The Precarization of Academic Labor

Today we’re linking you to “The Precarization of Academic Labor” by Alexander Gallas. Gallas works at the Department of Political Science of the University of Kassel in Germany. He is active in two initiatives that facilitate the self-organisation of precarious academic workers, serves on the Editorial Board of the Global Labour Journal and has authored a monograph called The Thatcherite Offensive: A Neo-Poulantzasian Analysis (Haymarket, 2017).

Gallas draws on the articles published by the Global Labour Journal focusing on the rise of precarious work in academic institutions in the United States of America, Germany, Turkey and South Africa. He argues that precarious work for those doing intellectual work at universities is a growing global phenomenon. He calls for a creation of unions aware of this global challenge of the commercialisation of education and intellectual work.

Find the article here: 

The Artful mAsk4CampusEquity Campaign – Anne Wiegard

Working together for more than a year, faculty activists with backgrounds in the visual, literary, and performing arts have designed a website that offers eleven different kinds of interactive arts projects that do double duty–getting out the message about the need for equitable terms and conditions of academic employment, while even more importantly, serving as an organizing tool to build power in the contingent academic labor movement. The website for the mAsk4CampusEquity campaign demonstrates what can be achieved by a grassroots collaboration of artistic faculty activists who keep their eyes on the prize.

A cross-section of faculty who have taught off the tenure track for many years at different institutions all across the U.S.–Natalie Barnes, Andy Davis, Sue Doe, Jessica Lawless, Cara Romano, Jennie Shanker, Lydia Field Snow, Rebekah Tolley, Anne Wiegard, and David Wilder–spent countless hours co-creating mAsk4CampusEquity.  Some of us are represented by unions, but some are not. What brought and kept together people from California, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Colorado? The strong relationships forged within the network of New Faculty Majority’s social justice work over the past several years.

Is there anyone in higher education who has not heard of Campus Equity Week (CEW), the biannual week of action in late October? The original “Campus Equity Week” activities of some community colleges in California in 1999 resulted in the creation of the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL), a grassroots  coalition of non tenure-track faculty activists. Fueled by internet listservs and email communications, various faculty leaders across North America agreed that the model of loosely coordinated but locally motivated and controlled action was worth attempting in the form of a national campaign throughout higher education.

CEW has been held in odd years ever since 2001. In both 2013 and 2015, COCAL selected New Faculty Majority (NFM) to coordinate the national CEW campaigns. Highlights of the 2013 and 2015 campaigns have been Congressional Briefings and the October 2015 release by Brave New Films of Professors in Poverty For 2017 CEW, NFM’s very limited resources did not permit the non-profit organization to do more than support the development of the mAsk4CampusEquity campaign.

In April of 2016 at the National Education Association (NEA) Higher Education Conference, Judy Olson (California Faculty Association and New Faculty Majority) introduced Anne Wiegard (United University Professions and New Faculty Majority) to Andy Davis, one of Judy’s CFA colleagues. Andy was interested in using parallels between current adjunct activism and the revolutionary protest of university lecturer Martin Luther on October 31st, 1517.  Over dinner, Andy and Anne explored the possibility of using the 500th anniversary as an opportunity to draw attention to the movement for campus equity while highlighting it within the context of historical protest that has won landmark reforms related to human rights through creative collective action.

Indivisible Campus Equity graphic

Anne had collaborated with Jennie Shanker (Temple Association of University Professionals) in 2015 to develop NFM Foundation’s National Arts Project website page that included ideas for arts activism related to Campus Equity as well as downloadable graphics for posters and flyers that depicted the theme of the “indiVisible Campus.” The 2015 button followed suit.

They believed that art has a unique ability to provoke awareness and inspire change, so Anne was predisposed to integrate the performance potential of historical reenactment into a broader framework of performing and visual arts-based actions.New Faculty Majority 'A' Graphic

Over the summer of 2016, Andy and Anne formed a planning group with Jennie and Jessica (former adjunct now working for Service Employees International Union) to conceptualize an arts-based campaign. More members of the planning group were recruited. By August we agreed on a theme of “mAsk4CampusEquity.” The word mask combines CEW Halloween timing with the recognition of the need to both conceal (to protect precarious workers) and reveal (to recognize how contingency affects workers’ lives) the complex identity of faculty working off the tenure-track.

Campus Equity NowThe word “ask” embedded in “mask” allowed us to display the letter “a” in the form of the “Scarlet A” that had been designed by David Wilder for PR materials for the 2013 Campus Equity Campaign. The scarlet “A for Adjunct” has come to signify the shameful branding and treatment of adjunct faculty and their refusal to be shamed by their marginalized status within the university.

