Tom Bredehoft at Chancery Hill Books has another great post from the alt-academic/post-academic life on the insight that professional liminality has granted him. You might remember that Tom is the guy I wrote about earlier this week who resigned a tenured full professorship at the University of Northern Colorado so that his spouse could pursue another professional opportunity, which led to him teaching for a few years as an adjunct instructor.
Today he asks some simple questions inspired by the eruption in Wisconsin over tenure this week: “Cutting the UW budget and working to limit tenure there are simply obvious extensions of the notion that some teachers do not, in fact, need tenure, and that some teachers can teach for lower salaries. If some, why not all?. . . . If tenure is good for tenure-track teachers, why not for all? If a living—or even middle class—wage is good for tenure-track teachers, why not for all? This is a moment where common cause needs to be made between tenure-line and non-tenure-line teachers.” To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin during the American Revolution: “we must hang together or we will all hang separately:”
And yet, in my experience, tenure-track faculty often seem to work harder to justify their higher position in a two-tier system of instruction than they do to work for the benefit of those caught in the lower (non-tenure-track) tier. It has sometimes felt as if they are concerned to police and patrol that border that separates tenure-track from non-tenure-track with particular diligence. This, of course, is exactly what’s rotten at the heart of academia: the game is already over, if we act as though some teachers (i.e., those on one side of this border) do not need tenure and can be paid but a pittance. If people in tenure-track positions accept the existence or necessity of non-tenure-eligible faculty lines, then they have already accepted that tenure is not really necessary, and they risk reducing the effect of their own arguments to “But tenure is really necessary for me, and for those like me”. Likewise with salary, and with teaching load: “Oh, I’m in a tenure line, I need to teach fewer classes and get paid more because my teaching is linked to my research.” As if some teaching need not be linked to research, as if teaching twice as many courses a term should not be expected to affect the quality of instruction. But if reasonable pay and teaching loads are good for some, why not for all?
In the past I might have quibbled with Tom about tenure-stream people policing the borders. I’m one of the good guys! I’m friends with non tenure-track people, and I invite my adjunct faculty colleagues out to lunches, coffees, and include their work in our departmental seminars. I write them letters of recommendation for jobs, and I know I’m not the only one in my department on the tenure-track to do this (or more) for our non-tenure track colleagues.
But then I look at the history of my department, and when it has had the opportunity to hire one of our non-tenure track lecturers or adjuncts into a tenure line, we have refused! (What happens is that they become finalists in a job search, because after all we don’t hire idiots, but then we rank the other candidates ahead of them.) So I can’t deny that we are de facto boundary police.
I also might once have argued that “coffee is for closers,” a la Glengarry Glen Ross, that is: people hired to tenure-track jobs for the most part have to move from elsewhere in the country or around the world! They conducted national or international job searches and moved for the opportunity–they didn’t expect to be rewarded in the place where they preferred to live, a places where they have an employed spouse or partner as well as other family connections and friends. Tom moved from Ohio State to his tenure-track job in Greeley, Colorado; I moved from New England first to Dayton, Ohio and then to Colorado. Shouldn’t initiative and ambition be rewarded?
But Tom’s post today says that’s true only if the boundary between tenure-track and non-tenure track is the most important thing. He demands that we ask ourselves: if the quality of the teaching and the integrity of the workplace is in fact our priority, then why not tenure and lower teaching loads for all? Goose, meet gander. How are we going to continue in the egg production business without one another?
Tom will continue publishing posts on Fridays on the alt-ac/post-ac track and the life he’s leading now. Read it and weep. As I write, the University of Wisconsin takeover is nearly complete.
29 thoughts on “Goosey, goosey gander”
This is a very thoughtful piece, Ann. Yes Tom asks some good questions. Because I am in a department that doesn’t have an undergraduate program, we don’t have non-TT teachers. However, we do have non-TT research scientists who are leaders in their field, yet they are marginalized in departmental policy. Funny how getting trampled helps one suddenly realize that there others who have been there on the floor the whole time. This is truly mind-opening.
This is a thoughtful post, as is Tom’s. I fear, however, that the discussion at administrative levels would not be about how to raise positions so that everyone has tenure but how to destroy the current (and, yes, inequitable) two-tier system to implement a system where no one has or is paid a living wage and we’re all at-will employees. Exhibit A: Hello, Wisconsin!
