Good to see that the discussion of NTT faculty is spreading far and wide in the blogosphere. OK, let’s see what people are saying. Outside the Beltway, James Joyner doesn’t think much of the MLA recommendations for per-course wages for NTT faculty. (He also refers to me as the “newly installed” president of the MLA**, perhaps because my only-somewhat-violent usurpation of the post from former president Russell Berman was payback from NATO for my support of the Libya intervention. They told me I could take Tripoli or the MLA, and naturally, I went where the oil is.) Joyner writes:
Not only does this elide the fact that strong market forces—a glut of PhDs in English and some other fields who can’t find tenure track jobs and are thus desperate to build a CV in hopes of improving their odds—push adjunct salaries down but it’s based on absurdly idealized view of what life is like for most full-time academics.
With few exceptions, colleges and universities have been facing severe budget pressures for the better part of two decades. One presumes that the ongoing global recession has added to that. It’s just absurd to expect them to double or triple the pay for adjunct faculty—especially when there are likely half a dozen highly qualified applicants for every adjunct opening at current prices.
Additionally, having spent all of my brief teaching career in institutions where a 4/4 load (that is, four classes per semester) was standard for tenure track faculty, I have to chuckle at the notion that adjuncts ought to be able to make a decent living teaching a 3/3 load while having zero obligation for institutional service.
Additionally, it’s aimed in exactly the wrong direction. The problem isn’t that adjuncts don’t make enough money but that colleges employ far too many adjuncts rather than hiring full time faculty. While I suppose raising the pay of full-time adjuncts to that of tenure-track faculty would indirectly lead us in that direction, it’s emphasizing the wrong problem.
Is it exploitative that people with some 21 years of education are being paid $2000 for teaching college courses? Perhaps. But, hey, they knew the risks when they went off to grad school. The real crime is that students are paying ever increasing tuition to attend institutions of higher education and then being taught by part-timers with no commitment to the institution and whose prime focus is on landing a job somewhere else.
I’ll start with the last graf. Minor point first: most people didn’t know the risks when they went off to grad school, because most people have no idea what NTT faculty get paid. And yes, as to the major point, if students are paying ever increasing tuition and universities are hiring ever more low-wage faculty, then those low-wage faculty are being “exploited.” According to the standard dictionary definition of the term, at least.
So I’m not getting why anyone would “chuckle at” the MLA standards. Is it really so risible that a scholarly organization would suggest that professionals with advanced degrees should make a decent living by teaching six courses a year? OK, maybe it’s a little too idealistic. Perhaps we can add some demeaning janitorial tasks to their teaching loads to offset their princely $40,000 (proposed) salaries?
As for that “glut of PhDs” driving down NTT wages: I am beginning to get the sense that everyone and her brother believes that NTT faculty are made up of PhDs who didn’t get TT jobs. Yes, of course, some of them are. But most of them are not. Though it comes as a surprise to many people (it certainly surprised me), we are talking about two wholly distinct labor markets. The tenure-track market is national, and is populated mostly by PhDs; the NTT market is local, and is populated chiefly by holders of the MA or MFA. So, once again with feeling:
according to the 2004 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty, 65.2% of non-tenure-track faculty members hold the MA as their highest degree—57.3% in four-year institutions, 76.2% in two-year institutions. There are many factors affecting the working conditions of adjuncts, but the production of PhDs isn’t one of the major ones.
Personally, I do think doctoral programs should be smaller overall; time-to-degree should be shortened; and we need to rethink graduate curricula for “alt-ac” career paths outside the academy (perhaps outside the beltway!). The MLA’s Task Force on Graduate Education, chaired by Russell Berman, will be addressing all of these questions. But the “glut of PhDs” is not what’s driving the supply of available NTT labor.***
And as for those “strong market forces”: though it’s true that “colleges and universities have been facing severe budget pressures for the better part of two decades,” somehow this has not slowed the growth of university administration. Quite the contrary. As Benjamin Ginsburg points out in The Fall of the Faculty, administrators and managers at public colleges numbered 60,733 in 1975; 82,396 in 1995; and 101,011 in 2005. At private colleges, those numbers are 40,350 in 1975, 65,049 in 1995, and an astonishing 95,313 in 2005 (almost 47 percent growth in only ten years! amazing what the market can do when it puts its mind to it).
But I agree completely with Joyner that “colleges employ far too many adjuncts rather than hiring full time faculty.” Indeed, the MLA has said so on many occasions. And one way to reduce the overreliance on (and exploitation of) NTT faculty is to make it more expensive to hire NTT faculty. The overall goal, which I am glad to see Joyner endorse, is to convert as many NTT positions to TT as possible, with minimal harm to the people currently working in those NTT positions.