In the fall of 2016, the planning group refined its concepts for the website and the various projects that would be described there. Members volunteered to collect and post relevant materials on a shared google folder. Jessica stepped up as the website designer.  Jennie said she would manage the social media components of the campaign (a Facebook page “Campus Equity Week 2017” and a Twitter handle, “@2017CEW.” Rebekah (United University Professions) offered to design the 2017 logo and website masthead, which allude to the silhouette in the 2015 images.

mAsk4CampusEquity Graphic

Anne volunteered to register the domain name, license comics from Matt Hall, and set up a virtual store for buttons and stickers. Andy committed to adapting Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” to the context of higher education and designing historical costume. Sue (American Association of University Professors and New Faculty Majority) procured a website subscription and recruited colleagues (Lydia Page and Sarah Austin) to help with building the website.

In late March 2017, we learned of the tragically premature death of David Wilder in Cleveland, Ohio. We decided that we would dedicate the campaign to him and create an “In Memoriam” page in his honor. David had been an amazing labor activist and teacher for many years, most recently working selflessly alongside NFM’s Maria Maisto to organize adjunct faculty in Ohio. The memorial page features biographical information and some of his paintings.

In early April of 2017 we announced the mAsk4CampusEquity campaign over various list servs, urging people to save the date, October 31, 2017, the national day of action. We continued to work on the website and published it August 8th along with the social media sites. We worked with NYSUT (600,000 members), AFT (1.7 million members) and NEA (3 million members) to publicize the campaign. The National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions has announced our campaign as has the COCAL Digest.

We are hearing that events are being planned across the country, including the interactive art exhibit, performance of For Profit, and “Chalk and Talk” events at Colorado State University.  We encourage everyone reading this blog entry to plan an event and let us know about it at our Facebook page (“Campus Equity Week 2017”) and Twitter handle (@2017CEW). If you aren’t sure where to start, visit the website and check out the Projects page.

Social justice work is a struggle. Adding art to the mix makes the struggle easier to bear; sometimes it’s even fun! A righteous cause always seems to ensure that participation endures even if the roster of participants changes. We’re certainly seeing endurance and a growing momentum in our movement for equitable employment practices in higher education. New Faculty Majority in particular has made its mark on the public discourse about contingent academic employment. Its existence has facilitated collaboration cross-organizationally and enabled individual activists to use the inside-outside strategy to leverage gains both within and beyond their local organizations. In time, NFM will surely be replaced by other organizations that take this cause in directions we can’t even imagine now. May future movers and shakers be blessed with creative and cooperative comrades in arms as I have been blessed with during the planning and implementation of the mAsk4CampusEquity campaign.

Anne Wiegard is a full-time non tenure-track faculty member of the English Department at SUNY Cortland and member of United University Professions (AFT Local 2190). She was recently appointed to the AFT Higher Education Program and Policy Council. One of the founding members of the New Faculty Majority board of directors, she served as the chair of the NFM Foundation board from 2011-2016.

Photo of Anne Wiegard and NEA President Lily Eskelsen GarciaPhoto: Wiegard (left) thanking NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, at the 2016 NEA Higher Education Conference,  for her staunch, persistent advocacy of the unemployment insurance policy letter initiated by NFM as part of the national coalition effort which succeeded in securing the guidance letter from the U. S. Department of Labor on December 27, 2016. Photo by Judy Olson, author of the original  draft of UIPL 05-17 for NEA.

Re-envisioning Faculty Appointments – Jenny Morse

Why tenure line faculty should support non tenure track faculty and the Committee on Non Tenure Track Faculty at Colorado State University’s proposed Action Plan: Re-envisioning Faculty Appointments

Tenure line faculty have more in common with non-tenure track faculty than you might think, particularly when thinking about tenure line faculty before they actually earn tenure, when their situation is precarious and there is a lot of pressure on them to produce in terms of research and publication, to dedicate themselves to teaching, to say yes to every committee, advising, and service opportunity. Not doing so could potentially lead to losing their position. But for tenure line faculty the end reward of this state of affairs is, often, tenure, at which point the faculty member no longer faces such extraordinary pressure and has more control over their own time and investment in the university.

However, for non-tenure track faculty, that pressure to produce, that precarious situation, has no end. Some non-tenure track faculty are reappointed annually, which means even after years of service to the university, they are still waiting until late August every year to find out if they will be employed once again. Unlike tenure-track faculty, non-tenure track faculty may not be evaluated, which means their work may not be recognized by the department, they may not have evidence and materials compiled that would lead to promotion or enable them to apply for another job, they may be excluded from the day to day operations in their department, even if they have been a member of that department for years. And the reason for this precarious situation for non-tenure track faculty? Ostensibly, it is the inability of department chairs and administration to predict budget costs and enrollment adequately, and so these administrators require an extraordinary amount of flexibility in hiring teachers and researchers who can be brought on or let go at a moment’s notice.

