From “The Professor is In” and “Blogora,” the ongoing conversation over the responsibility of tenure-track faculty for the adjunct situation and the job market. The former makes an argument for the privileged position of tenure-track faculty, comparing tenure-track privilege to white privilege. I don’t really care to make an assessment of that argument here. I will note, as I am sure others have, that the end game desired for the former is more tenure-track positions and fewer adjuncts. I’m fairly sure the analogous argument (which would be what–more white people?–) isn’t made. The argument for more tenure lines is basically an argument for more money. No one is arguing that we cut tenure line pay, increase teaching loads, and put everyone on the tenure-track (or eliminate tenure and give everyone multi-year contracts). Hell no. After all, what is tenure without the much disparaged “privilege” that accrues to it? Still, that’s fine. It’s an argument for more investment in the humanities. OK, what do we get in return for the investment?
Maybe the answer is more single author monographs that sell a couple hundred copies. Maybe but that assumes that there will also be investment to keep those publishers afloat. More realistically the answer is that humanities faculty hires are tied to a student demand for the curriculum they offer. My sense in English is that adjunct faculty are very heavily tied to the teaching of FYC. That is, there aren’t a lot of adjuncts teaching upper division literature courses or even introductory literature courses. In some places, tenure line faculty teach FYC; in others they don’t. Regardless, I think it is fair to say that in English the process of adjunctification has been linked in no small way to the curricular separation of FYC from the rest of the department.
My point is that if one wanted to reduce adjuncts in English, the only way to do it would be to have tenure track faculty teach more composition. That is unless, of course, they managed to offer other courses that students wanted to take. But these are two sides of the same problematic coin. In my 20 years or so experience in English departments, literature faculty generally don’t view teaching composition as part of their profession. (That’s fine; it probably isn’t.) Instead, they view their teaching responsibility as tied to their field experience (who wouldn’t?), which means teaching in a particular literary period. They already do that, and the student demand for such courses is what it is. More of the same won’t increase demand. So whether one is teaching composition or some other course beyond what is currently being offered, one is asking faculty to teach courses outside their field. Now one could hire new faculty in a very different field that might attract new students (that would be a risk one could attempt), but that would still mean changing a department’s culture. Even if a given professor isn’t teaching a foreign course, the rise of a foreign curriculum is just as disturbing, maybe more so. I’ve seen that first hand as well.
Besides that doesn’t do much to help the grad students being trained in the original field.
So there’s the vicious circle in a nut shell. “Privileged” tenure-line faculty are trained in a specialized disciplinary field to teach courses in that field and train grad students in that field. In my experience, the majority of such faculty would rather go down with the ship than change this arrangement. I’m not saying those are the only options, but given the choice, I’d say I hope you have a life vest (or better yet that you not get on the ship). Changing would certainly take some of the shine off of that “privilege.” But, in general terms, the answer to our problems is deceptively simple.
If you want more money, start doing something someone will pay more money for.
Of course it’s not so easy to figure out what that thing is that we should be doing. We always want to say that the humanities shouldn’t be tainted by such market-driven concerns, that it shouldn’t strive to be useful. That’s fine, until the humanities also starts clamoring for more money for more faculty. Then the humanities has to make some argument to someone about its worth, and ultimately that’s going to come down to students taking classes. Create a demand for curriculum and create a demand for faculty.