A Manifesto of the 21st-Century Academic Proletariat in North America.
A guest authored edgy essay by Doug Mann and Heidi Nelson Hochenedel
In an era in which women and minorities are finally achieving representation in academia, when being “equal opportunity” is the most visible objective of the hiring process, when women and men of all races across all disciplines are publishing work about “hegemonic” social structures, it is striking that a new form of class distinction has emerged within the politically correct walls of higher education. The emergence of the adjunct or sessional instructor — that academic prole of the 21st century, who licks up the left-overs of over-enrolled classes, who accepts classes offered during the dinner hour or on weekends (i.e. classes that the “real” faculty refuse to teach), or who fills in for sick or troubled full-timers requiring a term leave — has made her presence felt throughout North America. She is greeted with suspicion by students, the core faculty, and by the academic community in general. Interestingly, an ideology about her status as both educator and human being has congealed over the last 20 years. We shall argue that sessionals or adjuncts have evolved into what amounts to a separate caste of educator in the US and Canada. Although they often share the same accomplishments and qualifications as their full-time tenured counterparts, there is a powerful (and largely unjustified) ideology which sharply distinguishes full-time tenured faculty from part-time sessional/adjuncts.
The term “adjunct”, used in the US to describe sessional lecturers, is most revealing. It means “a thing added to something else, but secondary or not essential to it,” or “a person connected with another as a helper or subordinate.”[i] The term itself is insulting to such instructors, who often teach (independently and without reliance on “essential” faculty) part-time for a living and who consider themselves neither secondary nor inessential. In recent years, some institutions in the US have moved to what is poetically termed “the adjunct model,” in which most if not all of the faculty in an institution are secondary and inessential, which is to say that they are allowed to teach only a few classes and are not paid benefits.[ii] Sessional or adjunct instructors have been formed by various forces into a lower caste in academia, without the privileges, security, or benefits of teachers in the highest castes, but who often do the same work, both quantitatively and qualitatively, as their upper caste masters. However, before we focus on the political and economic status of adjunct teachers in greater detail, let’s lay our ethical cards on the table and define some quite moderate moral principles to guide our inquiry into this subject, followed by a quick analysis of problems associated with hiring and promotion of the core of any university or college department, the tenured faculty.
1.The Golden Rule and Justice as Fairness
There is no reason for which academic hiring, promotion, and pay rates should not be subject to the same moral strictures that ethicists preach and teach in their classes à propos of the world outside the ivory tower. If anything, quite the reverse is true: humanities departments should be especially cognizant of the need to implement principles of fairness and justice in their dealings with those who work for them. Without holding these to be foundational moral truths, we believe that a combination of Kant’s idea of universalizability and Rawls’ notion of justice as fairness provide a suitable ethical road map to guide us through our reflections on the plight of adjunct faculty.
- Universalizability: Kant’s categorical imperative states that one should act so that all rational beings could adopt the maxim of that act as a universal moral rule. Further, Kant believes that people should never be treated merely as means to an end. In other words, he advocated the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have done unto you.[iii] Although we won’t belabour this point, what Kant is saying is simple enough: given a situation where the potential for unfair treatment exists, one would hope that those with power would treat subordinates as human beings, and refrain from taking advantage of their power, regardless of what “utility” might result from the exploitation of this or that group. Many university departments and administrators deal with adjunct faculty in a way that they would be quite dismayed to have done unto them, if they were in the adjuncts’ position. This happens because departments and administrators theorize significant differences between themselves, tenured (or tenure-track) faculty, and adjunct faculty in order to justify the shabby treatment that adjuncts receive.
