Sunday, May 19, 2013

When Adjunct Faculty are the Tenure-Track's Untouchables

Chris here, introducing a post by Ivan Evans, professor of sociology at UC San Diego. Tarak Barkawi's opinion piece, "The Neoliberal Assault on Academia," produced a long discussion on several lists because of its claim that faculty have played a central role in shifting their universities towards revenue metrics and managerial assessments of intellectual value.  His example is the arrival of the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) in the UK, which has molted into the Research Excellence Framework (REF).  

Though pushed by the Thatcher government, the RAE was accepted and applied by the UK professoriat. Its successor, the five-yearly REF," Prof. Barkawi writes, "completely dominates UK academic life. It determines hiring patterns, career progression, and status and duties within departments. It organises the research projects of individual scholars so as to meet arbitrary deadlines. It has created space for a whole class of paid consultants who rank scholarship and assist in putting together REF returns. UK academics regularly talk about each other's work in terms of whether this or that book or article is 'three star' or 'four star'."

Prof. Barkawi argues that UK universities are now run by managers who see their jobs not as furnishing resources needed for academic work, but as the continuous monitoring and non-expert assessment of research and teaching that winds up justifying resource restriction and permanent reorganization.  Shifting audit to management, he argues, undermines "the entire point of university research," which "is conversation and contestation over what is true and right. In the natural sciences, as in the social sciences and humanities, one person's truth is another person's tosh, and valid knowledge emerges from the clash of many different perspectives." This complex, internally regulated, expertize-driven debate is being in large part replaced by audit mechanisms. "Meanwhile," Prof. Barkawi concludes, "all those adjunct faculty are far more subject to managerial control and regulation than are tenured professors. Aside from their low cost, that is one of the principal reasons why they are so attractive to university managers."

Prof. Evans extends this remark about adjucts below.

I strongly agree with Tarkawi's conclusion that faculty are far more complicit in the sacking of public higher education than we are prepared to acknowledge. One of the best indexes of this is the arrogance that ladder-rank faculty display towards adjunct/part-time faculty/"lecturers" in our own departments. As with the caste system, there are so many categories for them, all of which serve the purpose of the Brahmins in the Academic Senate.  

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. 

And we treat them accordingly. 

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?

The results of the informal survey have been so depressing that I would like to survey faculty at UCSD to draw attention to the cooperation that ladder-rank faculty give to the corporatizaton of their home institutions. We should be forging firm bonds with the fastest-growing category in our midst instead of setting ourselves apart from and above them. We are all aware that our fate is tied to the fate of adjuncts and that our separate futures would be far more pleasant if we stand firm with them now. But I think we know that we will not. Better to burnish our progressive self-image by baying at the moon (on this and other list servs) even as we help campus administrators slip the dagger between our collective ribs.

Truth is that ladder-rank faculty are growing old and we are not prepared to pick this important fight with our administrations or UCOP. We are edging towards retirement, counting our beans in our pension funds, and just holding on until we escape amidst encircling doom. Safe in retirement, many of us will tut-tut and speak of the halcyon days when ladder rank faculty were little gods with real rights. 

I am much more apprised of the unflattering assessment that adjuncts/non-tenure track/contingent faculty have of ladder-rank faculty because several of them sit on the Steering Committee of the CA-AAUP. I have become acutely aware of, and grown very ashamed of, the way ladder-ranks treat the nameless Other. As Stuart Hall summarized an analogous arrogance back in the '80s, it's "The West versus the rest". 

Consider this: One adjunct on the Steering Committee teaches 6-9 courses per quarter at a bewildering array of campuses in the Bay Area. I do not have a good enough grasp of the geography of that region to understand exactly why: 
  • she hits the road at 5:30 am to make her first class;  
  • teachers non-stop from 8am - 5 pm (including travel time as she whizzes at breakneck speed from one campus to another) 
  • takes her first and only break from 5-7pm 
  • teaches again from 7-9pm 
  • holds her office hour from 9-10pm (yes, that's PM) 
  • checks in at a $49 /night motel on Highway 101 (in a town called Gilroy); and
  • repeats this schedule three times per week.
On a "good day", she remains in the Berkeley area where she resides and teaches at 2-3 colleges. No contract, no benefits, no representation in the Senate. At the beginning of the Winter quarter, she was informed that one course had just been re-assigned to another adjunct "who needs the course more." Just like that, income that she is so vitally dependent on, and in fact cannot survive without, was taken away--by email, without prior notification and for a reason that is as inscrutable as it is uncontestable. 

