- LAWCHA’s Contingent Faculty Committee
Labor historians’ concern about precarious and contingent labor has deepened in recent years. Marcel van der Linden’s provocative “San Precario” essay in Labor and a special issue of International Labor and Working-Class History titled “Precarious Labor in Global Perspectives” illustrate this scholarly interest.1 At the same time, the upsurge of contingent labor in higher education—now numbering approximately 70 percent of the faculty at two- and four-year institutions—elicits increasing attention from labor scholars, campus activists, labor organizers, and professional academic organizations.
In the fall of 2015, LAWCHA president Nancy MacLean and I sent out a request for adjuncts and contingent faculty to serve on an ad hoc committee.2 As the call stated, “All of us would agree that LAWCHA needs to continue making itself into an organization that fosters full participation by adjuncts and contingent faculty. Moving along these lines will make LAWCHA a stronger organization. And as an organization attentive to work and working conditions, LAWCHA has an opportunity to become a model for other professional organizations, all of which are confronting this new landscape of colleges and universities being staffed by more and more contingent faculty.” Volunteers who stepped up to the call discussed proposals to foster the full participation of adjuncts and contingent faculty in the organization, while also weighing the role that LAWCHA could play in responding to the rapidly changing academic workplace. Members of this group include Steve Beda, Eric Fure-Slocum (convener), Claire Goldstene, Trevor Griffey, Joseph Hower, Ruth Needle-man, Linda Upham-Bornstein, Naomi Williams, James Young, and Jennie Woodard.
The ad hoc committee’s recommendations were reviewed by the LAWCHA executive committee, the board, and finally the membership during the spring 2016 [End Page 9] meeting. Some of the recommendations reaffirm practices already underway in the organization. LAWCHA leaders have long sought not only to involve tenured faculty in the organization’s work but to engage faculty of all ranks, graduate students, labor activists, and others with an interest in labor history. Other committee recommendations encourage LAWCHA to reckon with the implications that this “new normal” of instability poses for many of its existing and potential members. And yet other measures urge LAWCHA both to contest arguments that precarity is inevitable and to join the fight to make a more just academic workplace.
The approved recommendations fall into four categories: LAWCHA policies, conference practices, organizational culture, and broader action. These include:
• Develop a tiered membership dues structure that recognizes the barriers of low pay and uncertain employment that some members face.
• Encourage conference program committees to value a diversity of rank and employment status when judging proposals, while continuing to uphold other initiatives for inclusivity.
• Increase attention to teaching and pedagogy at LAWCHA conferences, allowing contingent faculty with fewer research resources the opportunity to participate professionally.
• Provide conference travel grants for adjuncts and contingent faculty, building on the initiatives to fund and encourage graduate student participation.
• Turn the ad hoc group into a standing committee on contingent faculty, led by a contingent faculty majority and represented on the board.
• Endorse union organizing and collective bargaining for contingent faculty and others. The committee has drafted a statement and will advise LAWCHA in its work of supporting organizing campaigns.
The standing committee on contingent faculty looks forward to following up on these recommendations, helping LAWCHA to understand and meet adjuncts’ needs. We also recognize that this work requires outreach to labor unions and other professional groups that empower contingent faculty, address specific workplace injustices, oppose the growth of precarious labor in higher education, and challenge the disparities and the very premise of the neoliberal university.
As another step to foster these conversations, the committee invites adjuncts and other LAWCHA members to visit and contribute to the recently launched contingent faculty committee blog (lawcha.org/wordpress/committee-portal/contingent-faculty/). We hope to feature contributions that examine changing labor conditions in higher education, explore histories of precarious academic work, relay stories about organizing campaigns, provide notices about meetings or conferences, and offer links to relevant news about adjuncts. We also welcome suggestions about how the committee and LAWCHA might tackle...