- Justice as Fairness: Kant’s basic moral claim that we treat each other fairly leads to a distinct conception of justice, as outlined by John Rawls in his A Theory of Justice. The two aspects of Rawls’ notion of justice as fairness of relevance here are:
- His Equality Principle. This states that “social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged and (b) attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.”[iv]
- His notion of the veil of ignorance or “original position”. According to this idea, we should make our fundamental moral judgements from a hypothetical “original position”, a position from which we would be ignorant of our own and others’ gender, race, social position, age, religious beliefs, and any other quality doled out by the “natural lottery” (i.e. intelligence, beauty etc.), guaranteeing an initial equality among moral agents. Behind this veil of ignorance, we could arrive at two principles to which each person would agree to be responsible for reasons of self-interest. The first principle calls for a maximum of liberty for the individual that is consistent with the liberty of others. The second holds that social and economic inequalities could be considered just and tolerable only if such inequalities benefited everyone, particularly the least advantaged. The suffering of some is never justified by the greater good, but the few may earn greater benefits provided that their doing so improves the state of the least fortunate.[v] Rawls reasons that from this initial position of ignorance, most people would reject any form of utilitarianism whereby some might be made to suffer for the greater good, because from the original position, one would never know if one might be among the sacrificial lambs to be slaughtered on the altar of utility. Rawls’ idea of the original position can be applied to the situation of sessional or adjunct instructors and to the hiring of tenure-track faculty. It would suggest that one’s personal situation (i.e. sex, race, economic status, personal relationships etc.), should not be considered in assigning permanent employment because from the original position, these qualities are irrelevant to carrying out the essential tasks of academe, whereas teaching and publishing are not.
The Equality Principle is easy enough to apply to academic life. If political, social, or economic hierarchies are to be established in academic life, they must benefit the least well off (who, one imagines, are probably the students, or perhaps adjunct faculty, depending on one’s point of view). Further, the hiring and promotion of university professors should be based on the general principle of a fair equality of opportunity. The latter principle is all too often ignored in the hiring of tenure-track faculty, while the former part of the Equality Principle, that the establishment of hierarchies must be justified by the well being of the whole system, including the least well off, is clearly violated in the case of the treatment of adjunct faculty. This is most clearly seen when adjunct faculty turn out to be excellent teachers, are well liked by the majority of their students, receive good teaching evaluations, yet are given no job security and paid a mere fraction of what tenured faculty earn. Their exploitation represents a degree of utility for administrations and students, but as we shall show, results in harm and injustice for the sessional/adjuncts and a general deterioration of academic life for students.
The notion of the original position and its associated “veil of ignorance” is intimately linked to his general notion of justice as fairness, and to the Equality Principle. Indeed, one could meaningfully claim that being blind to one’s concrete economic and political interests in acts of judgment is at the core of what it means to be “impartial” or “fair” in such acts. So what sort of criteria of judgement would blindness allow, and what criteria would it disallow? A candidate’s being a certain sex, belonging to a certain social class, being of a certain ethnicity, being a personal friend, etc. could not be considered relevant information when making decisions about hiring and promotion. From the “original position,” one does not have this sort of information, so one could not universalize moral principles such as “hire only candidates of this sex”, or “don’t hire people of this ethnicity or over this age”. On the other hand, teaching excellence and a strong publication record should be considered by someone in the original position as criteria for such decisions, since they are relevant to being a professor (regardless of the biographical details of the decision maker).
Using the definitions of justice given by Kant and Rawls, hiring practices for tenure-track jobs can often be classified as unfair or unjust. Strong candidates are consistently overlooked for a host of reasons. People often get tenure-track jobs based on their gender, ideology, personal relationships, and so forth, while those who question the legitimacy of the system will probably be “overlooked” by hiring committees.[vi] Even worse, however, is the treatment of adjunct faculty, who may be well accomplished, excellent teachers, and receive good evaluations, yet are offered no job security and are paid about a quarter of what their full-time tenured counterparts earn to do almost identical work.
2. A Caste System
The hierarchy in academic life can be compared to a caste system where the well-paid administration and tenured professors profit from the blood, sweat, and tears of sessional/adjunct teachers and graduate students, who are doing much of the real work (i.e. the teaching for which students are paying)[vii]. Combined with this inequitable caste system, the hiring and advancement of these very tenured professors is often unfair, thereby undermining any deep moral foundation that the system might claim to have.
