Do you think adjunct rights are a civil-rights issue?” This question came to me from a young scholar about to defend his Ph.D. He’s just finishing a great one-year position but does not have employment yet for next year.
Trying to answer his question led me into an interesting group of writings that link the conditions of adjuncts to historically oppressed and exploited peoples such as slaves, sharecroppers, and migrant workers. This language may be misguided. But its apparent utility reveals one of the big obstacles to improving the condition of adjuncts in higher education today.
Clearly, the conditions of adjuncts are deplorable. From the homeless adjunct protesting in New York to the countless stories of inequity, struggle, hunger, and ostracism, the human toll of adjunctification should appall anyone who pays attention.
Over the past few years, an increasing number of voices have argued that adjunctification is best understood as something especially terrible rather than an all-too-typical example of the rise of contingency across the North American workforce. Why do advocates need to go to such rhetorical lengths to gain our sympathy?