smart enough to keep dues at an absolute minimum). They have nowhere to go but up. However, as Our Walmart and the New Faculty Majority have amply demonstrated, you don’t need a union in order to organize. All you need is a lot of people standing beside you when the going gets tough.
But that requires a certain degree of commitment to your colleague’s best interests. If they start by coming for the adjuncts, you have to stand behind the adjuncts. That way, they’ll be around to stand behind you when the tables are inevitably turned. So stop thinking so much about yourself and your career all the time! Everyone assumes that academia is stock full of liberals already, so act like one. That requires not just showing some empathy, but acting upon it.
Besides, you don’t really want to be an administrator anyways.