The Hindu caste system was brought into ancient India circa 1500 BC by the Aryan invaders who came from the north to conquer most of the sub-continent. They established this system to justify their rule over the darker-skinned Dravidian peoples they had conquered, and to prevent inter-marriage (which wasn’t entirely successful). They called the classes they set up “varnas”, the Sanskrit word for “colour”, an obviously racist foundation for the system. But later, Indian thinkers justified it as a rational way of dividing up power and labour in a society according to the individual’s tendencies and dispositions — in other words, according to the social function one is best suited to perform. Thus, like the class system outlined in Plato’s Republic, the Indian caste system aimed at social harmony and a sense of self-fulfillment for all, even the lowliest, at the cost of the oppression of the many in the interests of the few. Here are the four varnas, or classes, and their corresponding classes in the academic caste system:
- The priests, or Brahmins, guardians of morality, culture, and religious rituals. In academe they parallel the administrators, the sole social body with the power to give the “word” to the rest of the system.
- The warriors, or Kshatriyas, who roughly correspond to the tenured professors. The warrior caste is usually represented by a powerful union, who fights tooth and nail for privileges and perks on behalf of its own caste.
- The Vaishyas, (in India, the merchants and farmers) are the non-tenured junior and contract professors, along with the permanent lecturers, who may play a small role in the larger universities, but are more important in smaller ones, where they may even dominate the department in terms of teaching and student consultation. They are clearly better off economically than the other two lower castes, but are still at the beck and call of the school’s Brahmin and warrior castes.
- The Shudras, in India the manual labourers, do society’s dirty work. These are the sessional/adjunct lecturers, hired from term to term to fill in the ever-expanding gaps in university teaching curriculums, who must bow ceremoniously to the Brahmins and keep their mouths shut about their plight to retain their meagre wages.
- Below the caste system in India were the Untouchables. These are the graduate students, who can be replaced, kicked around, overworked, etc. at the whim of the Brahmins and warriors (although the middle castes have to be more circumspect in their treatment of this caste).
The Indian caste system is a good metaphor for class divisions within academe, even though academic hierarchies are neither permanent or hereditary. We have chosen this metaphor because of the obvious injustice by which people find themselves accorded a place in the caste/class system. High or low birth as a criteria for caste in the Indian system is echoed in academic life by an admittedly less blatant, but still stinging, injustice whereby some effective teachers and scholars find themselves allocated to the adjunct caste, through no obvious fault of their own. In both the US and Canada, there is a huge discrepancy between the financial and political status of the warrior (tenured faculty) and worker (adjunct faculty) castes, in spite of the fact that in academia, the two castes do almost identical work. In the US adjuncts may be paid as little as a quarter of what their average full-time counterparts are compensated to do the same work.[viii] For example, adjuncts who teach four classes a term over nine months in Oregon community colleges (the equivalent of a full time instructor’s teaching load) can only expect to earn about a thousand dollars more than the average full-time instructor’s benefits package, which is about $15,420 US[ix]. Moreover, they enjoy no job security, and are denied dental and health benefits. Many work at multiple institutions just to make ends meet, often working more than the equivalent of a full-time professor and earning around $15,000 a year.
The situation in Canada is more humane, but still unfair. Pay rates for teaching a single one-term course for a sessional lecturer range from a low of about $3,400 (Canadian) to a high of about $4,600, with most larger universities coughing up around $4,200–4,300 (obviously, this depends a lot on whether part-time teachers are unionized, and whether the union fights for their interests).[x] So the average sessional, at least in Ontario, makes about $4,100 per course, or $20,500 per year (assuming they can snag a full teaching load of 5 one-term courses). Comparatively, a new tenure-track professor will earn anywhere from $45,000 to $60,000 a year, with this salary steadily increasing over their career.[xi] According to Statistics Canada, the average salary of all full-time professors in Canada in 1998/1999 was $76,284.[xii] Many full professors earn over $100,000.[xiii]
So let’s compare these Kshatriyas with their Shudra underlings. Full-time Canadian professors earn $76,284 on average, while the sessional instructors can earn (in theory, that is) about $20,500. So in Canada, the sessional’s labour is worth, according to these figures, only 27% of the full-timer’s, a pay ratio of 3.7 to 1 for each course they teach. Needless to say, the full-timers must sometimes do extra work — committee meetings, student supervision, etc. But they can usually take the summer off, and have infinitely more job security than the sessional/adjunct workers, who have to thrash about every term or two at their computers preparing yet another batch of job applications. In addition, full-timers usually receive generous allowances for conference expenses, grants for buying books and computers, not to mention the obligatory drug and dental plans.
