Celebrate Higher Education - Palgrave Macmillan Authors
In Their Own Voices - Lynèe Lewis Gaillet and Letizia Guglielmo
Lynèe Lewis Gaillet and Letizia Guglielmo are the co-authors of two Palgrave Pivots: Scholarly Publication in a Changing Academic Landscape and Contingent Faculty Publishing in Community. In their own words, they speak about the importance of adjunct faculty at institutions of higher learning.
Consciousness Raising: Listening to the Voices of Contingent Faculty Teachers
Lynèe Lewis Gaillet and Letizia Guglielmo
Scholarship tells us that the best teachers engage in professional development, reflect upon and share best teaching practices, and participate in current conversations within their fields, yet we realize that a significant number of teacher-scholars are often left out of these exchanges. Increasingly, contingent faculty members working off the tenure-track in higher education are neither encouraged nor supported in sharing their work in public venues. We think the exclusion of their voices and experiences leaves a gap in the scholarship of teaching and in larger public discussions on a variety of issues related to instruction and learning. Across institutions of higher education, less than 30% of faculty are employed under working conditions that are sustainable or ethical. Particularly in our field of Rhetoric and Composition studies, the reliance on contingent faculty to teach first year composition courses (FYC) is pervasive. In Con Job: Stories of Adjunct and Contingent Labor, film makers and Rhetoric and Composition scholars Megan Fulwiler and Jennifer Marlow explore contingent faculty employment issues within the context of FYC, noting that nearly 84% of FYC instructors are contingent, a figure that exceeds the roughly 75% of faculty who are working in contingent positions across disciplines.
The February 25th National Adjunct Walkout Day—a day designated for adjuncts across the country to unite with allies in order to call attention to unfair wages and employment practices—along with growing coverage from news media outlets about dire working conditions within higher education have brought public attention to the realities of contingent faculty lives. Many participants viewed the National Walkout Day as an opportunity to discuss issues of rapidly rising tuition costs, the increase in administrative positions, and the decrease in tenure-track positions with their students at a variety of events including teach-ins and rallies, working to increase public awareness of these realities. According to Eileen Schell in “The New Faculty Majority: Changing Conditions and a Changing Scholarly Publication Environment,”:
"At the same time we have a growing administrative class, a growing contingent class, and students being squeezed financially, there is an increasing erosion of faculty governance and academic freedom with administrations making more top-down decisions, [including] cost-reducing measures that involve major impact on students’ learning conditions, teaching conditions, and the quality in general of American higher education."
The truth is contingent faculty do much of the teaching and mentoring of lower division undergraduate students, students whose learning conditions certainly become the product of faculty working conditions. Working on semester-to-semester contracts often without office space to meet with students, contingent faculty miss out on opportunities to create long-term mentoring relationships that become essential for student success. Furthermore, many do this work without fair representation either within department/college governing bodies or on the pages of their disciplines’ scholarship. According to Sarah Kendzior in “The Adjunct Crisis Is Everyone’s Problem,” this absence within the scholarship means more than a narrowing of voices and perspectives but a reduction in ingenuity and knowledge-production:
"In the current market, only 15 percent of American scientists are expected to find tenure-track jobs. As a result, many Ph.D.’s leave academia and abandon their research in the process. The lack of a career track means that discoveries are derailed. When the ability to continue research becomes based on independent wealth, the quality of research and diversity of topic declines as more researchers are forced to leave the field."
For the two of us, research and publication has been at the heart of our nearly decade-long collaboration. We have researched and written about a multitude of faculty issues over the years, but most recently we have focused our attention on contingent faculty hiring practices and the need for this group of underrepresented professors to be included in scholarly conversations. In two recent Palgrave volumes, Publishing in Community: Case Studies for Contingent Faculty Collaborations (2015) and Scholarly Publication in a Changing Academic Landscape: Models for Success (2014), we explore the inherent possibilities and practical advantages for all faculty members to engage in professional development activities. Realizing that this work is often neither supported nor easy to initiate given heavy teaching loads and service responsibilities, we suggest realistic ways for faculty members to capture and document work that they are already doing in many cases and also to engage in collaborative projects that lead to new research and publishing opportunities.
As many of the voices represented within our work attest, these projects also create opportunities for working within local communities, making community connections, and shaping public discourse. By providing discipline-specific services to local citizens, creating community partnerships, or producing deliverables such as newsletters, pamphlets, or websites for non-profits organizations, for example, faculty may be able to forge town-and-gown relationships that are individually sustaining and that overlap with personal interests and experience. This disciplinary expertise also creates opportunities to participate in ongoing public discussions that, whether intentionally or unintentionally, often exclude the experienced voices of educators, as in the case of state and national legislation affecting educational practices. For example, Michelle Evory points out in “Confessions of an Angry Adjunct,” that given the current number of contingent faculty working below the poverty line and “President Obama’s new community college initiative, which foresees the potential to offer nine million students free tuition for two years, it surprises me that no one is talking about who is going to teach students and how they are going to be paid.” As the National Adjunct Walkout Day demonstrates, it is increasingly important for academics to move outside of the walls of their classrooms and into public arenas to make an impact on the community—especially when it concerns the lives of students and their teachers.
Lynée Lewis Gaillet is Professor of English and Director of the Writing Studio at Georgia State University, USA.
Letizia Guglielmo is Associate Professor of English at Kennesaw State University, USA.
- Evory, Michelle Boncek. “Confessions of an Angry Adjunct.” Common Dreams. 6 March 2015. Web. 7 March 2015.
- Fulwiler, Megan, and Jennifer Marlow, Directors. Con Job: Stories of Adjunct and Contingent Labor. Utah State University Press/Computers and Composition Digital Press, 2014. Web.
- Kendzior, Sarah. “The Adjunct Crisis is Everyone’s Problem.” Vitae. 17 October 2014. Web. 26 October 2014.
- Schell, Eileen. “The New Faculty Majority: Changing Conditions and a Changing Scholarly Publication Environment.” Publishing in Community: Case Studies for Contingent Faculty Collaborations. Eds. Letizia Guglielmo and Lynèe Lewis Gaillet. Palgrave Pivot, 2015