Recently I stumbled across an article in The New York Timesabout my favorite topic: online academic rage — and whether it spikes among those frustrated by the struggle to find a tenure-stream job. “Is there something about adjunct faculty members that makes them prone to outrageous political outbursts?” Colby College sociologist Neil Gross asked.
Citing recent examples in which the most vulnerable among us have been fired for an impolitic tweet or Facebook post, Gross argues that full-time faculty members are not the “tenured radicals” that American conservatives have feared since the 1990s. Instead, he proposes, the vast majority of full-timers are “tamed” by the prospects, or long-term comforts, of tenure. Research accounts, regular raises, the orderliness of being able to plan our lives and the satisfaction of promises kept inevitably sutures most of us to civility in all its forms.
But what incentives do workers who are already vulnerable in so many ways have to be polite? Although many people with humanities Ph.D.s do other jobs, this stubborn belief that they have trained for one thing, and one thing only, keeps many adjuncts on the hamster wheel long past a time when frustration and sorrow have turned to rage. Aside from the stress of trying to piece together a career one course at a time, the adjunct army — permanently contingent, underemployed, overworked and underpaid faculty members — has every reason to demand radical change.
But do these conditions produce a truly political radicalism, or are they simply radical utterances that get contingent faculty into trouble and leave a system that relies on a reserve army of labor unchanged? And since people with doctorates aren’t tied to a particular factory or industry, would the radical solution be to stop teaching as a per-course adjunct?
For the rest of this essay, originally published on October 16 2017, go to Inside Higher Ed.