Sarah Weddington to be fired from adjunct position at U. Texas

Here’s your depressing women’s history news of the week–a Famous First pioneer is about to lose her job.  Hey, Longhornswhat gives?  (Via Echidne). 

In 1967, 26-year-old attorney Sarah Weddington joined forces with the Women’s Liberation Movement and took on one of the most perpetually controversial Supreme Court cases in American history — Roe v. Wade.

She was the first woman to represent Austin in the Texas Legislature and the first woman to hold the title of General Counsel to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She served in the White House as an adviser to President Jimmy Carter before coming to UT to teach in 1988.

After 23 years at the University and more than a dozen state and national leadership awards, UT officials told Weddington, an adjunct professor in the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, that she would no longer have a job at the end of the spring semester.

I thought this part was especially telling:

Weddington said she was aware of the looming budget crisis but was surprised to hear her position was in jeopardy.

“I always thought that tenure for me was not that important because I thought as long as you were really good at what you do and did a lot to work with your students, you’d be OK,” she said. “Now I know I was wrong.”

I agree with “Thealogian,” who writes in the comments at Echidne’s, “As a adjunct in a Women & Gender Studies department, I have no illusions–its my side gig anyway, but still, adjuncts have NO JOB STABILITY WHATSOEVER, but most definitely, she would not be an adjunct if she were a man or a famous anti-feminist woman, she’d be tenured.”  (And if not tenured in an accredited university with a fancy-schmancy named Chair, then a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute or another rightist think-tank with zero teaching responsibilities and only very a vague job description.  You have to hand it to the right-wingersthey dance with the ones that brung ’em, and they take care of their own.)

0 thoughts on “Sarah Weddington to be fired from adjunct position at U. Texas

  1. Isn’t it amazing how easy it is for smart people to get caught up in the rhetoric of meritocracy? Sigh… We keep them as adjuncts because we don’t make a commitment to them. So we can drop them if their performance falters, or if the budget falters — which is certainly the case in Texas.

    And while I agree that a famous man would probably have got some cushy tenured half time deal, my guess is that what’s happening is equal opportunity: many campuses in my system are dramatically reducing the ranks of the lecturers/adjuncts.


  2. Jesus H. Christ. I mean, we all know the meritocracy exists in the same place as Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. But if Sarah Weddington can be sidelined to adjunctcy for her whole career (I didn’t even know that!) and then thrown away like the rest of us used tissues … that’s shouting FU loud and clear, without even any pretense to cover it up.

    I don’t know why, but the bland lack of shame about this shit makes my blood boil worse than the crap itself.


  3. I don’t think this is about gender per se. That seems like a reach. Plus it sounds as though she never actively pursued tenure: “I always thought that tenure for me was not that important …” But two other things bother me here. First, someone as prominent as Weddington will land softly on her feet, so I doubt we’ll be seeing her serving up lattes at Starbucks anytime soon; second, I agree with the first poster that adjunct lay-offs are an equal opportunity sport. You all are just in a snit because she’s well known and has a visible profile, except this shitte happens all the time to us. Don’t worry, though, I’m sure some tenured faculty member or maybe a group of them will be willing to take a pay cut and donate that portion of their salary so Weddington can continue. Oh, wait. Right.


  4. Thanks, Emma–exactly what I was going to say.

    Sarah Weddington is a person of tremendous importance in American women’s history. My point here was twofold: 1) that pioneering feminists are not rewarded with establishment goodies the way right-wingers and leftist men are (consider her position vs. Bill Ayres, for example, who enjoys the protections of tenure at least at UIC), and 2) the importance of tenure, once again. I haven’t read anywhere that Weddington ever turned down a named Chair or a tenure position anywhere. (The linked story at least makes no such claims.)

    Chris, if you think this is a “snit,” or that Weddington is just another lecturer, then I really can’t help you.


  5. My point is that lacking tenure, or better, an adjunct union with some teeth, we’re all just another lecturer. And this particular lay-off seems to demonstrate precisely that.


  6. She makes/made pretty close to the average for assistant professors at UT. Which one would think speaks to her value to the college/center, and it does set her apart from most of the contingent workforce. I think that tenure comment is particularly important as well, and I hope it gets more publicity. The Women’s Studies Program at UT was one of the centers attacked pretty fiercely in recent budget battles on campus. One of the reasons stated was that it didn’t serve the College of Liberal Arts enough. Yet, it serves scholars across campus, in almost every college you can think of. While I don’t know enough about Texas to speculate why/if this program was only funded through one college, it seems odd that they would ignore the roll and function of the program across campus.

    At the same time, the Chronicle reported that Texas is at the beginning of the process of introducing a new, second-tier, low-status bachelor’s degree.


  7. “This particular lay-off,” Chris, wouldn’t have happened to an equally famous and important man. Historiann wasn’t writing about run-of-the-mill adjuncts losing their jobs in the name of some budget. If being tossed in the trash really “happens all the time” without regard to gender, please favor us with the name of one comparable individual who suffered the same fate. Bill Ayres sounds to me like a good counterpart, except of course that Sarah Weddington doesn’t have his criminal record.


