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This story in IHE generated quite the firestorm yesterday, and for good reason.  Apparently, the Education School at the University of Southern California has decided to ban certain adjuncts from teaching at any other college or university as a condition of employment.

The explanation offered by the university -- that it wants someone working full-time in the field -- makes it sound a little less bad, though presumably if that was what they meant, it would have been easy enough to say so.  (I’m no fan of discrimination against the unemployed, either, but at least that would have been easier to defend in this context.)

The closest thing I’ve seen to something like this that made any sense to me was bans on conflicts of interest or double-booking.  For example, if a professor has a 2:00 class on Tuesdays at my college, he can’t also accept a 2:00 class on Tuesdays someplace else.  If he’s someplace else on Wednesdays, it’s really none of my business.  They can moonlight, but moonlighting can’t be an excuse for missing work.  That, I can defend.

But this goes far beyond that.  In exchange for part-time money and no benefits, the adjunct is being banned from teaching anyplace else.

In this case, I have to agree with the New Faculty Majority.  This is just slimy.

I can’t even imagine trying to enforce it.  Honestly, I don’t know which of the full-time faculty are teaching adjunct courses elsewhere, though I’m pretty sure it’s non-zero.  On their own time, faculty can do what adults can do.  If they choose to teach courses elsewhere, I don’t see how that’s different than some of them who do remodeling or landscaping work in the summer.  

As bad as this ad is on its face, any attempt at enforcement would be worse.  If this kind of thing became common practice, would the university be required to act on every report?  If it enforced selectively, I could just see the discrimination lawsuits bubbling up.  And if they acted only on tips, then I could imagine all manner of shady ethical areas in which somebody agreed not to rat somebody else out, if it were made worth their while.  Spin it out over more time and more people, and it just gets worse.

If this became common practice, it would further reinforce the idea -- toxic, to my mind -- that the academic life is so special that the normal rules of civilized society don’t apply to it.  If I hire someone part-time, she’s only accountable for that time; what else she does is her business.  

The university would likely respond that this is an overreaction, and that they merely meant that they wanted someone who’s in the field full-time now.  Even there, though, the whiff of discrimination against the unemployed doesn’t sit right.  

From a public policy perspective, the only way that we’ll make a meaningful dent in the unemployment numbers is...wait for it..for the unemployed to get jobs.  (Technically, we could just call them “discouraged” and write them off, but that feels like cheating.)  That’ll only happen if employers don’t regard getting hit by the Great Recession -- or, in the case of higher education, a fundamentally unsustainable economic model -- as a mortal sin.  

No, thanks.  Even if USC didn’t really think through how this would sound -- my guess -- it’s offensive enough that folks need to make some noise.  This is not how it’s done.

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