On “Our Colleagues”
To the Editor:
Mary Lindemann’s October column captured the conflicted reality of working as an adjunct in the academy. Yes, what she wrote is true: “There is no doubt that adjuncts are often treated abysmally.” Yes, we all have our horror stories; it doesn’t matter whether we have published in journals or written books, an academic caste system reminds us of our marginality. Fortunately, I have seen much good, along with the bad and the ugly. And, thanks to President Lindemann’s column, we have an opportunity to think more about the state of adjuncts in our field.
There comes with the non-tenure-track (NTT) and adjunct status a perceived inferiority, invisibility, and segregation; we aren’t always invited to full-time faculty meetings and are sometimes emailed separately. Separate is never equal in this world. This past spring, before we went remote, I often saw a tenured faculty member in the office. He asked me who I was after I said “hello.” I always have to say, “hello” first. Mind you, I have seen him for years. The next week, I said “hello,” and there was no response. “May I introduce myself?” I asked, followed by my name, and this male colleague said, “I know who you are.” Even with publications, a designation as a Public Scholar, and being one of two adjuncts to pilot for the history department a new student success program, I remain invisible. Invisibility is not welcoming, nor is the denying of eligibility for institutional research grants and travel funds when adjuncts are publishing.
I wonder if ignorant behavior like this is based on a spirit of elitism or insecurity. Or is it a reflection of how history departments operate? Either way, this behavior must change. Fortunately, in the same department, our wonderful chairwoman was supportive of adjuncts, advocating on our behalf and encouraging collaboration between NTT and tenure-track faculty. Should our fate depend upon the kindness and collegiality of one colleague or on the disrespect from another?
My love of teaching and sharing research kept me in the classroom, and my desire to help first-gen students, like myself, succeed, kept me anchored. In this binary world, where tenure-track faculty are “better” and NTT are contingent, many institutions have adjuncts teaching their survey classes. If we aren’t good enough, why have us teach the introductory classes that expose students, often for the first time, to historical thinking and constructs?
It is my hope that the AHA will accept President Lindemann’s challenge and dedicate space in all its venues to showcasing the work of its invisible and yet necessary adjunct faculty members. While I support the AHA’s January 2020 statement on Improving the Status of Non-Tenure-Track Faculty, I do not think it is realistic to direct primarily one person, the chairperson, to fix this stigmatizing and mistreatment of adjuncts. The institutional culture and the attitudes of department members are equally important in the quest to be more welcoming to adjuncts.
Retired Adjunct Professor of History
Cream Ridge, NJ
Tags: Letters to the Editor
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