  8. I’ll happily embrace the term run-of-the-mill tenured faculty, Chris. I’m no special snowflake. I played no pivotal role in any American, women’s, or world historical events. But that’s what makes Weddington different from the vast majority of all of us.

    Angela Davis is the only tenured woman (now emerita) radical from that generation of activist/scholars that I can think of.


  9. And p.s. to wini: I make right now exactly 75% of what Weddington makes as an adjunct faculty member. At least she was well paid (relatively speaking) for her time, while the gig lasted.

    If you read the story at the link, there’s more information about how popular (and always overenrolled) her classes were. The UT students really love her and appreciated her activist history & insights.


  10. Wow, she makes a lot as an adjunct! Definitely not the same $2300 per course they make at my institution. And about 35% more than I make as a tenured faculty member. Is there any other teaching faculty on that campus who was that valued that didn’t have a tenured or protected slot? I’d be surprised if their was…


  11. I was never arguing that she isn’t a significant figure in women’s and American history. But I am not at all surprised to learn that she was treated as a “run of the mill adjunct.” And to go a further step, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to learn that the powers that be at UT were more embarrassed than honored to have the attorney who argued Roe v. Wade on the faculty. It’s a staunchly republican state. Does anyone think the history or poli-sci departments will snatch her up and give her a tenured position or an endowed chair or something?


  12. 1-I think what happened to Sarah Weddington is a disgrace

    2- I am sure it wouldn’t have happened to a man in a similar position

    3-However, I believe it will not be that hard for her to find a job at a liberal think – tank (maybe I am wrong on this one)

    4- As a good old-fashion left-winger, my first thought was that if this is happening to her, there are plenty of “run-of-the-mill adjuncts” at UT Austin suffering the same fate. And I worry more about them and their fate, since they do not have the reputation that Sarah Weddington has.


  13. Chris, you’ve made the point that you’re smart enough to know how the world works. Good for you. I’m sure that you’ve also understood the full scope of the problem — the fact that you think treating Weddington as an ordinary adjunct is predictable is good evidence of that — and that you can tell us how best to deal with it. (I wonder why I didn’t think of cutting the salaries of other faculty?)

    Am I not-so-gently trying to point out that it may be worth your time to learn instead of talk? No. I wouldn’t dream of it.


  14. So Quixote, you’re saying that a salary cut is not an option, right? Okay. Got it. And given that you say nothing about the history or poli-sci departments stepping up, or perhaps the law school, I take it these are not good options, either. Gosh, why? I’m all ears.


  15. I’m irritated that this thread has been hijacked into a conversation about who’s to blame for contingent labor. This is a post about the marginalization of important feminist scholars and activists in particular, not the marginalization of contingent labor in general.


  16. @Historiann: with all due respect, in this case I don’t think the issues can be so easily separated. One side feels she was laid-off because she was a prominent feminist activist, another because she was highly paid contingent labor. I’m arguing it was both. The fact that she was an $80k per year adjunct cannot be ignored, and in the world of sharp-shooting administrators the fact that is who she is doesn’t outweigh the shiny prospect of erasing $80k of salary. And clearly whoever axed her doesn’t place much stock in the notion of cultural capital, or feminist cultural capital. Not to mention that with that $80k, the university will be able to add 32 sections of whatever they want at $2500 per adjunct instructor. The bottom line here is if she had had tenure, she wouldn’t have been laid off. The real scandal here is why didn’t she have tenure?


  17. Yes, Chris. Je repete:

    I agree with “Thealogian,” who writes in the comments at Echidne’s, “As a adjunct in a Women & Gender Studies department, I have no illusions–its my side gig anyway, but still, adjuncts have NO JOB STABILITY WHATSOEVER, but most definitely, she would not be an adjunct if she were a man or a famous anti-feminist woman, she’d be tenured.” (And if not tenured in an accredited university with a fancy-schmancy named Chair, then a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute or another rightist think-tank with zero teaching responsibilities and only very a vague job description. You have to hand it to the right-wingers: they dance with the ones that brung ‘em, and they take care of their own.)

    I thought that was clear the first time.


  18. Historiann: that’s speculation, not inside info, which is why I didn’t take it all that seriously. But to speculate in another direction, academe is so chock full of game rigging and sweetheart deals that I find it hard to imagine some big whig at UT couldn’t have hooked her up if she had wanted to be hooked up.


  19. “Angela Davis is the only tenured woman (now emerita) radical from that generation of activist/scholars that I can think of.”

    Catharine MacKinnon, at U of M law school. Although she’s a bit later than Davis and Weddington since her career didn’t really get rolling until the 80s. “Sexual Harassment of Working Women” came out in 1979; Roe v. Wade was 1973; and Davis had a couple of books, and a history of activism, prior to “Women, Race & Class” in 1981.

    But age-wise, they’re peers: Davis, 1944; MacKinnon 1946; and Weddington, 1945.


  20. Just want to be clear that I wasn’t challenging the amount of money she made, rather that I doubt there are any men in her VERY unprotected position with her kind of salary.


