Thursday, July 20, 2006

Making Adjuncts Visible

I have had a double standard for dealing with academic scandals -- I have treated scandals involving tenured (or tenure-track) academics as legitimate, and scandals involving adjuncts as pointless media events. This double standard was not unconscious; I knew what I was doing. I simply thought that it was wrong to hold adjuncts and part-timers to the same standards as full-time faculty.

I explained my double standard first in the scandal involving a Warren Community College adjunct who wrote a nasty e-mail to a student. I explained my dismissal of the story like this:
This was from an adjunct at a local community college who had been working there for only about a year. Usually, adjuncts suffer a great deal because of their invisibility, and are treated like they are not "real" professors. OK, fine.
Let's say adjuncts aren't real professors. If they aren't real professors, though, can we stop treating Daly like a "real" professor?OK, let's say they are real professors. In that case, shouldn't the story be about how a real professor is so poorly paid for his real work?This story seems to want to have it both ways. Just this once, couldn't we let the adjuncts' invisibility work in their favor? Just let Warren Community College quietly decline to re-hire him next semester because of his unprofessional behavior.

Ward Churchill, though, I held to a higher standard (though he seems unable to meet even the lowest of standards). Thomas Petee, too, I held to a higher standard. On the other hand, I haven't blogged even once about Deborah Frisch bizarre threats.

I've been thinking a lot about these choices, though. On the one hand, adjuncts are basically without voice in academe -- and since we ignore them when they do quality teaching and carry on with professional deportment, why not let it work to their benefit once in a while by ignoring the kooks and jerks?

Michael Drout's post on Frisch starting me re-considering my position, though. He wrote, "But I do care very much about the ways that people like Churchill, Frisch and the guy at Wisconsin are damaging the institution of academia."

"The insitution of academia." I know that Drout was talking about Academe as a whole, but it started me thinking about the academic institutions whose reputations had been soiled by adjuncts. Most people don't know the difference between an adjunct and a full-time faculty member. When I was a TA, most students called me "Professor Nokes," and when I objected and tried to explain to them that I wasn't a professor, they got confused, so eventually I stopped bothering to correct them (and focused on the dissertation to make their error correct). So, if most people see adjuncts in the same way as full-time faculty when it comes to scandal, it stands to reason that they also see them so when it comes to quality work.

Universities are more than happy to take credit when they've got a really good adjunct, working his tail off for a pittance. So long as that is the case, they need also take responsibility when their faculty, full or part-time, behave badly.

In the future, I'm going to be more sharply critical of wrong-doing by adjuncts and the schools that employ them -- not because I think adjuncts deserve any more grief than they already get, but because if schools find themselves being held to account for the behavior of their adjuncts, they may find it valuable to take more of an interest in them. I think by not treating adjucts as "real" faculty in scandal, I have participated in allowing schools to treat adjuncts as not "real" faculty in other ways that would be to their benefit. Mea culpa.

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