What's new in this piece is that the author is a conservative, and yet the point-of-view she expresses is that ending the plight of adjuncts and thereby improving the quality of education should be a bipartisan issue. She doesn't get into specific strategies for reform and the divisive and ideological rancor they raise -- e.g. Where would the money for better adjunct salaries come from if not from higher taxes? Or, how do you fix the adjunct problem without destroying the tenure system? (My take on where the tenure system fits in is here.) But she lays a foundation for consensus, and I think that's an important first step.
The author's experience attending the New Faculty Majority "summit" recently also illustrates how rhetoric can inhibit reform. She was initially skeptical and put off by the "Neo-Marxist phrases [that] filled the air: "wage theft," "neoliberal agenda," "corporate America," "under assault from the right," "privatization of the production of knowledge," and "marketization of the university." But "NFM's sole Republican board member, Matthew Williams, was able to advocate for the non-tenured without invoking Karl Marx, the Occupy movement, or anti-globalization guru Naomi Klein."
Let's be clear: I personally don't think NFM is wrong for invoking Karl Marx, the Occupy movement, or Naomi Klein. However, the mainstream audiences who need to understand what's up -- because, fundamentally, it affects them, their kids, their pocketbooks, and the future of education in this country (and, hence, this country's standing in the world) -- are more apt to respond to centrist arguments tying the plight of adjuncts to the quality of education rather than "radical" abstractions or down-and-dirty demonstrations (which, these days, are getting more attention for rodent infestations than clear politics, anyway). Again, not that I think NFM is wrong at all for making these arguments, but the theory you use to analyze something and the rhetoric you use to present it to an "outside" audience need not exactly match.
And the author does a good job of tying the plight of adjuncts to the quality of education without blaming adjuncts for being bad teachers, as often happens. It goes without saying (since you all know it and I've said it many times before and many of the blogs I link to regularly discuss it) that many adjuncts are very talented teachers. If you doubt or have forgotten, just go read what Anastasia currently has up to refresh yourself. Yet, I don't care how talented you are. Living on a salary under $20K, having no job security, no benefits, and no career future after you've spent a decade earning an advanced degree -- not to mention having no decent office space, no resources for research, no departmental support, and having to commute to multiple campuses -- will cause your teaching to suffer, no matter how talented you are. It's only a matter of time. So, it's a fine line to talk about the plight of adjuncts and how this impacts quality of education, but we have to do it. It's the only way we're going to get the attention of people outside acadene.
I tried to leave a comment over there, but I kept getting error messages. Here's what I wanted to say:
*Department secretaries at Grad U earned between $40K and $70K when I was there, depending on how long they'd been there and what their responsibilities were.Absolutely right on with this: "By systematically underpaying and mistreating the non-tenured faculty who bear the burden of basic education, colleges are systematically cheating their own students."
I walked away a semester after finishing my Ph.D., but academic culture perpetuates the myth that if you hang on for a while and keep trying and keep up with your research and publication while you're adjuncting, you'll eventually get onto the tenure track. This has a powerful resonance for a lot of people, and it's not that easy just to "walk away," as many, including myself, often tell others. But I looked around and saw adjuncts who were great teachers AND had strong publication records, even books, and yet had been trying unsuccessfully year after year -- 6-10 years in a few cases. I didn't want to be them years down the line and so I left, but it wasn't without anger, frustration, and bitterness at giving up doing what I loved, what I was good at, a career I'd spent a decade of my life working towards, and a job that arguably was making a more valuable contribution to society than the general admin work I now do for a nonprofit (by which I simply mean you don’t need an advanced degree to do it well). Shouldn't university faculty, especially those with Ph.D.s, earn at least as much as their department secretaries?*
And I'm so glad you find common ground here between Right and Left. It's something we should all care about and work together to reform.