Monday, January 05, 2015

It's the Exploited Labor, Stupid

Despite much well-earned Sturm und Drang in the last few years surrounding the so-called crisis in the humanities, the regrettably pernicious corporatization of higher education, the imminent death of American universities, the (at turns, but more often in conjunction) sexist, racist, homophobic, classist and just garden-variety asshole-ish paucity of civility/collegiality in academia-- especially in the discipline of Philosophy--  I sometimes fear we may have lost sight of the really important, in fact, core malady that continues to plague, sicken and weaken the the quality of higher education in the United States. If I may, allow me to channel for a moment my inner James Carville-- to my mind, one of the most brilliant American political strategists of the 20thC who is not also a war criminal (see here and here for his less illustrious competitors)-- and say what is already painfully, desperately, economically and existentially OBVIOUS to more than 50% of faculty working in higher education today:

It's the exploited labor, stupid.

FACT: The overwhelming majority of higher education's faculty work-force today has little to no job security.  Yes, I'm talking about smart, hardworking, promising, talented (even if also masochistic) men and women who have spent the considerable time and effort required to earn their PhD's, in many cases taking on sinfully usurious debt in the process.  In their classrooms are being shaped the future of YOUR nation... or rather, if I were to be truly honest in my formulation, the future of what will be America's over-educated and under-employed laboring class. Put aside whatever reservations you may have about the merits or demerits of tenure for now.  I'm talking about PhD's who are not only not tenured, but who are working in positions with no possibility of achieving tenure.  Here in the Ivory Tower, we have an entire sub-vocabulary of euphemisms for these pour souls: we call them "adjunct," "contingent," "fixed term," "probationary" (in the case of tenure-track faculty) or "non-TT" (in the ever-expanding iterations of non-tenure-track faculty).  All those euphemisms amount to the same thing, though,

They name a body of precarious, exploited, overworked, underpaid, largely non-unionized and thus largely unrepresented labor. Stupid.

[Full disclosure: I'm one of those so-called "pour souls." I am now in what is euphemistically-called a "fixed-term" position. Before you call the whaaambulance, though, let me first say that I had the very good fortune to choose the position I'm in now at Christian Brothers University, which is a great University in a city that I love. Still, I arrived at my current position after being denied tenure at an institution that had granted tenure to only two philosophers in the previous 20+yrs, and has never in its history granted tenure to a female philosopher.]

The more our numbers grow, and they *do* continue to grow, the less likely it will be to ignore the reality of underemployed/contingent faculty's presence or the urgency of our concerns.  I'm very grateful to my good friend, insightful critic and fellow in the contingent-faculty trenches, Ed Kazarian, for reminding me that we've all been distracted far too much and far too long by the more-or-less irresolvable conflicts of late, especially those of us in Philosophy.

If you care about the future of our profession, it's time to let go of your allegiance to rankings, ratings and gossip.  That's all yesterday's news, really.

It's about exploited labor, stupid.

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