The Academe Blog

The blog of Academe Magazine. Opinions published here do not necessarily represent the policies of the AAUP.

How Do We Get Them to Listen?

Many of us, and for many years, have been raising our voices against the growth of two-tiered systems in the United States. The sense of security felt by those at the top, unfortunately, keeps them from listening–and this is just as true in academia as it is elsewhere.

Let me be blunt: Instead of seeing tenure as something that should be expanded, something that is the bedrock beneath the tower of academic freedom, we have allowed it to be turned into a jealously guarded perquisite, a wall as high as those surrounding the gated communities of the wealthy. But it gets worse: Instead of fighting to bring the necessary teaching contingent fully into the academic environment, we who are tenured or are on the tenure track have allowed our own fears to let the door be closed against others. Instead of insisting that we cannot do our jobs without an adequate body of full-time colleagues to meet student needs, we have allowed our administrations to establish an explicit second tier or temporary hired help–and have turned our eyes from the plight of those caught in the snares of contingent academic labor.

Of course, I’ve said this before. You’ve said this before. Thousands of others have said this before.

This week, in a chapter excerpted in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Richard Moser says it again–but extremely well. He writes:

[T]he new academic labor system has fragmented the faculty, weakening its ability to act as a constituency. Tenure has lost support from both junior faculty members and those on the lower tiers, rendering the profession less able to defend its central institution.

Furthermore (and this is perhaps the most damning):

The fragmentation of the profession is driven by administrators; yet faculty members are also often complicit in the transformation of tenure from a right into a privilege by allowing or even encouraging the escalation of the requirements for tenure. The traditional prerogatives of the faculty, in terms of having a voice in the standing and status of 75 percent of the profession, have been lost; the 17 percent of faculty members who have tenure compensate for this lost power by showing how tough they are on the remaining 8 percent eligible for tenure. Can we believe that the attacks on tenure or its increasingly unrealistic requirements are concerned with quality or accountability when there is almost no concern for the professional evaluation, recognition, and support of the 75 percent of the faculty off the tenure track?

Personally, I am at my wits’ end. We stamp our feet and hold our breath, but nothing changes. What Moser is saying has been pointed out for years, deserves pointing out now and (unfortunately) will probably have to be pointed out again and again in the future.

What do we have to do to change things?

About Aaron Barlow

English faculty, New York City College of Technology (CUNY) and Faculty Editor, "Academe."

2 comments on “How Do We Get Them to Listen?

  1. John
    January 14, 2014

    Aaron, Upton Sinclair said it best when he wrote, ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.’ You can replace “salary” with “status” or “self-interest” if you want, but it’s all the same.

    • Aaron Barlow
      January 14, 2014

      You may be right, John. But I insist on continuing to believe that there’s more to us, that we can even rise above crass self-interest.

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