Links Roundup: 20 September 2013

“Many have termed the intense marketization of today’s university neoliberal. Neoliberalism, as Jeff Maskovsky writes, focalizes a number of important developments: “consumerist, market-driven learning; the privatization, corporatization, and branding of the university; the decline in public spending on higher education; . . . outcomes assessment and other efficiency-oriented
interventions; and the casualization of academic labor.”

“Within the corporatized university we encounter less a gap between academia and activism than a contradictory field where politicized intellectual labor is simultaneously promoted and contained. In this situation, left academics are tempted to repackage intellectual work as activism or conflate the teaching of classes and the publishing of essays on race, class, gender, and sexuality’ with “social action.”

“The ObamaCare Employer Mandate: A List Of Cuts To Work Hours, Jobs now includes 62 private employers and 239 public-sector employers. The list includes 80 school districts that have cited Affordable Care Act costs as a reason for cutting work hours — or in several cases outsourcing functions — of part-time instructional aides, cafeteria workers, custodians and bus drivers.

It also includes 46 universities and colleges — in some cases college systems — that have reduced teaching loads for adjunct faculty.”

“The second instance is this tragic story of a long-time adjunct who was diagnosed with cancer, couldn’t afford treatment and her living expenses, was fired, ended up living in a homeless shelter before dropping dead of a heart attack. Go and read the whole story. Go now. Come back and tell me that this isn’t a case of the university “unseeing” her, that the entire system is set up to “unsee” adjuncts and the injustice and hypocrisy of it all. But once again, we all just need to accept that this is how the system works, and we are all just doing our jobs: chairs making decisions to run programs based on budgets handed down from deans and provosts.

The New York Times recently ran a piece called “The Banality of Systemic Evil” and again I couldn’t help but think of the systemic evils of higher education, how everyone just shrugs and says they are just doing their jobs, that there is nothing to be done, that it is not their fault, nor their responsibility. I usually enjoy Dean Dad, but I recoiled at one of his latest posts that matter-of-factly stated that using an adjunct in a psych class funds nursing programs.”

With roughly 40 percent of academic positions eliminated since the 2008 crash, most adjuncts will not find a tenure-track job. Their path dependence and sunk costs will likely lead to greater path dependence and sunk costs – and the costs of the academic job market are prohibitive. Many job candidates must shell out thousands of dollars for a chance to interview at their discipline’s annual meeting, usually held in one of the most expensive cities in the world. In some fields, candidates must pay to even see the job listings.

Given the need for personal wealth as a means to entry, one would assume that adjuncts would be even more outraged about their plight. After all, their paltry salaries and lack of departmental funding make their job hunt a far greater sacrifice than for those with means. But this is not the case. While efforts at labour organisation are emerging, the adjunct rate continues to soar – from 68 percent in 2008, the year of the economic crash, to 76 percent just five years later.

Contingency has become permanent, a rite of passage to nowhere…

…Outspoken academics like Pannapacker are rare: most tenured faculty have stayed silent about the adjunct crisis. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it,” wrote Upton Sinclair, the American author famous for his essays on labour exploitation. Somewhere in America, a tenured professor may be teaching his work, as a nearby adjunct holds office hours out of her car.

On Twitter, I wondered why so many professors who study injustice ignore the plight of their peers. “They don’t consider us their peers,” the adjuncts wrote back. Academia likes to think of itself as a meritocracy – which it is not – and those who have tenured jobs like to think they deserved them. They probably do – but with hundreds of applications per available position, an awful lot of deserving candidates have defaulted to the adjunct track.”

  • And finally, a study at Northwestern University with findings that suggest that undergraduates learned more from adjunct instructors (contingent faculty) than from tenure-track or tenured professors. Of course, I am skeptical of these findings and the investments of those touting them. Assertions of the quality of adjuncts’ teaching can serve to justify their low pay (more bang for your buck), just as they can support the unionizing of adjuncts.

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