April 06, 2003

Adjunct as Activist? A Brief Introduction

"Having gone through the transformation, over the past 2-3 years, from a demoralized, depressed adjunct barely hanging on to his career to an assertive, angry activist who's won some respect from both administrators and tenured faculty (along with higher pay and benefits, thanks to collective, union action), and knowing that some of you are just beginning this process, I'd like to offer my summative perspective and advice."

-- Larry Kaye, "How to Become a Successful Activist"

A few weeks ago, I posted some of my thoughts on the "adjunct as entrepreneur"model. Arguing that the adjunct instructor is in no position to act as pedagogical entrepreneur, I suggested that the attempt to recast part-time, low-wage work as a form of entrepreneurship is little more than a compensatory fiction. I might have added, I suppose, that, though regrettable, it is not at all surprising to see the development of a new deformation professional in response to the deprofessionalization of academic teaching. For the moment I don't have much more to say about this deformation, which strikes me as both ineffably sad and almost comically silly.

Next up on my agenda is the "adjunct as activist" model, which I think deserves more serious and sustained attention. But though I don't dismiss it outright, I have to say that I view the "adjunct as activist" ideal with a good deal of ambivalence and a certain degree of scepticism.

On second thought, I guess I do have one more thing to add about the "adjunct as entrepreneur" idea. The idea -- to put it bluntly and perhaps not entirely fairly -- gives me the creeps. It makes me think of creeping through the corridors of academe, Uriah Heep-like, in a posture of sham humility, mouthing the pieties of one's betters, perhaps even going them one better ('who wants a full-time job in the academy? all that committee work and those endless dreary faculty meetings! no, no, I'm fine, thanks for asking, why no, I don't need health insurance, never sick a day in my life, why yes, I have read the university's mission statement on the pursuit of excellence in research, teaching, faculty development, student retention, alumni relations, and parking lot maintenance, excellent plan, excellence all around and I for one am fully committed to the pursuit of all-round excellence, and no, I don't need an office, I'll hold office hours in my car, no need for old-fashioned amenities like offices and support staff when you're on the cutting edge of efficiency, it's all about economies of scale, by the way, in the production of your commodity, in short, these are exciting times for educational entrepreneurs and I'm just darn lucky to be here'), all the while keeping a sharp eye on the main chance...except that there is no main chance, no Agnes Wickfield, no partnership in the firm, nothing but more part-time low-wage teaching, unless one tries to carve out a niche as adjunct "coach" and consultant, or perhaps turns one's sights toward a career in college administration. But if I don't want to be an 'umble charity school pupil, I'm not so sure I want to be an angry young man either. Did I spend so many years, first in graduate school, then in postdoctoral research, and devote so much of myself to teaching and research and writing, only to be told that I must now mount the barricades and storm the edifice that for so long I have considered my second home? "False consciousness," replies the adjunct-activist, and not without good reason. What kind of home is it, after all, that could make me feel so little at home? Anyway, I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this ambivalence, and I'm almost certain such ambivalence is a major obstacle to activism.

It will probably take me two or three postings over the next couple of weeks to work through the sources of my scepticism and ambivalence and try and figure out whether or not I should be this sceptical and this ambivalent. I plan to start with Marc Bousquet's "The Waste Product of Graduate Education: Toward a Dictatorship of the Flexible" (Social Text 20.1 [2002], 81-104; available online through Project Muse, but access requires subscription), which will be the focus of my next "adjunct as activist" entry. Bousquet's article is smart and provocative and a little bit infuriating, and it challenges me to think harder about the complex issues surrounding academic employment and academic restructuring. As such, I think it will serve as an excellent point of entry.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at April 6, 2003 06:47 PM

When Ken Parish (http://cyberfuddle.com/troppoarmadillo/)(a law prof [?} in Darwin) went into a second reaction on my essay (http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/2002/Oct02/Samorzewski.htm) he suggested I 'do a bit of tutoring', wihtout going into why this is unlikely in any case, leh me just say how glad I am that I lack the aspiration to became any sort of dweller in the grove reading these adjunct sites!!!

I hope you post on the "adjunct as social entrepreneur" once you have dealt with the activist

Posted by: meika the dolebludger at April 7, 2003 01:48 AM