At MLA 2020, I'll be hosting a workshop with Carolyn Betensky and Jennifer Ruth, "Fighting exploitation of contingent faculty from within: How tenure-stream allies can help to create equity on campus." We'll each speak briefly about specific context for advocacy before helping audience members to brainstorm and problem solve.
I'll be speaking about departmental-level work. Below, you can read the notes for my talk and see my slides.
Advocacy in the Department
As my colleagues have established, advocating for equity is work. Tweeting and publishing on these issues are good steps, but they don’t amount to much without the work, without striving to take action on our campuses and in our organizations.
So, I want to take a moment to acknowledge that we are encouraging you to do more work, when you may already feel overwhelmed. I can’t help but think of Nancy Welch’s chapter, “First-Year Writing and the Angels of Austerity” in the excellent Composition in the Age of Austerity. She argues that austerity measures more and more mean that “the work of education” is performed by angels in in austerity’s architecture,” (137) without compensation or recognition. This is largely true of the work of labor advocacy.
[Slide 2] But if you’re here, you are interested in doing that work. So thank you.
If you are new to this work, it can seem overwhelming. Department-based initiatives might be the best way to begin, in familiar territory. Here are a few guiding principles for the first-time advocate.
So, talk to your NTT colleagues. Depending on the size of the faculty and other constraints, you might: visit them individually during their office hours; ask to buy them a coffee; ask if you can attend a meeting of any existing contingent faculty committees or organizations. You might also use an anonymized poll, though this requires that you establish trust and intent, usually by putting in facetime with the faculty first anyway.
Questions you might ask:
When you listen to critiques of your department, your academic home, sometimes you will nod in agreement or want to shout “Amen!” But know that you will also inevitably feel defensive at times, too. As in some creative writing workshop pedagogies, try to listen silently to the critique. It’s good for you, I promise.
2. Choose a widely-felt, winnable issue and make a game plan. [Slide 4]
In this section, I’m borrowing from the excellent Secrets of a Successful Organizer, from Labor Notes. (The Labor Notes website and training sessions are very worth a visit, by the way.)
3. Build recognition of & respect for the professionalism of NTT colleagues. [Slide5]
In my own department, colleagues and I worked for a long time to push back against the idea that NTT = less: less scholarly, less professional, less accomplished. The snobbery of some tenure-line faculty who believe that their pedagogical insights are more learned or their scheduling priorities more important because of employment status no longer surprises me; I’ve also accepted that it’s a snobbery the academy teaches us; we perpetuate this attitude. Just as we have to help FYC students unlearn the five paragraph essay, we have to help tenure-line faculty unlearn the notion that, say, the adjunct who has been teaching FYC for 15 years doesn’t have enough professional insight to provide useful input into textbook choices or curricular design. We can address strategies for doing this as need be.
4. Revise or clarify department and departmental committee bylaws and other rules. [Slide 6]
Where rules are exclusionary, vague, or ripe for abuse, propose revisions.
For instance, at KU, our contract indicated that “departments will establish a procedure” for the rollover of NTT positions. For years, the “procedure” was really an informal decision of the chair. Instead, we outlined a procedure that NTT faculty helped develop; took comments & suggestions for revision; then held a successful vote to put it into practice.
5. Fight for funding. [Slide 7]
While battles on the department-level often won’t affect per course payments or benefits, we can advocate for material compensation in small but meaningful ways. How about dividing up departmental professional travel funds among all faculty? Or using some professional development funds to pay NTT faculty for committee work?
6. Don’t be afraid of a little protest. [Slide8]
Attending a session of the CWPA this past summer, a comrade at a large R1 in the southeast described a tactic she used in her department to great effect. In every meeting at which she was slated to speak, whatever the topic, she would display a slide behind her as she spoke, simply listing the salary of FYC faculty, all of whom are NTT. She might have been talking about an upcoming student club event, a new course, anything, and they were all reminded of the low salary of their most vulnerable colleagues, teaching the foundational course. The worst she suffered was rolled eyes--she is tenured, after all, and this is one thing that tenure’s good for. She tells me that the departmental advisory committee (made up of TT faculty) and the dean are now all on board for increasing salaries; they await decisions about the state budget to be made in the legislature.
Bradbury, Alexandra, Mark Brenner, and Jane Slaughter. Secrets of a Successful Organizer. Labor Notes / Labor Education & Research Project, 2016
Kahn, Seth. “The Problem of Speaking for Adjuncts.” Contingency, Exploitation,and Solidarity: Labor and Action in English Composition. The WAC Clearinghouse/ University Press of Colorado, 2017.
Welch, Nancy. “First-Year Writing and the Angels of Austerity.” Composition in the Age of Austerity. Eds. Nancy Welch & Tony Scott. Utah State University Press, 2016.
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Oh, my. That's me.