But the reality is that budgets and enrollments are relatively steady, which is why 41% of non-tenure track faculty at Colorado State University have been in their positions for more than 10 years and 77% have been in their positions for more than 3 years. So why aren’t these long-term employees being rewarded with long-term, committed employment, employment that recognizes their contributions, that rewards their efforts, and that ultimately offers more job security than annually renewing (or not) appointment?

Tenure line faculty have expressed a fear that tenure is being eroded. And it is. The number of tenure line faculty at CSU has remained relatively constant over the last 10 years, while the number of non-tenure track faculty is constantly increasing. Institutional Research data for 2015-2016 shows 1061 tenure track faculty and 728 non tenure track faculty. Data for 2016-2017 shows 1081 tenure track faculty and 765 non tenure track faculty. So in the last year, 20 new tenure track faculty have been added, while 37 new non tenure track faculty have been added. The hiring of new non tenure track faculty is almost double the rate of hiring new tenure track faculty.

The reason for this untenable hiring practice is that there are very few rules standardizing the practices of hiring, promoting, evaluating, and reappointing non tenure track faculty. Essentially, administrators have benefited from a practice of hiring faculty outside of the systems outlined in the Academic Faculty and Administrative Professional Manual, systems that should regulate the hiring, promotion, evaluation, and reappointment of all faculty. Since the system is seen to not apply to non-tenure track faculty, this sideline of faculty hiring allows administrators to do what they want with these faculty and those positions, as they are outside of the system. Clearly this practice is undermining all faculty at CSU.

However, we cannot blame the employees who accept the jobs offered to them. It is not the fault of non-tenure track faculty that they end up in these positions. Instead, it is the failure of our Faculty Manual to guide the hiring, promotion, evaluation, and reappointment of all faculty, and of the systems that should make sure policies in the Faculty Manual are enforced throughout the university. It is the failure of administration which has allowed this hiring outside of centralized and overseen practices to continue.

If tenure track faculty want to stem the oncoming tide of non-tenure track faculty, then it is incumbent on them to join with non-tenure track faculty in creating new appointment types that more effectively work within the system. The appointments suggested by CSU’s Committee on Non Tenure Track Faculty make it more difficult for administrators to hire outside of the regulations provided within the Faculty Manual. These new appointments specify hiring practices, promotion practices, evaluation practices and reappointment practices that require a significant investment on the part of administration. Not only does this make the actual non tenure track faculty jobs better, it also provides less of an incentive for administrators to hire non tenure track faculty if they have to put in almost the same amount of work to hire them. In the long-term, limiting the ways in which administrators can hire and eliminate non tenure track faculty could lead to the creation of more tenure track positions as administrators see the curtailing of the unofficial, off the tenure track faculty labor system through increased systemic measures.

Faculty Council will not have the power to stop administrators from hiring non tenure track faculty over tenure line faculty until Faculty Council commits to bringing non tenure track faculty appointments under the umbrella of the Faculty Manual, improving the working conditions of these employees, and thereby making the hiring of non-tenure track faculty less appealing, less flexible, and less cost-effective.

The only way to stop the erosion of tenure is to stifle the administration’s ability to hire outside the control of Faculty Council and the Faculty Manual. Changing the appointment types for non-tenure track faculty, and specifying how each one should be used and incorporated into the CSU community, is a first step in doing that.

Photo of the Author Jenny Morse

Jenny is a NTTF at Colorado State University. In addition to being chair of the university Committee for Non Tenure Track Faculty she teaches practical writing skills for business communication. She draws on her experience in publishing, her ongoing work as a freelance writer and editor, and her 10 years teaching creative writing and composition. She earned her PhD in English from University of Illinois-Chicago in 2013. Currently, Jenny ghostwrites for a prominent CEO with articles published in Forbes, Inc, The NY Report, Geek, and others. Her literary criticism has appeared in the Journal of Contemporary Thought, the Montreal Review, The Ofi Press, and Seismopolite. Her poetry has been published in Borderlands, Terrain, Quiddity, Wilderness House and the Notre Dame Review among others.

Fantasy Themes and Civic Engagement – Gloria McMillan


Guest post from Gloria McMillan

On January 9, 2017, A New York Post headline “How Trump Can End Brainwashing on US Campuses,” caught my eye.  An obviously outraged OpEd writer condemned newer methods of teaching writing about civic participation as “brainwashing” by “leftist” faculty.  Many discussions are now littered with epithets, heated, language, and loaded terms of abuse.  Most recent is the newly released 500-page academic report by the National Association of Scholars,  “Making Citizens: How American University Teach Civics: With Case Studies from the University of  Colorado, Boulder; Colorado State University; University of Northern Colorado; and the University of Wyoming,” which makes innuendos using loaded language and labels, arguing that service learning is a radical enterprise. The general idea that leftist faculty must be surveilled is supported by other resources such as Professor WatchList.