OK, so much for the folk who think the MLA is too utopian. Now to turn to the people who think we’re too timid. I’ll cite two of them: one is a long-term (now retired) NTT faculty member, and the other is someone who commented on my last post. I’ve asked the first person for permission to reproduce her emails to me (and my reply) in full, with or without her name. She said “with,” emphatically.
I hope you remember me from your visit to Colorado a few years ago. You visited with AAUP chapters in Boulder and Denver, and you attended a meeting of contingent faculty in Boulder. The meeting was to discuss a resolution that the University of Colorado implement a system whereby instructors could be tenured. You endorsed the resolution, called it “bold,” and got a big laugh when you said that no doubt the administration would embrace it wholeheartedly.
The resolution was approved overwhelmingly by contingent faculty, but ran up against innumerable obstacles set up not so much by the administration as by tenured faculty. Only the elite, they argued, deserve tenure; the rest of us can have academic freedom without it (which of course is ridiculous, as you point out in your recent essay in Inside Higher Ed).
I’ve been hoping that the MLA would take a strong stand on behalf of contingent faculty, since the vast majority of composition teachers are contingent and comprise a large component of MLA’s constituency. I’m disappointed, however, at the continued reluctance of MLA to take the lead in changing the landscape. For example, MLA’s 2011 document “Professional Employment Practices for Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Members: Recommendations and Evaluative Questions” is wholly inadequate.
I’m attaching the resolution passed by the contingent faculty in Boulder, which you endorsed. I ask you to advance this resolution (or one like it) in the MLA, and use your influence to get it passed.
Essentially, the resolution says that instructors who have passed a probationary period must be eligible for tenure at the instructor rank. This means simply that they become permanent employees, not temporary, contractual employees, and that they can be terminated, as can anyone with tenure, for cause, financial exigency, or program discontinuance. The position continues to be an instructorship, not a professorship, with no change in salary or job description. Those who have already passed the probationary period will be considered tenured.
Yes, it is a bold proposal. But efforts at simply improving treatment of contingent faculty are doomed to failure. The solution is to end contingency altogether. Everyone who teaches at a college or university must be on a tenure track. For some, that track leads to a professorship, with attendant salary and expectations; for others, that track leads to an instructorship. But as long as there are two kinds of faculty—tenure-track and non-tenure-track—unequal treatment is built into the system.
Salaries and benefits are of course important issues. However, the precariousness of their employment is what prevents contingent faculty for agitating for improvements in these areas. End their precariousness, and you’ll quickly see changes in their working conditions.
By the way, you might remember meeting Don Eron while you were in Boulder. Don is co-author of the Resolution for Instructor Tenure and author of many proposals and reports addressing issues of academic freedom and contingency. (See the AAUP Colorado Conference website.) Don is running for second VP of AAUP. Ending contingency, by encouraging all institutions to put all teaching faculty on a tenure track, is a plank in his platform. I hope MLA will support his candidacy.
Sincerely, Suzanne Hudson
Instructor (recently retired), University of Colorado-Boulder
And my reply:
I remember you well, and I remember my visit to Boulder vividly. I’m sorry to hear that the TT faculty opposed your resolution, but not very surprised. In the past five years I’ve heard many people defend tenure as a special “merit badge” to be worn only by the elite, and I had to hear it a number of times before I realized that these people weren’t kidding. I mean, what is this, the Boy and Girl Scouts of America?
But I have also learned to my surprise, over the past five years, that not all NTT faculty agree that everyone teaching at a college or a university should be on the tenure track. In its 2010 report on conversion of NTT positions, the AAUP Committee on Contingency and the Profession came out strongly in favor of your position:The best practice for institutions of all types is to convert the status of contingent appointments to appointments eligible for tenure with only minor changes in job description. This means that faculty hired contingently with teaching as the major component of their workload will become tenured or tenure eligible primarily on the basis of successful teaching. (Similarly, faculty serving on contingent appointments with research as the major component of their workload may become tenured or eligible for tenure primarily on the basis of successful research.) In the long run, however, a balance is desirable. Professional development and research activities support strong teaching, and a robust system of shared governance depends upon the participation of all faculty, so even teaching-intensive tenure-eligible positions should include service and appropriate forms of engagement in research or the scholarship of teaching.
