The last few years have seen a number of editorial arguments in newspapers and journals on the exploitation of adjunct faculty by American universities; next week's Nation has this contribution from William Deresiewicz, concluding with a provocative challenge to American academics:
Just as in society as a whole, the academic upper middle class needs to rethink its alliances. Its dignity will not survive forever if it doesn’t fight for that of everyone below it in the academic hierarchy. (“First they came for the graduate students, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a graduate student…”) For all its pretensions to public importance (every professor secretly thinks he’s a public intellectual), the professoriate is awfully quiet, essentially nonexistent as a collective voice. If academia is going to once again become a decent place to work, if our best young minds are going to be attracted back to the profession, if higher education is going to be reclaimed as part of the American promise, if teaching and research are going to make the country strong again, then professors need to get off their backsides and organize: department by department, institution to institution, state by state and across the nation as a whole. Tenured professors enjoy the strongest speech protections in society. It’s time they started using them.
Deresiewicz focuses largely on public institutions of higher learning, but the adjunct/tenure-track/tenured professor ratios are not much different, I would hazard, at private institutions, including Catholic ones. I was speaking several years ago with an adjunct who was teaching at two separate Jesuit institutions, neither of which would give her a full load of courses (because more than two courses would mean she would qualify for health insurance). Each school was paying a little more than $3,000 per class per semester, which meant that she was making around $25,000 for the year. "Why don't you write up an article about your experience," I suggested, thinking it might make an interesting argument on who gets ignored in discussions of the faith that does justice.
She looked at me like I was crazy, then said, "I still want to work."
Jim Keane, S.J.