The fall of 2013 has delivered a rich assortment of mainstream news stories and academic articles dealing with the tenuous circumstances of part-time faculty in higher education.
In San Diego, The Reader published last week, “We’re Constantly in Fear: The Life of a Part-Time Professor.”
On MSNBC, Melissa Harris-Perry interviewed Maria Maisto of the New Faculty Majority and others about non-tenured working conditions.
Claire Goldstene published in Dissent, “The Emergent Academic Proletariat and Its Shortchanged Students.”
Robert Fuller, former president of Oberlin College in Pscyology Today: “Ending Academic Apartheid.”
For part-time faculty, these stories aren’t really news (they do make for great reading and viewing, however). But these stories may constitute new information for full-time faculty.
Why is this the case? Although we work together, many full-time faculty have come to view their roles in relationship to part-timers as “managers” rather than as colleagues. And they justify their full-time status with its managerial function in terms of merit. For instance, one chair at a local community college told me recently that she was selected for her full-time position out of a pool of a hundred and fifty candidates. Must be pretty good to have gotten the position. Right?
But the argument of academic or pedagogical superiority is a weak one. Universities and colleges worked just fine when everyone was just colleagues. In contrast, what the articles above point out is that the “I’m here because I’m better” argument blinds full-timers to the “Wallmartetization,” to quote one of the MSNBC interviewees, of higher education. The merit-based argument, whether full-timers recognize it or not, amounts to capitulation with neoliberalist policy. Flattery, it seems, can get neoliberalists everywhere.
There is support for this view from full-time academics themselves. For instance, geographer David Harvey speaks of a dialectic of dispossession and privilege that he characterizes as the dominant strategy of neoliberalist policy since the seventies. Applied to higher education, this dialectic has amounted to dispossessing a small group (the part-timers) and then growing that group until in the end everyone is dispossessed. As one of the articles above points out, the growth of part-time faculty since the seventies has been around four hundred percent while non-tenured tenure track faculty are becoming as rare as Dodo birds (7%).
The privilege/dispossession dialectic also has the advantage (from a neoliberalist perspective) of destroying solidarity. Being “managed” amounts to a class difference. The cultural effect of this at year-end Christmas parties has made sharing time among full and part-time faculty awkward. The height of gauche is to say anything about teaching at these gatherings, even though it’s the only real topic in common part-timers have with full-timers. Much better if you have some non-paid administrative matter you can bring up. It makes you sound like you’re one-of-the-gang.
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