Thursday, April 07, 2016

on arguments against full inclusion of non-tenure-track faculty in governance

I wrote the following to respond to arguments against reforming the constitution of the general faculty at my (beloved) stupid university. The proposed amendments would extend the definition of general faculty to include part-time faculty, who are currently assigned a secondary status as “associate” faculty without the vote but with “the privilege of debate.”

One of the tenured full professors who opposed the amendment very vocally insisted that the problem was the proposers of the amendment didn’t understand that if the amendment passed, part-time faculty would be able to vote, and that because the constitution says they can’t vote, they can’t. I am not making that up.
Another of the tenured full professors who opposed the amendment insisted that this would make it possible for part-time faculty to vote en bloc to advance some agenda of their own, seemingly contrary to the academic standards of the various disciplines and against the mission of the university. The other objection was that part-time faculty are not capable of exercising academic judgment in shared governance because they are part-time faculty and not qualified professionally or academically.

There was never the right moment in the debate to bring out this screed, mainly because, as a lecturer, and as probably the most vocal and active advocate for non-tenure-track faculty on our campus, I have had to practice extreme forbearance in the interest. As the saying among us contingent faculty goes, every precarious faculty member is never more than 15 seconds from complete humiliation. The only thing we can do in those situations, if we want to survive, is remain silent.


I am responding to the argument that the distinction between general faculty and associate faculty in our current constitution must be maintained because of the distinction between faculty with governance responsibilities and those without. The argument as premised on the distinction in the current constitution is clearly begging the question, and so should not detain us. With all respect that it is due, I say we should not waste any more time on it.

Since there must be some principle not in the current constitution that would be the basis for the discrimination against part-time faculty being recognized as members of the faculty, what would that be? We are told that it cannot be based on the definitions of faculty and their responsibilities in the Collective Bargaining Agreement because that addresses faculty as employees, not as academics, and to accept the CBA definition would conflate the two. Let’s take it to be so and dismiss the CBA for now. (It’s just as well, because it would be a losing argument for opposing the amendment, since its definition of faculty is inclusive, rather than discriminatory.)

Then what is the basis for the distinction? It is asserted that part-time faculty are not qualified for service in governance, on the basis of their employment status. Why would that be? Either there is something about part-time employment status, or about those who are employed part-time, that explains why they are unqualified. It’s not academic degree status, because people with PhDs are hired to part-time and full-time non-tenure-track positions routinely by the CSU. It also cannot be lack of experience, since that would also disqualify probationary faculty hired out of graduate school, and ignores the lengthy experience and knowledge of academic standards and practices in their disciplines that part-time faculty gain at this and other institutions. So it must be something about so-called “part-timers” as such.

The defense of the current discriminatory exclusion of part-time appointed faculty from the definition of faculty rests on the view that people hired into part-time positions are inherently unqualified (because it is not related to employment classification, as we have been told, and it is not because of degree status or experience).

Let us consider the other reasons given to object to part-time faculty inclusion, to identify what those disqualifying traits are. Part-time faculty, it is asserted, are ignorant of their own discipline’s academic values and ways of being, are incapable of thinking rationally about decisions about their own disciplines, and are incapable of acting as responsible professionals or simply ethical human beings. Instead, they are irrational, moblike, and dangerous.

If that were really true, it would be shocking to discover that any of my colleagues would hire such crazed insurgents to teach in the first place. On the other hand, my own department has survived despite relying on this mob for much more than half of its teaching for the past few years.

But seriously, it is incredible to imagine that anyone could manage the day to day tasks of teaching classes, explaining concepts and imparting core knowledge in any academic field, evaluating student progress and student work, and fulfilling the other obligations that are endemic to academia, without disciplinary knowledge, ethical or professional responsibility, or a capacity for rational thought.

Finally, I would personally like to say something to the tenure-track minority who would be persuaded that non-tenure-track faculty are so incapable. You are not morally superior human beings by dint of your status and rank. Non-tenure-track faculty are not your inferiors. We are not your little brown brothers. We are in fact your colleagues, whether you like it or not, whether you recognize us or not, and we are not going away. Far from it. We are the majority already—yes, on this campus as well, though not yet in the numbers common across higher education—and a minority can only assert a tenuous claim to monopoly over institutional and professional authority.

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