Flowing directly from the decision to pay contingent faculty less than the tenure-stream faculty is the negative attitude of tenured faculty toward their nontenured colleagues. Wandering into a faculty lounge at a community college, a tenured faculty member said out loud, “If an adjunct professor were any good, he would have landed a full-time tenure-track position by now.” This tenured professor, who served as the grievance chair for the faculty union, did not seem to notice—or care—that an adjunct was in the room.

Such prejudice is the natural solution to cognitive dissonance, which holds that when people’s belief systems conflict with their behavior, they will sometimes modify their beliefs in order to justify their behavior. The problem posed for tenure-track faculty is this: how can they justify why they are treated so well while so many of their non-tenure-track colleagues are treated so badly?

The tenured faculty member’s comment reveals ignorance of the fact that for decades there have been far more qualified applicants than there have been tenure-track jobs. But it is precisely this scarcity of full-time positions that leads those who have them to see themselves as the winners in some sort of social Darwinian landscape.

No one seems to have done a breakdown on the ages of new hires, but adjuncts nearly universally believe that the longer they are adjuncts, the less chance they have of ever attaining a tenure-track job. It is not at all unusual for tenure-track search committees, composed primarily of tenure-track professors, to ignore their own accomplished adjuncts and to hire “promising” young professors with few accomplishments.

In his book Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank, Robert Fuller, former president of Oberlin College, has laid out the consequences of dividing people by rank. Echoing much of the feminist literature, Fuller describes “a disorder without a name”: rankism. Calling rankism “the mother of all Isms,” Fuller points out that neither differences in power or rank are in themselves the crux of the problem. Rather, “difficulties arise only when these differences are used as an excuse to abuse, humiliate, exploit, and subjugate. . . . The abuse of power vested in rank-holders takes the form of disrespect, inequity, discrimination, and exploitation. Since hierarchies are pyramids of power, rankism is a malady to which hierarchies of all types are susceptible.”17

Fuller notes that hierarchies can be used to divide people between somebodies and nobodies: “Rankism insults the dignity of subordinates by treating them as invisible, as nobodies. Nobody is another n-word and, like the original, it is used to justify denigration and inequity. Nobodies are insulted, disrespected, exploited, ignored. In contrast, somebodies are sought after, given preference, lionized.”18

Following Fuller, I think we can now give a name to the treatment of nontenured faculty by their tenured colleagues: tenurism. Like racism, which categorizes people by their race, and sexism, which categorizes people by their sex, tenurism categorizes people by their tenure status and makes the false assumption that tenure (or the lack of it) somehow defines the quality of the professor.

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