It may sound strange, but I have heard time and again—even in a series of emails I have received this week—from many NTT faculty who prefer NTT status precisely because they want nothing to do with “service and appropriate forms of engagement in research.” They would prefer multi-year contracts to annual contracts, of course; they would welcome better pay and benefits; and they want due process and a reliable review procedure. But they don’t want the added responsibilities of TT faculty. I have assured them that the MLA has no intention of dragooning everyone into committee work and ramping up research expectations; we want only to support those NTT faculty who do want a role in governance and opportunities for professional development. Unfortunately, the AAUP language above suggests otherwise, which is why I’ve been getting so much pushback on this. (Interestingly, Mayra Besosa’s recent essay on NTT faculty is more pluralist than the 2010 report of the committee she co-chaired, acknowledging multiple ways of instituting better policies for NTT faculty—including, but not limited to, instructor tenure.)
I endorsed the UC-Boulder proposal in 2007 because it was clearly what the NTT faculty at Boulder wanted, and I still believe the administration and the TT faculty should honor your wishes. But the MLA cannot and will not take the stand that every faculty position in all of higher education should be on the tenure track. Instead, we will work together with the Coalition on the Academic Workforce and the New Faculty Majority to find ways of improving the working conditions and the job security of all NTT faculty, even the ones who want to remain off the tenure track.
As for the resolution and Don’s candidacy—these are matters for the AAUP, and I will support both in my role as member of the AAUP, but the MLA does not dictate employment conditions for individual campuses and does not endorse candidates in other organizations’ elections. I don’t know of any scholarly organization that does—which is one reason why I joined the AAUP in the first place. And I’m sorry to hear that you find the MLA’s 2011 document wholly inadequate, because it builds on guidelines that I helped to write in 2003, and was the work of our Committee on Contingent Labor in the Profession—made up largely of NTT faculty.
I’m sorry that we disagree about making instructor tenure universal throughout the profession. But I’m happy to report that not all efforts to improve the working conditions of NTT faculty are doomed to failure. I have now heard a number of reports from various campuses that are converting one-year positions to more stable multi-year positions, and seeking to insure that NTT faculty have a greater role in university governance—for those who want it.
And her reply:
Thanks for your prompt and thoughtful response. I do appreciate your work on behalf of contingent faculty.
I hope you’ll indulge me one more comment. There is a very large difference between our instructor tenure proposal and the AAUP statement you quote, which unfortunately requires “minor changes” in job description. The AAUP statement has engendered resistance, understandably, from contingent faculty who don’t want to be required to do research or scholarly work, in addition to teaching a full load. Our proposal says that there should be no changes in job descriptions.
To us it makes sense that faculty who have been teaching for upwards of seven years, with their college’s continued endorsement, is already doing all that the college wants or needs them to do. There is no reason to add a layer of responsibility to obtain tenure.
It’s difficult to persuade academics that tenure does not have to be associated with the stress of obtaining a professorship. One can be tenured at any rank, or so says the AAUP before it contradicts itself in the statement you quote. All tenure means is that, after a suitable probationary period, they’ll have to have a good reason to fire you. Everyone who has been teaching at the college level for seven or more years deserves at least that.
If contingent faculty knew they could have tenure without the added burden of research and scholarly work, surely they would prefer it to multi-year contracts, which, speaking as a person who has had such contracts, do nothing to protect academic freedom. One must be cautious during the course of the contract not to express an opinion that will upset the powers-that-be, or face non-renewal.
The AAUP’s central argument remains true: American universities cannot function without academic freedom and shared governance, which in turn cannot thrive without the protections of tenure. And now the majority of faculties throughout the country have no meaningful access to either. The MLA could go a long way toward correcting this problem if it endorsed tenure (without changes in job descriptions) over multi-year contracts.
Anyhow, Michael, thanks again for your efforts and for hearing me out.
All the best,
OK, so I’m tossing this to you all for discussion. I know that instructor tenure would be more secure than multi-year contracts, and I am deeply sympathetic to the argument that those contracts don’t protect academic freedom as effectively as tenure does, but I’m not sure how it would work nationwide. Obviously, it couldn’t rely on external peer review, as tenure does. So how would it work? Or would it just lead universities to fire NTT faculty before they became eligible for it?
Finally, to AOP, who left this long and challenging comment here on February 9:
Professor Bérubé, I am not alone in admiring your attention, as MLA Prez, to the growth of NTT labor, its conditions, and its implications for the future of humanities scholarship and instruction. For my part, however, I find the framing questions of this present discussion too timid to be productive. Yes, it will be helpful to gather more accurate and thorough data on just how exploited NTT teachers are, but the question that MLA and other profession-defining bodies are already late in answering is simple: what are we going to do about it? It’s exasperating that the MLA’s ability to censure is only now being broached—and not, I think, in a serious enough way to sustain the immediate, decisive action necessary to improve NTT working conditions and effectively reassert the expectation of tenure as a standard of academic freedom and excellence.