It’s part of a broader corporate trend to destroy worker protections and unions whenever possible and to pit the workers against one another to distract them from seeing the big picture of the dismantling of living-wage jobs.
You’re right–pols won’t do it. As we have learned in Colorado, Democrats are completely gutless when it comes to funding higher education, and we know where the Republicans are on this question. The tenured and tenure-track faculty have declined in numbers and our self-governance has withered, but who else can make the case that we must stop attacking the foundations of our own profession?
Very reasonable argument, as long as you accept the assumption that we are all first and foremost teachers. But that is certainly not the case for TT faculty. TT faculty don’t have lower teaching loads because our teaching is “linked to research.” It’s because research is half our jobs and it is a really f*&^^&% demanding job at that. Success at research can and is quantified and scrutinized by the administration, whereas success at teaching is determined by bs student evaluations and maybe enrollment.
The republicans have been very successful in framing research as some trivial game that faculty play, rather than the creation of knowledge. Once you dismiss research, then yes, all teachers are the same and let’s either give everyone tenure or (more likely) get rid of tenure. If society decides to value knowledge, then we should expand the TT faculty, with the expectation that those faculty are engaged in research. Not going to hold my breath though.
Thanks for your comment, anon. I agree with you entirely about the imporance of research–and I fully believe that anyone who gets TT status should meet the same standards for research that the pre-existing faculty must meet.
My post here, and Tom’s post (the guy was an NEH winner and has published 4 books!), was not an argument to diminish the research aspects of our jobs. Sitting here in the Ahmanson Reading Room of the Huntington Library, I would hardly make the case that teaching is the only thing we do of importance! But it is the thing we do that’s most visible to the public, and if we care that it’s done well by experts in their fields, then the protections of tenure and the luxury of time for research it affords are are crucial.
I would add that it isn’t only t/t folks who move across the country for jobs. After all, Tom moved from Greeley to Morgantown for an instructor position. I have a colleague from grad school who moved 5 times in 7 years for visiting gigs, until she was “fortunate” in finally landing a t/t job. When I was at UNC, we routinely did national searches for instructor positions and hired people from across the country (though did eventually convert them to t/t lines more often than not)
I’m not sure how many folks relocate to adjunct, but sacrificing location is required of a range of people in academia. Not just those on the tenure track.
These are really good points. Your former department was good about this. Mine is not. And yes: Tom moved to do adjunct teaching, and others are stuck in VAP hell for years unless and until they get TT jobs!
I’ve had one tt job my entire career, at a teaching-focused regional comprehensive, where I’m now a tenured full professor. In Wisconsin. Our campus is miles away (both literally and figuratively) from Madison and Milwaukee. I’ve always had a 4-4 load, with the expectation of scholarly “activity” (I’ll be publishing my 3rd book soon) and service. Up until now, the department regularly hired adjuncts, but with the impending budget cuts, all of them have been let go. (Several years ago, one of our long-time adjuncts applied for a tt job in our department, was hired for it, and is now tenured. Any adjunct with the proper qualifications has always been a serious contender for tt lines here.) Sabbaticals have been suspended on our campus and no one has a clue if they will ever be re-instituted. Our current administrators decline to even try to justify sabbatical leaves in this current political climate. Funding for conference and research travel has also been pulled back, so I have no idea how to plan my next book project. No one knows what’s going to happen here. It’s like living the nightmare.
My reservation about Tom Bredehoft’s post is this: few tenured faculty would pick as their first choice a system in which large numbers of courses in their disciplines are taught by faculty who are ineligible to be considered for tenure. This is, at best, a flawed arrangment that has been forced on us. Tenured and tenure-track faculty are morally complicit in this system only if they don’t take advantage of opportunities to advocate for more tenure-track lines. And, Historiann, I can’t agree that you and your colleagues are blameworthy (“boundary police”) if you repeatedly advertise tenure-track jobs and have never hired any of your non-tenure-track lecturers or adjuncts. (Frankly, you must have very impressive lecturers if some are competitive enough to be interviewed for a tenure-track job in your department.) Although I think that departments are foolish to rule out applicants just because they have spent long periods in non-tenure-track positions, I don’t see why departments ought to make a point of hiring *their own* non-tenure-track people.
