Eventos Académicos, 39 ISCHE. Educación y emancipación

Tamaño de fuente: 
Contingent Faculty: A History of Academic Labor Since the Mid-Twentieth Century
A. J. Angulo

Última modificación: 2017-07-16


In keeping with the 2017 ISCHE conference theme of Education and Emancipation, with special reference to the subtheme focused on "knowledge institutions" and "colonization," this paper identifies tensions involving part-time labor in higher education as part of a larger emancipatory struggle. The presentation will offer a historical analysis of the expanding use of adjuncts within the US system with implications for neoliberal developments around the world. Through an exploration of popular and scholarly literature about the changing shape of the US academic labor market, this paper will construct an interpretive framework for understanding what "part-time" and "adjunct" have meant for knowledge institutions since the mid-twentieth century.

Among political scientists, economists, and sociologists, the topic is not new (Breneman & Youn, 1988; Rhoades, 1998; Hoeller, 2014). For decades, scholars have examined the increasing use of contingent faculty in US colleges and universities. It is a well-worn area of study particularly for researchers in the field of higher education (Leslie, 1978; Guppa, 1984; Guppa & Leslie, 1997; Herman & Schmid, 2003;  Kezar, 2012). Missing from these discourses, however, is a historical lens for studying the emancipatory and colonial elements of this process.

Based on a combination of perspectives (academic and popular) and sources (primary, secondary, tertiary, fiction, and video-based), this study offers two substantive conclusions. Both intersect with the 2017 ISCHE theme of "Education and Emancipation." First, this history establishes the basic contours of how discourses about the exploitation of academic labor have appeared in scholarly and popular literature. It begins with the research-based backdrop of contingent faculty published from the 1970s to the early 2000s. This study traces how the scholars have described and researched the phenomenon. Second, the paper follows with an analysis of why the topic gained popular audiences since the early 2000s, particularly in light of the repeated medicalization (i.e., adjunctivitis) of the problem (Dattaro, 2014; Miller, 2014). It establishes a historically-grounded heuristic for explaining why the topic of academic labor has generated mass interest. With the political disenfranchisement of manufacturing labor in the US through NAFTA, GATT, and CAFTA during the 1990s and early 2000s, the American public became much more sensitive to the outsourcing of jobs and downsizing of corporations. This greater sensitivity translated into interest in what was once considered a stable, lucrative profession: the professoriate.

The paper's conclusions lay the ground work for (a) exploring a broader history of adjunct faculty in higher education around the world, (b) establishing a framework for understanding how this topic about academic labor has received attention from a broad audience, (c) contextualizing the academic labor market in relation to broader historical patterns in the corporatization of higher education, and (d) identifying the academic labor struggle as a catalyst in the overall process of popularizing the plight of the professoriate.