The words in the NSA report simply jumped out at me from the first page. These words and phrases are what rhetoric theorist Ernest Bormann called “fantasy themes” as part of his symbolic convergence theory. Fantasy themes are part of gathering a group into a fortified circle to block intruders.

One way I have found to alter the shape of miscommunication is to focus on the tone of the essay.  If we merely mirror fantasy themes by flogging “the other side” with fantasy themes of our side’s choosing, we resemble primates scratching each other’s fleas and finding that their own camp is so “right” as we hurl feces at the neighboring chimp colony.

At this point, we hurt and not help civil discourse.  The most effective way to turn back from this low-cognitive level of debate is to look for a slim slice of common ground.  Look for what good ideal the other side is wishing to achieve and where talk began to miscue.  Taking a non-confrontational tone and reminding all readers that there are good aspects of society we all would like to see grow and flourish sets up differently firing synapses in the brain than hitting the same old “fantasy theme” buzz words that are bound to cause hate on one side and short-sighted joy on the other.  We seldom recognize our own epithets as vile slurs.  Vile slurs are what the other side says about us and not what we say about them.

Worst of all, we are becoming so used to a lowering of tone in discussions that when hurling “fantasy themes,” loaded language, and epithets becomes prominent in academic media, we only tend to notice those terms directed against us, our party, our perspective.

Dialogue is a Series of Snapshots

Mentally and verbally stepping back in a series of verbal interchanges to the start takes focus and attention where “letting fly” takes neither. Each exchange is a snapshot of the situation as it improves or deteriorates.  Always pause and step back when dialogue heats up.  Remember the physician’s motto to “First do no harm,” because controversial situations are far easier to make worse than to improve.

Question the questioner. Are repetitious and vague labels about people and summaries in a discussion of pedagogy as useful as sticking to specific curricular points in a more professional manner?  Be experimental. Try and see.  How about using questions rather than proclamations of one’s own virtue?  In addressing another position’s list of grievances, how might the “faulty and biased” civics curriculum be augmented to provide a more balanced view of persons, places or events? If balance and coverage in a curriculum is what is claimed to be lacking, then ask the writer for what specifically should be added.  Let the writer make a case based upon research and specifics by inviting that case to be made.

Broad generalizations characterizing a side with negative “fantasy themes” are less useful and convince few but those already in agreement.  Statements like “we know why they are doing this” and “I know where this is leading” anticipate a future situation even more polarized instead of stepping back and finding where common ground may be had.

Theresa Enos’ (“The Eternal Golden Braid”), Sonja Foss and Cindy Griffin’s “Beyond Persuasion: A Proposal for Invitational Rhetoric,” as well as other scholars’ formative work in what we call “invitational rhetoric” have shown a path back from the edge.  We do well to heed their advice that “letting fly” back at writers who challenge us is not the most effective rhetorical response to voices reflecting injured feelings due to our curricula that have different points of emphasis than those they favor.  People will shrug their shoulders and say “It never ends, does it?’  Yes, in fact, civil discourse never does end.  But there are road maps that may help, too, and I am encouraged.

On Offer Letters and the Part-Time Adjunct: Interview with a Department Chair


On September 19, CSAL Co-Director Sue Doe engaged the Colorado State University (CSU) Chair of English in an interview regarding the recent news item in the CSU Collegian about the offer letter received by a part-time instructor in Journalism and Media Communication.  Here’s a link to that story in the Collegian:  And here are the highlights of the interview with Professor Louann Reid, Chair of English.

Please offer responses, Dear Blog Readers!

 1. Professor Reid, what was your reaction when you saw the Collegian story about the adjunct’s offer letter?

Actually, I was surprised that the question hadn’t come up publicly before. Using “the 100% salary,” as some called it, in the letter without some explanation for faculty who were teaching part-time is bound to lead to confusion. In fact, some non-tenure-track faculty in the department have asked me about that part of the offer at various times in the past few years.

2. Have you had to use this letter?

Yes. While the letters have been modified somewhat in my five years as chair, the Provost’s office has provided templates that we are expected to use. There are different templates for different appointments such as temporary, special, or senior teaching faculty. Tenure-track faculty are also hired with offer letters that conform to a template. I can’t speak for other colleges, but in the College of Liberal Arts, someone in the dean’s office ensures that the letter is faithful to the template before the dean signs it.

