Tag Archives: adjuncts

Obama was an adjunct

The press repeatedly refers to Obama as a ‘law professor’. I can see why: it plays into the public image of him as an educated (or over-educated, depending on your politics) and articulate (or inarticulate) thinker. But for those of us savvy to the world of academic hierarchy, this doesn’t quite ring true. Let’s face it: Obama was an adjunct.

According to the University of Chicago Law School Obama spent four years as a lecturer — “which signals adjunct status” according to the website — at the Law School. For eight years after that he was a ‘senior lecturer’. Chicago says that “senior lecturers…. are regarded as professors” but are “not full-time or tenure track”. If the university says he was considered a professor, then I suppose that journalists may technically be correct when they describe him that way. But I think if you ask the average academic what call someone who teaches part time and is not on the tenure track, their answer would not be “professor”.

Obama gets more cred then most adjuncts because professional schools have a different kind of faculty than academic schools, and because Chicago’s Senior Lecturers are all wealthy and powerful enough to not need the money that comes from teaching — indeed, the criteria that Chicago uses to award senior lectureships is that the recipients are eminent.

The tragedy of calling Obama a ‘professor’ while others are ‘adjuncts’ is that it is often the ‘adjuncts’ who are the heart and soul of academic departments — teaching the bread and butter courses that form the bedrock of a discipline’s curriculum. Obama, on the other hand, had the luxury of splitting his time between a political career, a private law practice, and a life as a published author. The people with the low-prestige titles are actually the ones with a deeper involvement with the day to day running of the institution. This is particularly the case at places which, unlike the University of Chicago, have larger undergraduate programs than they do graduate schools.

In calling Obama an adjunct, I’m not trying to insult him (that would just be a roundabout way of saying adjuncts status is shameful, which it is not) or suggest that he is duplicitous (since the law school itself has a press release on this topic). What I am saying is that in an era of casualization of the academic workforce, we need to make the public aware of the details of academic hierarchy, and the political economy that accompanies it. So the next time someone dismissively calls Obama an uptight ‘law professor’ let them know that he, like so many others, was off the tenure track and teaching part time. And remind them that for most people in that position, it is not an easy one to be in.

Report on AAA adjunct rights resolution

[Savage Minds welcome guest columnist Andrea Morrell, Assistant Professor of Urban Studies at Guttman Community College in NYC. Andrea was our eyes and ears at the AAA business meeting as the Executive Committee received the Committee on Labor Relations’ resolution on contingent faculty. Ironically underpaid adjuncts are the very group least likely to afford to attend professional conferences, so we are very grateful to Andrea for her contribution that a more inclusive audience might learn about our Association’s ongoing efforts.]

It will likely come as no surprise to readers of Savage Minds that the number of adjunct and contingent faculty (a group that includes part-time or adjunct faculty, grad students and teaching assistants, postdoc appointments, and full-time non-tenure track faculty) teaching courses in U.S. colleges and universities has nearly doubled since 1975. The predominance of contingent and adjunct academic faculty has serious implications for the integrity of college teaching and for academic freedom, but for adjunct and contingent faculty members the most pressing issue is often the material difficulties of making only $2500 per course. Teaching a full load—at many colleges three courses per semester—an adjunct would earn a mere $15,000 a year. Sometimes it is far less.

In addition to the poverty of these wages, the nature of the adjunct or contingent academic’s relationship to their employer is by definition precarious: wages cannot always be relied upon semester to semester and year to year. This precarity is hard for our families, it is hard on our bodies, and it is, quite simply, hard to pay the rent.

So what does this mean for us as anthropologists and for our largest professional organization, the AAA?
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Anthropology After No Future

London's Overthrow

“The long, dark night of the end of history has to be grasped an enormous opportunity. The very oppressive pervasiveness of capitalist realism means that even glimmers of alternative political and economic possibilities can have a disproportionately great effect. The tiniest event can tear a hole in the grey curtain of reaction which has marked the horizons of possibility under capitalist realism. From a situation in which nothing can happen, suddenly anything is possible again.”

—Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism

Sarah Kendzior’s interview from the summer over at PolicyMic started making rounds again on my facebook feed recently. If anything, it seems to resonate more now.

I spent this past Thanksgiving with a bunch of orphaned activists and grad students. At some point, I foolishly started asking people for advice on grad school, assuming I’d find similar sympathies with more perspective. But I was shocked: several people told me it wasn’t that bad, that they enjoyed it, that it was better than anything else they could be doing—and even that finding jobs wouldn’t be that much of a problem.

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Anthro News takes on the adjunct crisis, and while commenting will cost you, the irony is free

This just in.  It appears that the AAA is starting to address some of the serious issues that adjunct scholars are facing day in and day out.  In a new post on the Anthropology News site, AAA president Leith Mullings takes on the adjunct issue.  This is good news, because this issue seriously needs some critical attention, especially since more and more new PhDs keep hitting the labor force each year.  This problem isn’t going away any time soon.  Mullings starts off her post about “Inequality Within” by citing Sarah Kendzior’s 2012 piece “The closing of American academia,” which highlights just how bad things are getting in academia these days.

Mullings covers many of the key aspects of the adjunct problem: 1) lack of access to adequate health care; 2) the fact that about 3/4 of the teaching workforce is NOT on the tenure track; 3) the abysmally low pay for many adjuncts (median compensation per class is about 2700 bucks); 4) adjuncts have to deal with high travel costs in order to teach enough classes; 5) retirement benefits are lacking; 6) they have very limited access to educational resources (many don’t have offices, libraries, etc); 7) serious job insecurity, which often “translates into lack of academic freedom.”

Clearly, there’s no shortage of problems.  We all know this.  The question now is what we’re all going to do about it.  Sit back and watch, or find a way to band together to start making some changes?  Mullings concludes her post with this: Continue reading