Re-read this list again to grasp the full dimensions of what I can only call its horror. It is unspeakably appalling. And I am ashamed that our preponderant collective interest in matters such as SB 520, MOOCs, etc. is: "what's in it for the ladder ranks?" "How dare they strip away our rights", etc

This is the price others pay to keep us ladder ranks in clover. The results of my still informal survey at UCSD leave no doubt that  ladder ranks would club adjuncts into oblivion rather than be amalgamated with them. The arrogance, and fear of being lumped together with the Untouchable Other remains and perhaps increases even as the once-venerable ladder rank category shrinks with each passing year.

In fact, it is best to not mention a category of fellow workers and colleagues--humans and good people all--who now account for 76% of the academic workforce.

Absent a UC faculty union with real teeth, I cannot see faculty mounting anything close to meaningful opposition to the gutting of UC. What would make a difference is an alliance of faculty, regardless of rank, at all three levels of the Master Plan. (Yes, there are other two other levels). But that will not happen, mostly because UC faculty are aghast at the idea of rubbing shoulders with the Untouchables both amongst them and those who labor in recondite places without darkening the views from Sather Gate or scenic La Jolla.

I now feel that we shall deserve what we get.


  1. The UCSF Academic Senate has a long history of pro-active action on this issue, including an effort (rebuffed by the Systemwide Academic Council) to move full time adjunct (and clinical) faculty into the Senate, so at least they have a formal voice in joint governance. (Details at

    This effort has been going on for years, including local efforts to press the administration to ensure that adjunct and clinical faculty whose duties are the same as Senate faculty be granted Senate titles (mostly In Residence). This effort has had some success in getting adjunct faculty moved into Senate series, although less at ensuring that they are appointed there in the first place. Details at

  2. Thank you for the post. It is good to see that there is *some* recognition of the plight of the adjuncts on part of TT faculty. I hope that you and your colleagues begin/continue to work to extend academic rights and collegial recognition to your adjunct colleagues. Most importantly, though, you should work on improving their working conditions, ensuring a living wage and basic benefits. Also, please take into consideration the conditions for graduate "teaching assistants," who are roughly in the same situation as adjunct. I completed my PhD in the UC system and, as an graduate instructor, I was treated like dirt and not paid enough to survive.

  3. Perspective from a youngish TT here:

    While the underlying outrage about the exploitation of adjuncts and lecturers is well justified, I don't think Prof. Evans's framing of the issue is accurate, fair, or productive. No doubt there are more than a few ladder-rank pricks who get some sort of psychic charge from mistreating those they perceive as below them in the hierarchy, but this is far from the majority and is in any case largely beside the point, which is that ALL unprotected classes of academic laborers, from staff to adjuncts to lecturers to new ladder-rank faculty, are being squeezed by the budget priorities of the university. As always, those at the "bottom" have it worst, but their exploitation isn't "keeping the ladder-ranks in clover."

    The only real response to this is a united pushback against the poor administrative and political leadership we now have--the solidarity Evans calls for. That is what many, many of us have been attempting--not, in Evans's words, simply asking "what's in it for the ladder-ranks?" The rhetoric about adjuncts being Untouchables is way over the top--and calculated to alienate rather than unite. Ladder-rank faculty do not shun adjuncts because of some ridiculous sense of superiority--we are just all incredibly busy with job, life, and family duties. Where

    Prof. Evans suggested correctives--inviting adjuncts to faculty meetings (lucky them!), going out to lunch or coffee with them, even granting them representation in the Academic Senate--do not really get to the structural problem with educational investment. That fact--and the general overwork that is part of university employment--is what I suspect is behind the failures he perceives in us.

  4. Also a youngish TT here...

    While I agree that there probably aren't too many TT faculty who actively look to mistreat adjuncts (and teaching assistants), I don't think that's really the way inequalities manifest in everyday departmental life. I myself am part of a medium-sized department that's more or less chock full of self-proclaimed progressives who are quite adept at critiquing inequality in the world around them -- except when critiquing that inequality would affect them directly (to be fair, I think this is a general trait that many people share, including myself, not just my colleagues). So while we all may be politically engaged in the abstract (and in some cases, quite deeply outside the university), we often end up reproducing inequalities between TT and adjuncts in the daily routines we engage in: e.g. not including them on departmental emails about campus concerns, insisting to students that letters of rec from them are not strongly received, not allowing them to teach (more prestigious) grad classes, not inviting them to dinner when colloquium speakers visit, and stuff like this. None of these is a grave sin in itself, but the cumulative effect, especially when combined with official university rules that do draw boundaries between "us" and "them," makes it very clear that there are two distinct (and differently valued) communities of instructors, despite our general political aversions to this structure. In fact explicit language like "we/us" and "they/them" is utterly diffuse in faculty meetings across campus (and in this comment I'm writing), which seems fine from the point of view of communicative expediency, since there *are* differences, but in effect contributes quite strongly to the continued re-entrenchment of the supposed difference between TT faculty and adjuncts in everyday departmental life. This sort of stuff is so insidious precisely because on the one hand we don't reflect on it much, and on the other it seems so inconsequential. But this is where I'd say the bulk of the inequality gets reproduced on the part of TT faculty. If we have any hope of building solidarity, we need to think about this everyday stuff quite deeply, and be willing to change it where we can.

