Are Full-Timers and Administrations Maintaining a Caste System that Excludes Adjuncts?

BY LARRY JAFFEE

Larry Jaffee is an adjunct assistant professor at the New York Institute of Technology in Manhattan and an adjunct lecturer at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue, NY.

Faculties across the country have expressed disapproval with President Trump’s immigration ban. At my Manhattan-based campus it’s a critical issue since about half of our student population is international.

In late January, 46 members of the full-time faculty signed a petition advocating that NYIT be designated a sanctuary campus.

I asked one of the effort’s leaders why adjuncts weren’t offered the opportunity to sign, and wouldn’t a unified faculty make a stronger statement?

He told me that they didn’t want to put people “in an uncomfortable position.” He added that they didn’t ask the full-time, non-tenured professors to sign either. That didn’t make me feel better.

A student of mine (I advise the student-edited newspaper) was also told by full timers that adjuncts shouldn’t feel pressured to sign such a document because perhaps adjuncts don’t share the same level of academic freedom as they do.

My reaction: We’re adults and can decide for ourselves what we’d like to do, and just perhaps their real ulterior motive is protecting the turf that generally excludes part-timers from being represented by this local AAUP chapter and protected by its collective bargaining agreement. There’s a draconian clause in the CBA that requires “regular part-time members of the instructional and research faculty” to teach 18 credits (over the fall and spring semesters) a year for three consecutive years to be a member.

Mind you, adjuncts teach two-thirds of the classes on this campus, and this is just another example of exclusionary behavior to maintain the status quo.

In a one-on-one meeting with the school’s provost/interim president, I asked if the administration believes that adjuncts share the same academic freedom as full-timers. He was emphatic we do, and was very sympathetic to the plight of the adjuncts.

The provost plans to propose to the AAUP chapter a new classification of “instructor professors,” for faculty like me who are not covered by the agreement.

While I appreciate his sympathy, it begs the question: Who’s the employer here?

I know this local chapter leadership, and they’re never going to go for the proposal. And in my opinion, such lip service by both the administration and the local AAUP chapter just reinforces the obvious institutionalized caste system in place, one that pays tenured full-timers four times the money that adjuncts receive for doing the same job, and none or the medical benefits or other perks.

Simply, adjuncts make more of an impact on the lives of our students than our tenured, full-time colleagues. When are they as well as the institutions we serve going to acknowledge the gross pay inequality, and compensate us accordingly?

 

 


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4 thoughts on “Are Full-Timers and Administrations Maintaining a Caste System that Excludes Adjuncts?

  1. A faculty caste system in higher education, as Jaffee described, is not only apparent but can also be explained. In trying to understand why so many tenure-track faculty support what felt to me like a caste system, I turned to Edna Bonacich’s classic article (“A Theory of Ethnic Antagonism: The Split Labor Market”). Bonacich says that in a split labor market there are three players — higher priced labor, lower priced labor, and the business class. Faced with the potential wage-lowering effect of workers able to do the same work for a lower price, higher priced labor will strive to protect the gains they’ve made by allying with the business class — often on the basis of ethnicity. The result will fend off lower priced labor through exclusion (keep them out) or caste (separate and unequal). To illustrate, she discusses the Chinese exclusion act in the US and apartheid in South Africa.

    Applying Bonacich’s method to the evolution of the current faculty caste system, I saw higher priced labor as the tenure track, lower priced labor as adjunct and graduate student faculty, and the business class ruling through Boards of Trustees, etc. (https://cunystruggle.org/2016/04/15/the-faculty-caste-system-auto-ethnography-of-an-adjunct/). The faculty caste system is a way to maintain the salaries and privileges of tenure-track faculty while higher education faces defunding. However, a caste system among university faculty, unlike apartheid, isn’t based on ethnic differences. Instead, tenure track faculty (Bonacich’s higher priced labor) insist on arrangements that keep them separate from adjunct faculty (lower priced labor) and that create differences where none need exist (e.g., in governance and committee work). Both faculty governance structures (including unions) and university administrations are a party to these arrangements, which include salary and job security for the privileged faculty and substantial labor-cost savings for the employer. The entire system of unequal wages/benefits/privileges is justified by a deep and unchallenged sense that adjunct faculty are qualitatively different and less worthy than tenure track faculty. This sense is based on a vague combination of the “national search” procedure, prestige, publications, research, commitment, and the holy grail of tenure itself. It’s symbolized in the procession of faculty in academic robes.

