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2013 May 20

Tenure-track’s untouchables

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Ivan Evans, of UCSD, has just posted a guest post on the blog Remaking the University: When Adjunct Faculty are the Tenure-Track’s Untouchables.  In it he points out that ladder-rank faculty have be complicit in the transfer of power from the faculty to the administration over the past couple of decades, in large part because we have been unwilling to join with the contingent faculty who do not have much job security:

We—and here am I tempted to specifically include you [on the list] alongside myself in this condemnation, but won’t because there’s always a small chance that some of you/us are exempt from these generalizations—in fact appear to take some pride in treating adjuncts as an inferior caste. It is the norm for adjuncts to be excluded from faculty meetings and to be deprived of any say in the management of departments. Instead of resisting the “adjunctification” of the professoriat by incorporating these colleagues—because they are colleagues—into the university and our respective departments, we tolerate them as useful proof of our Brahmin status. They are our untouchables.

I have noted this tendency for tenure-track faculty to treat instructors as lesser beings—I think it is partly out of fear, because they themselves could easily have ended up similarly poorly paid and without job security.  I have argued for providing “lecturer with security of employment” status (essentially the equivalent of tenure) to the top one or two instructors in the Jack Baskin School of Engineering—the ones who can pave their offices with the teaching awards they have been given by the graduating seniors.  The dean and the relevant department chairs are reluctant to do this, as it means that they would have to dedicate a faculty slot to someone who teaches more and better than them, when they could hire a new junior colleague who wouldn’t waste time on teaching, but dive directly into the task of writing research grants—the only activity they admire.  (The actual research is less important than the money, so only the grant writing matters to them.)

Ivan Evans asks

I have recently asked my colleagues at UCSD questions such as: How many adjunct/contingent/non-tenure track faculty are there in your department? Can you name them? Have you met any adjuncts for coffee or lunch on campus? Are they invited to the homes of ladder rank faculty? Do they have office space? Do they have any voting rights in your department? Should they? Do you know how they are evaluated? Should they be rewarded for publishing? Should ladder-rank faculty with poor teaching evaluations be assigned to courses ahead of adjunct colleague with excellent teaching evaluations? Should campus charters be changed to extend representation to adjuncts in the Senate?

Our small department has one full-time instructor (and, yes, I can name her, though I’m terrible at names). I rarely see her, as her classes are not nearby and her office is on a different floor.  She does not have voting rights in the department and does not come to faculty meetings.  I don’t know if this is because she doesn’t want to or because she is not invited.

We used to have another part-time instructor teaching 2 classes a year, while he worked as a postdoc at a university on the other side of the hill.  He has recently gotten a permanent job and no longer teaches for us. I saw him very rarely.

We also have an extremely good researcher and teacher who should be on our permanent faculty, except that he did his PhD with us, and the university has a disinclination to hire their own graduates.  I meet with him frequently—more often than with several of the ladder-rank faculty.  Usually we meet to talk about teaching, though sometimes to discuss his research and that of the undergrad students he is supervising.  I see him less often than I’d like, because his office is in a different building.  (Our department of 8.2 faculty is spread out over at least 4 buildings, and some of our grad students are in labs in another 3 buildings—it’s very hard to maintain cohesion when no one sees anyone else.) I believe he actually gets a pay cut when he teaches classes (the instructor salary is less than the researcher salary), though it does allow him to stretch out the grants that pay his researcher salary.  He is one of the best teachers in our department, and has developed or revamped several courses.  Our department tried to get him a status more in keeping with his contributions (the title “adjunct assistant professor”), but the dean shot it down, for reasons that no one in the department understands, since the title costs the dean nothing, and he gave them out like sugar candy in other departments to people rarely seen on campus.

The lecturers on our campus have a moderately powerful union, so are better treated than at most colleges, but they have little say in the running of university, and sometimes get jerked around by insensitive bureaucrats and department chairs.  I don’t know whether giving them voting rights or adding them to the Academic Senate would make any difference in their lives—I’d be in favor of including them, but I’ve no idea how other faculty in the department feel on the matter.  I suspect that Evans is right, and that they mostly don’t think about the contingent faculty at all.

1 Comment »

  1. We have about 5 Lecturers in our (ECE) department. These are like the UC lecturer with security of employment, I think. Their teaching load is 5 per year instead of 3 as for professors. It’s still low compared to teaching schools, but lecturers also often have admin appointments (director of X, associate director of Y) which would then make their teaching load 3 or 4. Lecturers are generally considered full members of departments, with voting rights, at least in the Faculty of Engineering; I can’t say anything about other faculties.

    We also have people who more closely fit the definition of “adjunct” these days. Sometimes it’s someone who has another job and would like to do some teaching. Sometimes it’s someone who would like a permanent job but doesn’t have one. Those adjuncts don’t tend to stay around for many years, I’ve noticed.

    Comment by plam — 2013 May 22 @ 06:25 | Reply

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