3. What problems do you see with this letter?

While I would be delighted to suggest edits, because I love to edit and would like clearer, more concise language, I am not a legal expert and do understand that it is important to be completely accurate regarding the terms of the agreement that an offer letter represents. I would, however, like to clarify the statements about salary. We need to learn what the reason is behind using the 100% salary, if there is one. If we must use the 100% salary, then couldn’t there also be a statement explaining that if the offer is for part-time, then the actual salary is a percentage of the annual salary? I have included such a statement in the salary letters that we send to inform faculty of their salary for the coming year. These letters go only to faculty who have taught the year before and are part of the salary exercise, so a shortcoming is that new faculty would not see such a statement.

I haven’t been asked about any aspect of the letter other than salary, but I would like to hear if there are parts of it that faculty find objectionable. There may be, but I don’t have any data.

 4. How should we move forward in regard to offer letters?

An offer of employment is a serious agreement between parties. Having consistent language for such letters seems essential, especially given the number of people involved in hiring. If we can improve the language to reduce misunderstandings, we should.

5. How should we move forward generally in terms of the misunderstanding that is reflected in this adjunct’s experience with the letter, which is almost certainly not an isolated experience? That is, how might things be made right with this adjunct and others?

People deserve an offer that is as straightforward and clear as legally possible. I don’t know what has been done or was said beyond the story in the Collegian, but I appreciate that Dean Withers offered an apology. Vice Provost Dan Bush and someone from the Office of General Counsel might offer to meet with adjunct faculty to explain the composition and use of offer letters. If rewriting is a possibility, they should seek faculty input on areas of confusion or concern. I think we also need opportunities such as workshops or PDI sessions or college-specific meetings for non-tenure-track faculty to learn about how their compensation is structured—what are the sources of funding for their positions? How are their salaries structured differently from those of tenure-track faculty? Why do differences exist and what are the implications of those differences?

6. Where do you hope this conversation will lead for the future?

This conversation needs to be part of many others. We are not where we need to be yet as the university hires increasing numbers of faculty who are not on the tenure track and has committed to making this an excellent place for adjunct faculty as well as tenure-track. We need to check our assumptions about the usual ways of hiring, rehiring, compensating and evaluating faculty to accommodate the special roles that non-tenure-track faculty fill. Certainly, compensation is a major issue. And, as this situation highlights, clear communication that leads to a greater understanding about how compensation is structured is one area where we could do better.

Sue Doe: Thank you for your time and willingness to engage in this interview, Dr.  Reid!

The Woman Adjunct: Considerations of Labor and Compensation

–Guest Blog post by Elise Dixon


Last November, I received an unexpected call from the head of the English department of a community college I had taught one class at (for $1500) over the summer. I had missed the call and it had gone straight to voicemail. In the message was an offer for a semester-long position in the spring to serve as a visiting professor and teach five classes. I would receive health insurance and a professor’s salary instead of per-class adjunct pay. Not adjunct professor pay; real professor pay. I repeated the message over and over again. Five classes? Health insurance? An OFFICE?! My elation was immediately replaced with guilt. I had just recently requested to continue adjuncting at my alma mater where I had received my master’s degree. I was currently teaching two sections of Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies and one section of first-year writing, while also working in the writing center. It was a good gig, and I loved the department heads in both the English department and Women’s and Gender Studies departments. But, I was an adjunct, getting paid like an adjunct.

Before I called the community college back, I weighed my options. My alma mater was a fifteen minute drive from home, while this community college gig was an hour away and winter was coming. Even as I calculated transportation costs, I knew that the community college position was far more profitable. Further, the opportunity to put the title “Visiting Professor” on my CV and teach the most classes I ever had was something I felt I could not pass up. After discussing the details with the department head at the community college, I knew I would have to back out of my job with my alma mater.

A few days later, I found myself sitting with the head of the Women’s and Gender Studies department, sputtering off some excuses as I guiltily explained my job opportunity. I felt I had to tell her I had not actively sought out the position, but rather that it had fallen into my lap. I told her everything—how much more I would make at the community college, what my title would be, and what a valuable experience it would be. First, to my surprise, instead of being angry, she tried to find ways to keep me. She left the meeting to discuss with the secretary the possibility of finding me more classes to teach in order for me to at least break even with the community college’s opportunity. When the two classes couldn’t be made available, I tried again to tell the department head what I had yet to make clear: I had to take the other position.

After a few more years of sputtering, my department head finally said, “Elise. Is this your way of saying you’re taking the other job, without actually saying it because you’ve been socialized as a woman to hedge your language?” She said it gently, kindly, with a mischievous smile on her face.

I hung my head. “Yes. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” she breathed, leaning in toward me. “Your job as a woman, and as a professional, is to put yourself and your career first. Don’t be sorry for taking care of yourself.”

Don’t be sorry for taking care of yourself.

