Everyone knows how hard it is for new Ph.D.s, especially for new Ph.D.s in the humanities, to find tenure-track jobs, and everyone knows about the outrageous working conditions faced by contingent faculty. The problem with these problems, however, is that they are one problem we have come to think of as two. It is a labor problem of epic proportions -- at a time when labor is having its own problems.
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone proclaim that there are “no jobs” in the humanities, I’d be able to buy every graduate student in my department a hot meal. Just this month, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences published the latest addition to the literature on the decline in jobs for faculty in the humanities. Yet the truth is that there are jobs: lots and lots of jobs. The prevalence of MOOCs notwithstanding, classrooms across the nation still need to be staffed by instructors. The problem is that most of these are per-course assignments that pay horribly and offer few benefits, if any. Demand for instructors remains high. It is the egregious working conditions and compensation for those who instruct the majority of our students at the majority of our universities and colleges that are at the heart of the matter.
The consequences of thinking about the plights of graduate students and adjuncts as if they were separate problems are many and insidious. Because there are “no jobs,” many people advise their brightest undergraduates not to enter academe. It is actually considered irresponsible not to try to dissuade the young and talented from following in our footsteps. Some people applaud the shutdown of graduate programs in the humanities at institutions of lesser prestige and the downsizing of elite programs because there are “too many Ph.D.s.”
While I do understand the desire to protect students from the anguish of not finding tenure-track jobs, culling the competition is a mistaken and destructive approach to the problem of perceived scarcity. Instead, we need to turn our attention to the ways our institutions hire, compensate and retain educators. This is a labor problem that can be resolved -- but it will not be resolved by thinning our own ranks.
The consequences of our bifurcated thinking about graduate students and contingent faculty can be subtle, as long as you are not an adjunct instructor, in which case they are toxic. Adjunct faculty members, for example, are generally hired in a completely different manner than the full-time faculty members whom we groom our graduate students to aspire to be. Whereas the hiring process for tenure-stream faculty most commonly calls for the input of several or all members of a department as well as the approval of umpteen levels of an administration, it is customary for department heads alone to hire adjunct instructors, sometimes sight unseen. By conducting our adjunct hiring sub rosa, as it were, we reinforce the split between the “real” jobs we prepare our students to compete for and the invisible (but all-too-real) jobs of people who are often teaching alongside them.
The message these vastly divergent hiring practices send to graduate students and contingent faculty alike is that much of the teaching performed in their midst is somehow something to be ashamed of (and that teaching doesn’t really matter). Everything about the manner in which we select adjunct faculty suggests that they occupy the status of a necessary evil -- the less spoken of, the better.
The Normalization of a Two-Tiered System
This rotten system arose on our watch. How did we let it happen? Speaking for myself, I was so busy trying to find a job after completing my doctorate in 1997 that I didn’t pay much attention to the bigger picture. All I could think about was my own situation. Even though I understood that the odds of getting a tenure-track position were against me, I spent my time trying everything I could think of to improve my chances. Getting a job was up to me, I told myself. Oblivious to the highly individualistic ethos implanted in me in graduate school, I figured that if I was good enough, I would succeed. I did not think of the many other graduates who were also desperate to find tenure-track jobs -- except for when I wanted to make myself feel better about the jobs I didn’t get.
I found a job -- a three-year term position that turned into a six-year term position -- whereupon I devoted myself to becoming even more irresistible as a job candidate the next time I had to go on the market. When I finally got an assistant professorship at the institution that employs me today, my thoughts turned to getting tenure.
It’s embarrassing to admit this, but even though I disapproved of the treatment of contingent faculty, I just wasn’t paying attention to the way the naturalization of their exploitation was taking place concurrently with my own professionalization. I never thought of myself as having any say in the matter: without a stable position from which to voice my opposition, I just looked on as administrations chipped and hacked away at humanities programs across the country, cutting costs by depleting programs of their tenure lines and replacing them with adjunct slots. Like most people I knew in the humanities, I felt helpless to do anything about the seemingly irreversible decline of the profession.
