From the Letters to the Editor column in the March 2000 Perspectives

Broaden the Profession

Name withheld on request, March 2000

To the Editor:

For at least two years I (a part-time instructor, history PhD, and AHA member since 1995) have read with interest as writers in Perspectives have discussed the plight of part-time and adjunct faculty. "What can the AHA do about this?" Robert Darnton asked in the January 2000 issue, and concluded, "Little, I'm afraid." Little is in fact exactly what the AHA has done.

No one dares speak the ugly truth—not I, certainly, since I am asking that my name not be printed. There are two reasons for the increasing numbers and ever worsening situation of part-time and adjunct faculty. The first is the management of colleges and universities as businesses, with an eye toward the immediate financial bottom line, rather than toward academic goals. And the second reason is tenure.

The tenure system protects the jobs of a privileged few and shuts out the majority of (mostly young) aspirants. Because the tenured faculty are insulated from the ravages of the cost-cutting administration, the bureaucrats must look elsewhere to trim the budget. As a result, our profession is radically divided between Haves and Have-Nots. In small colleges especially, this problem is acute.

Academic freedom can be protected in any number of ways; tenure is not the only path to that goal. But I have serious doubts about the AHA's willingness to explore any modifications to that sacred cow any time soon, given that the organization is run almost entirely by the Haves—tenured professors.

The AHA talks a good talk. It is a fine thing to call for "dignified conditions" and the treatment of part-time and adjunct faculty as academic equals, as Eric Foner did in your last issue. I'll take those words seriously when tenured professors are willing to show meaningful solidarity with the ever-growing numbers of Have-Nots by exploring ways to broaden the profession's very limited franchise.

—Name withheld on request