Symptoms of neoliberalization and complicity

Warning! For the past four years I have not been invited to vote on tenure, fourth year review, or hiring. I am not the only one and I had decided not to take it personally. When I am on these committees they tend to vote my way, not because I have the power to force anyone to do anything but because I am articulate and sensible. Since the dean, assistant dean, and chair decided that I and some others were dangerous for these reasons, they created a small, select committee to make these decisions–or so I thought. I am against that for reasons having to do with institutional governance and faculty power but since I thought it was personal, I decided to ignore it and not take it personally.

Now, however, the dean of the graduate school has resigned to go back to his department and apparently it is in part because the administration does not let him make academic decisions on academic grounds. Someone asked whether, in this situation, it were even worth even having a dean of the graduate school, and the general answer appears to be no. Nonacademic administrators are insisting on doing the job anyway, so one might as well let them, I am told.

Do you see what this means? Faculty losing power in hiring, retention, tenure, promotion; academic deans losing power in academic decision-making. “Be mature” and “don’t let it get to you” are the standard advice in this kind of situation but are bad advice now. I have to start asking other people what kinds of powers they used to have, but no longer do, and also what kinds of secretarial work they used not to have to do, and are now doing.

Also: does your university keep sending you surveys to do now? Do you think the work we put in doing the surveys is giving us voice, or is just diverting state money to the surveyors?

Next point, on complicity. It is politically correct to be supportive of adjuncts but I have some real doubts about parts of this. First of all, the truest support would be real jobs, not just invitations to lunch and the usual ways we are exhorted to be supportive. And:

a) Many of them are not willing to move, and in some cases they are not willing to finish their dissertations. That is to say, they would like real jobs and they resent people who have these, but at the same time they are not willing to do the things that the people who have them have done.

b) Every adjunct you support and cement in as an individual is occupying a job that could have been tenure-track.

c) I once actually got an adjunct’s job upgraded to Assistant Professor. Her husband, who held an endowed chair in another department, called me up asking me to cease and desist. He did not think she would be competitive in a national search, he said, and he wanted her to have the position, so as a favor to him could we just keep her downgraded? He actually wanted our department to give up a tenure line. The university was supporting him very well, even giving him extra perks, and this was what he wanted to do to it.

Discuss. What is the best thing to do for and with adjuncts, given that they are on the one hand exploited, and apparently most faculty are really mean to them and see them as untouchables, yet at the same time they are in at least some situations the loyal foot-soldiers of the neoliberal paradigm? What to do?


8 thoughts on “Symptoms of neoliberalization and complicity

  1. “Faculty losing power in hiring, retention, tenure, promotion; academic deans losing power in academic decision-making”—this is very bad, and it should get to any right-thinking person. Being mature and not letting it get to you is what you do when the dean-candidate you don’t like gets the position, or when the chair appoints someone else to the committee you wanted to be on. But taking away academics’ ability to make and act on decisions about academic matters, that’s something to get up in arms about.

    I’m getting what seems like vast numbers of surveys, though many are not from the university but from people—sometimes faculty, sometimes graduate students—who are doing research into something or other. It may be useful research but I hate filling in surveys. I’d be willing to do a quick 5- or 10-question one but they tend to go on for pages and pages, and I lose patience quickly, so I have decided that filling in surveys is not part of my job and so I am not going to do it.

    “One is as harried as one chooses to be”—I must remember this.

    1. “But taking away academics’ ability to make and act on decisions about academic matters, that’s something to get up in arms about.”

      Yes. I have to figure out how, without having them say I just want to be dictator, which is what they usually say. They are not over the time I laughed at someone who said only antiquarians were interested in the early modern period.

      But the thing is, this is not about me — it is happening university-wide, viz. that graduate dean. It is one of the features of corporatization and has to be identified.

      Surveys, these are from admin. Would we rather have sabbaticals restored, or be funded to go to meetings on “teaching” funded by dot-coms. If they can get the contingent faculty to vote for the dot-coms, sabbatical money will go to venture capital. Tra-la-la.