I felt as though she had absolved me of all my sins—she had given me permission to take a job I knew I needed, despite my guilt over inconveniencing her, and furthermore, she recognized that much of guilt and fear was gendered. Would a man have felt the same guilt over taking a more lucrative position? Probably some, for certain—it of course depends on the man. But I would wager that more women reading this blog post understand my guilt than a lot of men might.

In telling me to take care of myself, this woman taught me a valuable lesson.  Like many women in academia (and more specifically, many women adjuncts), I didn’t put myself—my mental health, personal life, and my time—first because I was more worried about making ends meet. It’s an unfortunate fact of adjunct work: often we have no choice but to work ourselves into the ground for very little pay. I finally had the opportunity to work hard and be compensated fairly, and I was scared to take it lest I inconvenience people I respected and liked. In that moment, the head of the women’s and gender studies department, a woman who had likely once been in a similar position as I was in, showed me what it will likely take for me to have success in the future.

I think about this incident a great deal, as I am now in the first year of my PhD program at Michigan State. I’m not currently adjuncting, though I likely will again in the near future. While there will likely be moments in my future in which spreading myself too thin is my only option—an inconvenient and harrowing truth of adjunct work—I know now that when I’m given an opportunity to be compensated fairly, I’m taking it, without apologizing.

Adjuncts to Move into Secondary Education

Move over higher education, your brilliant plan to save money via adjunct/contingent faculty has now been usurped by secondary schools, at least in the state of Alabama. The State School Board announced this week that, because of shortages in career tech fields, they would allow adjuncts to be hired without limit in secondary schools. Sounds familiar? Adjuncts can work up to half time, but do not qualify for salaries or benefits. There is, as yet, no specified hourly rate for these employees. They would need an industry certification to teach career tech courses, but only a high school diploma to teach other subjects, excluding special education courses. The school board insists that the adjuncts each be assigned a mentor within the school where they are working, but no other educational background or coursework is required. Unlike emergency certifications, which are issued by state and require teachers to earn a valid certification within two years of starting teaching, adjunct positions have no such stipulations.

Such a shift only solidifies what we already know from our experiences in higher education: the integrity of the teaching profession is consistently being eroded, the education of our youth is being underfunded and undermined, and those of us who are fighting to legitimize the profession of education and bolster the rights of adjuncts are fighting an uphill battle. Well folks, the hill just got a little steeper. Sisyphean task, indeed.

To follow the horror, check out some of these local news articles:

Dothan Eagle:

Decator Daily:

Contingent Faculty Report 2010

Coalition on the Academic Workforce: 2010 Contingent Faculty Report


by Steven Shulman, Sue Doe, Natalie Barnes, and Mike Palmquist, Co-Directors Center for the Study of Academic Labor January 2016

In Fall 2010, the Coalition for the Academic Workforce surveyed non-tenure track faculty members (also called “contingent” faculty or “adjunct” faculty) in colleges and universities across the United States. 28,974 of these faculty members responded, making the CAW data set one of the largest sources of information available about the characteristics and work conditions of contingent faculty. CAW used its data set to write a report on part-time faculty members, which is viewable online at http:// The purpose of the present report is to extend that analysis to other categories of contingent faculty, and to generalize about contingent faculty as a whole.

Book Review–The Humanities, Higher Education, & Academic Freedom: Three Necessary Arguments

The Humanities, Higher Education, & Academic Freedom: Three Necessary Arguments, Michael Bérubé and Jennifer Ruth. (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2015.163 pages).

Reviewed by Sarah Austin: Instructor, USAFA Prep; PhD Student, Texas Tech University

According to former Emory University president, William M. Chace in his 2009 article called “The Decline of the English Department,”there were 34,000 English majors at universities across the United States in the academic year 1985-1986. Nearly twenty years later, during the 2003-2004 school year, that number jumped to 54,000, almost a 60 percent increase (Bérubé and Ruth 3-4). Why then, is there such a lament regarding the decline of English departments (and the humanities more generally) as reported by such reputable publications as American Scholar (2009), The Atlantic Monthly (1997), The New York Times (2013) and even the Chronicle of Higher Education (2013), which should know better? The answer, according to Michael Bérubé and Jennifer Ruth in their new book: The Humanities, Higher Education & American Freedom: Three Necessary Arguments is that a declining English department has usurped the limelight from the actual problem: over the past two decades, college teaching has been deprofessionalized.

The book, a short 148 page read, including the Appendix, is a collaboration between Michael Bérubé, a well-known disability and queer studies professor at Pennsylvania State University and Jennifer Ruth, an associate professor at Portland State University who, in her time as English department chair, made monumental changes in her institution towards the increase of tenure-track positions. Together, they have created a snarky, but necessary call to action for their tenure-track colleagues, non-tenured counterparts, and the general American public in a manner indicative of academic letters of the past. Here, they flesh out their argument that tenure is mandatory for the maintenance of the American university system, a system they still find vital, the reasons behind the need for such a system, and even, an Appendix for how to go about instituting such complex and fraught changes.

