To the Editor:
After Lance Eaton quotes my words ("What Do Adjuncts Want? Respect and Support," The Chronicle, April 22), he translates them, and then attacks his translation as if I had uttered those sentiments. Uh, well, no. ...
As I wrote, the exploitation of adjuncts is a shame and undoubtedly exploitive, but it continues to be no secret. How my pointing out that adjuncts are a glut on the market translates to "It's the adjunct's own fault" is a mystery that I shall leave to Chronicle readers.
If adjuncts were to organize and demand higher pay, job security, and better benefits, who would not applaud? The failure of such movements in the past is not because tenured professors feel threatened (by what?), but because for every adjunct who wants to hold out for better conditions, there are several more ready and swift to subvert such organization by accepting substandard compensation. That's what "glut on the market" means, and it does not translate to "blame the victim."
For the record, I taught first-year composition in the fall of 2011, so I suppose Mr. Eaton's Web research was not very thorough. Still, I am at a loss to understand just what Mr. Eaton's ad hominem check of Salem State's Web site to ascertain my course load has to do with anything. Is his point that as a full professor I should teach fewer such classes to create more opportunity for adjuncts? Or is his point that I should teach more composition sections to diminish my institution's reliance on adjunct instructors?
Most of all, I write to defend my colleagues from what I hope is a rhetorical canard: If Mr. Eaton has received "disdain" from faculty members at Salem State, it cannot be from the colleagues I know. While the purse strings and work conditions for all faculty members are controlled by the legislature in Boston, at Salem State we regularly bemoan the plight of our adjuncts, have adjusted teaching schedules and course offerings to accommodate our part-time colleagues, devote department funds to adjunct receptions, support and vote in favor of any change in contractual conditions that will aid our adjunct colleagues, host collegial forums specifically for our adjunct colleagues, support grants, travel funds, and conference attendance for adjuncts, and—as are all colleges and universities in Massachusetts—we are a union shop. Academic departments have very little leeway in the treatment of personnel. Senior professors have no say in assessing junior professors for tenure, much less passing judgment on the incidental performance of adjuncts. If Mr. Eaton feels disdain from colleagues, it is hard to imagine when and how it was manifested.
Professor of English
Salem State University