You clearly recognize that even a strong censure from MLA would amount nothing much: “I censure thee!” Who cares what the MLA thinks, really? Most of MLA’s members see the organization primarily as a clearing-house for academic jobs. Whatever the MLA thinks or says, in other words, it can do quite a lot to shape the search for literature teachers, and that’s precisely where MLA can help solve this problem:
1. Identify departments and institutions whose pay and benefits do not meet the standards of NTT academic employment currently advocated by MLA. Perhaps add a 10% “cushion” if MLA lacks confidence in its own existing standards, about which more below.
2. Divide institutions of higher education into categories, and apply to each category an ideal ratio of NTT to TT instructors, including graduate students in the former category. The division into brackets provides a way of recognizing that community colleges, large state schools, and small liberal arts colleges have different resources and needs and should therefore meet different NTT/TT instructor ratios.
3. If a department fails to meet either standard, MLA should send a letter notifying them of this fact, CC:ing it to the relevant dean and institutional president.
4. The letter should notify the department that MLA will not assist in that department’s job searches. For example, members of the department attending the conference but not giving talks—thus, likely, attending for a job search—will not be given conference rates on hotel rooms, even if they register for the conference.
5. During the job season, email every MLA member a list of departments that do not meet these standards, advising graduate students and others against accepting jobs in these departments.
6. Contact the ADE and other relevant jobs-lists, seeking to strike a deal by which ADE would refuse to list job searches (or NTT job searches) in departments that do not meet MLA’s standards.
7. Contact institutional accreditation authorities and inform them that, in the judgment of MLA, the following departments do not meet minimum requirements—and that their failure to meet these requirements has a negative impact upon the quality of instruction.
8. Mention, in the letters to these departments, that you have taken or intend to take steps 5-7.
The actual reasonableness of these steps—for example, the inevitably arbitrary division into institutional categories—is not directly relevant to their effectiveness. All that matters is that the hiring and exploiting of NTT instructors should become less convenient and less attractive to department chairs, deans, and presidents. The way to do this is to publicly shame offenders, attack their accreditation, and make their search for instructors less convenient. The MLA is especially well positioned to clog up hiring processes.
It is profoundly disheartening to hear this toothless speculation about whether MLA “can” censure departments or institutions—an action that, if it looks anything like a Delegate Assembly resolution, would itself be pretty toothless. I urge you and the other MLA higher-ups to do everything you can think of to make life less easy for those who find it so convenient to replace tenure lines with non-tenured positions and to egregiously underpay NTT instructors. The list of actions above is far from perfect, but I hope it illustrates that there are plenty of options for substantive action. The most important factor is that the MLA should act now and act decisively.
First off, I’m not sure that most MLA members see (or should see) the association “primarily as a clearing-house for academic jobs.” My sense is that this is a graduate-student-eye’s view of the association (or the view of a relatively new member, or someone currently on the market), and that the members who are long past the hotel-interview stage also see the MLA as an organization that promotes scholarly communication, publishes journals and a bibliography and a handbook and an extensive “approaches to teaching” series, and maintains a wide array of committees on issues important to the profession.
More important, I don’t think these suggestions address the two-labor-market problem I mentioned above. We can restrict access to the Job Information List and punish departments as suggested in items 4 and 6, but this will not stop those departments from conducting searches for TT faculty by bypassing the MLA altogether, and of course the vast majority of NTT hires are local, involving neither advertising nor convention attendance.
However, I’m all for collecting and publishing the data, and putting everyone on notice—universities, departments, current TT faculty, current NTT faculty, and prospective job applicants—about who is and isn’t meeting our recommendations. And I agree completely that we should do everything we can think of “to make life less easy for those who find it so convenient to replace tenure lines with non-tenured positions and to egregiously underpay NTT instructors.”
Finally, and on that note, my thanks to everyone who is helping to bring this issue to the attention of administrators and the higher-ed press.
** I was elected by the membership, not “appointed,” let alone “installed” (I am surprised at how many people have congratulated me on my “appointment”). OK, sure, it was a dirty election involving hundreds of millions of SuperPAC dollars and unfounded rumors (about which my campaign always maintained plausible deniability) that my opponents were born outside the US. But it was an election all the same.
*** I am also beginning to get the sense that it will be very hard to dislodge the notion that the working conditions of NTT faculty are attributable primarily to the production of PhDs. It may be one of those things everybody already knows for certain, like the recent and precipitous enrollment decline in the humanities.