  21. P.S. Chris: I am a run of the mill tenured. Please help organize on behalf of SW and others in her position instead of sniping at people like me who sit in meetings to defend adjuncts.


  22. I dearly wish we could unionize, but establishing an adjunct union is not only difficult, it’s potentially perilous. Realistically, the slightest whisper would result in mass lay-offs of adjuncts.


  23. I think that as individuals adjuncts are extremely vulnerable, and of course the minute cuts need to be made, they are a relatively painless (for the institution) option to get rid of. But, the reality is that universities are ever more reliant on adjunct labour. So, I don’t think unionisation is such a risky option anymore for adjuncts as a group. If they need you, and they do, you have power- you just need to figure out how to use it.


  24. Using that power is easier said than done, I think. The reality is that it would take just one adjunct to be laid off after raising the collective bargaining issue, and we would all get the message and remain quiet.


  25. Well I hate to say it but if you’re that scared and also that upset about the situation, you should go into another line of work. Not that I disagree with Rebecca; faculty at my own university had serious difficulty voting to support pay equity for women, even, and even most tenured would be scared to unionize. So it’s an attitude problem that not only the adjuncts have. I think it’s deplorable, but real.

    Once again: if you’re an adjunct and dissatisfied and terrified then I really do recommend getting into another line of business. Why insist upon suffering?


  26. There are many reasons not to leave. One is simply where would one go? Ph.D.s in English are not really very marketable. More importantly, though, leaving won’t solve the problem of adjunctification. In fact, it may make it worse because it will open the adjunct ranks to ever less qualified or engaged instructors, and that erodes the profession as a whole. It may not always be pleasant, but at least those of us who speak out care about what we do.


  27. I find the whole humanities PhDs are not marketable a bit suspect. One of the reasons for the legitimacy of our field is that training people in these areas is economically useful, and we ask undergrads to believe that and take degrees in our subjects because we believe they can and will get jobs. A person with a PhD is just a bit more qualified- you can apply for all the jobs your students can, plus a few more that your additional skills bring. So if you can’t see how to market your English PhD, how do you help your students do the same with their degrees?

    And, it’s not like academia pays that well that hanging on in there is going to make up for the loss of earnings over the last decade that you spent training. There is no golden goose at the end of this ride. Many middle-class jobs pay what your average academic will earn and have similar, if not better, progressions in terms of money.

    On a different note: I do agree that setting up a union can be risky for individuals and some people may be sacrificed- but that’s why it needs us all to get involved. That’s why it’s collective action. Institutions rely on our fear to exploit us.


  28. I hope this isn’t hijacking the thread too much, but I think that Weddington’s case reveals something else structurally wrong in the university system. I did a quick scan of the “Department of Government,” which is listed as one of her adjunct departments. (As to whether or not that is her “primary” appointment as an adjunct, I can’t say.) I noticed that she’s the only person listed who has a J.D. as a terminal degree; everyone else either appears to be en route (ABD getting a Ph.D.) or a Ph.D.–with the exception of a couple of Ph.D./J.D folks. So: Weddington doesn’t necessarily fit the traditional “get a Ph.D., turn your dissertation into a monograph, get tenure” mold that academia tries to push people into.

    This is not to denigrate her accomplishments or say that she’s not worthy of a tenured position. I think the opposite is true, in fact. But I would suggest that universities often hide behind particular notions of “fair standards” that can work against scholars like Weddington whose accomplishments are huge but cannot be quantified.

    I think that her case reveals that academia can and should be more willing to bringing in public intellectuals who have had exceptional careers–both in the sense of being extraordinary but also in the sense of being outside of the norm.

    And, of course, Historiann is correct that if Weddington where a conservative dude, she’d already have something like an AEI gig lined up. But then, conservatives can count on the Koch brothers ponying up that kind of money. Until there’s a left/liberal/feminist/radical (basically anything other than the conservative line) version of the American Enterprise, Hoover, or Manhattan Institutes, there isn’t going to be a backstop to protect public intellectuals and activists like Weddington if the university system can’t find space.


  29. When my daughter got her PhD she had to decide whether to go the academic route or take a job with Microsoft. She made the right decision. Microsoft gave her the kind of perks that make it possible for a woman to have a full on career and a family too without working herself to death. However, it’s too bad that academia lost her, because she was a first rate scholar.


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  32. @Feminist Avatar: you’re right, assuming (a) I were qualifeid for non-academic work, (I’m not. All of my pre-academic work was in the restaurant industry) and (b) that I and my cohort can afford to return down to entry-level salaries. Again, I cannot. And of course, I’m in no financial position to return to school.

    As for how I advise my students to “market” their English degrees, the simple answer is I do not. In fact, I advise them to not major in English, and if they must do so out of some misguided idealism, I implore them to either double major in some field that has some professional applications, or short of that, take some paralegal courses.


  33. I hadn’t heard about this, and it’s terrible news. I hope Weddington 1) gets a cushy job at a liberal think tank, 2) writes a bunch of scathing books and op-eds about how the attack on the tenure system is an attack on minorities/women/people with controversial views, and 3) ends up in a good situation after all of this. But I’m not holding my breath.


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