September 28, 2003

Not Transient but Stuck in a Dead End Dedicated

A quick followup on Student-Faculty Ratio at Yale:

Via the Yale Insider, Charles Bailyn, chair of the astronomy department at Yale, objects to the term "transient" to describe nontenurable faculty:

With regard to the UOC's letter to parents decrying Yale's supposed reliance on 'transient' instructors: as a member of the Teaching & Learning Committee for four years, I had the pleasure of reading the nominations by undergraduates for Yale's teaching prizes. Every year these letters demonstrate that some of Yale's very best teachers and advisors are 'non-ladder' (i.e. not tenured or tenure track).

All across the curriculum, particularly in foreign languages, we have dedicated non-ladder instructors who have put their full effort for many years into teaching undergraduates, something few of us on the tenure track can say. One might argue that Yale should provide greater status and rewards for these individuals, but to suggest that they are 'transient,' or that students are in any way poorly served by having them as teachers and advisors, is a preposterous undeserved insult.

Actually, I don't think it's at all preposterous to suggest that students are poorly served by having contingent faculty as teachers and especially as advisors (again, not because the faculty in question lack the ability but rather because they lack the institutional support to serve in these capacities.)

The Yale Insider responds:

A quick look at the teaching prizes awarded by this committee show that, yes indeed, 1 of the 3 prizes awarded in May 2003 was awarded to a 'non-ladder' lecturer. Thanks to Prof. Bailyn for helping give that extra boost to the career of Jane Levin, wife of Yale President Richard Levin. But lest we be misunderstood, let's be clear: No one is arguing that they're poor teachers. Only that they're poorly supported teachers (though there are doubtless some exceptions, pace Ms. Levin). And that it's a shame for Yale teachers to lack support at this great university.

I have to say that I do have a couple of reservations about the term "transient." First, it may that Bailyn is right to suggest that many non-ladder faculty have been teaching at Yale for years. Since the administration will obviously dispute the claims of the forthcoming study on which these students rely, it seems risky to use a term the meaning of which might be more or less objectively refuted. Second, though I myself do not share Jill Carroll's position that to criticize the reliance on adjuncts is to attack and belittle the abilities of adjunct faculty themselves (which concern I blogged about here), I do worry that some nontenurable faculty will interpret the term "transient" as an insult. Why risk alienating the very faculty who would be most likely to lend support to the goal of calling the university to account in the area of academic employment?

I prefer the term "contingent," though I realize it does not pack the same rhetorical punch. To say this, however, is not to endorse what I take to be the implicit message of Bailyn's letter: namely, that it is more preposterous and more of an insult to refer to a class of faculty as "transient" than to exploit and underpay that class of faculty.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at September 28, 2003 11:11 AM

How about casual?
It's the term we use in Australia to distinquish the diferent types of non tenured:

contract ---full time for 3 years or 1 year;

part-time ----fractional of full time but with sickness and holiday pay.(eg., .5 of a full time contract position);

casual----hourly paid with no benefits.

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson at October 1, 2003 05:18 AM

"Contingent" makes me feel better, but "transient" is sometimes more accurate. Sometimes I think that if I acted more as a transient and got on with my own work I would have found a tenure track position elsewhere earlier.

Posted by: Michael Tinkler at October 1, 2003 10:56 AM

It seems wherever you look, should it be Yale or Westchester Community College or elsewhere, the fundamental problems confronting the transient part-timer are the same: a lack of due process and a supression of his freedom of speech.

Having now immersed myself in this struggle, and being a victim of it, I find that the lack of organization among adjuncts is why they are so easily herded.

In the specific case of Westchester Community College, there is a malicious assistant dean, David Bernstein, head of the ESL Department, who slanders and fires his employees at will. There is an equally malicious president, Joseph N. Hankin, who condones and covers up the slander.

Oh, but it gets better.

I have learned through very reliable sources at WCC that the reporter who covered the adjunct story for the college paper The Viking News was forced out of her position. Worse, they have delayed her grades to prospective schools she is applying to. She has been physically threatened by a teacher.

President Hankin stands by complacently as all this transpires. He has been quite content to hide in his ivory tower at WCC for 35+ years.

Isn't a president's basic duty to make sure his students are well served? Now he may be involved in supressing the freedom of the press--quite a track record for a man who has been president for 35+ years.

He thinks this will all blow over. It won't.

I have been admonished by some at other sites for naming people. But this is personal precisely because adjuncts have no rights, and have no due process. Without protection, we are victimized personally. The slander David Bernstein has visited upon his faculty is astonishing.

The administration does nothing.

We will make sure the administration hears us loud and clear.

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Your comments and suggestions are welcomed.

Phillip Fayon

Posted by: Phillip Fayon at November 13, 2003 12:48 PM