Part-timers have made little headway towards more equitable work conditions because of a powerful ideology which holds that full-timers and part-timers are fundamentally different and therefore should not be accorded the same set of rights. As a result, the rights of the part-timers are considerably limited. In the US they are denied rights to subsidized health and dental care, job security, and basic respect. In Canada, all citizens have at least a formal right to health care, but Canadian sessional instructors are just as disposable as their American counterparts.[xiv] This discrimination is almost certainly justified in the minds of the Brahminic administrations by a pervasive ideology which is summed up brilliantly by the US National Education Association in Volume 1 of their June, 1995 Update:
Part-time faculty members are different than full-time faculty members in two important ways. First, they do not have as much education. Second, they use more limited class-room methods. Part-time faculty members in community colleges teach a smaller range of classes and do not have the same access to institutional resources and developmental opportunities. They should not be considered to be equivalent replacements for full-time faculty.[xv]
The dominant ideology with regard to adjunct faculty is that they are essentially different from full-time faculty, that they are secondary and inessential, and thus “adjunct.” Given the large numbers of highly qualified instructors in the North American adjunct pool, this notion is absurd.[xvi] Further, it eerily parallels the racial justifications used by the ancient Aryans to justify their caste-based domination of their Dravidian underlings. We recognize the metaphysical fog under which the Aryans cloaked their naked grasping for power in the later case, but ignore the same sort of fog in the former (academic) case.
In the minds of those in the upper levels of the caste system, the adjunct or sessional instructor is inferior to the full-timer. She is the twenty-first century proletarian. And since she’s only an “adjunct”, she can’t be very qualified or good at what she does — hence there is no need to pay her more than a quarter or a third of what a full-timer earns for doing the same work. Some adjuncts even believe this, just as some factory workers in 19th century sweatshops accepted capitalists’ claims that starvation wages and 12-hour workdays were necessary evils. The adjunct instructor is marginalized and excluded by those who find her presence at once profitable and threatening.
This attitude is reinforced by a system that systematically segregates adjunct and full-time (or semi-full-time) faculty. We have different bargaining units, we are not invited to the same meetings, our mail boxes are set aside — usually under the full-time mail boxes or in a different room. At Warner Pacific College in Portland, Oregon, all the adjuncts share a single mail box! Either we have no office space, or if we do, we have to share it with sundry other academic slaves. We are not reimbursed for attending conferences at the same level as tenured faculty, if at all. In the US we are certainly not paid health or retirement benefits, yet many of us are working more than the equivalent of full-time at two or three colleges or universities. Our unions can’t or won’t fight for us. We’re so hungry and desperate for work, we can’t afford to risk losing our jobs by agitating or making demands. Because our bargaining units are separate from those of the full-timers (for those of us lucky enough to have them), part-time instructors lack the political clout of the full-time instructors, who have the power to resist exploitation. Moreover, we are kept so busy that we have no time to form communities, no time to make friends, no time to exchange ideas because we’re working for $15,000 a year at two or more institutions.
It is to the university administrations’ benefit to create and maintain this caste system. By keeping most of its workers (i.e. those that do most of the real work) in a position of subordination to the higher castes rather than encouraging them to join forces, they are easier to exploit. In the US one reason for which adjuncts are allowed to teach only one or two classes per term at a given institution is to avoid the cost of paying health and retirement benefits. But there is an even more insidious motivation for promoting the hiring of more and more adjunct or sessional instructors: they are disposable. If a class doesn’t fill, the sessional/adjunct need not be paid, while tenured faculty get their salary regardless of student enrollment in their classes.
