It is hard to know which parts of “Academia’s indentured servants” posted on Aljazeera, and written by Sarah Kendzior, to quote because I find the whole thing so quotable. So here are a couple of important bits that I hope will encourage you to read it all.
On April 8, 2013, the New York Timesreported that 76 percent of American university faculty are adjunct professors – an all-time high. Unlike tenured faculty, whose annual salaries can top $160,000, adjunct professors make an average of $2,700 per course and receive no health care or other benefits.
On Twitter, I wondered why so many professors who study injustice ignore the plight of their peers. “They don’t consider us their peers,” the adjuncts wrote back. Academia likes to think of itself as a meritocracy – which it is not – and those who have tenured jobs like to think they deserved them. They probably do – but with hundreds of applications per available position, an awful lot of deserving candidates have defaulted to the adjunct track.
8 thoughts on ““Academia’s indentured servants””
It’s a failure to see the systematic issues at work. It’s easy to dismiss adjuncts via the divide-and-conquer strategy. You can take any adjunct and find something they “did wrong.” Maybe the adjunct wasn’t willing to move across the country for that 4/4 gig with 50 students per section. Maybe he decided he wanted to have children now. Maybe he published in a journal with only a good reputation and not a great one. Maybe she has only 3 years of teaching experience instead of 4. Maybe some adjuncts genuinely like what they do and have a main job on the side (don’t laugh, one tenured professor at a well-respected U.S. MA program has posted this a number of times at the Philosophy Smoker blog). Tenured philosophers are pretty good at dividing folks into individuals and finding faults with each one. They’re not so great at seeing the forest, which, by the way, is on fire.
Indenture servants? Not quite.
Indentured servants is a term for what was known as a white slave. Academia in America are not slaves, they are paid and they agree to the terms.
Indentured servants also agreed to the terms, and they were paid, at a minimum with cross-Atlantic passage and room and board.
Well, if an academic can’t make money in America, then they aren’t really an academic. Al Jazeera is using this to mock the American system and most of you have bought into it. Things are far worse in other parts of the world.
The article focuses on the wrong things. Adjunct income isn’t the main problem, it’s rather the lack of health benefits and job security.
In philosophy at least, someone adjuncting full-time can make a decent living, and it’s certainly not true that most such adjuncts are below the poverty line. It’s not unusual to do upwards of 15 classes a year, and that puts someone around the median income for the U.S. It’s a lot of classes, to be sure, but with no research, committee, and often office hour obligations, it’s doable – even more so with the increase in online teaching.
Ironically, Obamacare, which on its face would help adjuncts with regard to access to healthcare, is having the effect of limiting the number of classes adjuncts can teach at a particular institution. Schools, like mine, limit these so we don’t have to pay the healthcare costs required for those employees working a certain number of hours. We are thus facing an adjunct shortage – which, among other things, should put upward pressure on adjunct pay.
Waleed Muhammad – I’m afraid you’re wrong. Those of us working in academia know that people in the position described have a really rough deal. The same is true of the UK, and the biggest union of university teachers here – the UCU – is currently running a campaign about this problem, with an upcoming conference.
(Although, just for the record, I think anonymous is right that the term ‘indentured servants’ is incorrect.)
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