  5. with profound appreciation to both Chris (Remaking never disappoints and Ivan Evans

  6. To the "youngish TT faculty" who have posted right above this--

    I'm a mid-career, Associate Prof about to get promoted to Full, and I want to share your optimism that most of us on the ladder don't fit the generalizations.

    But unfortunately I think too many of us do. Not actively--sure--but more than willingly. I work in a system where the faculty union represents both contingent and non-contingent faculty across the entire state (PA), and even in my own department (which is very labor-sensitive about EVERYTHING ELSE), the willingness to ride on the backs of our adjunct faculty for reassigned time, preferred teaching assignments, self-aggrandizing rationalizations, etc is visible in every aspect of our daily lives. It's infuriating.

    Every time I see a post like this, or on any of the adjunct listservs/Facebook pages, my initial reaction to get defensive too. But I don't think the claim is wrong. Maybe a little overdrawn, but not wrong.

  7. My comment was too long for here, so I posted on my own blog:

  8. As the president of UC-AFT, representing over 4,000 non-tenure-track faculty in the UC system, I want to point out a few things: 1) While we have the best contract for contingent faculty in the country, we have a long way to go; 2) during the last regents meeting, a report on instructional activities failed to mention lecturers and other non-tenure-track faculty, who now make up the majority of UC faculty (if you include grad student instructors); 3) UC's stated student-faculty ratio is bogus because it does not include most of the faculty; 4) UCOP has excluded non-senate faculty from submitting proposals to the online program, even though lecturers teach most of the courses targeted by the new ILTI call; 5) even though they are defined as non-senate faculty, NSF do run several programs and are required to do service and many also do research; 6) most UC lecturers are hired through national searches and have PhDs.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. I have been both a FT and adjunct. Let this be a warning, I too work in PA. I am one of those untouchable contingent faculty, but my own colleagues with whom I've worked forever, would never hire me because I was so financially needy I had to work as an adjunct while teaching FT at a school that does not have tenure or unions. When the entire humanities dept was eliminated at the FT non-union school, I was left standing in the adjunct line (everyone's worst nightmare - again). I teach part-time at one of those state schools with a good contract, but can be eliminated without notice and cast aside. The adjunct scene is so depressing, rather than remain suicidal and getting treated worse than the parking lot attendant, I am leaving the profession to regain my self-esteem.

    If we would refuse to take this work and leave the profession, the caste system could not continue. The FT-TT faculty are arrogant and rude. I would liken it to a group of lottery winners who make fun of the lottery players who provided their winnings. They have actively participated in the dismantling of the profession and most adjuncts do not leave the profession because we do not want to admit we've wasted our lives. If anyone asks me about grad school or liberal arts careers, I warn them away from grad school ASAP. Many regrets....

  11. I'm an Associate Prof. who has also served as the
    chair of a large dept. I wanted to be chair precisely so I could "take on" administration on this issue and so that I could see how far one could get doing so. To my surprise, the administration was receptive to my arguments and we increased our tenure lines during a period of budget crisis and cuts. Here's where my painful learning lesson came in: the resistance I got was not from the so-called neoliberal administrators. Nor was the resistance from snobby and indifferent TTF who get a sadistic kick out of the situation (do these people really exist?). The resistance came from NTTF and TTF who had personal ties to NTTF. Even though my colleagues and I made it clear that we would NOT fire any NTTF, the very fact that we wanted to NOT hire this way going forward was perceived as very threatening and also disrespectful. In other words, the same people who complained that their jobs were "second-class" found it upsetting that we wanted to try to hire more tenure lines. And the personal relationships of TTF to NTTF made our lives misery, because TTF whose spouses were NTTF fought us. It was as if in taking the complaints of NTTF seriously and, trying to create more better jobs was to deeply offend them, despite assuring them of their own job security, The experience was profoundly demoralizing but the experience was nothing like the post above. It turns out to be very, very hard for a TTF to try to do something about the problem. Not only are people threatened but people do not want any new jobs to be "professionalized," in the sense of being open and meritocratic, when those jobs could instead go to friends and girlfriends and boyfriends. I am at an institution in which NTTF and TTF make the same salary minimum at rank -- in my dept., that means we make the same -- and NTTF are involved in governance. What I came to feel is that we have created a NEW old boys' club, where people get jobs based on who they know and whose back they pat. The built-in checks of the tenure system -- open, advertised searches, dept-wide participation in hirings -- does not happen in hiring NTTF. Instead, an ad-hoc hiring system makes the situation very vulnerable to corruption and, once there's corruption, it's very difficult to effect progressive change.

