Miss Manners on Office Politics in the Age of The Adjunct Crisis
Much ink has been shed, many a brow furrowed, and far too many hands wrung over the Adjunct Crisis in Academia. Tenured professors seem unwilling to resist their employers in an effort to make conditions better for aspiring tenured faculty members, otherwise known as Adjucnts, Visiting Faculty, and Pizza Delivery Drivers. Of course, Miss Manners has often felt the pressing need to call for Civility and Politeness in such matters. However, current conditions necessitate a different tack. 'Twas a fool, indeed, who said that you can't tear down the Master's house with the Master's tools.
Now, we must first get Tenured Faculty on board. This is, to be sure, no easy task. Miss Manners generally finds that she has a uncontrollable desire to furl her lip and sniff at such confrontational tactics. Unseemly. Perhaps more important, though, such an approach often only serves to make potential allies feel guilty. They respond to such tactics in the same way that, women's studies faculty do when it is pointed out that they're enjoying their she-she luncheons, convened to discuss the evils of male privilege and the horror of a curriculum dominated by the deadly dull works of Western Civ's fat, dead white guys, only because a baker's dozen of underpaid servers, cooks, delivery truck drivers, janitors, and migrant workers have been employed in order to slice lemons for their mineral water, pour the pinot noir, serve up the avocado-bean sprout-tomato-pita wraps with curried chutney, and ensure that the strawberries are fresh for their proper place on a cushion of creme brulee.
When approached confrontationally our misguided faculty extend adjunct faculty an invitation to their next luncheon. They will be certain that you're well-attended, servilely served, and blankly listened to. Guilty tenured faculty colleagues will generally campaign for adjuncts, demanding that they have a mailbox, plenty of post-it notes, and perhaps even liberal privileges with the copy machine. The chair will happily send memos to the office staff reminding them to make adjuncts feel at home and help them with anything they need.
No, a guilty, defensive faculty is not the answer. Instead, Miss Manners would like to suggest a more subtle approach. A dear, dear friend unwittingly inspired her thoughts in this regard. He confided that, when asked by non-academic friends and family if he might teach at a local state college w here retrenchment is rampant, he told them that he "would have to wait for someone to die an untimely death in a tragic car accident before such a position would be available."
Miss Manners believes that such tactics might be put to rather fruitful ends. Relate similar conversations to your tenured faculty colleagues. Be sure to present this as a delightful little insider's joke. (wink wink) Then, later in the conversation, casually quiz them on their approach to life insurance. "I was wondering if I should sign up for the university life insurance plan? Have you? I know we don't often think about our own deaths, but..." Then, take a long dramatic glance at the family photos situated among their assorted trinkets signifying their allegiance to the third- world oppressed--an African tribal mask, Goddess figurines from the former East Bloc, and hand-woven Guatemalan rugs made for pennies by third world women. Yes, glance at those family photos and ask: "I don't mean to be impolite but you *do* have your lovely family well-insured in the event of your death?" Finally, wrap up the conversation with your latest efforts at the job search, detailing the rejections and humiliations that have led you to consider therapy, but that you ruled that out as too costly. Instead, always thinking about your next research project (you *are* are profesional you know), tell them you've found solace in your latest research project on the delights of militia membership, ideologies of gun ownership, the Phallic Symbolism of Weaponry, women at the shooting range, etc.
As for student allies, Miss Manners suggests that it will be most efficacious to attract the attention of the parents of these Tuition-Bearing Beings. Miss Manners, despite her reservations about the contemporary media, feels that it now necessary to make use of such uncivilized institutions. (Yes, I know Gentile Readers, this is a shameful but necessary turn-about for Miss Manners.) Miss Manners, therefore proposes the development of a well-oiled public relations machine which bombards the media with press releases ranking universities and departments by the percentage of adjunct labor employed at each institution. Lobby US News and World Report and the like to include a new ranking criteria. Show those good folks where their money goes. Expose, expose, expose.
We might also consider deploying the insolent model of expose undertaken
Cornell undergrads: The Star Faculty Watch or some such. It's the equivalent of Where's Waldo for the Ivy league. Those quirky Cornelians gathered not-too-systematic reports about who had actually *seen* hotshot, over-paid tenured professors on campus, let alone taken classes with them. All of this will humiliate the administration who will have to go forth, sheepishly, explaining why the budget for table linens or redecorating the Chancellor's (rent free) home is many, many times that of many, many adjuncts combined.
