So I went to an “untenured faculty” meeting at Columbia recently. Rather foolishly I expected the meeting to be about the plight of the assistant professor. You know, struggles, stress, fighting for more respect, how do deal with feelings of insecurity, etc. That was exactly what it was about, except that with the exception of me and another sociologist friend, the meeting was almost completely filled with adjuncts. I never really knew how much of the teaching at Universities happened by folks who are treated, well, to put it bluntly, very poorly. And by all reports, things are getting worse.
As I left the meeting, instead of feeling a sense of solidarity with my fellow junior faculty members, I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. I walked in thinking that I would be surrounded by my people* – those who could REALLY understand how bad I had it. And I left feeling like a jerk, because compared to the adjunct folks, I had it great.
It also made me think about what happens every time I push for a course release or joke in my classes that the University doesn’t give a damn if I can teach – pushing my work onto someone else and symbolically devaluing that work in the process. And though the adjunct problem is not particularly bad in my department compared with, say, languages, (though we do hire folks at around $5000/course with no benefits to teach required grad and undergrad courses) it kinda made me think. Whose backs is my sweet job built upon?
And let’s face it, without tenure my job really isn’t that sweet.
*So this link isn’t really to “my people”. But given that my mom is from Ireland and my dad from Pakistan, and I’ve often felt unique in my heritage, I found the link funny!