Saturday, July 7, 2012

Schell's Part-Time/Adjunct Issues: Working Toward Change

Schell, Eileen E. “Part-Time/Adjunct Issues: Working Toward Change.” The Writing Program Administrator’s Resource. Eds. Stuart C Brown and Theresa Enos. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002. Print. 181-201. 

This article provides and overview of the state of labor issues and working conditions for part-time and contingent faculty members. After reviewing the statistics presented by the Coalition on the Academic Work Force survey (published by MLA in 1999), the author explains the tensions created by the academy’s great dependence on part-time labor. She then presents four strategies for addressing and improving the working conditions of these part-time and non-tenure track workers: “the conversionist (converting part-time positions into full-time, tenure-track lines), reformists (improving existing working conditions of part-time and non-tenure-track positions), unionist/collectivist (addressing work conditions through unionization, collective bargaining, and community organizing), and abolitionist strategies (abolishing the first-year writing requirement and reforming labor conditions)” (188). Each of these paths are not without their challenges, barriers or drawbacks. Finally she presents the four elements part-time and contingent faculty need to be successful: “compensation, contracts, conditions that enable quality teaching and coalition building” (196) .

Discussion: this article presents good materials and keen observation about the injustices of adjunct labor—ones I am all too aware of as the program head of adjuncts on my campus. Unfortunately, the paths that are presented are not practical for my context—as I suspect they would not be for many institutions. I don’t finish this article with hope that I can enact change in my context. While I agree that the elements she presents would improve working conditions the path to achieving those elements is not a clear one. I think this article is useful in the way it demonstrates the institutional strains that lead to poor conditions for adjunct faculty and I think it’s important that individuals see how multilayered this problem is. However, it would be easy, I think, for someone who isn’t in tune with the complexity of the institutional context to simply look at suggestions such as the one to follow the C’s guidelines for class size and provide office-space and simply think—yes, let’s do that and things will improve. Even something that might seem as simple as improving office-space for adjunct faculty is a layered and political issue, at least at my institution.

Another thing that strikes me as I read this piece is the lack of tenured faculty at my college. The article bemoans to decline of tenure and indicates our need to protect it from becoming extinct, but it is gone at my institution. Save for a few faculty who have been in my department for over 40 years, no one has tenure or the ability to obtain it. We have multi-year contracts as full-time permanent faculty—three one year contracts, then one three year, and then contracts of five years after that. I never consider myself contingent faculty because I have a multi-year contract despite my lack of tenure and am able to move up the promotion ranks. Contingent full-time faculty at our campus, in my mine are the one-year restricted positions (who must re-interview to get permanent positions) or the full-time lectureships that are currently proposed by our state system. I’m interested to explore further labor issues at other institutions where tenure has been abolished—and the politics of that very decision.

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