Before we go any further, we will pause to remind you that this blog has a long history of opposing what our epic animated short feature, Excellence Without Money: The Movie, eloquently describes as "the wage slavery of adjunctification." We consider the slow but steady erosion of tenured and tenure-track positions and the accompanying rise of non-tenure-track and part-time positions to be one of the more disastrous results of the defunding of higher education that has occurred in recent decades. Our pal Tenured Radical describes wage stagnation and the shrinking of the tenure-eligible faculty as evidence of "the casualization of academic labor." In our view, students and institutions were better served by a system in which most of the instructional workload was shouldered by full-time, tenured or tenure-eligible faculty who had strong incentives to work hard and creatively in order to achieve job security and to be loyal to the department and school that offered it.
Nonetheless, that happy world is largely gone. (For the Modern Language Association's latest report on its disappearance, go here.) Adjunctification is not a temporary aberration but a permanent and defining feature of the brutish neoliberal university. Given that troubling yet inescapable fact, one would think that any serious effort to examine and address employment conditions for non-tenure-track faculty would be applauded by the bleeding heart tenured radicals of Roxie's World. For far too long, after all, avoidance and denial about what was happening to the academic workforce have kept us from acknowledging the explosive growth in a class of workers that are treated as the pack mules of academe. We largely ignored them, and we ignored the harsh and often humiliating conditions in which they worked.
In that respect, then, yes, the regents deserve credit for breaking an unconscionable silence and trying to set a baseline to assure that adjuncts throughout the system are treated with a modicum of professional respect. Many requirements of the new policy are laudable and, you know, humane, if you think access to a university e-mail account can be considered humane. Beyond the no-brainers (e.g., access to telephones, office supplies, and "appropriate space" for meeting with students during office hours), the policy mandates what are basically kill fees for classes that are canceled less than 30 days before the start of the semester if the adjunct contracted to teach the course can't be reassigned to a comparable course. The fee is just 10% of the contracted payment amount for the course, but that's enough to make departments think twice before canceling a class. Managing schedules and seats is a departmental responsibility, after all. Adjuncts shouldn't have to pay for someone else's poor planning.
So far, so bueno, right? How is it, then, you may be wondering, that this new policy ends up being tarred by this humble blog as an example of Excellence Without Money (™RW Enterprises, LLC)? Easy peasy, my pretties. Aside from the kill fees, the policy delicately sidesteps the issue that makes the life of an adjunct so uniquely hellish: the shockingly low levels of compensation for work that institutions of higher education claim to value so highly. The policy's major statement on compensation is 100% weaselly: "Every effort should be made to make adjunct faculty compensation professionally appropriate and competitive to the extent allowed by available fiscal resources (emphasis added).
Curiously, the policy establishes a new class system among adjuncts, creating categories of "Adjunct Faculty I" and "Adjunct Faculty II" that sound a lot to us like the old plantation system's distinction between field slaves and house slaves. Adjunct II's (who become eligible for that category by establishing a consistent record of high-quality instruction over multiple semesters) would get priority consideration in teaching assignments (OK, so maybe it's more like a frequent flyer program than a plantation) and would be assured of making at least 10% more than the minimum per-course compensation rate at the institution. That sounds pretty decent, but, as it turns out, the Adjunct II designation would be available to almost no one on the QTU campus because of the way loads are calculated. (It's one of those boring, opaque questions of FTEs and other bureaucratic mysteries. Take our word for it, will you?)
But guess what would apply to all adjuncts, both field and house, and the units that employ them. Say it with us, darlings: PERFORMANCE EVALUATION! Yes, it's true. The new policy, in the interest, of course, of supporting professional development for adjunct faculty, requires units to develop procedures for evaluating adjunct faculty performance on a regular schedule. As QTU has moved toward implementation of the policy, the regents' somewhat vague call for procedures has been interpreted to require, not just class visits and student evaluations, but what amounts to a full-on teaching portfolio for every single adjunct. Individual instructors will be largely responsible for developing those portfolios, though the employing units will have lots of new work to do in terms of collecting documents and data and conducting/reporting on class visits. Moose is really looking forward to implementing this policy in her itsy-bitsy, teenie-weenie queer studies program, in which the turnover rate among adjuncts is so high that she fully expects to be conducting performance reviews for instructors who will likely have disappeared before she's even had a chance to read their heartfelt statement of teaching philosophy. Oh, the fun just never stops, does it?
Here's the thing, kids: We are not opposed to evaluation or professionalization of the adjunct workforce. We are, however, violently opposed to increasing the burden of work on adjuncts and the understaffed units that tend to employ them without meaningful increases in compensation or resources. New policies that create new work under the guise of assuring high quality and continuous improvement while blithely ignoring the not insignificant problem of available fiscal resources are, sadly, exactly what you would expect in the age of Excellence Without Money (™RW Enterprises, LLC). Such policies can only add to the stress and demoralization of everyone who has to hold up or jump through the new hoops established by them.
Tenured Radical recently called on her comrades in the academic blogosphere to "find a way to Occupy Education." We offer this post in support of that worthy cause. Write back and let us know what's happening on your campus with regard to the wage slavery of adjunctification. One step toward changing the world is acknowledging what's happening in your particular corner of it. So tell us what's happening