You may have read Negotiating Your Way to a Fair Adjunct Experience on Vitae. I am not linking to it because I have no interest in helping the Chronicle get more pageviews, even the modest number this blog may provide.
Anyway. The piece is about how adjuncts should negotiate and be willing to walk if they don’t get what they want. Which is true, strictly speaking: if you’re not capable of walking away from a negotiation your counterpart will eat your metaphorical lunch. The thing this guy seems to forget is that most adjuncts are in no position to negotiate because they teach the shitty courses that tenured faculty don’t want: 4-hour comp courses that meet at 6am Sunday mornings, Intro to Some Social Science 101.
Or does he?
I have enjoyed every course that I’ve taught as an adjunct. I’ve been treated fairly because I’ve negotiated contracts that ensured that I wasn’t being exploited. But I’ve walked away from more adjunct contracts than I’ve accepted. When you’re a struggling academic who’s barely making poverty wages, walking away from work, even exploitative work, is the hardest thing to do, but you can only negotiate for a better deal if you’re willing to say no to an offer that doesn’t sufficiently value your expertise.
My first response to this is to point out that the author of said piece is a “deep-sea ecologist.” If you can lecture for 90 minutes on the life cycle of the angler fish then you indeed are in a position to negotiate. Most adjuncts, however, are not. So thanks for the wisdom, now kiss my ass.
My second response is that if this guy was “barely making poverty wages” then he would not have walked away from teaching a 4-hour section of Intro to Farts that meets 6am Sunday mornings. And a quick look at his cv suggests that if he’s had lean times, they were in graduate school and that doesn’t count.
We’re seeing a lot of this lately: some white male suggesting that he’s had his own hard times but by the way it’s still all your fucking fault, adjunct. Now, I don’t have anything against white males. Some of my best friends are white males. I am a white male. But I do find it telling that it’s almost always white males whitemalesplaining to adjuncts how they need to get their shit together and be more white-maley. I haven’t seen any people of color publicly suggesting to adjuncts that it’s all their fucking fault. I can think of only one woman who publicly told adjuncts that it was all their fucking fault.
The piece in question is supposed to be about academia. Instead I think it’s an example of the parlous state of American journalism. When I write for a newspaper, in general I am trying to write something interesting and informative for the reader. If it’s criticism, I consider it a service. My job is tell you if something is worth your time. And I try to make the piece worth your time as well.
But what are the chances a piece like this one will actually help anybody? How many adjuncts do you imagine have read it and thought, Hmmm, negotiating, what a fine idea, I will do so forthwith. Four? Five? Maybe a dozen?
A piece like this has two goals, one for the paper and another for the writer. For the paper, the idea is to produce a headline so infuriating silly that readers will be unable to stop themselves from clicking even when it makes them feel that the world is hurtling towards its own demise and nobody loves anybody. The second goal is to make the writer of said piece look good.
Here’s a suggestion for those academics who are doing quite well, thank you, and want to tell others how they can do this same: keep your trap shut.
Here’s a suggestion for the Chronicle: aim higher.