  12. This is a brilliant analogy, comparing the faculty hierarchy to the caste system.

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  14. This blog really resonates with me; I work in the UK, where there are technically no adjunct faculty; however I was employed as an occasional lecturer: this means paid by the hour, minimal administrative support, no recognition as a member of staff (unlisted on the faculty's webpage), not allowed to attend meetings, publications not acknowledged, no resources for conferences etc. My contract summed it up nicely, reminding me that my status was 'worker' and not 'employee'. Oh yes, my law faculty colleagues are busy publishing (of course they have the time, I am teaching for them...) on the injustices in the labour market and so on, completely and willfully blind to the working conditions in their own departments, to the invisible army of lecturers in all but name doing what they are paid to do but cannot be bothered to, because they have to be REF-ready. Our publications, on the other hand, no matter how good they are, are REF-invisible. A caste system indeed.
    An untouchable in the UK

  15. I have been adjunct faculty and am now tenure track. I am once again struck by the failure of anyone to comment on the 6-9 course teaching load described here, and which I too have witnessed in colleagues. Does no one find that an abuse of students? Does no one recognize that such a workload necessitates inferior teaching? I find it hard to respect people who would do a second-rate job in order to increase earnings like that, just as I do not respect the few tenured faculty who simultaneously teach additional courses adjunct because their time flexibility permits them to sell their time twice or many times over. This is a kind of fraud.

    Further, I object to ascription of caste-like attitudes to tenure track faculty (many of whom worked adjunct before being hired tenure track). One does not become arrogant by virtue of a job title and I believe there is envy involved in such negative attributions. In the situations where I've seen adjuncts invited to faculty meetings, they haven't attended. In fact, I've only seen one adjunct faculty member ever attend a research conference. More often I hear students complaining about the lack of availability of their adjunct instructors. Those of us dedicated to helping students resent it when they are mistreated by colleagues. We could do something if it were a tenure track faculty member neglecting their job but we have no recourse when adjuncts do it.

    1. 'One does not become arrogant by virtue of a job title'. How I wish this was true.

  16. Anonymous May 20 2:38: I have had the same experience.

    Anonymous May 22 7:12: hard to respect, yes, but in an environment of inflation, no raises, and diminishing benefits all our instructors, on a 5-course regular load, are teaching 1 course on overload and then moonlighting at the CC.

  17. There appears to be a lot of blaming the victim in some of these comments. Don't people realize that 75% of the faculty are now teaching without tenure. Contingent faculty are not some small minority - they are now the majority, and if they suffer from low wages, no benefits, high course loads, no academic freedom, it is a problem for everyone. More statistics and solutions and fewer personal stories would lead to a better conversation. It is also clear that some adjuncts are amazing teachers and some tenured faculty are not.

  18. As tenured faculty in the UC system I have to agree with Ivan. I think that two things are causing the disagreement. Culture does differ from department to department and school to school, so that people in a relatively humane corner of the system do not see the whole thing. More significantly, we have to understand that people experience as cruelty the things that we do not do as much as the things that we do actively. We don't see that it is actively hurtful to leave people off email and invitations, to always give priority office space, teaching times and teaching selections to TT faculty as a matter of course, to never ask adjunct faculty to contribute to important decisions about the future of the school, etc. Complaints about these things attract the response that adjunct faculty who are not permanent members of the community cannot be given the responsibilities of those who are. That response does not think of itself as cruel but in fact it says that adjunct faculty cannot have more rights because they are adjunct faculty. It is true that this does not even approach quantity of labor and quality of contract, yet, but the difficulty of changing those without a union has become an excuse to ignore the voluntary, "superficial" inequalities that all TT faculty maintain by omission. We as TT faculty should propose things like more equitable course selection process on the department level.