In the past, I agreed with you entirely on both points, EngLitProf: we didn’t invent this system, and some of our adjuncts have successfully won TT jobs elsewhere, and we consider their applications fully and fairly when they apply for jobs in our department.
But I’ve decided that it’s really not enough. How would it not benefit us to try to get our colleagues who want to be held to the same tenure standards TT appointments? (This is not a rhetorical question, it’s a serious one. I’m a polyanna so I usually miss seeing the potential down side of my ideas. OTOH, we can also worry ourselves to death instead of taking action.) If people don’t want to be held to the research standard (per anon’s point above), then fine–we can get them long-term contracts at least, if not TT appointments.
There’s clearly plenty of work for college-level teachers–if not, then why all the adjuncts?
I would add to this that the ‘holy grail’ of the national search doesn’t necessarily mean that equity is in play in hiring. We all know the statistics on who gets hired and they don’t look very diverse, and there are many reasons for this: academia is a system that prizes mobility, disadvantaging those who can’t move due to children, partners, caring for other family; it disadvantages the poor that can’t afford to travel to AHA or similar conferences (and perhaps aren’t aware or brave enough to demand an alternative interview); it disadvantages those who don’t look like the interview panel (who studies show repeatedly hire people of similar race, gender and academic pathway); and for young scholars with limited track records, it uses institution as a proxy for ability (hence all the postdocs go to those from top institutions). We know this; studies show this. And we know that the disadvantaged are more likely to end up in crappy adjuncting jobs that limit their opportunities to publish. So it seems to me that if an institute is benefiting from somebody’s labour, and that person wants the opportunity to succeed, the institution should look after their own first – it’s as fair a measure as any.
Feminist Avatar, I see a mismatch between the problems you perceive and the solution you propose. I don’t get why we should act as if that this or that university’s “own” contingent faculty would already be tenure-track if not for illegitimate factors. To choose one example, if a university needs to be far more diverse, we address the problem by hiring members of underrepresented groups, but I don’t get why we would hire the members who just happen to be around already. You imply that because tenure-track hiring can be unfair, giving tenure-track jobs to one’s current contingent faculty without national searches is “as fair a measure as any,” but I don’t agree that we should simply throw up our hands in this way.
How is this “throwing up our hands?” It seems like it’s taking action to address another injustice, not unlike target-of-opportunity hires. It’s also a service to our communities to offer our neighbors and colleagues a better class of job.
There’s a point at which, at my school historically, there’s a pot of money to pay for people to teach a number of courses with a number of students. If our non-tenure track folks (who are often full time, and have benefits, in my department) get paid better, the money has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is the pot of money to pay people, and that means we’d all have to take cuts.
It may be most just that we all take cuts to make all pay equitable, but I wouldn’t have taken this job for the resulting paycheck, and I think most of my tenured and tenure-track colleagues wouldn’t be happy to take that cut. I think it’s easier for most of us to talk the talk rather than walk the walk. (Tom seems to have walked the walk to adjuncting, and I admire that.)
Other countries don’t have tenure; we just have decent employment law that makes all permanent employees difficult to remove (apart from financial reasons – you can be made redundant if they run out of money or restructure, but I believe that is also true for tenured staff in the US). Our right to academic freedom is protect either through national legislation or through our contracts with our employers (for example, it is a clause within my employment contract; it also asserts my right to own my research and what the uni can and can’t do with it). Most of us have the same issue with lots of our teaching being done by temporary staff on short term contracts, but our goal is not tenure but getting the ‘real job’. Perhaps you could campaign for better rights for all employees in the US that would make it difficult to be fired at whim? Or put another way, what is it you want to save about the tenure system?
On this broader question about the relationship between tenured and non-tenured teaching staff. Most adjuncts at least started out wanting to do research; most who slowed down in that area did so because they didn’t have time due to all the teaching – it seems unfair to penalise them for that when you then come to make TT hiring decisions. You ‘broke’ them; maybe you should also fix them! Plus I think you should have loyalty to those colleagues in your institutions who are working in poor conditions by providing them with the opportunities when they first come up. Presumably as you allow them to teach, you agree that they’re doing 50% of their job well or they shouldn’t be in that role. And they’re not being paid to do the other 50% of that job, so why should they do it? So give them first chance in the TT hiring spots. If they don’t do the research, you can then not tenure them.
