PZ’s Pull Quote Leaves Me Cold: Racism, Sexism, & the Adjunct Crisis

PZ, as is his wont, has a post up about higher ed jobs and the outsourcing to adjuncts and guest lecturers of work that used to be done by the professoriate. It’s a good problem to highlight, but the article he quotes leaves me cold:

In 1969, almost 80 percent of college faculty members were tenure or tenure track. Today, the numbers have essentially flipped, with two-thirds of faculty now non-tenure and half of those working only part-time, often with several different teaching jobs.

Why this should be so is not immediately obvious. Unlike the legal and the traditional news industries, higher education has been booming in recent years. Nor does higher ed seem to follow the pattern of other industries being transformed by contingent employment.


Let’s see. The CRA is passed in 1964, including a notable bit called “Title 9” which mandates that educational institutions engage in gender- and race-neutral practices for program acceptance and hiring.

Things hum along fine for a few years since those people being hired to professorships were accepted to Ph.D. before the CRA existed. Then in 1969 – the length of one Ph.D. program later – we see the beginning of one long decline in pay and status for the professoriate that coincides exactly with the first period in US history where women and people of color have a relatively equal chance of actually joining the professoriate.

Of course, why hiring, status & pay should be so fucked up over that time is not immediately obvious. If only there were research showing that as women join a profession the pay and working conditions deteriorate that might give us a useful working hypothesis with which to start. But alas, we’re at sea here. Without any obvious reference points. Totally lost.

No matter. We’ll simply blame it all on men’s football & basketball coaches sucking up all the money, or on declining state support for education without thinking for a moment about how coaching men’s football & basketball is a profession dominated by men or about how state governments might want to support their higher education institutions and infrastructure less if all that education is simply going to the queers and the coloreds and the women.

For FSM’s sake, people, we know from decades of study that we value certain human beings less than others. We also know from research that when we value certain humans less, we value their work less. We don’t have to begin writing on this topic tabula rasa. It’s the racist patriarchy. It’s always the racist patriarchy, at least in significant part.

Instead of studying declining pay, declining employment conditions, and declining state support entirely separately from increases in racial and gender diversity in higher education, perhaps we might have better understandings of the causation of increasing the use of adjuncts and guest lecturers if study those phenomena (declining pay, conditions & support and increasing diversity) in concert. For instance, what has happened to teaching jobs at gender-segregated private colleges & universities over those same decades? If there’s a decline in pay and working conditions, is it of the same magnitude as declines in state schools? Garnetstar raises the issue of declining unionization, but the success of unions in fighting the adjunct trend doesn’t tell us anything about what causes the adjunct trend.

We can figure this shit out, but not if we don’t bother to ask the right questions.

Ironically, on the Bicycle Face? thread, DavidC1 makes the connection accidentally by embedding this clip of BBC humor. Pay attention to the women who attended university:


  1. Raucous Indignation says

    You are wonderful. Of course that’s what happened. It happened in medicine too. Especially to primary care and the specialties that women are commonly drawn to (pushed to). Doctor’s pay has been declining for more than two decades. And now doctor’s are squeezed so tight, they are forced into being employees of large medical corporations. Which is a wonderful situation for the patients because, as you well know, large corporations never put profit above all else. Like a patient’s health, safety and well being. Nope. Never happens.

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