3. Adjuncts as a Reserve Army of the Underemployed
Marx reasoned that under capitalism, it was in the best interest of the employers to retain a “reserve army of the unemployed” to draw on when production needs to be increased, or when uppity workers go on strike and scabs are needed to fill the ranks. This reserve army is absolutely essential to keeping wages down. If desperate Joe lined up at the employment office is ready to do your job for half the pay, you will be less likely to ask for a raise from your boss (unless you have a union, that is). In academic life we find, instead of Marx’s reserve army of the unemployed, a reserve army of the underemployed and underappreciated.[xvii]
As the result of our high profitability, it should come as no surprise that the army of underpaid adjunct professors is ever increasing. In the US over the last 20 years, part-time faculty have increased by 100%, while full-time faculty have increased by only 25%.[xviii] In the US, part-timers far outnumber tenured staff in all departments except anthropology, history, and philosophy, where tenured faculty comprise more than half of the faculty.[xix] In Canada, the number of full-time professors have dropped 9.7% between 1992–1993 and 1998–1999.[xx] Colleges are hiring adjunct faculty in record numbers for one reason: profit. Young, desperate Ph.D.’s ripe for exploitation are paying the price of “cost savings” by universities and colleges. Obviously the system cannot target the full-time faculty, who are well-organized and have so much at stake that they will fight back… and win. It is the powerless who are the victims of institutional greed (or “financial necessity”), and it is the powerful and well organized, who understandably hang on to their pork-barrel perks and benefits with great tenacity.[xxi]
While sessional/adjuncts are paid much less than full-timers to teach classes, tuition expenses keep rising at a pace that far exceeds that of inflation. Students suffer as the result. They pay more for education, but get less, while the administration and tenured faculty get fat on the poor quality of life offered to sessional/adjunct instructors and graduate students. These instructors, who have increasingly become more responsible for teaching (especially in the larger introductory courses), are spread so thin and are able to spend so little time with students that intellectual communities cannot be created or sustained outside of class hours. Intellectual communities can only exist if a group of core people spend enough time together to form these communities, and if the members of these communities treat each other, in a rough and ready fashion, as political equals. Adjuncts and their students are systematically excluded from these communities, which contribute to the vitality of a program. As sessional/adjuncts increasingly replace full-time faculty, healthy intellectual communities will slowly cease to exist.
Another result of the caste system is that sessional/adjuncts don’t have the free time to work on projects outside of teaching. Since they’re paid a fraction of what full-timers earn, they have to work more to make ends meet, resulting in less time for writing and publishing. While tenured professors are offered sabbaticals, light teaching loads, and summer vacations so that they can write articles and books, sessional/adjuncts are denied this luxury. The more time full-timers have to dedicate to writing, the more successful they are; the less time sessional/adjuncts have, the more behind they get. In the academic system, as in all caste systems, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
4. Bloated Graduate Programs
Graduate programs keep growing in spite of the fact that there are no good jobs for most graduates. This is permitted because universities profit (metaphorically speaking) from the cheap labour of graduate students and the prestige and funding that is conferred upon institutions with viable graduate programs. The Gordian knot here is simple enough to identify: bloated graduate programs, created by selfish university departments seeking to enhance their funding and/or reputation. Outside of sought-after graduates of disciplines like engineering and computer science, there is a general over-supply of PhD’s in the academic job market. Everybody knows this. Yet nothing is done to reduce the supply to reasonable levels by cutting weak graduate programs. Of course, this isn’t done because it’s clearly not in the self-interest of either the departments with weak programs, or of the university administrators who run the schools where these programs are located. After all, the description of even a “boutique” graduate program in the university’s brochures, along with photos of smiling graduate students of the right sexual and ethnic mixture, looks awfully good. And a department’s funding is geared to the number of students they can pump out of their programs, with graduate students counting for more.
So the system is run along the lines of slip-shod 19th century factory production: let’s keep churning out the product, no matter how mediocre, to keep the workers employed and the bosses happy.
A solution to this problem is for university administrations or state and provincial governments to take some responsibility for what they are doing to people’s lives and force graduate programs to account for themselves by cutting fat from these programs, and shutting down the weaker ones. And graduate students should be clearly informed of their chances for meaningful future employment before they are admitted into a program. This may seem heavy handed, but it’s no worse than churning out 100 graduates in discipline X each year, knowing that 75 of them have no real chance of ever gaining full-time employment in the field they dedicated up to ten years of their lives studying.
Unlike academia, other professions have prevented the degradation of their fields by carefully monitoring the market to prevent too many graduates from forcing wages down. In the US, for example, the medical profession strictly monitors the number of students it admits to programs. If it didn’t, the profession would become so poorly paid that it wouldn’t be worth the time and effort to become a physician. While medical costs are too high in the US, at least physicians continue to be paid an excellent living wage, which would not be possible if the American Medical Association’s Council on Medical Education did not study and evaluate all aspects of medical education, and suggest the development and limitation of the programs necessary to provide the proper supply of physicians to meet the public’s need. What is needed for the academic world is a similar Council of Graduate Education which would study the market and make recommendations to administrators as to the proper number of programs and students needed to meet the needs of the public while at the same time ensuring a decent living wage for graduates of doctoral programs.
