Rarely does a week go by now that I do not see an article or a tweet about another campus of adjuncts joining a union or organizing in some way to fight for a living wage. Considering we are the bulk of higher education faculty and on the whole are not paid very well, that should not be a surprise. However, what continues to surprise me are the reactions to adjunct organizing efforts by many tenure track faculty. A few folks' reaction is to stand up for us, while others warn us. Some want to silence us, and others avoid us and our efforts. Not all these responses are optimal.
I did discuss some of these issues before in my post "Adjuncts, Assumptions, and Activism," but I think there are things worth reiterating. First of all, I do know and have met some very strong tenure track adjunct allies. These are people who not only talk and write on our behalf, but actively work on their own campuses and in higher education as a whole to assist adjuncts. In fact, if you would like to join this group of friends and don't know where to start or what to do, check out ally Seth Kahn who just posted this entry on his Here Comes Trouble blog, that, while a direct response to a specific person, is also very good advice to anyone looking to get into the effective adjunct ally category. Additionally, adjunct badass Miranda Merklein, over at the Fugitive Faculty blog posted "Ten Steps to Becoming an Adjunct Ally." I think that these readings are very helpful to those looking to get involved or step up their activist ally game.
Now, here are some words about allies in general. Please, please do not go looking for what some like to call "ally cookies." Basically, that is a reward expected to be given out by whatever group the self-professed ally has chosen to assist. Groups suffering from any type of disparity do not have time to be baking cookies and handing out accolades to allies. Also, please do not presume to speak FOR the group, professing to know just how they feel or what their situation is like without actually consulting the group in question, especially if you yourself have not ever experienced the world in their way. That Ally Spokespersona was an impetus for me to start this blog. I was so damn tired of seeing posts about adjuncts and our situation by people who were not adjuncts and had never been! When I complained to a friend about this, he said that an organizer suggested using any platform to draw attention to the cause was good. I countered that letting people speak for themselves was better. That being said, people are afraid. Afraid to speak out and lose their jobs. Afraid to get harassed by trolls. Afraid to be shamed by the public for the truths they have revealed. Thus, this blog was born. Do I still worry about those things? Sometimes. Especially right before I hit "Publish." So ask yourself, Ally: "Am I speaking up on behalf appropriately by amplifying their side authentically or am I speaking when I should be making space for someone of that group to speak safely?"
Tenure track people, those solidly safe behind the velvet rope of tenure (perhaps not those still in their probationary period): please use your positions to make a difference. The more permanent people that teach, the larger the faculty percentage to stand up for teaching and learning. Please speak up for those who are not able to do so, whether that is because they fear for their jobs or simply they are not invited to the meetings. Those are good places to practice good allyship: adjuncts might not be at the meetings, or they might be there but feel unwelcome to add to the conversations. You could talk to some beforehand and agree to take their statements or concerns and read them at the meeting, keeping them anonymous, if need be. You could petition to have adjuncts attend the meetings or be invited to workshops and trainings, if they are not. Once, temporary faculty were excluded from the free lunch at faculty orientation day. Only new tenure track people were allowed to eat on the President's dime. Tenure track allies who helped plan the day were angry that we adjuncts were left out. They found another group on campus who was sponsoring the day to provide us lunch. That might seem like a small gesture, but it has stuck with me over the years. One small step to erasing disparity may start an avalanche.
Then we have a few varieties of unhelpful vocalizers. Recently, I was part of a successful adjunct unionizing effort. Because of my open support, as well as my speaking and writing about the adjunct exploitation crisis, I catalogued some interesting encounters. More than one permanent faculty member said to me, whilst sagely shaking their heads, "Oh, its a good idea, but it won't work. We tried and couldn't do it. They'll stop you, too. Be careful." They didn't. We won. Honestly, many of us had little to lose and very much to gain, therefore, we could not be frightened away from organization in large enough numbers to affect the vote. These folks were not really against us and they weren't actively standing in our way, yet they weren't making it any easier either. This group belongs with the larger demographic who would like to tone-police adjuncts:
We aren't being careful.
We are too angry.
We are too whiny.
We are too loud.
Stop this. Stop telling adjuncts, or anyone experiencing some sort of adverse situation to express themselves in a way that makes you more comfortable. Seriously, it isn't about you. It isn't. Let the person talk, cry, rant, or rave. Maybe they have never gotten the chance to speak up. Maybe their concerns deserve to be shouted. I observed the other day that what I dubbed the Cult of Happiness is a real thing and its missionaries are relentless with their inspirational posts, verses, and maxims. The true goal of this sect, I believe, is to prevent everyone everywhere from ever experiencing and expressing the full range of human emotions. These folks have not only taken their Soma, they are pickled in it. They will not stop until everyone is as blissfully happy and unaware of anything remotely upsetting. These are the handmaidens of disaster. They'll be throwing flowers at the the mushroom clouds. Trust me. The opposite of the Shh... Just be Happy Crew are the Shh...You're Giving Higher Ed a Bad Image Squad. They do not want to hear our critique, because quite frankly, they've got theirs and by golly, they deserve it more than we do. Or something. Reasons. These are the ones who will barge
into a discussion and shout "Not ALL tenure track people act this way"--thus the title of this piece. On-line, just about any time someone makes a statement about how one group, as a whole, treats another, there is a vast rush by someone to be first to say Not ALL: men, white people, gamers, police, etc. It's true. Log onto any social media site and watch. It happens in real life, too. Stop this. Why are you defensive? If you feel the urge to "Not ALL" anyone, use that as a cue to stop, think, and then refocus. Stop yourself from saying those words. Think about what you might do to NOT be one of those people. Refocus your response in a positive way to assist the person or group that felt oppressed, offended, or demeaned--the appropriate response might be silence while really hearing, planning what you can do to make this bad thing never happen again in your presence, or even giving the less privileged group a way to safely present their side: all without expecting to be rewarded at all.
However, the most dangerous reaction is to act as though ignoring the adjunctification of higher education will make it go away, or at least make it not exist for you. It is not going anywhere. It is going to get worse if we do not collectively make a stand and stop this disease from taking over every inch of education. Please stop hiding your heads under your desks, in books, or the very appropriately named Ostrich Pillow. This position not only looks hilarious, but it directly supports the administrative directive to liquidate all protections, such as tenure, due process, or freedom of speech. This is really one of those "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention" moments. Kindly wake up and read those posts I linked to above.