  19. The bravado of the "Anonymous" poster above who is struck by the failure and fraud of the system confirms the untouchable status of adjunct labor. Does "A" really generalize that adjuncts who take on 6 - 9 course teaching loads do so unethically? If so, say it openly, and show me some evidence. I have taught 6 - 9 courses between several institutions whilst maintaining a marginal quality of life, but my students were never neglected and my evaluations were consistently stellar. I said yes to most appointments because I was financially supporting two children at the time. Several of my terminal appointments were online, so it was not as bad as what other untouchables endure, but ...

    As for adjuncts attending conferences: where is the disposable income or faculty support funds that bankroll such luxuries? And faculty meetings, were I invited to attend, what difference would my attendance afford? A token adjunct at the roundtable? Pity me.

    Students should complain about the lack of access to their adjunct instructors, many of whom have no office space (real or makeshift) to conduct conferences in a professional manner. But you, "A," have no recourse to my misconduct? Sure you do; complain away at the next faculty meeting. While you are passing judgment, do evaluate some of your respected colleagues who deliver stale lectures from yellowed sheets of paper and/or possess minimal technology skills or little desire to teach innovative and transferable skills to their students.

    This is a no-win situation for all, and fueling the divide with accusations and loaded words is useless. The virtue of a TT job title, though it appears to exacerbate arrogance unwittingly, does not elevate one "A" on the food chain, and that I do not envy.

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  21. This perfectly sums up why I abandoned academia. It's become a lottery; the prize for winning is permanent underclass status with a slim possibility of a ticket into another lottery - a chance for admission into the TT ranks.


  22. This made me weep. Thank you for acknowledging me as no TT person ever has.

    The worst thing about being an adjunct is not the pay (though that sucks) but the fact that everyone treats me like a failure, including (maybe especially) the TT faculty.

    When you hire a new adjunct, do you take them out to dinner as a celebration? When an adjunct retires after a decade or decades of service, do you give them a retirement dinner? (I have been adjuncting for 10 years and have never seen either, so they are presumably rare.)

    Are their star adjuncts whose work is recognized? (NB: there are, but only crappy publications of TT's make you a star these days. This overvaluing of middling publications will be the death knell of humanities and social sciences.)

    Do adjuncts get funds for conference travel? At my school, adjuncts don't get reimbursed if they or their chidren take courses at the school, but TT faculty and their children do.

    When you look an adjunct, an old one, do you say "There but for the grace of God...?" Do you think of yourself as more of a star and a success academically? Or do you say, "That person is one of our most impressive teachers and a very impressive thinker, maybe better than me, but has been mistreated."

    It is odd that my own colleagues treat me as a failure, because that isn't how people outside of academia see me. (Though it is now how I see myself.) Though the perception of the pathetic, failure adjunct is being spread to the general population by the ed-reform movement

    I am ashamed that I have to leave this anonymously, but the TT track faculty who love their academic and intellectual freedom might not give me classes next semester if I express the wrong ideas publically.

    Academic freedom is not afforded to us.

    I too will soon leave the profession after a decade of teaching hundreds of students a semester, with some of the best teaching evaluations anywhere I taught. (But I didn't get enough middling publications, so I am apparently totally worthless, because those middling publications are so important, even though no one reads them.)

    Just know TT faculty that we adjuncts know your worth more than you know ours, and you are not as smart and special as you think. Your precious publications are mostly garbage. And when we are gone, there will be nobody for you to feel better than, and then you will feel like a failure in comparison to the world.

    I despise the people who have made me feel this way. I am better than you for having endured this treatment. Not the other way around.

  23. I'm totally with you Anon, regarding the terrible instructor who had the temerity to take on 6-9 classes a term. Obviously, if she really cared about education and her students, she would have slept in her car instead of taking that $49/night hotel room. And if that wasn't enough, she could have just stopped eating. It's clear, though, she just didn't care about our education system, and her students, enough.

  24. I feel for adjunct professors. As an individual in support of highter education it is a disgrace and a travesty to watch (in our neighborhood in the Bay Area) a full tenured Chair of a Dept. sit on his duff daily at home---gardening, doing carpentry and anything else but teaching. Every day! He knows no 4 or 5 am on an alarm clock and often seen riding his bike while (we are sure) his TA's or adjunct faculty do his work. This is disgusting and a FRAUD to parents and students struggling to pay escalating fees for tuition, digging deeper into pockets each year. The Holy University in Moraga, Ca. allows this to go on---unmonitored while Full Professor (Chair) tenured Bozo rips of the public for an undeserved paycheck. Does our neighborhood feel sorry for adjuncts on tenure track? YOU BET WE DO. Professor arrogant BOZO is a solid reason why tenure should be abolished.