Also, Miss Manners finds it rather distasteful for adjuncts to obsess in mind-numbing fashion about how bad the adjunct life is--even though this is true. It simply does not play well in Peoria or even in Greenwich, Connecticut where decent European-trained 'help' is shockingly scarce. No, the folks in Greenwich will be deaf to such complaints. Their most significant worry at the moment is finding good help. Hearing about the conditions of employment will not persuade them for they will only see a pool of delightfully un- and under-employed, overly-educated, newly minted PhD's as a source of labor. They would much rather have you apply for the position of Governess or Nanny and pay for you to take voice lessons so at least you will *sound* European.
Instead, Miss Manners believes it will be useful to provide examples of how students--their very own children--suffer in various ways, always taking care to avoid portraying adjunct's teaching skills as poorer than tenured faculty's. Well-placed horror stories would be nice too. For example, profile the poor young undergrad who was denied an incomplete, even though her failure to complete her work was the result of an emotionally horrifying family tragedy (a disastrous ski trip to over Spring break left the poor girl devastated over having had to stay at an EconoLodge). Denied the incomplete, her GPA dipped far too low with a dreaded F on her record. Her professor was an adjunct who had no desire to spend his summer tutoring and grading the coed's work.
Or, dazzle them with statistics that demonstrate the social costs that must be absorbed: Surely, the average insurance- and tax payer must see how s/he pays more when confronted with statistical correlations between a rise in the number of automobile accidents occasioned by sleep-deprived, adjuncts with no healthcare benefits shuttling great commuting distances from one job to the next. To this end, Miss Manners believes it imperative to encourage dissertations on workplace alienation among adjuncts and the effect on the production of the product and the costs paid by the consumer. (This would follow that model of intra-class warfare: the attack on poorly-made Buicks. Of course, we should take care to refrain from any hint of anti-unionism.) Release the findings in strategic places as well-written essays or incisive journalistic expose`s.
Of course, we mustn't confine our efforts to upscale media outlets. This is no time for waxing elitist about trash TeeVee. Now, it may not be the case that producers at ET, Jerry or Inside Edition will immediately understand the mass, trash, yellow-journalism appeal of the ADJUNCT SCANDAL. But, this is precisely why we need a Public Relations team to pitch the stories appropriately. You will have to do much of this work, but hey you're already working for peanuts why not work for (free)? At a meeting with an ET executive come prepared with a list of celebrities whose children are heading off to college and who you've made aware of the ADJUNCT SCANDAL. Dig up stories of celebrity children who've already suffered, their psyches scarred by the experience of having taken a course with a lesser adjunct rather than a *real* faculty member. Miss Manners is certain that someone famous has been healing that wound in shame, afraid to 'come out' and admit that they didn't get the same quality educations as, say, Jodie Foster did.
Jerry Springer will be a relatively easy pitch because in his past life as a politico, Jerry was actually involved in the student movement and protested the Vietnam War. Miss Manners is certain Jerry will be enchanted by the opportunity to sermonize on the ADJUNCT SCANDAL. You will, though, have to pitch it properly for his staff. Perhaps something on the order of: "Confessions of an Alienated Adjunct: I was a sexual predator compensating for my lack of sleep, lack of a sex life at home and lack of meaningful work in the Ivory Tower." A confrontation will be needed, of course. This will be easy. Hire adjuncts to play the part; they need the work! One will pose as the confessional and weepy but occasionally unrepentant adjunct because you *do* need a fight. The other will pose as the enraged parent or current spouse of the scarred undergrad. They should hurl a few strategic chairs (no, not department chairs, silly Gentle Reader) at one another, call each other ho's, dogs, white collar trash, effete leftists, untenured radicals, elitist capitalist pigs, hypocrite and whatnot.
But, then, a moment of revelation and resolution toward the end as the scarred former student paramour (another adjunct/actor) admits that she still loves the alienated adjunct. She forgives his behavior for after all he was bereft of an understanding administration and surrounding by unsympathetic, aloof and frigid tenured faculty. "Don't you see, Daddy," she pleads, "he's not the enemy. It's the SYSTEM. I learned that in his sociology class. It's why I fell in love with him in the first place. The real enemy is the market-driven university." And Jerry is left with a perfect teaching moment, waxing philosophical in a tweedy professorial looking jacket and corduroys instead of one of his many Armani suits.