No one asked me or my fellow graduates how we felt about the adjunctification of the professoriate as we were trying to claw our way into permanent positions. But no one ever does ask you about such things. The normalization of the two-tiered system just manages to steal up on you, and suddenly, you’ve got tenure in an industry dominated by massive exploitation, denial, resurgent elitism and magical thinking. I am pretty sure that most tenured and tenure-track faculty do not approve of the current condition of adjunct workers, but I am absolutely certain that even those who don’t think about adjunctification do feel terrible about the lack of decent employment prospects for their own graduate students. Relinking these problems will allow us to see clearly this dilemma for what it is: a labor problem.
Of late, adjunct faculty members have bravely come together in unions and affinity groups that are creative and ambitious in character. Such organizations as the New Faculty Majority have formed nonprofit and lobbying entities to unite adjuncts and broadcast their plight to the public at large. Graduate students have united to form unions and political action groups of their own. And yet tenure-track, and more significantly, tenured faculty have yet to form a national organization dedicated to resolving this problem. Why is that the case? Why is it that those of us who occupy relatively privileged positions are the readiest to accept that this is just the way things are?
Calling on Tenured Faculty
The American Association of University Professors has focused valiantly on these issues for a long time, but the AAUP cannot do it alone. It’s time for those of us who have relatively secure positions to speak out in our communities and on a national level. Tenured professors have considerably more leverage than graduate students or adjunct instructors in our institutions; it’s up to us to come together to put pressure on our administrations to make the many invisible positions we fill under the table into “real” jobs. We need to do it for all of our students, present and future, undergraduate and graduate, academe bound and otherwise. If many of us are already working under austerity conditions at our institutions and feel our own jobs imperiled, so much the more reason to act now to secure a living wage for all who teach at the university level. It is in the interest of all faculty members to band together to demand a future for higher education.
So how can we begin to change this situation? Unionization is an obvious answer and an important part of the solution, but when the interests of the full-time faculty are pitted against those of the part-time faculty, with each group represented by a different union, it is hard to reach any sort of common ground. When the full-time and adjunct faculty are represented by the same bargaining unit, adjunct faculty do not have an easy time getting support from their tenure-stream colleagues, in large part because of the great difference in the modes of hiring and reviewing that I discussed above. As long as we continue to accept this two-tiered labor model, there is only so much that unions can do. (A rare exception was the strike two years ago at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where full-time faculty walked out in solidarity with their adjunct colleagues.)
The labor movement we will need to assure the future of higher education requires action on the local and national fronts. Tenured faculty must get involved, and vocally involved, at every level of governance at our institutions. We must vigilantly attend and participate in every kind of meeting open to us that bears any relation whatsoever to mission, staffing, funding and budgeting priorities -- and demand representation when such meetings are closed to us. We must insist, loudly and incessantly, on full-time positions in our departments. We might want to experiment with the establishment of a more rigorous screening procedure for hiring contingent faculty so as to draw attention to the need for higher pay to draw and keep the most qualified applicants. We need to write letters, articles, emails, blogs -- anything we can -- about this problem. We need to get creative.
And we need to lobby our elected representatives at the local, state and national levels to address this systemic labor problem. Tuition rates have been skyrocketing across the country at the same time as full-time positions have been slashed; wherever this money is going, it is not being spent on full-time positions. Like increased tuition and student debt, this two-tiered system plays a role in the dynamics of income inequality. Legislators need to reverse the decades-long retreat of state and federal governments from the funding of higher education. Colleges and universities are not going to change their practices unless we put pressure on them from without and from within.
Some people will say it’s too late to do anything about this trend. But do we really believe so little in ourselves and in what we do as educators to give up on the future so easily? As long as we keep thinking about the fate of our graduate students as if it were separate from the condition of adjunct labor, we will continue to be complicit in the dismantling of higher education. And this would be tantamount to collective professional suicide. Have we really given this battle our all?
Carolyn Betensky is an associate professor of English at the University of Rhode Island.
The imminent retirement of Rick Gerhart from the California Institute of Technology has scientists there distraught because he may be impossible to replace. As a profile in the Los Angeles Times explains, Gerhart is a glassblower who can create the unique equipment needed by Caltech professors for their experiments. Many universities once employed one or more glassblowers full time, but the positions are disappearing. Universities that used to have several glassblowers now may not have any. Caltech is doing a search to replace Gerhart, but other institutions have stopped trying. There is one program in the country -- at Salem Community College in New Jersey -- that prepares people for the career.