For Bérubé and Ruth, the issue is not that there are too many PhDs flooding a saturated system, as has been put forth so often. Rather, there are university faculties staffed with too few PhDs. Their solution: dismantle the current, imbalanced three-tier system of tenure, non-tenure full-time, and part-time faculty and replace it with a two-tiered tenure-track system where one track is teaching intensive and the other is focused on research, service and teaching. This sounds like a feasible idea until one recalls that currently, 70 percent of the professoriate is made up of contingent faculty upon whom universities have come to rely (14). These are not faculty members who are retired and teaching a class or two a year on the side to supplement their income, or those who work full time jobs by day and teach a class here and there by night for “play money,” although those do exist in miniscule numbers (17). Instead, the most recent Coalition for the Academic Workforce (CAW) numbers show that only 2.2 percent of contingent faculty identify as retired, and 45 percent of contingent faculty make less than $34,999 annually. Likewise, CAW’s survey indicates that 61 percent of contingent faculty do not hold a Phd/EdD, making them, even in Bérubé and Ruth’s more ideal world, less likely to earn the teaching intensive tenure-track positions for which this text fiercely advocates. What contingent faculty do have, according to Bérubé and Ruth, is an inconsistent or non-existent (for part-time faculty) access to benefits, ineligibility for unemployment despite the fact that they can be fired at any time for any reason, no way to be promoted to a tenure track if they so desire, and unequal participation in “shared” governance due to a lack of academic freedom.

It is this last reality that Bérubé and Ruth find most problematic, and on which they base the majority of the text’s argument because, contrary to popular opinion, most liberal arts professors “don’t believe that knowledge is timeless…and don’t believe that anything is universally valuable” (29). This is true even when discussing the United States’ foundational ideals of “liberty” “justice” and “equality” (33). Bérubé utilizes the first chapter of the text to confer on the concepts of universality, values and the Enlightenment, evoking the likes of Heraclitus, Justice Thurgood Marshall, Eve Sedgwick, Judith Butler and others in order to ultimately conclude that “work in the humanities can and must challenge that narrative’s potential for complacency and self-congratulation” (33). His biting sarcasm in this chapter shouldn’t detract from the very real issues posited by Ruth in chapter 2, where she outlines the rise of contingency in the American university using a frog in pot analogy, whereby faculty didn’t realize they were being boiled alive (or in this case, having their professionalism slowly dismantled, and with it their shared governance) until they were no longer capable of hopping out.

Together, Bérubé and Ruth conclude that tenure is the essential ingredient to successful reform because “faculty need the protections of tenure to participate actively in shared governance” (87). Not to have tenure means the “creation of fiefdom and patronage systems” (87) within which “corruption and cronyism” inevitably thrive (89). Thus, the authors argue for the regrowth of tenure in a slightly altered, two-tiered form.

The authors gracefully side step land mines by not vilifying contingent faculty, nor rendering them unprofessional. They also directly address the very painful reality, acknowledging that the implementation of their two-tier tenure structure will not justly accommodate those contingent faculty members who deserve to be accommodated, nor will it equally account for those full-time faculty who do not hold terminal degrees. However, the authors maintain that while the increase in contingent faculty may reduce the economic crises many public universities face, and the unionization of contingent faculty, as has been happening more rapidly across the country, will alleviate tangible, short-term issues like high course loads, lack of benefit packages and gross pay inequities, these measures are simply stop-gap BandAids. The long-term solution, they insist, is the two-tiered system wherein professors are universally and publicly vetted for traditional or teaching-intensive positions. Such a choice, they claim, will alleviate (unsubstantiated) public fears that the caliber of a university education has diminished, stave off many of the economic issues contingency has been used to slow, and reinstate the imperative academic freedom upon which the American university system relies for its shared governance and academic prowess.

This might seem far-fetched to many of us both in and outside the university. However, thanks to the inclusion of Ruth’s own blatantly honest depiction of her experience at Portland State University (PSU), and the Appendix, which acts much like a professional organization’s position statement in its use of ‘how to’ and ‘why’ statements without feeling prescriptive, the book offers a glimmer of possibility amongst an array of cynics.

