The blog of Academe Magazine. Opinions published here do not necessarily represent the policies of the AAUP.
Guest Blogger Seth Kahn is a faculty member (composition and rhetoric; critical pedagogy; qualitative research methods) at West Chester University of PA. He’s a peace activist and serves in several positions for the PASSHE schools’ faculty union (APSCUF).
If you’re a Facebook friend or in my G+ network, you’ve seen me post a link to this petition calling for the Department of Labor to investigate the working conditions of contingent faculty in the US.
If you haven’t already, here’s why you should do this–
If you’re a contingent faculty member, it may (should?) benefit you directly. I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t sign it, especially because your local administration should never know that you did. It’s safe, and it’s potentially very helpful.
If you’re a faculty member who isn’t contingent, there are several reasons to do this. First, it’s an obvious act of solidarity with our contingent colleagues whose positions are untenable; even contingent faculty with the best salaries and benefits and access to governance and all the rest of it are still contingent. Second, if you believe that “we” need to be taking action on behalf of contingent faculty but don’t have faith in our professional organizations, unions, etc, this petition opens up another avenue for action. Third, there is simply no good reason not to call for this. I can’t imagine the world in which the conditions of contingency that our adjunct faculty work in are reasonable.
If you’re an academic administrator/manager, a successful petition to the Department of Labor may help alleviate the pressure on you to make changes, especially without any guidance from the law. At the very least, a successful petition will clarify what the rules are, and I don’t know any administrators who aren’t happier knowing that.
If you’re a student, or the parent/guardian of a student, you may not know how many of the faculty teaching in American colleges and universities are contingent, meaning they have mostly short-term (one semester, mostly, sometimes a year, very rarely longer than that) contracts, usually are compensated very poorly (the petition has plenty of the numbers if you need to see them), often don’t have access to reasonable offices or equipment or libraries or the resources all college faculty need to do our work. Individual adjunct faculty work against daunting odds and conditions to serve you well, and can only do better if they’re supported reasonably well. You can help make that happen–again, at no cost or risk to yourself.
If you’re anybody else, especially if you’re also a contingent (temporary, term, contract, freelance, etc) worker in any other field, you should sign this petition as an act of solidarity with contingent colleagues, and as a way of helping to build the network of contingent workers that can respond en masse to the exploitation happening everywhere.
As simply as I can put it, there is no good reason not to sign.
For those of you who are interested in the larger adjunct labor movement, I would also argue supporting this campaign is important because it opens up yet another new approach to fighting for equity. We’ve seen creative approaches growing and intertwining at a lively rate in the last few years: Josh Boldt’s Adjunct Project; SEIU’s Adjunct Action campaign; the New Faculty Majority; more recently the#mlademocracy campaign, which has successfully put forward a slate of contingent and contingent-supportive candidates to run for the organization’s offices; and the AFU’s petition to the Department of Justice to investigate Higher Ed writ large for denial of civil rights and collusion.
Those efforts, of various sizes and scopes, have met with varying degrees of success–just like any efforts do. I’ve supported or been involved (more or less tangentially) in all of them , including this one, and believe that supporting this petition campaign is important not only because it’s a good idea, but also because it represents another possible path to equity–and against the alternative, which is to do nothing, it’s a path well taken.