5. The Untouchables: The Catch 22 of Graduate Work
Graduate students are caught in a Catch 22: either they play the traditional game of working hard under a well-intentioned mentor, taking lots of classes, writing a brilliant thesis, and in general getting a good education, OR they do what they have to do to prepare them for the job market: teach courses and publish articles while working on their degrees. Of course, if they do the latter, the former suffers. In fact, if you attend a graduate program that really DOES educate you — i.e. does not exploit you for your cheap labour — then all of a sudden you lack the very “experience” you need to get a good job. The system discriminates against those who want to get a good education. In order to be considered for a job, you must have previous experience of having been exploited.
Ironically, it is the graduate student labour pool that has contributed to the plight of sessional/adjuncts. The system is ingenious. Grad students think somebody’s doing them a big favour by letting them teach and paying them a mere fraction of what a tenured professor earns for doing the same work. This atmosphere encourages students to go to graduate schools, work for a pittance, only to graduate into a sessional/adjunct pool from which they may never escape.
So graduate student teaching contributes to bloated programs and a burgeoning sessional/adjunct pool. More importantly, due to a real lack of experience, graduate student teachers cannot be as competent as their full-time mentors and should NOT be relied upon to teach entire classes unsupervised early in their graduate-school careers. It is not fair to charge students full tuition to be taught by somebody who does not have the experience to know what they are doing and who is unsupervised by a veteran teacher. Learning to teach at the college level should be a LEARNING experience, not a work experience.
To reform this system, senior graduate students should be limited to teaching once or twice per year, but guaranteed sessional/adjunct positions for a couple of years after graduation, provided they’re competent teachers, and are actively applying for post-docs and full-time jobs. Moreover, since they do the same work as their full-time mentors, they should be paid a comparable wage.
The basic moral principles we defended earlier in this paper — treating others as you yourself would want to be treated, and basing the justice of any need for a hierarchy in universities and colleges on a notion of fairness promulgated from behind a veil of ignorance — throws into question the whole academic caste system. Using these definitions of justice, we conclude that compensation and hiring practices for adjunct and tenure-track jobs are unjust. One of the grossest forms of injustice in academia is the practice of compensating fully qualified and competent sessional/adjuncts a fraction of what full-time tenured or tenure track faculty receive for doing the same work. Such practices are discriminatory and exploitative. While students pay no less to be taught by sessional/adjunct instructors, adjuncts are compensated between 25%-33% of what the average full-time professor earns to teach the same class for the simple reason that they are lowly adjuncts.
By paying the adjunct a quarter of what she is actually worth to students, the institution reaps what Marx calls “surplus value.” Surplus value, the objective of capitalism, is attainable only by the exploitation of wage labour and can be achieved by either lengthening the work day or devaluing the labour-power of workers. While most higher education institutions claim not to be for-profit institutions, as more and more adjunct/ sessionals do more and more teaching, they begin to resemble schools like University of Phoenix, a hugely successful, for-profit, stock holding business, which is staffed entirely by adjuncts. The University of Phoenix has become highly successful and profitable by refusing to hire more than one full-time faculty member per department and requiring their faculty to work at night, which is convenient for their working students. Administrations in BOTH for-profit and not-for-profit university and college systems have radically devalued the labour power of the sessional/adjunct caste of workers for one reason, the profitability provided the surplus value their labour power gives them. While the money saved by not-for-profit institutions may be passed on to students (or to the salaries of administrators and tenured faculty) and not to stock holders, the problem for adjuncts remains the same. Regardless of who the beneficiaries are — stock holders, students, or administrators — adjuncts are still being exploited. Administrators should be made to feel a moral obligation to pay instructors with similar qualifications and experience a similar wage for doing identical work.
