My apologies for this being so late, but I’m still recovering both mentally and physically from the conference this weekend. I’m exhausted and overwhelmed, but in a good way. I have a lot to say and a lot to think about, too. This may be still very preliminary, so bear with me.
You know I live-blogged the event (or if you didn’t, you should check it out). I archived the #newfac12 tweets (check those out, too). I joined a talented and dedicated group of bloggers to share and write about the event. Brian Croxall shares his thoughts, as do Eliana Osborne, John A. Casey Jr., and Josh Boldt. I strongly encourage you to go and read their posts (as well as the comments; Josh has 17!). I am grateful for the opportunity to not only attend the conference, but also meet these excellent and dedicated bloggers. I’m seeing the stories about the conference show up on some of the listservs I subscribe to, so I know we’re having an impact.
But what does that mean? The biggest take-away from the Summit is how far we have yet to go to educate and inform the general public about what it is like as an adjunct and how that impacts the students’ (their kids’) learning environment. I keep saying that until the president of a university is confronted with the question of adjunct labor by a big alumni donor s/he is trying to gladhandle, those who are higher up in the university administration will continue down this same path. Or when the accreditors start demanding accurate numbers when it comes to TT faculty. As I’ve suggested previously, targeting alumni in alumni publications would be one way to start.
But what never occurred to me was to go more grassroots, particularly at institutions that serve low-income, minority, immigrant, and other non-traditional (at least non-traditional university student) communities. Target the already well-developed activist networks that advocate for these populations. Our working conditions are their learning conditions. Partner with student groups, the ones concerned with their learning conditions (they exist, we know they do, as the Occupy movement has taught us). We need to start using that energy and expertise for our common goal of improving higher education.
I tweeted on Saturday that I was surprised at how old the people in attendance were/are. I wondered if it was because younger adjuncts couldn’t afford to attend, or were afraid to attend. But, as Brian Croxall pointed out to me, the room represented an entire generation of lost academics, lost scholars, lost wages, lost intellect, people who have been fighting this fight anonymously for years (not in those exact words, but you get it). Three years ago, NFM didn’t even exist, but because of a handful of frustrated, angry, and dedicated adjuncts, we now have the potential of a real movement and real change. I wish more adjuncts could have been in that room, adjuncts of my generation and younger, to hear that this fight precedes us and must continue, but also that it can only continue with our energy, expertise, and dedication. Their bravery inspired me. More of us need to be that brave.
You are not alone. You are a part of something much larger than yourselves. We need, however, to create a community that includes so much more than just us, those off the tenure-track. A comment during one of the presentations struck, that we needed more than just a few snarky blog posts (guilty!). Even something like Professor X’s piece in The Atlantic isn’t particularly effective because it was only read by a limited audience of people who probably dismissed him because they weren’t going to be sending their kids to community college anyway. We need a bigger audience, we need to target our messages to them, and we need to speak up.
I’m getting involved because I can. But even if you only join the NFM and talk to one person outside of higher education about the challenges of being an adjunct, you’ll have done something. Let’s do something.