I initially was going to post this as a comment to Aaron’s post, but it became too lengthy to seem a reasonable “comment.”
Like Aaron, I myself and many others among us who now hold tenure-track positions have had some experience as adjunct faculty. I taught at four institutions for six years while finishing my dissertation–or, more precisely, while eventually trying to time my application for the degree to any sign of even a modest improvement in what was then a terrible job market. (I wonder how old one has to be to remember the last time that the higher-ed job market was actually “good.” In 1978, when I started my graduate studies, the bottom must have fallen out, for there were 29 new Ph.D’s for every tenure-track opening.) I calculated that being slow to finish the degree would be less a liability than having an “old” degree. As it turned out, I was very, very lucky to be offered a position just before the 1990 recession caused yet another round of hiring freezes.
I recount my own background, here, because I think that many tenured faculty have some firsthand experience with the impossibility of trying to make a living in any professionally satisfying way as an adjunct faculty member, and some of us are actually taking concrete (if sometimes maddeningly incremental) steps to try to change things for the adjuncts at our own institutions and even beyond.
So, although I very much agree that the situation for adjunct faculty will not improve until their full-time colleagues become much more fully committed to making such changes, I think that characterizing most tenured faculty as generally resistant to such changes may ultimately be counterproductive, if only because it actually reinforces the institutional practices that have focused on distinctions rather than on common interests and common cause. More to the point, there is a danger that a characterization of tenured faculty as both a disinterested privileged class and as a necessary ally may constitute such a mixed message that it will actually confuse issues and delay much-needed change.
At all but the most elite institutions, the increase in the exploitation of adjunct faculty has been concurrent with increased demands on tenured faculty. Anyone in leadership positions in AAUP chapters can testify to how difficult it often is to get tenured faculty to act collectively in response to any issue of institutional concern. So, while I am not at all arguing that adjunct faculty need to be somehow more sympathetic to their tenured colleagues–that would be absolutely ludicrous–I don’t think that most tenured faculty are singularly disinterested in, never mind hostile to, the concerns and needs of the adjunct faculty at their institutions.
Therefore, it would be a better strategy, I think, for adjunct faculty to work with those of us who are already committed to changing things and, with us, to try to engage more of those tenured faculty by demonstrating the specific, concrete ways in which the exploitation of adjunct faculty is inherently connected to the core issues facing our institutions.
For, ultimately, if one were to make a list of the groups most responsible for the exploitation of adjunct faculty, I don’t think that tenured faculty would be at or even near the top of the list. We may not yet be as much a part of the solution as we certainly should be, but we are not as much of the problem as we might have been 10, 20, or 30 years ago.
Going after tenured faculty in this context makes me very uneasy because it coincidentally reinforces attacks on tenure. It seems very close to the favorite tactic of the proponents of “right to work” when they ask non-unionized workers why unionized workers so be so much more “privileged.” Of course, eliminating unions does mean that everyone is more equal–by bringing everyone down to a much lower common denominator.
The goal should be to get more adjunct faculty into more full-time positions and to make more of the full-time positions tenure-track positions. Again, it should not be to attack tenure as if that is the problem. For a faculty that is entirely contingent and largely part-time is very central to the vision of the most ardent corporatizers of higher education. The most extreme indicator of where we may be headed is Western Governors University, which has no faculty at all because Pearson and McGraw-Hill supply any needed “contracted evaluators.”
Surely, that is no solution that any of us would find acceptable or desirable.