Adjunct Faculty and Gender

Every single one of us working in universities should be up in arms at the two-tier system currently operating in academia, whereby faculty is divided into those lucky enough to land a permanent position, and those who inhabit a shadowy underworld of precarious, part-time, poorly paid, temporary jobs. Unsurprisingly, there is a gendered dimension to this situation. To get anywhere in the academic world, one needs to work long, long hours. This is largely incompatible with responsibilities of care. Since women tend to take on more care responsibilities (for various reasons), they often end up in the academic underworld.

Academic life is predominantly a man’s world. Women remain on the periphery, and children are all but absent. American universities consistently publish glowing reports stating their commitment to diversity, often showing statistics of female hires as proof of success, but the facts remain: university women make up disproportionately large numbers of temporary (adjunct and non-tenure track) faculty, while the majority of permanent, tenure-track positions are granted to men… The disproportion between male and female university faculty, as in other work forces, is most striking among those who choose to be both professors and parents.

Things really need to change. You can read more here. Thanks to JP.

15 thoughts on “Adjunct Faculty and Gender

  1. Thanks for this post. It tracks with my experience.

    I have worked in academic support for most of the last 15 years, and I’ve met a lot more women than men who work these jobs. I’m part of a collaborative blogging project that started in the academic underworld. We have two multi-contributor sites, and we are up to 9 contributors so far. Three of those contributors are men. Six are women.

    I guess my question is what can we do to change things? Talking about it on the internet is a good start, but it is not nearly enough.

  2. Agreed! I’ve been thinking about similar things myself, recently. In the UK, one thing that can be done is to get involved in the union and get these things on the agenda. I suppose spreading awareness amongst those in the comfortable positions and getting them on side is important too. I’m going to put up a post shortly asking for suggestions, I think.

  3. I’m glad to say that (apparently) the University of Manchester does not use zero hour contracts (at least in a systematic way) anymore.

    I’ve generated a few casual contracts for people who needed or wanted some extra money and who could do a specific task that I needed doing (e.g., prior employee fixing some bugs in software they had developed, student writing up doing some web site stuff, student transitioning to a job but with a gap). They are rather strict about how these can work to ensure you aren’t covering an actual ongoing duty that needs allocation and coverage. The pay was determined by the work equivalent hourly pay scale and, for students, the hours were limited. For everyone, the total number of weeks you could give is 13 and you couldn’t sequence them too closely (i.e., there had to be a gap and going beyond 2 seems quite difficult). I don’t think they are zero hour, either, per se, but I’m not sure about that (it hasn’t come up yet).

  4. It may well be true that even if there were not discrimination in the various procedures and processes that confer tenure, that the mechanism referred to in: “Since women tend to take on more care responsibilities (for various reasons), they often end up in the academic underworld” disadvantages mothers and those with care responsibilities wrt tenured positions. But I am wary of this as a general explanation; there are so many women in philosophy who do not have children, and who still are discriminated against: e.g., offered a non-tenure track position when they apply for a tenure-track job while the tenured or tenure-track job is given to a man (this happened to me and another woman at the last place I worked off the tenure-track, and neither of us was a mother). There are still many women without children who are not fairly evaluated (compared to how their male peers are evaluated) for tenure. The author of the article seems (to me) to have put undue importance on the fact that the woman she witnessed being denied tenure happened to also be a mother.

  5. Sgsterrett – i think your point is important. Women and children are not to be blamed for the dismal figures on womenin philosophy, for example.

  6. Right; I think that there are two points here. First, (i) someone who wants to be a mother/parent and do the essential job of giving small children the attention they might need for a flourishing life, or that want to experience being the primary parent just because they see doing that as part of a flourishing life, should not be exploited. Equal pay, etc. for the work they do should apply here. And, as monkey suggests, the tenured jobs seems to be structured (up-or-out, and within rigid time limits) to make it harder to do both. Second, (ii) it ought to be recognized that the disparity in gender proportions in tenured vs gender proportion in untenured/non-tenured positions is not all due choices women have made. I meant to stress the second point. I bet the two points are related, though, via stereotypes (of women as the ones who ought to be the caregivers), and implicit discrimination at work in evaluation processes.

  7. There’s a lot to say here, in a very complicated nexus of issues. But I wanted to highlight for the moment just a couple. (1) (a) The author herself refers to academe as modeled on presumption of “men and their wives” (nb: use of “wife” in this context, see also Haslanger on social meaning and her recent Presidential address), and not unrelatedly, (1b) refers to women as those who are, in the U.S. at this place and time, still typically primary care-givers (as opposed, for instance, to a myriad of other possibilities including but not limited to having an equal number of men be primary care-givers in couples comprised of a man and a woman, and men and women, insofar as we’re thinking about couples, equally dividing child-rearing possibilities). Academe will never be an equitable place for women– any woman, no matter what our choices with regard to child-rearing– until 1a and 1b are no longer true.

  8. I agree that there are MANY ways that part-time and occasional faculty are exploited. However I have worked with lecturers to improve their working conditions and many of those I know do not want a tenure-track or tenured-like job and have opted out of that life on purpose. Most are artists or writers or parents who want the flexibility of part-time and/or occasional work and access to the academy. I think the crucial thing is to create many different kinds of jobs, none of which are exploitative. One of the challenges is that less than full-time academic jobs are not given the status they deserve, and so those who hold them are not granted the respect they deserve. I think we should be careful, then, in speaking of an “academic underworld.” The work is hard and important and should be compensated well (with benefits, multi-year contracts, and options for promotion). Unions can make a big difference.

  9. #9 is right about the vast differences in motivations behind adjuncting. Even though I am technically a “Visiting Assistant Professor,” that’s partially a fancy bit of terminology. I actually do my teaching at the adjunct wage (which is pretty damn good at The University of Iowa, compared to surrounding institutions). But I do it for reasons other than supporting myself (e.g., to stay up-to-date, to stay active in academia, because I like teaching), as I have a regular non-academic job that pays the bills just fine. But I’ve got plenty of friends who are adjuncting 4-5 classes per semester to pay the bills.

    I imagine as adjunct unions develop and strengthen, finding the common interest among members will be a challenge. But they’ll manage. Compensation, flexible contract lengths, benefits options, promotion options (like 9 said) are all things that will obviously be on the table.

  10. By ‘underworld’ I meant to refer to the precarity of the jobs and the fact that the two-tier system is invisible to most folks outside academia and to students. I didn’t mean at all to be disparaging of the folks working in that part of the system, or suggest that the work wasn’t important or difficult. Sorry if it sounded that way.

  11. Monkey, I doubt anyone would have read you as denigrating the adjuncts. I think shaslang (hi, Sally) makes an important qualification, and it would be wonderful to be able to think flexibly about employing faculty. I think my biggest concern is that there are a number of academic fields where one can’t get far without the kinds of opportunities TT jobs often provide. E.g., grad students, access to visitors informal discussions with “faculty” and so on. And even when one is treated very well, some people – sometimes especially staff – will want to make differences in TT or not mean a lot, to sometimes a very uncomfortable degree. (Mind you, given how the notorious nastiness in some full timers, non- TT can be a protected position.)

    There is a related difficulty, one discussed a lot at the Balt APA, though not exactly as an adjunct problem. There can be a great advantage to occupying an outsider position. Thinking outside the box may be easier if you are not continually caught up in insiders’ discourse. But it seems to be getting harder and harder for someone thinking outside the box to get a voice in philosophy – or so a number of people were arguing, and I would too.

    A similar point about originality is described here:

  12. That’s good to know, Helen. There are a couple of universities in the UK that have similar policies.

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