Solidarity

As part-time instructors at colleges seek to improve their working conditions through unionization, they often find that the people standing in the way of their efforts are not administrators but fellow faculty members, several union organizers and labor experts observed at a conference held here this week.

Tenure-track professors can be resistant to contract provisions that erode their power over faculty appointments or let contingent faculty members assume a bigger role in the shared governance of their institution.

Union Efforts on Behalf of Adjuncts Meet Resistance Within Faculties’ Ranks,” Peter Schmidt

I think this is one of the great open secrets of academia, perhaps especially in English departments which long ago institutionalized a kind of contempt for both women and for freshman writers. I worked for a department that paid (mostly women) adjuncts about half the pay of the (mostly men) full-time professors. There were more than twice as many adjuncts as full-time professors. The adjuncts all taught freshman writing courses; the full-time faculty taught a few sections of freshman English and then, once they got tenure, stopped. There were only a small handful of tenured faculty who were in any way interested in helping to govern the university. It could only strengthen the consumer-oriented administration.

They saw themselves as individual scholars and were generally disdainful of collective self-governance, except, of course, when it came to defending increasingly obscure fields of literary study. They’d take part in any department activity in only the most cursory ways and they were wholly uninterested in the professional fate of the adjuncts, except insofar as they– along with the students– made the limited dating economy of a small Midwestern town seem just a little more profitable. Any suggestion that these adjuncts, many of whom had worked in the department for decades, be given some form of job security or equal pay was either ignored or rebuffed. I am not talking about the 1950’s either; this was the 2000’s.

Snowden on TED

This is a little long but worth watching. Snowdon’s argument is air tight and his demeanor puts the lie to the notion that he is somehow unhinged. His is the fate of any whistle-blower before there are laws to protect them. The current political climate makes it unlikely that the charges will be dropped and, unfortunately, I suspect it will take several presidential administrations before there is any chance of a pardon. Maybe we’ll get lucky and Obama will grant Snowden a pardon in the last few moments of his administration.

The Moral Equivalent of War

According to the most recent comprehensive report on staffing by the Modern Language Association and the Association of Departments of English, published in 2008, English lost 3,000 tenure-track positions from 1993 to 2004, roughly 10 percent of the total. Even that understates the case, since more than a third of the new tenurable hires have not been in traditional literary fields but in composition, rhetoric, theory, cultural studies, new media, and digital humanities. Combined with evidence of lowered public interest in reading traditional literature and plummeting enrollment in traditional English majors, many faculty members in traditional literary studies have engaged in a backlash discourse against the new or renascent fields, a “moral panic” in defense of traditional literary studies.

“The Moral Panic in Literary Studies,” Marc Bousquet

I think “moral panic” is a understatement. I’d say that a certain cadre of literary academics has been at war with rhetoric and composition for a long time now. In many schools, too, English departments– and literary scholarship– has been funded on the backs of poorly paid adjuncts– often women. This is one of those issues that no-one wants to say much about or to investigate because it could be so divisive. The last thing academics need is another ‘divide and conquer’ division. Yet I think it needs more discussion and investigation. I know, from long experience, that the ‘panic’ about rhetoric and composition, and new communication technologies, has kept people from getting tenure, for example. It would great to have a sense of how often this has happened.