I pointed out the other day (here) that someone had published an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education complaining about the plight of adjuncts. I suggested that nothing would change, and sure enough, they published another essay from a tenured leftist, who complained that tenured leftists were not to blame and that it was America, and Republicans in particular, that was to blame. The professor in question whined about the decline of unions, etc. (See here for a summary of this argument and here for the actual essay from the Chronicle.) The number of misconceptions that this professor has about what he calls the “levers of power” is large, and time is limited, so I’m not going to bother trying to correct all of them. But here is my basic point. No matter what is going on in society at large, I say colleges and universities are basically run by liberals and leftists, so if adjuncts are exploited, those liberals and leftists are the ones who are primarily responsible. (Saying that people further away from the situation are really responsible is like blaming the exploitation of the workers that Marx complained about on, say, the King of Siam.) No one in Congress or anywhere else is dictating to these institutions regarding how to pay adjuncts (and if I’m wrong about that, then there was plenty of time back in 2008 to 2010 for that to be changed by Democrats), so the blame cannot be shifted to anyone outside of academia. No, institutions of higher learning have made up their own rules about these things, and liberals and leftists have never complained about them or tried to change them.
Furthermore, there is a lot of money in academia (as a glance at Harvard’s endowment should prove), but the problem is that it’s maldistributed (or rather, it’s maldistributed if you are an egalitarian, which many tenured professors claim to be but which few actually are). Once again, there is no reason to blame anyone outside of academia for the plight of the adjuncts.
The professor’s response is that individual professors could not have done much to change anything. This is true, but irrelevant, since professors acting together could have changed things. They could have changed the rules for pay for professors, which after all aren’t written in stone. But they didn’t. Either those rules are just, which doesn’t seem a bit likely, or they are unjust, in which case these professors (who are far more activist than professors from the 1950s) should have agitated for change. But they did nothing.
Mostly, what they didn’t do was to talk about the situation. Even if they couldn’t, either individually or collectively, change anything, it would have been nice to have heard them talking about the situation. But I heard nothing. When it first became clear in the early 1990s that no, there was not going to be the predicted professor shortage that we had been hearing about back in the 1980s and that instead, because of an increase in grad students as a result of those predictions, academia was faced with a massive oversupply of potential professors, I expected a lot of talk about how to deal with the situation. I expected this to be a topic of papers in conferences, of articles in journals, of entire sessions in conferences, and entire issues of journals. Instead, crickets. There was silence. Everyone just went on with their usual academic work, or if they talked about anything else, it was the usual leftist politics with complaints about the plight of women and blacks and the despicable character of America’s foreign policy. (Today, of course, we now have complaints from them about the Islamophobia of the average American.) So, yes, we can blame tenured leftists for not talking about the situation and not concocting solutions (other than telling their undergrads not to go to grad school).
Blaming America or the Republicans or corporation or the military (as one adjunct was foolish enough to do a few years back) is not going to work. That’s because the obvious source of the problem is within academia, and the obvious solution is a redistribution of wealth within academia, but that would be unpalatable for the tenured radical. As I said in my previous post, these are people who are not used to blaming themselves or the left for anything, so even when it stares them in the face, they just can’t manage to do it. Expect, then, that this professor’s answer will be sufficient for all the other tenured leftists.