by A. Madjunct
It was pretty hard to celebrate Independence Day this year when churches are being burned in racially motivated hate crimes and the Supreme Court has decided to entertain a case—Friedrichs v. CTA—that has the potential of turning the entire country into a right-to-work corporate hellscape (well, even more than it is already). This threat affects all higher ed faculty organizing. It’s a beast we must fight if we want to restore public education to anything resembling the public good.
At the risk of preaching to the choir, I still must plead the case that it is critical that faculty of all appointment types stop wasting precious time by fighting each other to the benefit of anti-worker fanatics and overreaching administrations everywhere. We all know it’s not fair and that the majority of faculty are trapped by a decimated economy in contingent positions in what feels like a nonsensical and meritless gaslighting experiment. What are we going to do about it? That’s the answer that will define our future as leaders in academia.
Since leaving “the profession” as an adjunct six months ago, I have gleaned one important lesson above all: that the abusive working conditions I experienced affected how I understood the problems associated with higher ed. Although much of this was good fuel for the fire, there were negative consequences as well. By the end of my 14-classes-a-year poverty quest, I was depleted of nearly all love of learning and literature that had first brought me into the classroom. I resented my FTTT colleagues, many for good enough reasons, and I pretty much wanted to smash everything around me if I couldn’t find a way to resolve the dissonance.
Now I understand that the battle is much larger than what I was experiencing and that, despite the atrocious inequities on our campuses, all faculty must come together now as colleagues (however violent that collision might be), find a way to solidify, and form a collective front against our many enemies. First, we need to stop misinterpreting each other.
Adjuncts to Tenured: If adjuncts continue to be excluded by their academic peers or judged as lesser-than because they do less research (by necessity, usually), it is not an impartial decision to make, as faculty are being run into the ground, incentivised, and sometimes outright prevented from performing their research. Likewise, claiming that a contingent colleague must be “competitively hired” when that colleague has been performing the job satisfactorily for years only reinforces complacency and adherence to a multi-tiered and artificial divide-and-conquer workplace.
Tenured to Adjuncts: On the other hand, expecting an endangered segment of workers (“professionals”)—however delusional they seem and however good it may feel to see them flogged—to relinquish their earnings or status is equally illogical. No one is going to voluntarily give up benefits when it is neither in their best interest nor an effective way to stop the machine from bulldozing us all. It’s in the best interest of tenured faculty to raise the ground for all faculty because that’s the only way we can sustain and enforce professional pay, academic freedom, and shared governance. If they don’t understand this, they need to be talked to repeatedly. By forming unions, faculty can restore and reinforce professional standards to stop the fast-paced erosion that has nearly torn apart higher ed.
We are (as I was) devotees to the ideals of democratic learning, truth-seeking, and creativity, but we are being prevented from doing our jobs in every way; some of us just happen to feel it now more than others, though the recent slaughter in Wisconsin is unavoidably alarming to even the most steadfast academic corporatization deniers. FTTT faculty are steadily seeing their place in academia chipped away and their lines absorbed without consequence.
Tenure and shared governance are being eroded without meaningful remedy or replacement model and contingent faculty live in various degrees of job insecurity, intellectual and financial exploitation, and poverty. We are in debt up to our scratch-resistant lenses, and the banksters are still collecting, still garnishing our wages and tax returns regardless of whether there’s any blood in the turnips. Meanwhile, there is no force of justice ready to swoop down from the sky and restore order for us. We have to do it for ourselves by building strong, powerful unions.
It really is up to us to rescue ourselves and actively organize, to do the actual work it takes to fight back and win.