I like this comment. To truly come to a just and workable system, I think we (faculty in general) also need to turn things around and look at the situation from the other perspective: what would a *good* system with no tenure look like? At the very least, we’d be better prepared for conversations such as the ones that are going on in Wisconsin. And it would be a good opportunity for tenure-line faculty to truly listen to experienced non-tenure-line faculty, who, at least in my experience, have a variety of attitudes toward tenure and its value (or lack thereof). To the extent there’s a consensus, it’s probably that the present mixed system is worse (at least for the non-tenurable majority) than either a majority-tenure or a no-tenure system.
I think this is why ej’s former department has been successful in converting their lecturers to TT jobs and mine hasn’t: her former dept. has run national searches to fill the lecturer position, and then they convert it, whereas mine usually runs a national search AND THEN when we open a TT search we run the search again!
This strikes me as a pretty foolish duplication of resources, but I’m sure the thinking is that we’ll get more applicants to a TT job than to a lecturer position, especially as many of these searches are conducted rather late & even over the summer. (And there are some people who apply to be in our adjunct pool because they happen to be or want to be in our region.) So it seems like we need to investigate what exactly counts as a national search and whether we really want to run two of them to fill one TT job.
Let’s put the proposal in this form: if your department or mine has full-time non-tenure-track faculty on year-to-year appointments who wish to become tenure-track and who are willing to be held to the department’s research standards for tenure, then they ought to be given tenure-track appointments and given the teaching load traditional for tenure-track assistant professors. Maybe they can have a full seven years before they apply for tenure, when they either get tenure or have to leave. (Let’s assume that their present non-tenure-track positions do not require or provide time for research, that faculty may take advantage of this option only if they have terminal degrees, and that the granting of tenure requires achievements in research.) My main problem with this idea is that I think such promotions cannot be justified once we take into account either the interests of the department, which needs its tenure-track faculty to be more than merely “qualified,” or the rights (sorry) of other people out there who might apply for that new tenure-track position which would be created. Such a proposal would involve taking people who applied at some point in the past for one kind of job, and who in many cases were not hired in a national search, and giving them a more desirable job without a fresh search (bear in mind that there may be a much stronger candidate who right now is a non-tenure-track full-time person at that university four hundred miles away!). And if your department starts acquiring tenure-track faculty by in-house promotion, how are you going to convince the administration to authorize normal tenure-track searches? A better idea would be more modest, saying that the teaching and service of current renewable full-time faculty, at least those who were hired after a real search, will be evaluated within seven years to see if they ought to be granted the same job security that comes with tenure. This idea would do nothing about the two-tier system, and you would still have the problem that you exclude those stronger candidates from outside who will apply only if tenure-like job security is a possibility, but at least it would increase the number of faculty who have such security.
There are so very many ways that department hire faculty that i just don’t buy it that converting lecturers to the tenure track somehow a unique violation of anyone’s “rights” to be considered for a job, especially if the lecturers were hired through a national search in the first place.
For example: spousal hires. This is probably the biggest category of non-free market hiring, but there are also target-of-opportunity hires too. Some searches don’t get posted until late winter or spring, after most other departments have already had campus interviews. I wrote a letter of recommendation a few years ago for a search posted in the early summer, when I’m sure very few people are trolling the job listings!
I don’t want to go back to the good-ol’-boys system of hiring your friends and students of friends, but don’t we have an interest in promoting the happiness and well-being of those in our community already? Like you say, if they don’t make the cut we can fire them later, but if they want to stay and give it a go, who are we to tell them they’re good enough to teach our students but not good enough to cross the line to the tenure track?
Are our predictive powers of success so brilliant we can see all and predict just how awesome or pathetic our colleagues will turn out to be? Is the national job search really such a sceintifically predictive tool? I will freely admit to having been wrong, wrong, wrongity-wrong when it came to some of the hires I’ve voted on in the past 15 years.