Where many books of this nature, that is, academically-minded and problem-defining, often fail to provide a clear roadmap for the implementation of grandiose, complicated and always painful changes, Ruth is transparent in her acknowledgment of the stress, resistance and guilt that accompanies such projects. She says, “transitioning [a full-time non-tenure track university] workforce to the tenure track is more of a logistical and cultural shift than it is an economic nightmare” if the institution already has full-time non-tenure track positions, as Portland State did (132). Even that though, didn’t make the transition easy, “In order to expand our numbers of tenure lines, we essentially renegotiated the departmental division of labor. We [gave] out fewer course releases…[which] meant that chronically under-enrolled courses were starting to creep up to their caps because we were hiring fewer adjuncts to avoid the trap of generating semester credit hours(SCH) cheaply for the university” (73). Ruth continues, “At the time I was surprised that people didn’t see things the way we did (73), and she admits that “I can’t say for sure that if I understood in advance how strained the departmental relations would become, I would do it over again. But I hope I would. What is tenure for if not to enable you to endure unpopularity for something bigger than yourself” (72)? Indeed.

Ruth’s consolation is, of course, that the strategy worked. When the PSU English department, under her leadership, made it apparent that they were not going to continue growing “on the backs of contingent faculty” Portland State granted them “two new tenure lines and an agreement to convert a fixed-term position when someone retired into a tenure-track position,” a conversion that occurred the following year (73). Unfortunately, the success is Ruth’s only consolation. Though the shift, over time, meant a lighter load, short-term it increased people’s workload, and to many, it appeared as though she had turned into a typical “admin-type” who was adding to an already overtaxed faculty. Ruth stepped down as chair soon after, and was replaced by a tenured faculty member whose spouse had been given a full-time position at his request. Despite the constant back-and-forth that advocacy and transformation inevitably bring, Ruth stands by her decisions insisting that “students deserve a faculty who can make independent judgments, [who can] deliberate and research and teach and grade without anxiety over the next paycheck warping the outcome of these activities” (74). The Appendix outlines one way to go about ensuring such a reality.

While many academic, problem-defining texts skip the “how to” for fear of being called prescriptive, if one feels strongly enough about inciting transformational change, as Ruth and Bérubé clearly do, setting out contextualized guidelines for what such momentous change looks like is crucial to getting others to follow you. The Appendix lists, in bulleted form how to “immediately stabilize the employment of a large percentage of…faculty by converting positions of Senior Instructor from NTT to TT. Using Portland State as the contextualized example, from which others may adapt as their institution sees fit/necessary, the Appendix walks administrators through what such an implementation entails, from the way to handle current Senior versus non tenure track instructors, past hiring decisions utilizing adhoc instead of national searches, timelines within which the transition should occur, specific dates for grandfathering positions, to how PR should be handled including a list of reasons why these changes are vital.

Bérubé and Ruth recognize that flexibility is necessary for individual circumstances, and differing institutions. The above guidelines include some room for such differences. However, they reiterate their Bottom Lines, reminding their admin audience that the list contained hereafter is not negotiable, nor should it be for the reinstatement and maintenance of tenure. The list includes:

  • Grandfathering no one who has been at the university fewer than seven years.
  • Maintaining the stringency of “up and out” that tenure demands
  • Utilizing regional and national searches, but not adhoc hiring.
  • Aligning tenure and non-tenure track position responsibilities with the exception of service, which should be contractually evident.
  • Converting positions will have three years to prepare for tenure review, whereas new hires will have the traditional six years.
  • Reviewing for tenure is done only by tenured faculty, not by contingent “peers.” (145-148)

This is a comprehensive, and necessary list for the implementation of such a complex change, and makes the transformation seem feasible except in one instance.

However, the group most at-risk for dismissal given Bérubé and Ruth’s plan are those individuals who have Master’s degrees (terminal or otherwise, full-time or part-time), and are in their 50s and 60s. Generally, these individuals have no interest in getting a PhD, but are nearing retirement age and need to maintain benefits and income. According to the CAW survey, 37 percent of full-time faculty hold Master’s degrees, 12 percent of which are terminal; 50 percent of them are above the age of 45 and a remarkable 66.6 percent of full-time faculty have no benefits from their institution—and hence those nearing retirement will have no health benefits or pension to draw upon.

And this doesn’t even consider the part-time faculty, 45 percent of whom are above the age of 45, and nearly 50 percent of whom hold a Master’s degree, 15 percent of which are terminal. Neither group is carefully attended to throughout the text; and while many of them meet the proposed timeline for grandfathering, most of the full-time faculty who have served the university well for years do not meet the degree requirement that a regional or national search would invariably require.

These individuals have to be considered. In order to do so, we must outline new ideas that honor the work and commitment of contingent faculty to their students and the universities in which they toil. In addition, we must recognize the commitments colleges and universities made to them. One might draw the comparison of common-law marriage: the lack of a binding, long-term contract does not assume a lack of rights. Ignoring such a considerable sect of contingent faculty further embroils universities in the increasing public belief that a college education, while important, is marred by big business attitudes instead of being focused on the learning of its students and the quality of life of its employees. It is possible to reinstate academic freedom via tenure and respect the time, effort and skill of 70 percent of the postsecondary workforce. It’s time we did both.