      1. I can’t exactly articulate it yet, but I am also getting the feeling that some administrators are playing good cop- bad cop. And the faculty end up playing defensive all the time. My question (and I don’t have an answer) would be how to be on the offensive, and not just reacting and choosing the least damaging option all the time

  2. Wait–so the guy in the other department didn’t want his wife on the tenure track? Don’t all faculty members vote on tenure decisions, if they’re tenured?

    1. He didn’t want the job to be advertised nationally because he in his wisdom did not think she would be competitive for it. She also cared more about having this position, at any level, than about rank and career. This kind of thing is why it is hard to do the right thing from the point of view of the profession, development of a department, and so on. We had to calm them down and explain it would be all right. Imagine if they leave — she’ll be leaving a line we can hire someone in, as opposed to a contingent one.

      All faculty members vote, not any more but at the time they did, and at the time they also did on hiring.

  3. No, not a lot of surveys. But then I tend to just delete them unless they promise me a free cruise or an iPad 🙂

    Adjuncts come in all kinds of flavors, even in the same institution. I have seen adjuncts behave very badly, and many more who have been super-exploited by both my large state institution and all the private hoity-toity expensive liberal arts colleges in our metro, that hire our ex-grads but won’t establish lines for them because it is cheap, and because they like to fire people who get uppity.

    I sure hope that the wife of the “star” who tried to get her downgraded broomed his ass to the curb. What a fuckwad.

    The issue from my perspective is not “the adjunct” as such, but the ratio of adjunct to tenure/tenure-track faculty in any given unit, and how that has been manipulated to pit faculty against each other, or how it is used by students who can threaten adjuncts’ employment by “bad” evaluations unless the adjuncts dumb things down. Many departments in my institution remind us that they adjuncts because they need to hire professionals — artists, journalists, business people, designers, medical practitioners, etc. so adjuncts are the lifeblood of some areas of teaching in which they can’t or shouldn’t be full-time academics.

    But in my department, which has the most out-of-balance ration of T-T to non-TT, adjuncts in our university, a variety of adjunct types are used to replace tenured lines, to keep tenured faculty numbers low, despite our huge numbers of language students, minors and majors, because hiring an instructor is a lot cheaper than hiring either grad students (whose tuition and health-care now cost more than their salaries) or devoting “hard money” in the budget to tenure lines. Our language instruction “student credit-hours” budget formula provides a lot of cash to the university, but we don’t get it back. We are the car wash department. Adjuncts can be kept more docile through year-to-year contracts, and also because they are a cheap way to get faculty in other departments to come and stay by hiring a “trailing spouse” for just a few years, but without a commitment. We (and I deny actually being part of that “we,” having burned bridges with a former friend by protesting such cynical treatment when she was chair) have behaved very badly to such adjuncts.

    Are “contingent faculty” or adjuncts a way to dilute tenure? Absolutely. Are some of them entrenched, not willing to move (or bound to spouses and family that some tenured faculty women have not been able to “afford” for the sake of mobility)? Yes. Sometimes destructive in their pissed-off impact on departments where they are exploited? Sure.

    But the issue is not “respect’ but rights, and how all instructors are divided by false collegiality (as you know!). The move in academia across the country but also in other countries is to dilute or destroy tenure and academic freedom in favor of a corporate “at-will” approach to faculty as labor. Whether it is the abuse of adjuncts, the destruction of faculty governance, or the work speed-up that has happened by gutting support staff and pretending that we can replace them with our personal computers, the values we might bring to the academic enterprise that are not completely bound by fear are being eroded.

    Having said all that, apparently the French are pissed that administrators want to allow instruction in English to occur because that would boost numbers and thus revenues, while others want to protect the status of French as the national language or instruction. This is an issue all over Europe, where English is the language of instruction for students who come from many countries.

  4. “how to be on the offensive”

    @SpanishProf — this is my question, too. My article suggests that the first step is reimagining ourselves as people who *can* be on the offensive, although I do not say that in those words.

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