Critical Readability

My critical readings of the best and worst of online media

Meet your new professor: Transient, poorly paid – In Plain Sight


Meet your new professor: Transient, poorly paid – In Plain Sight.

This is a pretty good article, but it fails to address some really major points.

Most people probably don’t know what it means when I say I am contingent faculty, or that 3 out of 4 faculty in this country are contingent faculty. People think professors are paid well and guaranteed stability (tenure), and those that aren’t tenure-track (contingent) are on an annual renewable contract like the rest of the business world. This is a much better analogy: Walmart hires a wide variety of workers, from CEOs and other skill/knowledge-based jobs that pay well to temporary unskilled seasonal labor at Christmas or other holidays that pay a fraction of what permanent laborers make. Corporate jobs are the academic equivalent of tenure-track jobs, contingent faculty are the academic equivalent of temp labor hired at Christmas to stock shelves for half the salary of the permanent shelf stocking laborer (albeit we’re highly skilled and educated and drowning in student loan debt). Typically speaking, when Christmas passes, Walmart’s temp laborers are “not rehired” (they’re not fired, mind you, just not rehired).

Now imagine if Walmart decided to try to trick the system by dividing the calendar into 4 3-month holiday seasons so they could only hire temp labor for half the salary. Upside? Much cheaper pay, you don’t have to pay for benefits, and you don’t have to pay unemployment taxes. Downside? You have to re-train new employees every three months. But, what if you kept rehiring the same temp labor at the end of their contract? Now they work the same number of hours as permanent laborers, have the skills of permanent labor, but you spend half the money, don’t have to give them benefits, you never have to give them a raise (even for increased COL), you do not need a reason to “not rehire” them, and you don’t have to pay unemployment taxes. Now imagine Walmart starts only hiring permanent temporary labor – imagine that there are no jobs as a permanent (full or part time) shelf stocking laborer available, so 3 out of 4 are permanent temporary laborers. This is what it means to be contingent faculty – we’re permanent temporary labor.

Not only do most university contingent faculty get paid in the poverty range (literally), many are on food stamps and very few of us (myself included) would be eligible for unemployment. I had more work stability when I worked at K-Mart in college, and they actually gave me raises when I performed well. If Walmart actually did this, it would be labor exploitation. When academia does it, it’s running a university like a business. It’s white-collar labor exploitation, and the only reason it still exists is because they can get away with it because the public has no idea it’s happening.



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