All Faculty Ought to Be Outraged When Someone Demeans an Adjunct

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

I read with a mixture of dismay and contempt the piece by Catherine Stukel of Morton Community College (“Is That Whining Adjunct Someone You Want Teaching Our Youth?” The Chronicle, August 25) and was pleased to see Marc Bosquet’s rejoinder (“Offensive Letter Justifies Oppressive System that Hurts Both Faculty and Students,”August 29), with which I generally agree. However, I would like to emphasize further a point which Mr. Bosquet raises. He wrote that the majority of non-tenure-track faculty had justly rebelled against being viewed as failures for not trying harder or being more acceptable personalities—points which Ms. Stukel, apparently with a straight face, had argued passionately. I agree that this rebellion is just, but argue that the rest of the piece does not go far enough in pressing something with which I infer Mr. Bosquet agrees: the majority of tenure-track faculty should be just as insulted and angered. The simplicity of Ms. Stukel’s very wrong and very dismissive point is what caused my dismay initially—the utter failure to note that the adjunctification of the university has been something beyond the control of teaching faculty, and has almost without public acknowledgement resulted in the dramatic decline in tenure in the university. Professor Stukel, if the jobs do not exist, how is it anyone’s fault for not finding a job?

More than this, though, I felt contempt for Ms. Stukel’s opinion: No one gains when those with status look at those without and say, essentially, “I won. Why can’t you?” This attitude reminds me of a professor for whom I once served as a teaching assistant in graduate school. He told me that he wanted to see the A’s and B’s I gave—not surprising; I was green, and it’s possible that I was being harder or softer than I ought to be. Fortunately, we generally agreed, but he shocked me by refusing to allow me to give a perfect score. “That would mean that the student knows more than we do,” he said. As the T.A., rather than the instructor of record, I had no choice but to comply with a directive which I found ridiculous in the extreme. Why not give a student a perfect score for learning what we had taught, and for expressing it in an excellent manner? Is it really a threat to my intelligence or knowledge if a student is doing the work and understanding it? Apparently, said professor believed so. I have never forgotten this directive because it typified the sort of attitude I read in Ms. Stukel and have, unfortunately, seen in some other tenure-track faculty, senior and otherwise. It is an attitude of exclusion: I have knowledge/status/whatever, and I must find a way to value it which at the same time keeps others from attaining it—otherwise, this knowledge/status/whatever will cease to be special, and I too will cease to be special.

Read the full letter here.