Although some of the issues Norton discusses focus on matters relevant only in the Ocean State, he touches on important employment concerns to scholars in all fields. Since these topics are highly relevant to the readers of this blog, I am reprinting it here in its entirety. "In the Service of Clio" will return to its previous series on alternative forms of employment for the history Ph.D. next week. Here is Norton's editorial:
Imagine going to work in the morning with no guarantee that you will have that job in four months. Imagine working for one third of the pay that your colleagues receive without benefits. Consider never getting a raise no matter how excellent your performance may be. Welcome to the world of the college adjunct instructor.
“Adjunct.” The word itself gives the ring of an extraneous and forgotten part, the appendix of some hulking machine. As an adjunct writing professor at the University of Rhode Island, I am one of 450 part-time faculty who do 40 percent of the teaching at that institution. Part timers brought in over $52 million of tuition income in 2007-08 and we were paid a scant $3.98 million from that overflowing pot.
Adjunct instructors are the chattel on the academic plantation, and we make tenure, great pay, sabbaticals and health care realities for the full timers, the faces on the university brand. Adjuncts are the silent, quivering caste, hiding in plain sight and praying that we will be thrown the same insufficient crusts in the next semester. In that ivy-covered ecosystem, adjuncts are the plankton, upon which everything else in the chain depends.
Union abuses define Rhode Island. Public-employee unions run the Rhode Island legislature and the majority of citizens pay for the comfort and reward of the few who are on the state gravy train. That said, adjunct college and university instructors are hired semester to semester, they have no health care or benefits, and good performance is unrelated to future employment. The Dickensian treatment of part timers at URI is criminal, and these abuses are what unions should seek to remedy.
Recently, Rhode Island College ratified an agreement with the state Board of Governors for Higher Education. It represents the first contract ever given to adjunct faculty members in Rhode Island and it gives a dash of hope to a long-aggrieved class. RIC adjuncts will now receive academic freedom, course-assignment rules, a grievance procedure, job security, leave of absence for jury duty and a retroactive pay raise of 3 percent. Some 60 percent of all teaching at RIC is done by adjuncts.
It was my bad fortune to work at the University of Rhode Island, with its medieval policies regarding part-time teachers. The administration has been stonewalling a part-time faculty union for years now but it cannot long ignore the evolution taking place right before it. Without equitable treatment backed by a union and the rule of law, fear inevitably fills the vacuum. Fear drives profits, but you will not find that fact noted in the annual report. Union abuses are regrettable and should be reined in, but the lack of a union for the right reasons is nothing but de-facto endentured servitude. All work has dignity, but living as most adjuncts do is a disgrace.