Ethos for the Tenured: A Christmas Carol
Tenured and tenure-track faculty keep writing anti-adjunct essays, and The Chronicle keeps publishing them. I won't comment on the choices of that particular news source. Instead, I'll recommend you check out the #ChronicleFail hashtag on twitter. The latest in these attempts to get adjuncts activists to just shut up and accept their working conditions comes from Rob Jenkins. He actually writes, “For one thing, adjunct teaching provides jobs for thousands of people. Not the best jobs with the best pay, true, but paying jobs nonetheless.” This, hot on the heels of Arizona State's English department deciding to increase adjunct faculty loads from 4/4 to 5/5 with no change in pay. (Have you signed the petition rallying against that move?) Administrators and tenured faculty alike regularly defend actions and attitudes like these, citing everything from budget constraints to “meritocracy.” I find the “but it's a job” argument particularly offensive, as it suggests that workers have no right to question the workplace. Without critique of working conditions, we'd have no weekend, no safety regulations, and no child labor laws.
As a rhetorician, I'm stymied trying to find a way to reach my fellow tenured & tenure-track colleagues when logos fails at every turn. The Content Class are able to ignore the material working & living conditions of adjuncts. “Stop whining and be grateful you have a job” is the refrain, sometimes phrased more delicately, sometimes not, a magical incantation used to quiet low-wage workers in every field. The Content Class simply ignores the facts, that these professors are asked to teach the most populous, most important classes with fewer resources, less time, and little to no professional development, in a working environment in which tenured colleagues often belittle them—if they even know their names. Logos rolls off of their backs.
Pathos seems to have just as little effect. If you know that your colleagues are on food stamps, have crushing debt, and struggle to pay medical bills, yet you feel unmoved, no impulse to be an ally rather than an antagonist, I can only conclude that you are emotionally impervious.
No car company is selling you the latest model with promises of improved MPG or with images of puppies and babies in the backseat.
So, I turn to ethos. I don't want to, because I know I'm inviting trolls. I know this is not the polite or politic approach. But I'm going to just write it, anyway, as a last resort. It's Christmas time. Consider me the Ghost of Christmas Present.
If you pen one of these anti-adjunct essays, if you rationalize systematic labor abuses in your comments on articles or social media, your character is questionable.
If you vote in favor of policies that further diminish adjunct power, if you will compromise the working conditions of your contingent colleagues to shore up your own, you are not a good person.
You might volunteer at the local soup kitchen and take in stray cats, but that just proves that cognitive dissonance is a real thing. Like the Walmart executives who hold holiday food drives for their employees instead of paying them a living wage, you aren't fooling anyone.
Why don't the adjuncts just quit, if the job is so bad, and decrease the surplus population? Other MAs and PhDs are just waiting to take their jobs! See, Ebenezer, that makes you a bad person. It demonstrates that you are fine with the exploitation of an entire class of workers, as long as some people are so in need of a job that they will take one that demeans them. “They want to be exploited! Otherwise they'd be unemployed or working for an even more exploitive organization” is not an argument that speaks highly of you.
Some of you may benefit from a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past. Were you an adjunct once? If so, try to remember that more and more, time spent as an adjunct disqualifies teachers for permanent positions in the minds of many hiring committees. Remember that you are a rare bird having gotten your permanent gig. If you never worked as a temporary professor, know that you are just as rare a bird.
What of the Ghost of Christmas Future? If you take an anti-adjunct, anti-labor stance now, how will you be remembered? How will history treat you? We have tomes written by smart people rationalizing discrimination and subjugation. We read them in efforts to understand how ignorance was perpetuated. You are not on the right side of history.
But it's not too late. Like Ebenezer, you can be better than your word.
12/19/2014 02:41:47 am
Ebenezer means 'stone of help'. Just sayin... Thanks, Amy for saying what needs to be screamed loudly on every college campus.
12/19/2014 05:11:56 am
Excellent. Victim blaming simply shows the perceived insulation between tenured faculty and adjunct. What those with tenure do not realize is that adjunct jobs are cheaper for the institution than full-time tenured jobs. The day will come. If they can do it to them, they can do it to you. Perhaps instead of an elitist, "What is wrong with you that you can't get a full-time job?" tenured faculty should speak up on behalf of those whose ranks they might someday involuntarily join.
12/19/2014 07:48:30 am
While I agree with lot of the above, and while I also found Rob Jenkins's essay to be a nothing more than a disingenuous justification of the status-quo, it is nevertheless true that there have been pointless attacks on t-t or tenured faculty too, seemingly less concerned about collaboration in a shared goal and more interested in guilt-tripping. Trying to turn the fact that some people have achieved that status into a kind of implicit negative, as if the the only factor was sheer random luck, seems more designed to alienate potential allies than to win them to one's side. And silly analogies like the Walmart owners appealing to customers for charity for their own underpaid workers don't help. While I get the point that doing the right thing away from campus doesn't relieve one of responsibilities on campus, tenured colleagues are mostly not super-wealthy owners of a corporate empire, and don't have anything like executive authority over university policy. Pretending that they have will not get us to a better situation.
12/20/2014 05:53:14 am
Amy, my dear, you rock. Thank you for writing about this issue. It is very near and dear to my heart, small and raisin-like as it may be. Keep up the wit and thoughtfulness.
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Oh, my. That's me.