Faculty Working Conditions Are Student Learning Conditions

We’ve found a forum here and elsewhere online to finally open some conversations about contingent faculty issues. On individual campuses it is hard to find time or opportunity to talk through these things in any meaningful way. At the New Faculty Majority Summit this weekend we’ve tried to shy away from the airing of grievances, no matter how valid, and focus on ways to move forward. That’s where I’ve been stuck–knowing the problems is just the beginning and I haven’t known how to do more.

A theme for the NFM is the title of this post and something that I think we need to emphasize in any discussion with the broader public about why they should care about our problems; after all, jobs are tough to find all over. Why does contingent faculty even matter? It matters not just to me and you and the other 800,000 non-tenure-track faculty across America. It matters to everyone who will take a college course, pay for someone else to take courses, hire someone with any level of post-secondary training from certificates to graduate degrees, and more.

Massachusetts Congressman John Tierney opened the NFM session by video message, saying that contingent faculty concerns are important to every family and every student. We need to get that message out to students and parents and even those in academe who simply don’t know. Do people know who is teaching the majority of undergraduate courses? Do students know that most of their professors can’t be reached outside of class hours? Do parents know how little of tuition money is spent on faculty salaries? Do people in our own departments known the day-to-day ways that adjuncting makes us feel less than enough?

Getting this message across is the first step. We need to talk more to members of our communities. Of all the ways to move forward, this is the most crucial. Filmmaker and adjunct professor Debra Leigh Scott spoke at the summit, speaking of the power of art to make the truth of contingent faculty life clear to others. Whether that is through film, fiction, essay, or whatever your medium, we can use our individual talents to more effectively share our message.

I’ll split this up and give you a second look at some of the other things that really jumped out at me from the NFM summit.

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