Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Adjuncts, Assumptions, and Activism

I've started three posts tonight and deleted them all.  When I'm writing, that usually means I'm avoiding what I really want to say or I just don't know what it is that I want to say yet. Also, it seems that the more I write and share on here and in other spaces, the more I have come to care about this plight of adjuncts.  I also care about the persona of me that exists in these spaces.  Ridiculous! No one can control the internet.  Well, maybe the NSA does (Hi folks over there!) but the rest of us don't.  Once we write, post, like, +1, favorite, heart, or star any number of things, we become linked to those.  Sometimes we get drawn into discussions wherein people seem to just take everything the wrong way.  The internet is good for that.

For instance, after liking a post by another user elsewhere, we were both accused of wanting to do away with tenure entirely.  The post in question did not deal with that specifically and I did not say that.  Perhaps the other writer has in the past--I don't know.  I don't have time to read every single thing every person writes.  I have 102 composition students this term.  I read their many writings closely.  I read things that I'm interested in.  I don't read all of everything very prolific writers put out ever in the field of higher education.  Furthermore, why in the world would I want to remove tenure?  Simply, I don't.  The problem that I have with some people holding that designation is their lack of support or blatant disregard for adjuncts at their institutions.  If tenure provides protection, then please, please, use some of that to advocate for adjuncts.  Some schools allow us to attend department or college meetings, but some do not.  Even the places that allow attendance may not actually allow the adjuncts present to speak or vote.  Please, use your tenured voices there to question departmental practices, collegiate practices/policies, to speak for us when we are excluded.  If you don't know what to say, get to know the adjuncts working all around your school and ask them.  It might be possible to belay this into a service line on the C.V. by serving on a committee.  

If you as a tenure track person are lucky enough to have a union or lobbying delegation, use these forums to also bring attention to adjunct issues.  Many of us do what we can by protesting, meeting with elected officials, writing letters, and telling our stories, but sometimes this is deeply constrained by lack of money and the time involved for those teaching/commuting to multiple locations.  Telling adjuncts who ask for help that tenure track faculty don't make all the decisions is as weak an excuse to do nothing as the people who tell adjuncts to "just get another job." We know that faculty have limited direct power, just like other folks should know many of us are constantly looking for other jobs.  

Standing up for adjuncts IS standing up for tenure.  The corporate education model appears to think contract workers are the way of the future.  If fighting to keep tenure is the only cause or what is framed as the most important cause, then there are some other trees in the forest that need to be seen.  Most students scrape and struggle to pay astronomical textbook costs.  Staff work, in some cases, for a 12-month yearly pay far below the beginning professor on a 9-month contract--how could our schools function without them?  Far too many graduates from all levels of higher education cobble together cash and credit to pay astronomical student loan payments, many while working outside their chosen fields or massively underemployed.  Many adjuncts work without job security, benefits, and/or a living wage.  The disappearance of tenure cannot be championed separately from these other issues--it disappears because its absence makes the rest of us easier to exploit.  If you hold a tenured position and you're already silent on these matters, then what is the point fighting to keep that designation?  Higher education in America is in crisis and now is the time to speak up.

Personally, I write about adjunct issues because that's what I am.  That is the truth that I live.  Does this mean I am not concerned about the rest?  No.  Don't mistake my concern for adjuncts as a dismissal of other factors.  I've been ready to walk a picket line twice with my union at one school, which is mostly tenure track faculty, for contracts that held far more for them than they did for me.  If it comes down to it and adjuncts must walk out to be taken seriously, will those tenured people be the ones standing with me?  I hope so.   

Already I feel like lines are being drawn between the outspoken adjuncts and those who vocally/visibly support us, and everyone else in higher education.  I want to be proven wrong on this hunch.  Just because I make a lot of noise about adjunct issues doesn't mean I consider everyone else enemies or non-players.  I want to see students, parents, staff, and faculty all in solidarity to make higher education in America accessible, affordable, and sustainable.  I want things to be better than they are now.  No, better than they ever have been.  This is possible--I believe it--but not without a great deal of work and, I fear, a great deal of hardship by those willing to stand up.  For me, the possibility of better is worth it.  

(For those interested in trending social media as it relates to adjunct issues, see the following hashtags on Twitter:  #NotYourAdjunctSidekick (created by @nickysaeun) and #AdjunctGeneralStrike (created by @GracieG)
Additionally, go to Adjunct General Strike's website:  http://leekottner.typepad.com/adjunct_general_strike/
for more information, links, and resources)

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