    If all faculty were to unite and insist on a fair and equal system, it would mean that the currently privileged faculty would have to join their lower paid colleagues in a difficult fight against the powers that be. Why would they want to do that? Why would people with secure salaries risk turning their “benefactors” into their enemies? Of course one can think of reasons, but it’s also easy to think of excuses. Maybe some tenure-track faculty would like to move but find few decent jobs posted. But they can always tell themselves, “you can’t always get what you want.” Maybe some well paid faculty feel bad about “the plight of the adjuncts.” But someone will quickly assure them that most adjuncts don’t think of this as their “real job.” Nowadays some tenured faculty surely must be worrying about the future of their academic disciplines as the number of good positions to offer to new PhDs declines to near zero. Would that be enough to motivate some intellectuals to rock the boat, the sinking boat? Or will they decide it’s “apres moi le deluge”?

    In contingency circles, people seem to always circle back to the conclusion that the vast majority of full-timers are a lost cause, for now, that the lower caste of faculty are on our own.

  2. I have spent almost 40 years as a “career adjunct” and send support for your speaking out, Prof. Jaffee, and also thanks for the comment from Prof. Wangerin. Although I love my work (there would be no other reason to do it otherwise), I have learned that colleagues really do not care about unfair treatment–it is every man for himself in academia. Since your AAUP chapter doesn’t seem to care either (and that is a big disappointment), my suggestion would be to go to your local Equal Employment Opportunity Office (EEOC) and ask if they would investigate your institution. It may be another dead end for you, but we can’t give up. This is happening to the majority of college and university faculty all over the country. In solidarity.

  3. As president of the AAUP chapter at a private university, I cannot offer the full-time faculty anything remotely like collective bargaining; it’s only the adjuncts who are legally capable of unionizing. The only things I’ve been able to offer the adjunct faculty have been full-throated moral support on their unionization effort and a promise to investigate any efforts by the administration to put pressure on the vote. I don’t know if our AAUP chapter’s broadsides in support of the adjuncts made any difference, but, in any event, the adjuncts were successful last year and are now represented by SEIC: they’re in a far better place to negotiate than full-time faculty (which is proper, as they have far more need to negotiate: though the full-timers feel ourselves woefully underpaid, we know there’s no comparison with the adjunct plight).

    The only real impact our chapter has is in moral suasion; but at a Jesuit university, that can count for a lot.

    Inclusion of adjuncts in governance is a tricky matter. Some are around for a long time and have a sense of mission attached to the university; others are here sporadically or have simultaneous commitments elsewhere. Some would welcome a chance to participate in governance; others would regard any expectations of such as unpaid additional responsibility. Best solution, I think, is to have governance opportunities available but not part of expectations.

    Some disciplines here–notably in medical fields–have many full-time contingent faculty: people hired on yearly full-time contracts, year upon year, with full expectation of that continuing into the indefinite future (and paid no more badly than tenured faculty on the non-medical side of campus). Our Faculty Senate president was one such, even during the years when were in fierce opposition to the university president and eventually drove him out. So contingent faculty are very fully participatory in governance. The distinction here is not between tenured/tenure-track and contingent, but between regular and adjunct (mostly meaning, respectively, full-time and part-time, though that’s not an exact correspondence).

    I know it’s very different at other places. All politics is local.

    Stacey Harris

  4. I teach with Professor Jaffee, and can underscore his points. In fact, regarding mission, and commitment, I have taught at the institution (and others– you can’t pay the bills with one adjunct school, can you?) for nearly 18 years. I received my doctorate so that I could teach there full time. I am $85K in debt, so I suppose that I am in a position to empathize with our students upon graduation.
    The years are catching up with me in this second career, where I have so much to give, and see only book-learned colleagues, never in the field, mentoring our students, doing research among them (I believe students are a vulnerable population, especially if the researcher is a prospective instructor, and shouldn’t be the low-hanging fruit for research), and getting the articles, the benefits, the salaries, the collaboration with peers. I worked for a religiously affiliated college as an administrator, and the full-time faculty clique reminds me of a priesthood. Not what I thought this would be. No reward in sight.
    Thanks for all your comments… there must be more out there! Now’s your chance!

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