The Tenured Radical Deradicalised

January 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

This blogpost is regarding Rebecca Schuman vs. the Tenured Radical (2013), a Christmas-period exchange of blogposts and articles on the adjunctification of the US academy.

The following quote from this blogpost is really on-point:

What the tenured must do with their privilege is rally to the cause of the disenfranchised. As PAINYC says, “Speaking up in solidarity with the growing numbers of qualified, talented, passionate people who are being flushed out as a waste product of the academic labor system is what is important.”

Instead, what I see the tenured doing– not just Tenured Radical but most of the ones I know personally, hear of, or read about—is ruefully shake their heads about adjuncts (“I know, isn’t it just awful?”) while they run off to the graduate admissions meetings where they continue to admit the same number of students, with the same crappy funding, into the same dissertation-obsessed programs of study, based on the same outdated, indefensible job market premises, delivering the same vague, non-committal job market assurances (“the good people always get jobs”), as in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. All. Completely. Unchanged.

Privilege has insulated the tenured for a very long time. But the walls are crumbling. The disenfranchised just won’t be quiet any more. They won’t slink away in shame when they do not get the tenure track job and enter the hallowed gates. They turn back and cast stones at the crumbling walls of the academy, the walls behind which the tenured lead their secure and comfortable lives. While the tenued still enjoy their privilege, they are less and less protected by their ignorance.

Schuman refers to the tenured tendency to circle the wagons and shut out the critiques of the non-academically-employed “lifeboating.” It’s a good image. When the tenured truly get that they are on tiny, tiny departmental boats in a giant roiling sea of economic chaos that is engulfing our universities, they will, I hope, spend less time cultivating outrage at the audacity of the unemployed critics, and instead make real changes in their own practices. Some that I’d like to see:

Slash or halt graduate admissions

Make job market training (both academic and non-academic) central to the curriculum

Reduce time-to-degree of graduate programs

See and include adjuncts in the running of the department-both formally and informally

Tell the truth about the corporatized funding models in their universities that sustain their salaries and research funds by cutting other labor costs through the exploitation of adjuncts.

…when veteran faculty continue business-as-usual graduate admissions and training, blithely reassure panicked graduate students about a rosy job market, or write words as tone deaf, condescending, elitist, self-protective, and out of touch as these recent examples by the Tenured Radical, they cannot be surprised when they are counted among the enemies. Their politics are exposed as utterly reactionary, couched in defense of an arbitrary privilege. Far from the self-proclaimed “radicals” of the academy, they are the most determined defenders of its outdated and destructive status quo.

See also this addendum:

*[1/2/13] Please see my follow-up to this post acknowledging the inappropriateness of a racism analogy to articulate my point about tenured privilege, The Problem With My Analogy. This follow-up was written after I read and thought deeply on many critiques of this piece that arose on Twitter and other places from scholars such as TressieMC, Jonathan W. Gray, Roopika Rikam, etc.

This addendum is relevant to the rest of the blogpost and to its title (How the Tenured are to the Job Market as White People are to Racism), not the bit I’ve quoted above.

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