Taking Action for Adjuncts

From Red Bricks and Mortar Boards:

After being surrounded by a sea of boxes for the past few days, I have some time to step away from unpacking and relax. I'll have more on this process of moving for a new academic position and my efforts to integrate in the community soon. In the meantime, I'm responding to a provocative article in Chronicle's Vitae. In "Blaming the Victim: Ladder Faculty and the Lack of Adjunct Activism," Lori Harrison-Kahan highlights the silence of tenure-track faculty with respect to the inequities of adjunct/contingent/tenure-ineligible faculty. At the conclusion of the article, Harrison-Kahan writes:

Through the labor movement taking place in Boston and across the country, contingent professors are using their newfound voices to begin formulating answers. But it is also the responsibility of ladder faculty to take action, to openly acknowledge how exploitative labor and hiring practices have affected the lives and work of those unprotected by tenure. 

 
I quite agree. Yet I wondered aloud what, precisely, would taking action for adjuncts entail? Initially, I had difficulty coming up with ways that tenure-track faculty can address inequities adjuncts experience. Chalk this up to my naiveté or lack of experience. However, I realized that my previous employer, the Office of Faculty Affairs at the University of Maryland, provides a few examples. Here are the steps this forward-looking office initiated or implemented over the course of the past two years. These steps illuminate several courses of action for tenure-track faculty at other institutions to demonstrate activism for adjuncts.
1. Get a sense of numbers and issues - Many institutions do not meaningfully keep track of the number of adjuncts they employ. Although all of this information should be available through the human resources record system, it is often the case that no one is tasked with collecting it or presenting it to show trends. This was the case at the University of Maryland. When you don't know how many adjuncts are employed at the institution over time, it is difficult to realize how the academic labor force is changing. A task force was convened by the Senate to study adjuncts, and it became patently clear that, over the preceding decades, the university's reliance upon adjuncts had exploded. Tenure-track faculty numbers remained constant, while adjunct numbers ticked upwards. As a result, the university's academic labor force now includes more than 60% adjuncts. In addition to understanding the proportion of adjuncts employed at the university, the task force conducted a survey of adjunct working conditions. The findings were revealing: no recognition, exclusion from governance, lack of promotion, outright abuse, and so on. So, one early step that tenure-track faculty can take: request that a study of adjuncts be conducted and periodically updated. Encourage other tenure-track faculty to support the initiative and even participate in the committee or task force. When the report is finished, disseminate it widely in your department.
 
2. Create opportunities for more inclusive governance - Raising awareness is important, but it fails to change material conditions. One of the findings of the task force at the University of Maryland was that, despite the fact that adjunct numbers where steadily rising, the seats in the Senate allotted to adjuncts remained constant. Additionally, it was often the case that adjuncts had no voice in departmental decision-making. This means that adjuncts are becoming more and more vital to the operations of the university, yet excluded from the formal structures of enacting change within the institution. Such exclusion makes it possible for inequities to continue, as adjuncts have few opportunities to express their opinions or share their experiences. Tenure-track faculty can help to re-calibrate this power differential. A second step is to fight to have adjuncts included in departmental decision-making. Don't simply rely upon adjuncts to implement the curriculum you create--partner with them and draw upon their knowledge. Furthermore, propose that systems of institutional shared governance reflect the realities of the academic labor force and that the composition of seats are periodically reviewed. 

Read the full blog post here.