InkWork

Organizing, Advocacy, and Knowledge Work

Who must lead? Everyone who values education.

Posted by Amy LB on March 18, 2008

We here at Inkwork obviously like Marc Bousquet. I just ordered his new book, and find myself waiting like a kid at Christmas.

Still, I disagree with Bousquet on at least one point.

I’ve just read his piece at Inside Higher Ed, wherein he reiterates a position he’s taken frequently of late. The title says it all: Why Contingent Faculty Must Lead. Now, I don’t disagree with his essential point: contingent faculty are now actually the majority at most institutions, and as such, they can have a powerful influence if they unionize and demand change. They can improve poor working conditions, receive benefits, and increase pay. Bousquet has written much about the graduate student unions that have achieved much in this way in recent years.

At the same I time, I worry that he has stopped emphasizing the importance of tenured and tenure-track faculty working loudly and consistently for these same changes. (I may be proven wrong when that new book of his finally arrives in my mailbox.) After all, in the Inside Higher Ed article, he notes: “Despite comprising a sizeable majority of faculty overall, contingent faculty have remained very much in the minority in faculty leadership positions…”. The tenured and tenure-track faculty should not be let off of the hook for one moment. They should work alongside unionized contingent faculty, as they have the more visible positions.

I worry that once we get comfortable in our offices, we look at contingent work as an inevitable introduction to academic work, as a difficult step in professionalization we all must undergo. We choose to forget that this “initiation” came with no or shabby health care and insulting pay. We forget that as tenure lines are cut back every year, the initiation period may last years, even an entire career.

If I ever stop writing about and working for contingent faculty, I hope Kevin will tack this post to my office door. I have an office, now.

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2 Responses to “Who must lead? Everyone who values education.”

  1. I promise you Amy, I will keep a copy of the post ready to nail to your door should that day arrive. However, I don’t think we have much to worry about on that score :-).

  2. sethkahn said

    One trick, as tenured/tenure-track faculty argue these issues, is to avoid sounding self-aggrandizing. It’s really to slip into the trap of arguing that tenurability is important for all kinds of reasons that benefit us, without keeping our focus where it needs to be–on the working conditions of ALL faculty.

    Not that anybody here needs the reminder–I’m rehearsing it for myself as much as for anybody else.

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