Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Privilege, tenure, adjunctification and the decimated job market

by J J Cohen

Happy new year.

I'm transporting here from FB a public discussion and a sharing of the links about a recent and important conversation among Rebecca Schuman, Tenured Radical (Claire Potter) and many, many others over the miserable state of the job market, the adjunctification of the university, and the culpability of tenured faculty and the graduate programs in which they participate. If you are an academic at any point in your career (and even if you are not, honestly) you should be thinking about the issues that have been raised.

On FB I linked to this recent summary and analysis on the blog The Professor Is In. Karen Kelsky makes some essential points and the piece is well worth reading. I shared the link with this caveat though: I have some trouble with the analogy the post is built around, which simplifies how racism works in order to make a point about the denial that undergirds TT/NTT relations (racism is not only a structure of denial [if it were it would be eradicated through exposure of the facts]; it is also a structure of fantasy and perverse enjoyment, and thereby much more difficult to budge). Framing the issue through economic and social privilege works better than the blog's title invoking an equivalence with racism: the latter diminishes the lived effects of racism by rendering them metaphoric.* Kelsky's recommendations for what to do next seem right on the mark. She suggests that tenured faculty:
  • Slash or halt graduate admissions
  • Make job market training (both academic and non-academic) central to the curriculum
  • Reduce time-to-degree of graduate programs
  • See and include adjuncts in the running of the department-both formally and informally
  • Tell the truth about the corporatized funding models in their universities that sustain their salaries and research funds by cutting other labor costs through the exploitation of adjuncts.
Essential food for thought on this first day of 2014.
*David Leonard made a similar point about the the injustice to actual enslaved peoples that equating adjuncting with "slave labor" enacts (though unfortunately his blog post comes across at some points as a defense of the status quo: it does not matter that some adjuncts choose their part-time schedules, and that a few are well paid). 


Jeffrey Cohen said...

Since this FB post by Adeline Koh is also public, read it and find in its copious comments many, many more eloquent elaborations of the point I tried to make about Kelsky's blog post.

Eileen Joy said...

It's very simple: a mass walkout. All tenured and tenure-track faculty refuse to teach until the labor inequities are addressed. No progress is possible unless people are willing to actually risk something to effect change, and it has to be those with something to lose; hence, also, something to wield. There is no university without teachers. So everyone stop teaching. And don't say that just hurts the students because that is a copout.

Jonathan Hsy said...

@Jeffrey: Thanks so much for migrating the FB discussion over here, and Adeline Koh's FB discussion is excellent too.

Note the original blogger has responded to the "racism-metaphor" discussion in ways that you might appreciate:

I will state, agreeing with @Eileen, that what's still missing from this discussion is not only "recognizing privilege" but a real sense of SOLIDARITY and ACTION to transform these conditions. We are all in this TOGETHER -- it's not just a privileged TT few who must "acknowledge their privilege" and that's it -- its about changing the profession (hate that word) so all kinds of people can thrive within and beyond it.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Also, this piece by Chuck Ryback. It's most directly relevant to public institutions but makes some good points:

"Now, we can pre­tend oth­er­wise and I can’t make peo­ple think any dif­fer­ently, but it’s worth not­ing that the “tenured peo­ple are the prob­lem!” nar­ra­tive is essen­tially a right-wing argu­ment that we are now repli­cat­ing inter­nally. This is prob­lem­atic and chilling...I’ll say this plainly—the solu­tions are almost entirely leg­isla­tive, and thus the road is long, painstak­ing, and dis­cour­ag­ing (see small issues like: ger­ry­man­der­ing and the influ­ence of wealth in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics). If your response to this point is “Yeah but, those damned tenured pro­fes­sors!” then wel­come to the right-wing rhetoric of scape­goat­ing and dis­trac­tion .... It is vital that we under­stand the finan­cial struc­tures of the cam­pus and sys­tems in which we work. I’ve made the fol­low­ing point many times, so I’ll try again—you could fire every tenured and tenure-track per­son on my cam­pus and adjunct work­ing con­di­tions would not improve one bit. They would be exac­er­bated. “Yeah but…more money would be avail­able.” No, it wouldn’t. For exam­ple, in my uni­ver­sity sys­tem, the pool of money used to pay full-time fac­ulty and staff is com­pletely sep­a­rate from the money used to pay adjuncts (and this is delib­er­ate). Remem­ber: “con­tin­gent” in higher ed is also a finan­cial des­ig­na­tion with impor­tant bud­getary impli­ca­tions."

Read the whole thing.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

And this, from Timothy Burke :

But it is happening to more than academia. It is happening to law. It is happening to psychiatry. It is happening to accounting. It is happening to medicine. It is happening to anything and everything that organized itself as a profession, that licensed people with special training as the only legal or proper source of valued services. Some of the work of the professions is being automated. Some of it is being crowdsourced. Some of it is being simply deemed too expensive or unnecessary. And some of it is being taken out of the hands of the professionals and hitched to the wagon of a new class of owners who turn professionals into workers, who demolish the idea that the defining value of professional service is the knowledgeable autonomy of trained experts within their own institutions and in their own practices of service.

So in this sense to say that tenured faculty are to academic labor as white people are to racism is both to think too small and to misfire the structural analogy. Too small because the same thing could and should be said of all professionals whose terms of employment today are still set within the economies and norms that existed in the mid-20th Century, who still can largely believe in and defend the habitus of their profession as it once existed. Which means, equally, that contingent faculty banging on the closed door have many potential allies across a wide range of professions–but to make common cause with them still requires some of the choices I outlined earlier. Namely, were the professions as they once existed a good thing in those former terms? Or do we want to tear down their remaining shreds and fragments in order to make something radically new?

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Michael Bérubé weighs in on why the MLA gets blamed so much during these discussions of the US academic job market, and how that blame misses some important realities.