Tenured faculty and administrators should have the simple understanding of justice outlined above. Educators of all castes need to stop pandering to the financial interests of administrations. It is time to tear down the walls of the academic caste system. Unfortunately, for justice to be achieved in academic institutions, sessional/adjuncts will need to take things into their own hands (or join forces with tenured and tenure-track faculty), since waiting for administrations to do the right thing will probably be futile. As Richard Moser, a national field representative of the American Association of University Professors, said about the release of the CAW surveys:
This report is going to reveal a shameful truth… Administrations have abandoned the notion that the university should set an example of good citizenship, that they have turned away from the pursuit of justice and instead set up sweat shops of the future for the greedy to imitate.[xxii]
Our message is simple. Let’s close up these sweatshops, and treat part-time instructors fairly. Let’s also cast away the ideology that justifies the caste system in academia. This melts into air when we closely examine the realities of the current work force and the myth that advancement in academe is purely the result of a meritocratic process. If academics can’t understand and implement principles of justice in their own backyard, what does this say about the quality and sincerity of their ethical understanding of the wider world?
[i]Victoria Neufeld, ed., Webster’s New World Dictionary of American English, 3rd ed., (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988).
[ii]Marylhurst University, near Portland, Oregon, and the University of Phoenix are two institutions that rely almost entirely on “adjunct” teachers.
[iii]Technically speaking, Confucius was the first to clearly state the principle of the Golden Rule, in his concept of Shu, which was simply not doing things to other people that you would not want done to you. Jesus echoed Confucius’ sentiments, adding a positive side to this principle.
[iv]John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Harvard: Belknap Press, 1971), p. 83. It could be argued, as hinted above, that the original position cannot be used as an everyday moral compass to guide one through difficult dilemmas. However, even if we dispensed with it, Rawls’ Equality Principle can by itself give us sufficient theoretical energy with which to propel our attack on academic hierarchies.
[vi]This should be obvious to anyone who has had the opportunity to review and rank candidates’ dossiers for a given teaching position from the “outside,” and then is shocked to discover that the department in question winds up hiring a candidate who one would not have ranked in the top twenty. It becomes even more obvious when a candidate almost entirely bereft of publications, teaching experience, or both is hired to a position over dozens of others with superior qualifications, an all too common and, at least on the surface, baffling occurrence.
[vii]According to a recent a recent survey done by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW), a group of 25 academic societies including the APA and the MLA, permanent full-time faculty members are now the minority in most departments. In other words, in the US, most college instructors are adjunct/sessionals. The press release of the study entitled “Who is teaching in US College Classrooms?: A Collaborative Study of Undergraduate Faculty, Fall 1999″ is available at http://www.theaha.org/caw/pressrelease.htm
A Summary of data released by the surveys by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce is available at http://theaha.org/caw/cawreport.htm
[viii]The average salary of an instructor at a community college in Oregon on a nine month contract is $45,381 and the average benefits package is $14,188 (see http://www.nea.org/cgi-bin/he/salaries.cgi) This means that the average community college is paying $59,569 for instructors to teach 12 three hour classes a year. The average instructor is therefore paid approximately $4,964 per three hour class, compared to the average adjunct instructor, who earns between $1,242 and $1,482 per three hour class. (These figures are based on the minimum and maximum salaries for adjuncts at Mt. Hood Community College, as given in The Oregon Education Association Almanac of Community Colleges 1999–2000.) Statistics for the average salary of adjuncts per class are not available. For statistics on faculty salaries and benefits in public institutions state by state in the US, see the National Education Association website on-line: http://www.nea.org/he/salaries/index.html. The statistics cited above can be found at http://www.nea.org/cgi-bin/he/salaries.cgi.
[ix]For more information on part-time compensation per class in the US, see the Coalition of Academic Workforce summary of data on conditions and pay for part-timers in academia. www.theaha.org/caw/cawreport.htm. On page 4 of 6 of this report it says: “In addition to receiving few if any benefits, most receive less than $3, 000 per course. Nearly one third of them earn $2000 or less per course. In large fields like English and history nearly half of the part-timers are in this category. At this rate of pay, part-time teachers, almost all of whom have masters degrees and many of whom have the PhD — would have to teach more than four courses per term to earn over $15,000 a year. Most could earn comparable salaries as fast food workers, baggage porters, or theatre lobby attendants.”
