Institutional Reform

The discussions at Invisible Adjunct usually entail the identification of problems in the academic job market and how the insitution exacerbates these problems, then brainstorming of institutional reform measures. The main problem discussed is, of course, the exploitation of part-time instructors, with the accompanying lack of job security, excessive teaching load, and low pay. The posters at Invisible Adjunct also critique the institutional normativity that requires people, especially women, to either forego having children or have fewer children than they want. Here, Invisible Adjunct (2003, Dec. 1) problematizes the individualist “you made this choice, now take responsibility” rhetoric espoused in the Chronicle:

We the employer set the terms, you the employee take it or leave it on our terms. If you choose parenthood (ie motherhood), we are justified in paying adjunct pay rates with no benefits. And hey, since nobody protests (after all, it's just mothers, and we know they're not really serious about this scholarship thing), we can then even expand our adjunctification to encompass other groups of not-mothers. Sooner or later somebody will protest, of course, but by then we will be well on our way to a total restructuring of the academic employment system.
And to reiterate Loren's point: If having any sort of life outside the firm is now seen as a luxury item, we are indeed looking at a brave new world of corporate servitude.

Many posters at Invisible Adjunct call the university a corporation, arguing that higher education is becoming more and more corporatized, to the point that the link between the two is indissociable.

Carroll, in a 2001 Chronicle interview titled “ Less whining, more teaching: Jill Carroll, a proud part-timer, thinks many adjuncts need a new attitude” and a live Chronicle discussion, explained her approach to adjunct work: Use proven entrepreneurial methods and become a success. Carroll claims to make $54,000 a year teaching twelve classes per academic year at several different colleges, not counting various continuing-education courses at other venues, including prisons. She does not deny that adjunct labor is exploited, but argues that systemic change is slow, unrealistic, and utopian, and that “for now, part-timers have to live with higher-education reality” (Smallwood, 2001). She advises adjuncts to “ develop courses like products: Systemize their production until you can reap the benefits of economies of scale. Make them classes you can teach over and over, without mountains of preparation each time” (Smallwood, 2001). She is portrayed in the interview as a fiercely independent woman from a blue-collar, evangelical Pentecostal background: the daughter of a police officer with an eighth-grade education and a registered nurse who “lost her faith, got her master's degree, and came out of the closet,” and whose dissertation topic was a critique of “feminist models of God” (Smallwood, 2001). Carroll belittles adjuncts' concerns about benefits and job security: “'All this fear and trembling about lack of tenure for adjuncts is really unnecessary. Everyone else in America apparently functions well without it; why can't we?'” (Smallwood, 2001). At Rice University, one of the places where Carroll teaches, the director of humanities praises her: “'We at Rice get a huge, almost unfair deal. We're paying her as an adjunct and getting the quality of a first-rate professor'” (Smallwood, 2001).

Invisible Adjunct links to stories in the Chronicle almost every day, including this one.
In reply to Carroll's arguments, she offers this take (2003, Mar. 12):

For all practical intents and purposes, the adjunct is a low-wage worker without benefits who can be hired and fired at will. So in what way can the adjunct be an entrepreneur, except in his or her own mind? [...] My problem with the growing use of adjuncts is partly, I will admit, motivated by self-interest: I don't like to be marginalized, underpaid, unsupported, and exploited. But part of it stems from a real concern over the future of higher education, and what the shift from full-time to part-time positions signals about this future.
But I suppose a part of me has to give Carroll her due: in attempting to redefine low-paid, contingent labor as an enterpreneurial strategy, she exposes the commodification of education and the corporatization of the university to sometimes brilliant (though often absurd) effect.

Posters at Invisible Adjunct have shown this kind of deep concern over the fate of higher education and, through individual and collective testimony of their experiences and opinions, have contributed significantly to consciousness-raising with regard to academic labor. They have helped adjuncts to see that they are not alone and have helped each other put into words the problems they encounter daily. They have also proposed and discussed institutional reforms such as:

  • Mandatory retirement and post-tenure adjunctification for professors around retirement age
  • Changes in admissions policies to reflect better the proportion of new Ph.Ds to tenure-track openings
  • The creation of a position between adjunct and tenure-track professor with more job security and pay than an adjunct and less responsibility than a tenure-track or tenured professor for women who want to balance career and family
  • Changes in the tenure review process for parents, including extra time for childrearing that does not count toward the tenure clock and a qualitative assessment of scholarship, i.e. not an evaluation based on the number of publications, but an assessment of the publications' contribution to the field. This way, parents who do not have as much time and can only publish a few items would be evaluated on the merit of those items, not be penalized for not publishing a higher number of articles.