This one is gonna sting a little. The new career track for university faculty is that of the Disposable Professor. As we rely more and more on adjunct labor, we are slowly surrendering our power on college campuses. Contingent faculty are, by definition, powerless. Completely replaceable. No tenure, no bargaining rights, no contract, no voice. If the administration has no use for an adjunct, she is unemployed. No appeal, no second chance. The adjunct has no value beyond that which is exploitable by the university. He is a disposable professor.
We have all heard of the “corporatization of the university.” We know that story. And we think we know who is to blame. The evil administration, of course. And believe me, they deserve a lot of the blame for sure. But recognize also that we are allowing it to happen, which is worse in some ways. We are not taking responsibility for the fact that we are permitting the creation of the disposable professor by our quiet acquiescence. The administration’s job is to run the business side of the campus. They have budgets and they have to meet them. They cut wherever they can get away with it. It’s in their nature.
It’s the job of the faculty, on the other hand, to ensure those budget cuts don’t dramatically impact the intellectual environment of the campus. It is our duty to push back when the academic integrity of the university is being undermined in favor of making money. And we are failing badly at this responsibility. We’re allowing the business side of the university to cannibalize the intellectual side. Consequently, we are complicit in the university’s corporatization.
Sadly, as evidenced by the data in the Adjunct Project, English departments are the worst offenders. An overwhelming number of adjuncts who have collaborated on the Adjunct Project teach in first-year writing programs. In fact, most first-year composition departments are staffed predominately by non-tenure track contingent faculty—instructors who are unconscionably remunerated and have no job security from semester to semester. We are standing by while the administration tells us how best to run our departments. In the eyes of the business-minded administrators, the best way to run the English department is the cheapest way. Why are we allowing them to make decisions for us that we know are killing the intellectual environment of our schools?
Paying our colleagues dirt, providing no benefits or job security, standing idly by while administration gradually picks away at academic freedom and strips faculty of tenure. They are running a business. They will never just decide to favor the intellectual side of the university unless they are forced to. Unless the business side is jeopardized by the actions of the intellectual side. If we want the American university to continue to be a place of academic freedom and intellectual integrity, we are going to have to fight for it. Otherwise, it will gradually slip away.
Fighting the Disposable Professor
The single most important thing to remember here is that WE HAVE THE POWER. It might not seem that way, but we do. We are the ones who actually make the university operate. Without the faculty, the doors can’t even open. Not only that, but we are the MAJORITY. We have the power. We just need to claim it. This will never happen if we act as individuals. All faculty need to unite to save our colleges.
Although my project is focused on the working conditions of adjuncts, the problem is not confined to adjuncts alone. Nor is this is an adjunct vs. tenure track issue. Not even in the least. We are all on the same team. We all want to keep our universities the cultural meccas they have traditionally been. This problem of the disposable professor is one that threatens every single one of us. If not us directly, then the generation that comes immediately after ours. We need to work together to fight the perpetuation of the disposable professor. Our power is in our solidarity.
With the invention of the disposable professor, comes departments that are increasingly commodified (especially adjunct-heavy departments like English and Mathematics). We are allowing a dollar value to be placed on intellectual thought. I don’t think I need to tell you how dangerous this is. The university economy is shifting towards the hyper-efficient and away from the aesthetic, and we are allowing it to happen. It’s time for the intellectual side to push back on the business side and re-balance this equation.