[x]National statistics on sessional pay rates in Canada are difficult to track down. But as an example, the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, the fourth-largest university in the province, pays (in 2000–2001) sessional lecturers in the Arts $4,250 per one-term course; the Universities of
Guelph and Western Ontario, two other large universities in Southern Ontario, pay their sessional teachers in the $4,300-$4,500 range. Smaller universities, such as Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, mighty pay a sessional teacher as little as $3,500 per term, per course.
[xi]Referring once again to the University of Waterloo, its Faculty Association Collective Agreement lays out the minimum and maximum salaries for Assistant Professors as $45,000 and $115,000.
[xii]See The Daily, August 8, 2000, at: http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/000808/d000808a.htm
[xiii]The University of Waterloo’s News Bureau Release №42, dated March 30, 2000, informs us that 150 professors and administrators at UW earned over $100,000 per year in 1999.
[xiv]Insidious forces on the Right in Canada, such as those represented by the Canadian Alliance, sporadically challenge this basic right. But the general populace seems to recognize it, for the most part.
[xvi] The realities of the academic workforce at the turn of the century falsify this ideology. Large numbers of experienced, even published, academics are teaching part-time, a fact born out by the recent Coalition on the Academic Workforce report cited above. Reflecting on the report, which shows that even big, prestigious universities rely on large pools of underpaid graduate students and adjunct instructors, Cary Nelson, an English professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, noted that “I have made the argument before that you can go to Yale and basically get the same instruction you’d get at Long Island Community College because higher education is relying on the same labor pool. So you have the institutions with the highest self-image and the greatest amount of pride and the greatest amount of cult prestige aligned, in terms of their labor policies, with institutions at the bottom end of the ladder. The survey made that stark.” When large institutions make hiring decisions based on the ill-founded prestige of universities like Yale, Harvard, and Stanford, then the danger is that this prestige becomes even more mythical, feeding back on itself like Jimi Hendrix’s guitar.
[xvii]To forestall an obvious critique of our use of Marx’s notion of the reserve army of the unemployed in relation to academe, we realize that universities are not (for the most part) profit-orientated private corporations. However, they do compete for labour, and it is clearly in their interests to hire that labour on the cheap if they can do so and get away with it. As Marx so clearly pointed out, if the size of the labour pool outstrips the number of workers required by employers, and these workers are not organized, employers can keep wages down by pitting them against each other in a competition for scarce jobs. So even though universities are not private corporations, they are interested in keeping costs down, and are likely to do so in whatever area has the least political fallout.
This report states that: “English and foreign language programs reported just over a third of the instructional staffs in their departments were full-time tenure track. Only in anthropology, history, and philosophy programs did full-time tenure track faculty comprise more than half of the instructional staff.”
[xx]See Statistics Canada, The Daily, August 8, 2000: http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/000808/d000808a.htm
[xxi]The obvious critique at this point is, “Well, let’s suppose you’re right. But where will the money come from to pay adjuncts fairly?” The answer is simple: in an era of budget surpluses throughout North America, instead of giving tax cuts to the wealthy, or (in the case of the US) pouring billions into the military, which is, in the post-Cold War era, grossly over-funded for the missions required of it, the state should ante up more money not only for education, but for health care too. However, this is an argument for another day.
[xxii]Cited by Ana Marie Cox in Chronicle of Higher Education, “Study Show’s College’s Dependence on Their Part-Time Instructors: Report documents the low pay and lack of benefits for those off the tenure track” Dec. 1, 2000. Available at: http://chronicle.com/free/v47/i14/14a01201.htm, page 1 of 6.
APP EDITORS’ NOTE: This is the third in a six-part series featuring the work of Doug Mann.
Here is the essay’s original publication information–
Mann, D. and Nelson Hochenedel, H. (2003). “A Manifesto of the Twenty-First Century Academic Proletariat in North America,” Journal of Social Philosophy 34, 111–124.
Like Marc Champagne’s essay, “We, the Professional Sages: Analytic Philosophy’s Arrogation of Argument,” Mann’s work in the 00s and early 10s of the 21st century remarkably anticipates many ideas and themes developed and explored by APP since 2013.
See, e.g., these two edgy essays from 2015–
More information about Doug Mann’s work can be found HERE.
AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 107
Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Monday 2 April 2018
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