I hope people actually respond to this. I had a huge argument today with some people in the adjunct movement, about this. They are convinced I do not understand that they are in poverty and I do not think their position is actually very well thought out. They have massive amounts of documentation of poor salaries, high teaching loads and poor working conditions. I don’t see how a move to 100% contract faculty with slightly better than adjunct pay would alleviate this. I also don’t see how nominally writing academic freedom into these contracts would really preserve academic freedom in all its aspects.
Tenured and tenure-track faculty and the professional organizations have failed to stem the overuse and exploitation of contract faculty, they say, and it is out of bad faith. We do well because they do poorly. Neoliberalism has won, they say, the Humboldtian university is long gone, and they want decent jobs in the corporate one. I, wanting to push back and get more tenure lines while also getting good contracts for those who seriously do not want tenure lines, am not living in the real world. (This is, of course, what the adminstration says as well.) Also, it is meritocratic of me to say the Ph.D. has value or that having a research program does, and it means I do not value teaching.
Here is what I think, a grandes rasgos. 1. Without academic freedom you do not have a university, and tenure is what guarantees academic freedom. 2. Without academic freedom and tenure you weaken shared governance. 3. Universities are nonetheless very hierarchical and the faculty, without a union, do not have enough power to end the inappropriate overuse of contract positions completely. 4. It is not a question of NTT versus T faculty. Better pay for contract faculty means they are not less expensive, so there is less motivation to cut T lines. 5. And more T lines means better market. So you need unions, and you need the professional organizations. (The NFM says the professional organizations have failed them and exists in part because of this, but without union-like action and follow-through can they do better? Does any advocacy organization have the power to remedy, by moral suasion, the economy and the kinds of business practices universities have now adopted?)
Where do the objections to my views 1-5 (above) lie, beyond the fact that people do not think I am talking about a currently existing university stucture and mission (they think the university I speak of is long dead)? What are the answers to the following anti-tenure, and sometimes anti-research line questions?: 1. “I have been a VAP in this line for 5 years and if it turns TT there will be a search and I will not be selected. I prefer it to be turned into a more permanent contract line for me.” 2. “I am an M.A. and cannot get onto the TT. I want more contract lines and also more power for people like me. The presence of Ph.D. and TT/T faculty limits my career.” 3. “All TT lines go to very new Ph.Ds. My Ph.D. is three years old, so I have more chances at NTT than TT jobs. I would therefore like the numbers of the former increased.”
Aren’t these questions all about how tenure is (mis)used, not about tenure, academic freedom and shared governance themselves? One of my objections to the project of making everyone contingent is that I do want faculty who are current in field, and I don’t see moving to an all-contingent faculty as a road to getting that at all–especially not in right-to-work states. I do think that in the context of the bad job market the search for tenure-track work and the traditional insistence that only that is viable has ravaged many people, including myself. But I also think it is very short-sighted to say the solution is to get rid of it.
I also know that at good schools, there are Ph.D. VAPs who deserve tenure-track jobs, and M.A.s with valuable experience and current expertise. But for us, here, if we cannot offer a T job, we are then reduced to searching for M.A.s living locally. This is not easy. With the tenure track, we get applications from people with a lot of skills. I don’t know how we could get comparable people on a contingent basis without offering a great deal more money. So with the tenure track, we can afford them, and we can also offer them something tangible, and we have the prospect of actually building faculty and program.
As I write this I am trying to envision more clearly an all-contingent world. There are places like that–Evergreen College. You have a lot of people there who are as good as tenured, just as our contingent faculty is (ours are effectively permanent as soon as they are hired). So people do get some form of permanence, and I doubt the anti-tenurists’ fantasy of “flushing out the bad” and opening up more jobs for the truly deserving is realized. But how real are academic freedom and shared governance there–or how real would they be if the place were bigger? What if large community colleges like Miami-Dade eliminated the tenure track–would there be academic freedom then? (Shared governance is no longer very real where I am, I must say, but does that mean we should renounce the idea of it?)
So in any case: how is it that the push to improve conditions for contingent faculty and to win back more tenure lines do not support each other? They do so far as I can tell, and I want as many people as possible on tenure lines. And that is not because of job security, it is because of the role of research in teaching and of tenured faculty in governance. Am I terribly conservative, elitist, out of date? Also, is it that bad to want at least half your faculty to have the terminal degree?