In today’s riposte to the well-riposted article by Nicholas Kristof about why academics don’t write as public intellectuals, Corey Robin (@coreyrobin) touches on reasons why I, personally, haven’t done so.
So obviously his riposte is the very best riposte:
Writers and academics who fret over the fate of public intellectuals may think they are debating vital questions of the culture. But their discussions are myopically focused on the writing habits of a rapidly disappearing elite. The vast majority of potential public intellectuals do not belong to the academic 1 percent. They are not forsaking the snappy op-ed for the arcane article. They are not navigating the shoals of publish or perish. They’re grading.
Robin’s piece for Al-Jazeera America is titled “The Responsibility of Adjunct Intellectuals,” and it addresses not only the overworked-ness of adjuncts, but also the precariousness of their jobs. This lack of job security might lead an intellectual with otherwise public thoughts to keep such thoughts to herself:
Nearly three-quarters of all instructional staff at colleges and universities today are not on the tenure track. They’re insecure, contingent workers, an army of cheap and casual labor that make the universities go. While young writers can afford to do the kind of intellectual journalism we see at the little magazines, older adjuncts teaching five classes can’t.
(Older Adjuncts FTW, y’all.)
Earlier this week I asked the Twitterverse how an academic writer can write about work inequities without getting fired. The question was meant to be funny, but I was also asking a real question.
One of the most pressing issues in higher education today is the very statistic that Robin mentions above: three-quarters of higher ed instruction is performed by contingent professors.
But here’s the problem: many of those best situated to write about this pressing issue are those who are most contingent. That is, we are most afraid of losing our jobs in higher ed if we write about our contingent status and what it means for higher education.
I’m an “older adjunct,” one with two kiddos and a mortgage. I spent my first four years at my current institution terrified that I would lose my job.
(I’m not sure what changed, except that after I had a premature baby, a young resident doctor in the NICU (idiot idiot insensitive idiot) told me that the baby might have come prematurely because I managed my stress poorly while pregnant.)
Corey Robin’s column leaves us with an important question, one that I will pose to folks on here and on Twitter:
Given our precariousness and our responsibilities, what is our responsibility as adjunct intellectuals?**
* Read Corey Robin’s post on his blog on this topic as well.
** For some excellent attempts to answer this question already, check out Joe Fruscione (@ProfessorF74), Rebecca Schuman (@pankisseskafka), Lee Skallerup (@readywriting), and others, including the #adjunctchat on Twitter.