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Adjunct vs. Tenure-Track

I struggle with staff meetings where the tenured and tenure-track faculty in my department pay lip service to the hard-working, much-maligned, and unappreciated adjuncts who fill out the department. Nice words, twice a year, don’t do much to counteract the pervasive attitude of disrespect.

To be fair, tenured and tenure-track faculty members have to do much more than teach classes. They are responsible for the committees and decisions that make the college run. All of those adjuncts, who saunter in, teach, and leave, but who then have opinions about things, must be annoying. It must also be frustrating to deal with part- and full-time adjuncts with whom you don’t have relationships—a changing ocean of faces, where you don’t really get a chance to get to know them.

The whole system of reliance on contingent workers is bad for those with stable jobs and those without. It is unfortunate that those two groups can’t or won’t be allies. (It happens sometimes, of course.) Over all I don’t know if it is a feeling of superiority—those who have gotten on the coveted tenure track or won tenure feeling as if they are simply better than the minions toiling away as adjuncts. Or is it self-preservation, simply focusing single-mindedly on the job, or not having time or energy to expend on thinking about other people?

I don’t know the source of the low-grade tension (and sometimes more), but I’d love to hear from readers on both sides of the tenure divide. If you are tenured or tenure-track professor, how do you feel about the adjuncts on your campus or the growing voices of complaint from adjuncts in general? For you contingent faculty members, how do you think you are viewed by the tenured and tenure-trackers around you?

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