how to fight the power (and fix the system from within)

Yesterday I was angry. And it would appear a few others were as well. But out of Schuman’s post (linked again for posterity and clarity) came some interesting comments. More than one tenured (not necessarily lifeboater) claimed to understand the frustration felt by those of us on the “outside” but did not have (nor did they claim to) a solution.

One in particular (theelderj) stuck out as a particularly good potential ally when he said this:

Look, I’m tenured, I know I am privileged and I also know that the whole damn system is doomed. But I wonder (and this is not ad hominem, I am really just trying to figure out what happens next and what I can do) whether the revolutionary language is rhetorically overblown (I am a bit of a defeatist) or whether I’m blind to ways to alter a system that is irreversibly corporatist and historically elitist…

(cited from the previous linked pankisseskafka post)

OK. He gets it. At least in theory. But he doesn’t know what to do. This seems to be a common theme amongst the responses to these sorts of posts. Sure, things are broken, we can all see it, but how do we change it? No one is posting about how to change it, so we’ll all just sit on our hands and hope that it will magically fix itself, right?

Here’s my response to him (originally posted as a comment, also on Schuman’s post):

On the small scale, what can you do? Well, for one, you can encourage your dept/division/school not to hire multiple adjuncts/lecturers to teach the equivalent of full-time positions, but rather hire one or two to teach full-time with benefits (crazy concept, right?).

On the larger scale: accept non-tenured/tt (who have decent proposals, of course) to speak at your school/conference/MLA panel. Sure you’ll probably get a 35.6 (or whatever it is that just barely excludes your panel) and not get to present at the MLA, but if everyone decided that the MLA was actually for what it is supposed to be for (that is, presenting new research and allowing up and coming colleagues to shine in front of their potential employers), then they’d have to start accepting panels with newly-minted grads and ABDs.


So: Tenured and TT people who might stumble upon this (particularly if you’ve received my application and are here to check out what I’m all about): I don’t think I’m asking anything too radical here. Advocate for full-time (and note that I didn’t necessarily say TT) lines that treat your colleagues like decent human beings over multiple adjunct/lecturers in your own dept/division/school/whatever you feel comfortable with. Include promising grad students and recent grads/adjuncts/non-TT people on your conference panels, even if it means you might get excluded. If every person who submits a panel to the MLA makes the conscious decision to include “outsiders” on their panels, they will have to accept at least some of them. I’ve been accepted to MLA panels, as a almost-finished grad student and as an adjunct/”independent scholar” and they’ve always been just under the acceptable score required to be allowed to present. I assume (rightly or wrongly, but if I’m wrong I’d like to see the documentation) that they would have gotten the score to present had they only accepted well-known full-time, TT/Tenured scholars. Sure, there have been outsiders allowed to present at the MLA but generally they are one on a panel full of lifeboaters to make up for their deficit.

And here’s the other thing you can do, as an insider, although this one might really rock the boat: stop accepting so many grad students. Teach more undergraduate classes yourself. I’ve written about the plan at Hopkins to do just this already, here. Stop telling us “it gets better” or “it’s still early” or “that won’t happen to you“. Unless you can back it up with real results (which, since we’re being honest, let’s just admit that we all know you can’t, at least right now)

So, what can you do to fix the system from the inside out? I’ve given you a couple of ideas here. We are all smart “inteleckshuals” so I’m sure there are more, and better, ideas out there. I’d love to hear them.

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