Wednesday, May 7, 2014
May 7, 2014: NeMLA Follow Ups: Roundtable on Contingent Faculty
[About a month ago, I spent a wonderful weekend in Harrisburg for the 2014 Northeast MLA (NeMLA) Conference. As always, I came away inspired on a number of levels, and in this series I’ll share some of the conversations and voices that contributed to that inspiration. And in the weekend post, I’ll let you know how you can add your own voice and perspective to NeMLA as we move forward!]
On three meaningful ways to move forward with a crucial issue.
I’ve written a couple times in this space about one of the most pressing and troubling issues in 21st century academia: the omnipresent use and abuse of adjunct and contingent faculty by our colleges and universities. There is no single or easy answer to that issue, of course—instead, I believe we need a number of related and concurrent steps and efforts, including the recent moves toward adjunct unionization but also and just as importantly including far greater awareness of and collective attention to the issue itself. And my NeMLA roundtable “What Can NeMLA Do to Better Serve Contingent Faculty?” illustrated three distinct benefits to such collective conversations:
1) Sharing Individual Voices: First and foremost, the roundtable featured three incredibly thoughtful and impressive presentations, by Chiara de Santi of SUNY Fredonia, Tania Convertini of Dartmouth, and Patricia Johnson of Penn State Harrisburg. The three represented a range of experiences and roles, which is itself an important part of these conversations—but even more importantly, they grounded our conversation in specific perspectives and efforts, helping us build on that foundation toward proposed steps and solutions. Too often, these kinds of conversations happen in general or abstract terms, and such speakers help make sure we include concrete realities instead.
2) Making Connections: We were also fortunate that the roundtable’s audience and conversation featured both the outgoing and the incoming president of NeMLA’s CAITY Cauc us, an organization dedicated to addressing these issues. There are many arguments in favor of adjunct unionization, but to my mind one of the most crucial is about community, about creating connections between individuals and institutions that can allow them to share resources and ideas in this too-often isolated profession. CAITY represents precisely such an existing community, and one to which I hope to better connect NeMLA as a whole in my upcoming year (2015-2016) as president.
3) Taking a Stand: One of the more complex questions surrounding this issue is how, and perhaps even whether, tenure-track and tenured faculty can contribute to these efforts. We’ve seen one impressive recent answer at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where the full faculty went on strike in support of a contract that (among other issues) better serves contingent faculty. But I also believe that organizations like NeMLA have a significant voice and role to play, and thus that finding ways for NeMLA to take a stand in support of contingent faculty will again be central to my time in the organization’s leadership. I’m not sure yet what that will mean, but I have some ideas—waiving conference fees and offering travel support for contingent faculty, for example—and would love to hear more!
Next follow up tomorrow,
PS. Thoughts on these topics? If you were at the conference, other NeMLA follow ups?