Timothy Slater has filed a notice of intent to sue the University of Arizona over the release of a report finding that he violated the university's sexual harassment policies by creating a sexually charged environment for students, The Arizona Daily Star reported. The report attracted widespread attention when a member of Congress read it aloud on the floor of the House of Representatives to draw attention to the way some professors, after being found guilty of harassment, find jobs at other universities. Slater currently teaches at the University of Wyoming. He has denied any wrongdoing and said that release of the report has hurt his career.
The university is declining the comment on the suit, but officials said in January that the report was released accidentally.
This academic year, a number of college campuses across the country became sites for vocal clashes between student groups, the administration and larger political movements. And just last month, our campus, California State University, Fullerton, made headlines following Univision anchor María Elena Salinas’s keynote speech at the Department of Communications’ graduation ceremony. As she addressed a graduating class of more than 800, she spoke of the role of identity in our society and the responsibility of journalists, and she made brief remarks to the crowd in Spanish. As she spoke, the crowd began to boo, at various times shouting, “Make America great again!” “English!” and “What about us?”
Almost immediately, backlash occurred on Twitter and Instagram, as users admonished the Univision anchor to speak in English. A graduate who had attended the ceremony wrote about it in the OC Weekly, with The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and The New York Timespicking up the story soon after. While many of the headlines focused on Salinas’s mention of Donald Trump, many of the student comments referred to the address as too Latino-centric, saying Salinas focused on Latinos at the expense of other groups.
This expression of hostility toward the perceived “Latino threat” is not an isolated incident.
Donald Trump began his presidential bid describing Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers, deportation has been one of his most consistent campaign promises, and he had Salinas’s co-host, Jorge Ramos, removed from a press conference last year. Trump’s rhetoric defies the conventions of political correctness and plurality.
In this case, Salinas’s speech and the resulting fallout are a synecdoche for what is at stake in the larger zeitgeist in this country. After years of championing diversity and inclusion, we now have to complete the move from relying on rhetoric to ensuring that diversity becomes a substantive practice.
Campuses are often a site of contestation, where students are negotiating the challenges of pluralism, belonging and diversity while preparing to engage in the broader society as both citizens and professionals. As faculty members, we firmly believe that the goal of a college education is to provide students with the opportunity to confront new ideas, engage with the complexity of contemporary social life and develop intellectual positions that result from careful consideration and study.
In furtherance of this goal, diversity has been championed on college campuses. This comes from the belief that campuses, in both faculty and student populations, should be representative of the people, experiences and ideas within the larger population. As the Census Bureau reports, by 2020 the more than half of the children in the United States will be part of a minority race or ethnic group. By 2060, only 36 percent of the population will be single-race, non-Hispanic white. Given the changing demography of the nation, it is encouraging that colleges and universities are taking steps to reduce the disparities in higher education achievement and aiming to have faculty and student populations that reflect our contemporary society.
As faculty members in the Department of Communications at CSUF, we are proud that our department takes an interest in serving a diverse student body that is reflective of our Southern California location. Our university has been designated a Hispanic-serving institution, ranked No. 1 in California and fifth nationally in awarding bachelor’s degrees to Hispanics. Our department is ranked first nationally in awarding communications degrees to Latinos. To broaden the professional opportunities for our students in journalism, advertising, public relations and entertainment and tourism, we recently launched the Latino Communication Initiative as a way to provide guidance and experience for students interested in the growing Latino communications industry. As part of that initiative, we have begun a Spanish-language news program, Al Día.
A Small Effort at Inclusion
It is in this context that Salinas’s speech, and the negative reaction by some to her remarks, occurred. According to the video of Salinas’s remarks, she spoke in Spanish for exactly 25 seconds, saying she was very proud of the students and their achievements and that she encouraged them to continue working and writing for their community. Switching to English, she then remarked that it is wonderful to be bilingual, because it allows to one to move between cultures. In an era where study abroad initiatives and diversity are encouraged for exactly this purpose, these comments should hardly be controversial or exclusionary.
As the events at our department’s commencement began to attract national attention, we received a number of emails from students, which led to long phone calls during which students expressed their varying perspectives on the incident. Many students saw nothing wrong with Salinas’s remarks. For example, Alana Garrett, a 25-year-old African-American graduate who does not speak Spanish, said, “It didn’t bother me. It wasn’t like she just spoke in Spanish the whole time. She said a couple of sentences. That’s what she should do -- she works for Univision. Why would that upset people?”
