It’s a big day for outrage-links and it’s barely noon: First, we’ve got this gross-ass news out of Pittsburgh: The University of Pittsburg Medical Center has rigged literally every computer in the joint to start up with this grossly misleading anti-union screen.
Really, don’t you think you’re laying it on a little thick, UPMC? If you’re not careful, your employees are going to think you are really, really invested in them not joining a union for some reason.
Then there’s this, albeit from awhile ago—it’s a bit of world-class administrator porn about how adjuncting in the US is [insert a bunch of empty start-up style buzzwords derp blerp blork]. I’m sure ten admins blew their wads after the first paragraph alone.
But the most outrageous things I’ve heard this week actually come from a different sort of “link,” as it were—the few in-person links I have with my fellow members of homo sapiens sapiens. I was talking to a friend the other day who works in a small department at a smallish regional university, and he was telling me about a new adjunct they have who was doing a really good job.
Some members of the department wanted to give him more work. Much of the faculty was on board—but one full-timer raised an immediate objection: “We don’t want him to get the wrong idea about his place here.” By which he meant: We don’t want him to think he actually works here. We don’t want him to feel like he’s one of us, a real faculty.
This is a sentiment that should ring chillingly true for you adjuncts out there, and bring yet another wash of defensiveness-provoking shame from you tenure-trackers. You know that’s how you feel. The adjuncts—they’re different from you. They’re not one of you. They’re fit to teach all those shitty intro classes you can’t bother with, but they’re not real faculty. I mean, come on. If they were good enough to be real faculty, they’d have gotten jobs by now.
Let me offer a minor word of warning:
How you treat adjuncts—that you treat them like they’re different—will come back to haunt and hurt you. And someday, it might hurt you all the way into nonexistence.
The worse you treat adjuncts, the more likely your department is to self-immolate and die—and, unless you make a concerted effort to change your fundamental way of thinking about what a “real” faculty member is, you deserve it.
Here’s what I mean. You know that most students don’t know the difference between faculty, and don’t care. I mean, they should care—for their GPAs alone, as adjuncts are many times more likely to inflate grades (I sure as shit do), so they can get good evaluations and stay hired. But students don’t really know what’s going on.
Mine are always asking me questions about institutional stuff that I don’t know, or if I can write a recommendation, and always assuming that I’ll be in my office on most days like our full-timers are (they do a lot of advising). They have no idea, and it’s not really their job to know.
But here’s the thing. Most courses that students take—out of their major, but even in it—are introductory and lower- and mid-level. Lower and mid-level. That is—the courses that adjuncts and NTT faculty teach.
Most majors require but a handful of upper-level courses; often, by the time a student major gets a face-to-face with a tenured senior faculty it’s her last semester at the university. But let’s return to out-of-major breadth requirements, otherwise known as Adjunct Central. Do you understand how fucking backwards that is? Gen-Ed and breadth classes are your discipline’s only, and I mean only chance, to make a case for itself to the larger university population. The only exposure to your discipline the vast, vast majority of students who study it will ever, ever get is through a few intro classes. Which are taught by guess who?
Your part-time faculty, your non-tenure-track faculty, your disposable faculty, your faculty that shouldn’t get “the wrong idea” about its place in the department? To the vast majority of people who ever come into contact with your department, they are the only representative of your discipline people will ever, ever get. They are the reputation of your department.
And if they’re treated as “less-than”? They’re going to act as less-than. And if they act as less-than? Your students will get a less-than experience, but they’ll get straight As so they won’t care. Meanwhile, your administration will be trolling message boards and listening to word-of-mouth about your department and learn, either, that it’s shitty, or that your adjuncts have decided to pull some heroics and are doing such a great job that there’s no reason to open up any more tenure lines.
Either way, your department will die, and it’s your own fucking fault. When the whole stinking ship goes down, it will be cold comfort, but comfort nonetheless, to watch you drown.
So the next time you go thinking about how you don’t want an adjunct to get the wrong idea, realize that it’s you who has the wrong idea. It’s not too late to start treating your non-tenure-track faculty better.
And if your adjuncts aren’t worthy of this, because they don’t have doctorates or they really, truly are just not as good as you? Think, think really fucking hard, about whether that’s the primary—if not only—face you want to project of your discipline.