Open Letter on Precariat Fees

To All National and International Academic Organizations Hosting Conferences:

Trends in Faculty Employment Status, 1975‐2011 (AAUP Research Office)

Trends in Faculty Employment Status, 1975‐2011 (AAUP Research Office)

A large and growing portion of the academy is unemployed or underemployed, and we all must consider how we can address the situation. We are writing to ask that you move to a graduated pay scale to provide steeply discounted rates for graduate students, unemployed, and non-tenure-track faculty for both membership in your organization and attendance at conferences that you sponsor.

As of 2009, in the United States nearly 70% of college and university faculty are non-tenure-track, and fall under various categories of adjunct, contingent and sessional employee, with 70% of these faculty working part time. That means that approximately 50% of faculty are now part-time. While for a small percentage (such as those employed full-time in another occupation) this part-time employment is preferable, for the majority, it is inadequate.

The MLA’s Academic Workforce Data Center site provides comparative numbers from 1995 and 2009, for over four thousand colleges and universities, and the American Association of University Professors provides a chart to sum up this trend. The tragic story of Margaret Mary Vojtko, an elderly adjunct who died shortly after losing her position, put a human face on the conditions of many of our colleagues.

In addition to the low salaries for these posts, most of these positions do not provide healthcare or other benefits. Further, most of these posts do not include any funding for research, travel, membership dues, conference fees, and other fundamental elements of our profession. Conference fees have risen in recent years, and while some organizations offer small discounts for independent scholars, adjunct faculty and graduate students, these are at present both too infrequent and insufficiently reduced to be meaningful. (The College Art Association has recently announced that it will be implementing such a plan, and we eagerly await details.)

As individuals, there is little we can do to alter the circumstances of members of the academic precariat. However, there are actions that we can — and therefore should — take collectively to help.

We are writing to ask that you take three steps:

-We ask that you introduce a graduated fee schedule with deep discounts for those without stable, full-time academic employment, or waive these fees entirely.
-In upcoming rounds of fundraising, we suggest that you establish a dedicated fund to support attendance at your annual meeting by members of the precariat.
-We ask that you provide a steeply discounted membership rate for your organization for those without stable, full-time academic employment, or waive these fees entirely.

These steps would not only help our colleagues in real and immediate ways, but would also undercut the perpetuation of academic inequality, whereby those with stable, tenure-track employment are afforded the necessary opportunities to produce and disseminate the scholarship upon which such employment is generally contingent.

We recognize that most of us — as individuals and institutions — are financially strained, and that your organization has relied on the fees collected from members and conference attendees in order to support the valuable work you do for the field. We are asking you to act in the collective interest of the field, but we acknowledge that doing so might well come at a financial cost. However, it is our hope that reduced rates would allow far greater numbers of contingent faculty to join the academic organizations at the heart of our fields, and to actively participate in the annual conferences where a great deal of our work is begun, facilitated, and shared.

Thank you for hearing our concerns. We look forward to your response.

Yours in Collegiality,
The Material Collective
[Please contact us here.]

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  1. CAA News | College Art Association » Blog Archive » News from the Art and Academic Worlds | CAA - August 26, 2015

    […] A large and growing portion of the academy is unemployed or underemployed, and we all must consider how we can address the situation. We are writing to ask that you move to a graduated pay scale to provide steeply discounted rates for graduate students, unemployed, and non-tenure-track faculty for both membership in your organization and attendance at conferences that you sponsor. (Read more from Material Collective.) […]

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