Critical Readability

My critical readings of the best and worst of online media

Archive for the tag “labor”

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.


What Adjuncts are Saying

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Sarah Kendzior’s controversial article in Al Jazeer “The Closing of American Academia” has resulted in significant conversation surrounding the ethical, pedagogical, and practical consequences of a professoriate in which 2/3rds are contingent faculty.

On August 30th, Dr. Kendzior published a blog explaining that since the publication of her original article, “I have received hundreds of emails on this article. They came from adjuncts who feel exploited and abused. They came from graduate students terrified about their future. They came from parents – parents of undergraduates shocked by how their children’s professors are treated, and parents of adjuncts grateful that their plight was addressed. They came from tenured faculty, prominent intellectuals among them, who spoke of corruption within their own disciplines. They came from people outside higher education who see parallels in their own professions – in law, journalism, policy, and other fields that rely on unpaid or underpaid labor” (Crisis in the Academy).

I was thinking about her statement this morning while reading the advice forums on The Chronicle of Higher Education. Read more…

Dawn of the Digital Sweatshop | Feature | Oakland, Berkeley & Bay Area News & Arts Coverage

“Google Books and microtasking aren’t quite the same thing, of course, but they illustrate similar points: about the factory floor lurking just below our Internet, about consumers’ ignorance — willful, or, more likely, unintentional — of the human labor that goes into the Internet, and about the lengths companies will go to keep things that way.”

We create technology to decrease costs associated with human labor, now we exploit people to do the work computers cant. This is very disturbing to me, specifically with regard to how these companies are explaining themselves out of an ethical conundrum by calling on the “white savoir industrial complex” critiqued by Teju Cole in this article in The Atlantic. Furthermore, of course the workers are not complaining – did sweatshop workers complain? No, because many were reliant on the menial work for survival. In other words, “don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”  Read more here:  Dawn of the Digital Sweatshop | Feature | Oakland, Berkeley & Bay Area News & Arts Coverage.

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