I don’t think at a lot of places that adjuncts are hired through a national search. (Some, yes, but my experience at three universities and an SLAC was that they aren’t hired through national searches.)
Wow! I’m delighted to be introduced to Tom’s blog, and will look forward to catching up with earlier posts. For the moment, I’ll say that his thoughts mirror mine quite closely as I (a long-time contingent faculty member in a comparatively secure and decently-compensated teaching-only position, who would prefer a tenured, reasonably balanced research/teaching/service position, but would settle much more happily into a teaching-intensive/some service one if it came with tenure and a salary that didn’t clearly signal second-class status) have been catching up with events in Wisconsin, the renewed discussion of a teaching-intensive tenure track, and commentary on both. There’s a part of me that’s entirely sympathetic with the situation of tenured faculty in Wisconsin, and another part that wonders whether that sympathy is an example of false consciousness, and is tempted to invoke the old “first they came for the x, but I wasn’t an x” saying — but with keen awareness that nobody’s life is in direct peril here (because, yes, it really sucks to devote decades to a career in academia, and expect to have tenure, and find oneself without tenure, and needing to constantly figure plan Bs/Cs/Ds et al. into one’s thinking, but it’s also survivable, and anyone with the skills and character traits necessary to get a Ph.D. does have options that wouldn’t make a bad plan B/C/D, which is not to say that an academy full of people who have to regularly spend energy on such alternative planning is a good thing — in fact, it’s not, but it’s already what we’ve got for the most part; the news just travels more quickly in some circles than in others). There’s another part that thinks we need tenure more than ever, because there’s more need than ever to speak truth to power inside the academy, about matters directly related to the academy, and what makes for an effective curriculum, good pedagogy, etc., etc., and what resources are necessary to support all of that.
So, yes, I think the “hang together or hang separately” saying also applies, more than ever. Somehow we need to support/defend the value of both research *and* teaching (and a salary structure that equally values proven experience and expertise in either or both) and tenure for all. And yes, that’s going to mean changing hiring structures/criteria to some degree (and perhaps, as I said in a comment on the post below, dialing back on the production of new Ph.D.s, at least for a while, and, if there is concern about hiring “stale” Ph.D.s to tenure-track positions, redirecting some of the pedagogical attention usually spent on new Ph.D.s to some sort of refresher courses — via summer seminar, or online, or something along those lines — for long-time contingent faculty, and Ph.D.s who have taken jobs outside the academy who might want to return under new conditions). My concern about the calls for a teaching tenure track is that, whatever the original proposers of the idea may advocate, the idea may become an excuse for expanding grad programs, and the production of new Ph.D.s, to fill “all those new positions,” with little thought for the people already doing such work. That danger is exacerbated in disciplines where new subspecialties have differentiated themselves in the past few decades (composition & rhetoric in my own field of English, perhaps Digital Humanities in both History and English), making it easier to argue that people who defended over a decade ago are behind the times.
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Can anyone point to some writing online that deals with substantive engagement with governments with regarding the state of higher ed? I feel like I’ve read *a lot* about the long decline, adjunctification and its inequities, and other topics that all feel like shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.
I still read, appreciate and value these, but whatever the situation–alone or together–we all still seem to be hanging.
What I’d like to read more of is how to constructively rebuild the foundation of higher ed. How do we vet a political candidate? How do we make candidates and officeholders accountable to higher ed? What kind of lobbying is being done at the federal and state levels? How do we make it effective? Can we figure out how to–FORCEFULLY–brand politicians whose record can be characterized as anti-higher ed? Can we finagle representation on Boards of Trustees/Regents/Governors to balance political cronyism?
Jason, I’ve been thinking about this a lot while on sabbatical. Even comsymp Jerry Brown here in California uses language and rhetoric about putting the boots to higher ed and forcing it to do more with less. And California’s economy is booming now!
In Colorado, Dem pols are happy to cash our checks and have us put signs in our yard. But one so-called liberal Democrat who was a state senator from Fort Collins badly told a colleague of mine–who had raised money for him and worked for him because he thought Bob was a “good guy”–to “Get over it! State support for higher education will disappear in the next ten years, so universities had better get used to it and get with the program!” Talk about a disappointment.
