Hall of Shame: Jerry Ratcliffe, Temple University

Jerry Ratcliffe memeEvery now and then, adjuncts get a reminder of how we’re really viewed by too many of our colleagues and administrators. Such is the case in Temple University’s NLRB hearing (PDF transcript), when former policeman turned professor Dr. Jerry Ratcliffe made the above statement on record. To be fair, he’s speaking about a department where many of the adjuncts are indeed employed full-time in their profession outside the university, as is true of many adjuncts in professional studies departments like criminal justice, nursing, medicine, and so on.

But this raises the question of why someone like Ratcliffe, whose instructors are not like the vast majority of adjuncts relying on academic work for their bread and butter, is testifying as to whether or not Temple University’s “adjunct faculty have a community of interest with full-time faculty at Temple University.”

The Chancellor is also testifying, and like Ratcliffe, has worked in a field (medicine) where most of the adjuncts are employed elsewhere and teach on the side. These are not people who speak to the amount of investment that adjuncts have in their university, whether it is an R1 that bars them from research, or a state school that values teaching (part of the argument being made in this case). This kind of testimony is disingenuous at best and outright rigging the game at its worst.

Full-time adjuncts, whether we are full-time at your university or not (because you won’t hire us full time) or full-time at another career and part-time with you, have as much investment in our positions and our place of employment as other full-timers, whether or not we are allowed to participate in the full academic life of the institution. You know why? Because we teach. The institution is not just research, it’s students and that’s who we invest in because that’s who returns that investment. The university? Not so much. With the focus on entrepreneurship in R1 universities, the mindset there has become more and more business-like, and people are rarely the first thing business management invests in anymore. That’s certainly true at universities now, with tenure disappearing and most “labor” being contract contingents. But institutions represent to the public (and to prospective students) that they have engaged faculty who care about students.  If they are going to say faculty aren’t invested in the student body in a legal proceeding, then they shouldn’t represent otherwise to the public.

And what do we adjuncts know about our students after our years in the trenches? Eh, we’re just adjuncts. Interchangeable cogs who—criminy!—do not even do research! Here’s Temple’s lawyer, John B . Langel (Temple Law alumnus and author of this little gem of a PowerPoint on Obama’s NLRB), talking smack about the Pennsylvania state schools:

The factual distinction between Temple faculty and those schools is significant because of the tripartite mission [research, service, teaching, I presume] that full-time faculty have, but that adjuncts do not have. If they want to stipulate that we’re [Temple] different than the rest of the schools in the State System I can dispense with this testimony.

Once again, there’s a “blame the victim” implication to the words. We don’t do research because you don’t support us, yet you don’t support us because we don’t do research. Catch-22, anyone? And also the implication that research is inherently better than teaching. I’ve heard other researchers say that it’s the primary function of a university, but while I wouldn’t dispute that it’s vitally important, it’s not the main purpose, even at an R1. Once we’ve advanced human knowledge, what do we do with it? We teach others. So valuing one function over another is the mark of an entrepreneurial (corporate) mindset that serves only the coffers of the university and the salaries of the upper echelons of administration.

Adjuncts? Teaching? Who cares? Shameful.

–Lee Kottner

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4 thoughts on “Hall of Shame: Jerry Ratcliffe, Temple University

  1. I completely agree with Lee Kottner, and want to add some specific observations. First, the quote by Ratcliffe should be treated like all statements by police, namely as a lie until proven otherwise. Second, after 15 years of adjuncting in programs and departments in the social sciences (my degrees are in anthropology, social work, and history) I got a tenure track faculty job in criminal justice where I earned tenure before I retired. Based on this background I say that criminal justice does not and can never qualify as an academic discipline in part because of its ties to the criminal justice system and in part because it has no scholarly, academic theoretical foundation, unlike true professional fields like law and medicine, which do have scholarly and academic foundations. Ciminal justice should be jettisoned from universities, along with similar disciplines like business. They should be housed in separate structures like poly-technical schools.

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  2. In my decade as an adjunct, I served on committees, advised students daily, performed community service on campus, and I carried out research that was published in peer-reviewed journals, printed in well-received books, and presented at national conferences. At an R1. On _my_ dime–in spite of my employer–because those are the kinds of things I set out to do as an academic. This is the actual, real-life position of the majority of my generation of academics.

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    • Same for me except i did more of all that when I got a tenure track position, because my course load shrank by about two-thirds. I couldn’t believe how much time I had. My partner is a departmental secretary who regularly relates tales of how much faculty complain about their onerous duties.

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