Activists have been fighting for years for decent working conditions and pay for adjuncts and graduate student instructors. The majority of these activists are adjuncts and graduate students themselves. Until now, tenured faculty have not come together as a group, as tenured faculty, to pool our ideas and strategies. Those with the least job security in our institutions have shown the most bravery in facing a phenomenon that has for quite some time been a threat to all of us – while those of us with the most job security have, as a group, been the least courageous.
Here’s our modest proposal: let’s transform our notion of tenure from being one associated principally with the professional achievements and privileges of the individual scholar into a concept associated, in addition, with the common good.
There are things tenured faculty can do that non-tenure-track and untenured faculty simply cannot. Tenured allies need to rally ourselves together nationally and locally, on public and private campuses, at institutions with or without faculty unions and with or without existing models of shared governance. Each campus has its own culture and poses its own challenges to any attempt to change the status quo.
Tenured allies must talk about the erosion of tenure lines as if it were a problem of the gravest urgency – because it is one. And the only way we can do this is to talk to each other, privately and in public forums, about what has happened, what is happening, and what is yet to happen to labor conditions under which many of our colleagues struggle on our own campuses. It’s not that merely talking about the casualization of academic labor will eliminate the problem, but talking about it frequently is a precondition for the organized efforts that will.
It may sound quixotic to try to get tenured professors together to fight for the common good, but we just don’t have time to waste feeling powerless when we haven’t exercised the power we have.