A day for adjuncts

In case you didn’t know, today is National Adjunct Walkout Day.  If you need to catch up, here’s a good piece from Democracy Now.  For some more background, check out this recent piece from Inside Higher Ed.  It’s a good day to think about all those adjuncts, lecturers, part-timers and other contingent workers in academia–and what the university is, perhaps, versus what it should be.

Most importantly, I think, it’s time for those who are doing relatively well, and in relatively stable positions, to think about the current labor situation in academia, and how that is affecting the system as a whole.  As Sarah Kendzior argues, this is everyone’s problem, not just those who are working those low-paying, contingent academic jobs.  If we’re going to do something about this issue, it’s going to require attention–and solidarity–across the academic ranks.  The tenured, the retired, comfortable, and the secure need to pay attention and speak up…right alongside these adjuncts and others who are putting themselves out there to raise awareness.  Now, onto some links and excerpts (from me and others).  Please feel free to share your links, comments, and thoughts below.

From Sarah Kendzior – The Adjunct Crisis is Everyone’s Problem:

Labor exploitation is not the new normal. Adjunct professors are distinct from other low-wage contract workers only by virtue of degree – that is, the Ph.D. Like other exploited workers, adjuncts are told that their low pay and mistreatment are the deserved consequence of poor choices. While low-wage workers without college degrees are told to get an education, adjuncts are asked what they thought all that education would get them. The plight of the adjunct shows one can have all the education in the world and still have no place in it.

Ann Larson – What Comes After the Public University?

A diploma is no longer a path to upward mobility. Maybe it never was. And it’s easy to forget in an era of austerity that education is supposed to be much more than a path to a paycheck. Unfortunately, these days, most colleges operate on vast supplies of cheap labor, including adjunct faculty. They are run as private corporations for the benefit of the investor class. In California, which is leading the trend, universities already pay $1 billion per year in interest alone to Wall Street banks. Could such places ever be reclaimed for the public?

Alex Golub – Obama was an adjunct:

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.

Matt Thompson – Report on the AAA adjunct rights resolution:

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.

Jason Antrosio, Eliza Jane Darling, Sarah Kendzior & Ryan Anderson – Dear AAA: Sink or Swim:

The resolution of these contradictions is served by neither silence nor sympathy, but solidarity. An academy structured upon the division of a two-tiered labor market discourages such an alliance. Yet we hope that anthropologists will join together to fight for the value of our work beyond the barometer of the bottom line. We must, for the same structural forces that divide tenured and contingent faculty threaten to subsume us all beneath a wave of public retrenchment, whose end game will inter us on the same sinking ship if we do not turn the tide. While the reserve army may constitute the foot soldiers in this battle for survival, the generals are hardly immune to the war on intellectual value.

Karen Kelsky – Adjuncting and the Stockholm Syndrome:

But when teaching well becomes an end in itself, and becomes the goal to which all else is sacrificed, including the adjunct’s economic self-protection and psychological self-care, then something is terribly, terribly wrong. That’s where the adjunct begins a willing participant in the mechanisms of his own exploitation. That is Stockholm Syndrome.

Adjuncts cannot necessarily just walk away from the exploitation of the system at large, when adjuncting may be the best option (at least in the immediate term) to utilize the Ph.D. for pay, keep the wolf from the door while seeking permanent work, and create a record that will help in that search. But adjuncts should never, ever identify with their exploiters. They should never cathect onto or identify with the teaching labor that is being extracted from them. Because that is to identify with, form an identity around, the exploitation itself.

Ryan Anderson – Academia and the people without jobs:

The “people without jobs” aren’t all simply jobless. They just don’t have the right jobs to be included in academia’s big self-promotional story. They are academia’s others. The ones who aren’t working as deans, provosts, and department chairs. They are the adjuncts, the lecturers, the people who work at Home Depot or spend their nights as waiters and waitresses. They ended up switching careers, starting all over, or worse. Their stories give us another view of academia. Another version of events. Their histories—contrary to the shiny pages of university websites—tell us what higher education isn’t doing. Their voices can tell us what went wrong, and what needs to change.




Ryan Anderson is a cultural and environmental anthropologist. His current research focuses on coastal conservation, sustainability, and development in the Californias. He also writes about politics, economics, and media. You can reach him at ryan AT savageminds dot org or @anthropologia on twitter.