BY ANNA PEAK
Suggest that contingent faculty deserve equal pay, and someone is sure to tell you, in smugly reasonable tones, that while contingent faculty deserve better pay they do not deserve equal pay because, after all, tenure-stream professors are contractually obligated to publish, serve, and teach advanced courses, while contingent professors — those lucky bastards! — are not. In fact, however, more and more precarity is used to extract from contingent faculty the very labor we’re defined as not doing so that that work can go unpaid.
All across the country, for example, there are contingent faculty members who publish peer-reviewed scholarly work, and even see their publications featured on department web pages alongside those of tenure-stream faculty. Those same publications are sometimes featured again in departmental reports of productivity to administration. At the same time, tenure-stream faculty’s higher salaries are supposed to reward their research, yet TS faculty do not always publish, or they publish primarily or only in edited collections put together by their friends. This dirty fact is well-known (admit it, dear R1 reader; at least one colleague of yours springs readily to mind), but contingent faculty are not supposed to mention it. This silence is ostensibly necessary to protect tenure’s virtue but in fact hides double standards in the academy. It is true that TS faculty at research institutions (meaning institutions which value research only when it is done by TS faculty) today are held to much higher, even brutal, publishing expectations than in the past, but times have changed for contingent faculty as well, and contingent faculty at research institutions and elsewhere are now quite likely to publish articles in top journals and books with top presses. Precarity is a factor: those contingent faculty who publish do so in part because they fear losing their current jobs and desperately desire a better-paid, more secure position. Yet contingent faculty are too often told, loftily, that they do not deserve the same pay as their TS sisters and brothers because TS faculty publish and contingent faculty don’t.
All across the country, contingent faculty serve on committees, advise student publications, help conduct job searches, lead workshops, even mentor teaching assistants and run programs. Sometimes, contingent faculty are told that this will be “good experience” for them.1 At other times, they are bullied by deans, administrators, and even fellow faculty who know that contingent faculty are not in a position to say no. Others of us serve out of the goodness of our hearts. Meanwhile, I am sorry to say that TS faculty, no doubt busy with other duties, do not always serve. At my institution, Temple University, for example, the Faculty Senate website lists 24 committees, each with slots for from five to 10 members. If we call that an average of nine faculty members per committee, which is generous, that comes to a total of 216 slots, while Temple employs roughly 900 TS faculty. Many of these committees have at least one non-tenure-track member; many committees also have empty slots. Of course there are a few committees not listed on the Senate website, and many other service “opportunities” — chairing a department, serving on search committees, advising student publications, and so on — but the numbers indicate that in fact many TS faculty are given substantially larger salaries (not counting additional stipends, merit pay, or course releases) than their contingent colleagues in return for services they do not in fact perform. But let contingent faculty so much as breathe the phrase “fractional pay,” and watch how swiftly the reply comes that contingent faculty do not deserve fractional pay because contingent faculty “only” teach, and do not serve.
Contingent faculty are of course expected to bear the brunt of teaching lower-level courses to impressionable young college students in search of a major (“service courses,” as they are sometimes called, usually by the same persons who argue that contingent faculty do not perform service). But contingent faculty — again, all across the country — also routinely teach advanced courses. I myself taught a number of senior seminars as an adjunct, at more than one institution. Many colleges and universities in fact list in their catalogues a number of vaguely-described courses for which contingent faculty and graduate students are increasingly hired to teach what is usually described as “variable content” and which students can therefore take multiple times for credit. Universities not only rely on graduate students and contingent faculty to develop this “variable content” and have therefore, in the interests of efficiency, established these place-marker course numbers with catch-all titles such as “Themes and Genres in Women’s Literature” or “Special Topics”; universities trust contingent faculty to do an excellent job of developing new, advanced course without feeling the need to vet their syllabi ahead of time. Yet because administration has established these catch-all course numbers which function to facilitate the exploitation of contingent faculty’s research and teaching expertise without going to the bother of establishing new course numbers (because that would imply a stable faculty), contingent faculty are told that they are not real teachers because they do not design or develop new courses.
In the end, “contractually obligated” simply means “what some faculty get paid for, whether or not they do it” while “not contractually obligated” means “what other faculty don’t get paid for, no matter how much they do it.”