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« What are your university's tenure standards? | Main | The philosophy social media dilemma »

01/22/2020

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Trevor Hedberg

The CHE piece mainly consists of a bulleted list of things TT faculty could do to help adjuncts. I'm not going to copy/paste each paragraph-length explanation, but here is a short description of each item on the list -- mostly done using the exact language of the author.

As a faculty body, (1) if you have graduate programs, track the year-by-year employment of every single graduate for the first 10 years, (2) if you work at an undergraduate- or master’s-focused school, don’t even consider hiring a tenure-track faculty member from an R1 university, (3) Don’t ask for new equipment that isn’t absolutely essential; instead, negotiate to have that money reallocated to adjunct pay, (4) reduce your institution’s travel budget and the number of its institutional memberships, and put that money toward adjunct resources, and (5) stand behind a simple principle: one faculty, one union.

As a department, (1) allocate introductory courses to permanent faculty, and give adjuncts upper-division “special topics” courses with smaller course sizes and (2) hire from within -- conduct internally focused searches and bring your best adjuncts on board whenever you have an open tenure-track line, instead of searching for the distant star.

As an individual faculty member, (1) stop bringing graduate students into your lab or research group if you know they’ll likely be doomed, (2) counsel your best undergraduates not to pursue graduate school if they imagine themselves in faculty life, (3) if you’re an interdisciplinary scholar, don’t advocate for starting an interdisciplinary degree (or worse yet, graduate) program, and (4) retire before you want to.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Trevor: Thanks for the quick overview of the piece!

I'm curious what everyone makes of them. One of the items (item 4: "reduce your institution's travel budget") is not something that at my university faculty have any control over. A second item ("allocate introductory courses to permanent faculty, and give adjuncts upper division courses") would, as far as I can tell, actually harm adjuncts here--as our main bargaining chip for full-time, better-paying positions (which we have been good at adding in recent years) is that we need permanent faculty to teach upper-division courses.

One thing individuals *have* done at my university that I think that has improved things substantially for nonTT folk--and which tenured and tenure-stream people fought for in our Senate over at least a decade--is that we created new types of full-time non-TT positions that pay well, have full benefits, and have opportunities for two levels of promotion (akin to Associate and Full Professor). The new positions that we passed in our Senate a few years ago are Lecturer positions (for faculty with an MA) and Professors of Instruction (for faculty with PhDs). The main differences between these positions and tenure-stream positions is that they have a higher teaching load (4/4 instead of 3/3) and no opportunity for tenure. Individuals in the positions can be promoted (to Lecturer II and III, etc.), with corresponding pay increases--and they also receive annual merit raises just like TT faculty.

I've heard some other institutions have created similar positions in recent years. Are they are perfect solution to the kinds of issues discussed in this series? Of course not. But they have dramatically reduced the university's dependence on low-paid, part-time adjunct labor, giving full-time jobs with good pay and benefits to people who were either previously adjuncts or might have otherwise been. Insofar as universities have (believe it or now) some self-interested reasons to decrease adjunct reliance (word on the street is that it can be a serious issue with accrediting agencies and student recruitment), my sense is that this may be one of the more realistic and effective ways that individuals (TT and non-TT alike) can get their institutions to vastly improve things for nonTT faculty--though of course lots of work still needs to be done too.

Matthew

For anyone above non-TT faculty in the institutional hierarchy, an obvious thing they can do is treat non-TT faculty with dignity and respect. Of course, every conscientious person in such positions already knows this. However, in addition to conscientious people there are also jerks, and academia has its fair share of them. These jerks will not treat non-TT faculty with dignity and respect. They will treat them as second-class citizens in their department. They will also exploit the vulnerable position of non-TT faculty for small gains to themselves (e.g., request unpaid assistance on certain tasks knowing that the non-TT faculty probably doesn't have the time to help out but will feel pressure to do so anyway because of the power-differential).

Therefore, conscientious faculty need to watch out for the mean and exploitative behavior of their jerky colleagues towards non-TT faculty. This is harder than you may think as many jerks are clever enough to mainly direct their jerky behavior to those below them and to hide it from those above them (i.e., the punch down, kiss up strategy). Thus, many conscientious faculty are not aware of how jerky some of their colleagues are. One thing they can do to address this is to make it known to the non-TT faculty that their door is always open for a confidential chat about any issues they are having in the department.

Once the bad behavior of a jerk is detected the next step is to take action. I won't go through all the different possibilities of how one might do this. But we should note that many of the possible interventions are themselves risky for the conscientious faculty because they involve some kind of confrontation with the (potentially powerful) jerk colleague in your department. Therefore, the higher up you are in the institutional hierarchy (e.g., tenured, department chair, etc.) the stronger the obligation to intervene to protect the non-TT faculty from your jerky colleagues.

Sam Duncan

Marcus,
I think the sort of thing your department is doing is one of the most hopeful developments for non-TT faculty. In a lot of ways I was happy in my lecturer job but the things that drove me away completely (beyond some bad behavior from "colleagues") were the complete lack of stability, the lack of any real avenues for advancement, and the total unpredictability of advances in pay. The department kept all of us, even lecturers who'd been there nearly ten years, on year to year contracts and the department head would never give even the most minimal reassurances about whether we had a job for next year until the contracts were actually issued. The only raises we got with any sort of frequency were merit raises, but there were no criteria or even explanation to these. As far as I could tell getting a merit raise basically just came down to whether the head liked you and how much. I got two or three of them in the three years I was there and the only explanation was in a two line letter that basically said we like to award merit so here you go. But I also knew people who'd been there seven years and had never gotten a merit raise. The head seemed to like me but given how willfully these were doled out they were hardly anything you could count on to plan a life. So the opportunities for pay raises with clear criteria for what you need to do to get them are huge. I'm guessing that as your lecturers get promoted they get multiyear contracts of increasingly longer duration as is usual in such arrangements? That's also a huge deal since that kind of stability allows one to start planning a life. I know you and I disagree with the value of tenure in general but I think that fighting for these kind of jobs is something the APA and other institutions ought to put their weight behind rather than trying to get all the non-TT jobs converted into TT ones. Even if you think that would be a good thing, it just isn't going to happen. But more and more schools have been moving toward giving lecturers real promotion schemes that promise stability, predictability, and more respect or towards creating lecturer promotions with these schemes. Creating more jobs like that or turning adjunct jobs into them is doable and hugely valuable.
One final thought: I think the CHE article overstates it but I do see the value of giving adjuncts classes besides the usual intro ones they get stuck with. For one, teaching classes in one's specialty or even just a new area is stimulating. But more importantly as you know breadth of teaching is often hugely important for the sorts of teaching jobs adjuncts are most competitive for. The fact I taught a continental philosophy class as an adjunct pretty clearly played a role in me getting some of the interviews I did.

Marcus Arvan

Thanks, Sam! Actually, technically none of us--not even tenured faculty--get multiyear contracts. We all receive and sign new contracts each year, which state our new salary after merit raises, promotions, etc. But this is really pro forma, and in practice every full time-faculty member (TT or otherwise) can expect their contract to be renewed each year. Our university treats our new full-time non-TT Lecturers and Professors of Instruction as stable jobs, the intent (and practice) being to provide stability and good pay and benefits where there wasn't before. If I were in such a position at my university, I would without any hesitation plan to be here for the long haul (buy a house, put down roots, etc.). Honestly, as far as I can tell the only things nonideal about the positions are that they have a higher teaching load and no possibility of tenure. Otherwise, they seem to me a pretty good thing we were able to accomplish here.

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