Similarly, graduate and Al Día reporter Alfredo Sanchez, 21, whose family is from El Salvador and for whom Spanish is his first language, said, “There should not be shame in speaking one’s language. She was just talking about Hispanic students making a difference and being able to reach the stage of commencement.”
Other students expressed an understanding why some non-Spanish-speaking students would feel excluded by Salinas’s Spanish remarks. David Leos, a 42-year-old graduate born to two Mexican immigrants, said, “The two students I was sitting next to were an Arab Muslim and a white Christian, and I can tell you they both felt excluded. I appreciated Salinas’s spotlighting of Hispanics’ successes and adding Spanish dialogue, but I also felt sorry for other non-Hispanic students.”
Indeed, in articles published in the aftermath of the event, some people expressed a belief that the delivery of these remarks in Spanish was exclusionary. However, this perspective disregards the fact that many of the parents, grandparents and extended family in the audience speak Spanish more fluently than English, or do not speak English at all, and were therefore excluded from the entire remainder of the ceremony. Delivering less than 30 seconds of her remarks in Spanish was a way for Salinas to include such individuals. Arely Martin, 23, had family members in attendance who did not speak English. “She actually told me, ‘Finally we go somewhere where we understand. There is actually someone talking to us,’” Martin said of her mother, who was born in Mexico.
The question we must ask is why this small effort at inclusion resulted in such hostility from a segment of the audience.
Much of the news media coverage has emphasized that Salinas’s remarks in Spanish were met with heckling and a distinct call for “English!” That is audible on the video of the speech. The focus on the language spoken by Salinas takes for granted the very real ways in which language and race are correlated.
Specifically, complaints about the speaking of Spanish are a way in which “color-blind” racism against Latinos can rear its ugly head. As Eduardo Bonilla-Silva explains in his seminal work Racism Without Racists (Rowman and Littlefield, 2009), because it is acknowledged that racism is “bad,” people use proxies for race to express beliefs that, if stated directly, would be considered racist. Arguments favoring “English only” in public spaces have a very long, very racialized history in this region. Well into the 20th century, the Southwest was sprinkled with signs that proudly boasted, “We Serve Whites Only. No Spanish or Mexicans.” Bilingual education has been banned in California public schools since 1996 under Proposition 227, the repeal of which will be on the ballot in this November’s election. Such a long history of contestation over the use of Spanish in the United States maps onto the history of the legitimacy of Latinos’ presence in this country.
While diversity and inclusion are contentious civic terrain, for anyone hoping to enter the workforce, linguistic, ethnic and racial diversity are de facto values. The Harvard Business Review has reported on how workplace diversity increases innovation and how diversity-centric strategic goals led to IBM’s turnaround success story. A study published in PNAS found that diverse teams outperformed high-ability teams on problem-solving tasks -- suggesting that diversity of thought is more important than simply high aptitude. Most crucial for our graduates, industry journals such as Advertising Age have published articles on the need for the media industries to diversify, arguing, “This will give us the insights and the skills to evolve alongside the massive demographic, technological and social shifts that we’ll see in the coming decades.”
When Salinas spoke last month, the fact that some students and families felt excluded at times is indicative of the previously limited experiences they have had in engaging with difference. Other students and families appreciated that the remarks reflected their own experiences. These reactions are reflective of the larger political terrain, where Trumpism pits an essentialist national identity against our contemporary realities. But the fact remains that exposure and engagement with difference is necessary in order to navigate our multilingual, multiethnic, multiracial society.
What remains to be seen is if these exhortations of the value and importance of diversity will retreat to the dustbin of rhetorical canards or if we can build a sustainably diverse public life -- one that is too deeply engaged with the benefits of multiplicity and diversity to crumble under an attack on political correctness. CSUF graduate Arely Martin took hope from Salinas’s address that her generation can do the work to build a diverse society. “She said, ‘You are the generation that’s going to build bridges, not walls.’ I thought, that’s so true. How could anyone be offended by that?”
Christina M. Ceisel and Vanessa Díaz are assistant professors of communications at California State University, Fullerton. The opinions expressed in this article are their own.