Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Guest Post: Alan Trevithick responds to faculty trends

A shortened and tamer version of this appears, retitled, in this month’s Anthropology News (AN), which is a monthly publication of the American Anthropological Association (AAA). Although the NFM web address, the article still gets NFM in front of the AAA, an important academic professional organization representing anthropology, a major discipline.

Cringing Liberal Elite

Canary, Eagle, Phoenix: How to Respond to Faculty’s Fall

A mournful trend: the steady replacement of full-time tenure or tenure track faculty - call them  “traditionals" - with part-time and/or limited contract instructors, “adjuncts” or “contingents.” Call them adcons.  First most evident at community colleges, this trend is now everywhere. For instance, see Nichols and Nichols' Money over Mind, Inside Higher Education, about Vassar College. 

All disciplines are blighted, as Marshall Sahlins noted in a 2008 AN issue, that in the country at large, “70 percent of all faculty are adjuncts,” and this “academic demi-monde” has been “noticeable enough” more recently even at University of Chicago.

First the canaries die. Then the eagles start keeling over.  
(Ed note: sorry, can't let this pass without comment. First though I have to pick myself up off the floor and stop laughing over images of eagles in coal mines and tenured faculty as coal miners. The vulnerable precariat are the mine canaries of our profession, first to be adversely affected by hazardous workplace conditions. Unlike the Welsh miners who carried caged canaries in to the mines to warn them of dangerous fumes, tenured faculty are only just now figuring out the warning: adverse conditions will get them too.)
Multiple studies show the same sort of thing. In, for instance, 1997, tenured/tenure track faculty constituted 1/3 of instructional staff. Ten years later? 1/4 according to AFT FACE. Not good to bad: bad to worse.

As to the adcons themselves - I am one, by the way, and we are as competent and dedicated as anybody - we receive about 1/3, on a pro-rata basis, of what traditionals receive, are even further removed than traditionals from university governance, are low-or-no benefitted in regard to health insurance and retirement funds, and receive little or nothing in the way of professional development. This is well-described and documented in an AAUP report from 1993, which ancient document I reference in order to emphasize that this is not a recent crisis. AAUP, indeed, in a 2010 report, speaks of a “collapsing faculty infrastructure” and calls for adcon positions to be “converted to appointments eligible for tenure” and immediately given proportional pay, benefits and opportunities. 

This would surely address the difficulties of current adcons, who are often “full-time” workers who work “part-time” at different places, and it would do so in spite of their PT status and without regard to percentage representation in the whole faculty.  

That percentage has been a crucial problem in the past, and it relates to the challenge of balancing two goals, 1) “ideal” faculty ratio and 2) equity for adcons who currently teach most of the nation’s college students classes (ok, sure, in some places graduate assistants do this: the current trend guarantees that most are adcons-in-training).  

Take this ratio/equity case - FACE (Faculty and College Excellence) is the American Federation of Teachers’ response to the “financial exploitation and unprofessional treatment” of adcons. FACE favors “full equity” for adjuncts, envisions that 75% of classes should be taught by traditionals, and hopes to achieve this without job loss for current adcons. Well, that  75% figure about describes the current situation, at most places, if you reverse the terms. And, really, does it make more sense to work for a particular ratio, or for equity? Tough choice.

Into this picture comes the New Faculty Majority, full name The National Coalition for Adjunct and Contingent Equity. I am a member of the founding board of this new group, which was created when a group of adcons got mad enough, and creative enough, to think in a new way about the mess they had landed in.

Certainly there have been laudable previous attempts to create better conditions for adcons. The Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL), particularly, is active, and frequently effective on adcon issues, primarily in unionized or unionizable situations. NFM sees itself as an ally of any group seeking real adcon improvements.

NFM itself is not connected to any union and is the only national, incorporated, non-profit group working exclusively on adjunct/contingent equity, compensation and benefits, job security, professional advancement, participation in governance, and unemployment insurance, in private and public institutions. A major current NFM campaign, the Unemployment Compensation Initiative (UCI) urges adcons, in all institutions, to apply for unemployment compensation between terms: many are eligible although they have been reluctant to seek what is rightfully theirs. NFM takes no position on FT/PT ratios.

Now, how has anthropology responded to the general sutuation? The Sahlins article cited earlier was published in a January 2008 issue of AN, in an In Focus collection on the Political Economy of Academia, and in those articles a variety of issues were explored: the ascendency of Taylorism, administrative fantasies about the next new thing, “neoliberalization,” and so-forth.

This is well-taken: think what about what is happening at the national level. Desperate warnings about “falling behind,” claims about links between education and lifetime earnings, demands for accountability,” and requirements in regard to “student learning outcomes.” But there are high points, no? Think about congressional calls for regulation of the for-profit higher education sector, by some mechanism that would fine or otherwise punish for-profits whose students fail to find employment after graduation.


Wait! A legislated demand on for-profits that they do what is already being demanded, increasingly, from an ever-more-enfeebled faculty, in the public and private sphere, in dozens of largely non-legislated but simply “managed” ways, by  “non-for-profit” managers? A tiny battle to win, I think.

Obvious enough to many, the scene is not faculty-friendly, and the national energy is chasing after questionable goals. And, no matter that the trend is more or less well-characterized, it’s real, and some action is required, and with whatever theoretical garnish you like. Unless, of course, you’re content, by way of ideology or, more likely in more cases, by way of complacency.

Back to the AAA. It has, in the past (2000) sponsored a survey on the question of “Who is doing the Teaching,” directed to adcon faculty, and, as a member of the Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW) has signed on to that coalition’s recent statement “One Faculty Serving All Students." It is fair to say that AAA’s input in regard to that CAW statement was not extensive. Certainly, in my view, the CAW statement is weak, noting blandly, for instance, that adcons are “often” victims of “outdated personnel and compensation policies,” and that they are “often” shortchanged “in hiring, salaries, office space and equipment.”

I prefer the recent AAUP language: we all face a “collapsing faculty infrastructure.” What adcons specifically face is not “often” but “always” an effect of this collapse.

On a more positive note, CAW has just finished a new survey on adcons, which, with input from its constituent members, including AAA, promises to give a more comprehensive view of adcon conditions.  I look forward to seeing the results and analysis. As a statement from the American Historical Association, one CAW’s members, has, most data thus far available has been “too generic to be of much use in really understanding how these professionals are being compensated and treated." Well, we know it’s bad, but we need more data on exactly how bad it is, and the survey should provide this.

The AAA Executive Board has not to date been asked to approve a specific AAA statement on contingency. However, I gather they would be happy to consider one: any draft of such a proposal can be sent to AAA’s representative to CAW, Kathleen Terry-Sharp, ksharp@aaanet.orgDirector of Academic Relations. I also invite members to send such drafts to me,, as I am willing to be a part of such a move, particularly to the extent that it reflects input from adcon anthropologists. 

I myself would like to see a statement that is underwritten by commitment to traditional values of fairness, equity, and collegiality, and is data-driven and stuffed to the gills with benchmarks and timetables, so as to make sure that taxpayers, and students and their families, and the American people in general, are getting what they deserve in a genuine system of higher education: a re-professionalized faculty. Adcons should probably be in the forefront of this: We are the canaries—oh I already killed us off in the third paragraph, didn’t I? Never mind, we’d better get our phoenix thing together and rise up pretty smartly, or others will do it for us. 

Submitted by NFM Board Member Alan Trevithick, also blogging at Cringing Liberal Elite and microblogging on Twitter as @eValerick 

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