So I don’t think engaging with politicians or the political process directly as some of us works for us now. Quite frankly, the only things either uni admins or politicians respect or fear is unions, so I think our efforts should be put towards unionization. Just the whiff of a threat of unionizing our adjuncts forced the admin at my uni to create senior lecturer positions that gave people the presumption of ongoing employment if their performance continued to be good. (True, it’s not much, but then there wasn’t much of a threat of unionizing, either! Like maybe some of the adjuncts whispered the word in a meeting with an Assistant Vice Provost or some other functionary in a made-up admin position.)
Three Words: Unions, Unions and Unions. Historiann is 100% right, unions are the best vehicle for change that an employee can have.
I live in a state next door to Wisconsin and teach for a state university. Our experience with state government is 180 degrees from that of the UW system. Our staff, faculty, and managers are all unionized. One thing that has helped is having contracts that are very explicit about limiting the use of adjuncts. They are limited in terms of the number of classes they can teach in a year. The contract also requires the university to convert adjunct lines into TT positions after a certain number of years.
Our unions lobby the state government very effectively at budget time. One of the things the faculty union has stood for is trying to freeze tuition. We are not always successful, but it has helped somewhat. I think its also important for the union to stand up for the learning conditions of the students and the tuition freeze is part of that. The
Don’t give up on electoral politics. Our unions also continue to play a role in elections. They helped elect Dayton and other Democrats to office. The key thing is to organize a union if you don’t have one.
Matt, if you’re in the neighboring state I think you’re in, I’m familiar with the strength of that union. The one that operates on some of the UW campuses, including mine, is fledgling and weak. And considering what’s been done to unions in this state, there’s not much of a chance for them to exert any influence on the state budget.
BTW, in terms of adjunct faculty, many UW campuses used to have a thing called an indefinite appointment. Adjuncts who taught on a regular basis could apply for that status, which meant they could receive one- or even two-year contracts. Indefinite appointments no longer exist.
There was tenure for instructors (called lecturers) at the University of California when I was a child, and it was called “security of employment.” It meant everyone went through regular reviews, came up for promotion, and so on, although lecturers had different job descriptions and requirements.
Where I am most people are instructors and the fact that they are year to year employees mean they never go through the kind of rigorous review others do. They have de facto tenure from the moment they are hired, whereas research faculty have effectively fewer rights and guarantees.
This is another argument for tenure for all — not having it means less quality control, not more.
I agree that the system is messed up. And I know I benefit from that mess-uppedness. But we’ve been agitating for more TT lines (often with the “wouldn’t it be great if we could hire X out of hir lecturer position?” conversation). But the Powers that Be have balked. “Increase your majors by 50% and then we’ll talk.”
Our union also includes our non-ladder faculty; we negotiate together, every 4 years. I think that’s great. But I’ve also seen formerly supportive tenured colleagues turn ugly when better conditions for lecturers means less for us. Which, let’s face it, undermines the whole notion of “union.” I’ve heard one colleague assert that academia is a meritocracy. Other than speaking out against this BS (which earns me the cold shoulder from colleagues) and continuing to support initiatives to (a) get lecturers onto the TT, or (b) get them better working conditions, I don’t know what else to do.
It seems to me that the conversations among faculty in different statuses made possible/necessary by having a common union, however difficult they may (and however productive of tension not only among classes of faculty, but also within those classes, perhaps especially the more privileged ones), are valuable. Of course, there are also potential downsides (I assume there’s some sort of system that protects one union member against retaliation by another with more power in the system outside the union), but still, it seems better to me than not having the conversation at all.
I’m in a right-to-work state, which makes effective union organizing somewhere in between impractical and impossible, but close enough to states where unions are more active to hear how they work out, and even to have our own adjunct market somewhat affected (if there’s a better deal within commuting distance, people will travel). My understanding is that when part-time and full-time faculty unionize separately, administrations play them off against each other (e.g. by creating really shitty full-time contingent jobs to replace part-time contingent ones when part-timers make some gains). However, when faculty of various ranks work together (or when part-timers in a whole region manage to negotiate a common agreement with multiple institutions — a neat trick), things are much more likely to improve (or at least not degrade) for all involved.