Adjunct profs complain of ‘tenuresplaining’ from full-timers

The adjuncts complain that they not only receive lower pay than their tenured colleagues, but also must endure "tenuresplaining" based on their presumed inferiority.

Professors at Cerritos College kicked off national “Campus Equity Week” Tuesday by dressing in all black and hosting teach-ins on the poor working conditions of adjunct faculty.

Professors at Cerritos College kicked off national “Campus Equity Week” Tuesday by dressing in all black and hosting teach-ins on the poor working conditions of adjunct faculty.

Campus Equity Week is an annual campaign that seeks to “promote awareness of the harmful consequences of the precarious situation of faculty in higher education, to organize for action, and to build solidarity among stakeholders.”

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At Cerritos, organizers urged their colleagues to host teach-ins during class to “spread awareness about the unfair working conditions” of adjunct faculty, according to an email obtained by Campus Reform.

Along with the teach-ins, the protesting adjuncts wore all-black outfits along with name tags that read “Professor Staff,” a reference to the label “staff” being used in place of their names on class schedules.

The campus-wide email obtained by Campus Reform contained various promotional materials for the campaign, encouraging both students and tenure-track professors to get involved, and clarifying their use of the word “equity” instead of “equality.”

“Equality is about sameness; it focuses on making sure everyone gets the same thing. Equity is about fairness; it ensures that each person gets what he or she needs,” a flyer attached to the email explains, noting that adjuncts make $58.96-79.31 per hour and claiming that this amounts to only $12,000 a year, thus requiring them to pick up jobs at other universities.

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During the teach-ins, participating professors were encouraged to hand out an “issues paper” to their students, which details the current “crisis in higher education,” namely the “overuse and exploitation of contingent labor.”

“This trend is dramatically evident in higher education, where the proportion of full-time tenured faculty in our colleges and universities has declined significantly, replaced by steadily increasing numbers of part-time (adjunct) and non-tenure track faculty over the past 30 years,” the flyer explains, demanding the opening of more full-time jobs, medical benefits, and “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”

Additionally, organizers also included a “How to be an Ally” document published by the National Education Association that calls on students and full-time faculty to assist their adjunct professors.

Students, it says, should “ask [their] campus administration questions about faculty working conditions” such as “how much are they paid?” and “what kind of job security do they have?”

It also provides the students an excuse for asking these questions, advising them to tell administrators that they “want that favorite professor to be around later when [they] need a letter of recommendation.”

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The document also provides ally tips for “tenure-line faculty,” specifically asking them to avoid “tenuresplaining,” which the paper defines as the practice of tenured professors “attempting to ‘teach’ contingent faculty.”

Such a practice, organizers note, “usually comes across as condescending rather than helpful.”

“Don’t assume you know more about any subject. Ask us about our work, about what we think, without automatically assuming a position of authority in the conversation,” the flyer adds. “Don’t just give advice; ask for it, too.”

While Campus Equity Week launched Tuesday, professors at Cerritos are encouraged to continue to discuss the issue with their students throughout the fall semester.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @KylePerisic