Thesis: If the Adjunct Warriors I’ve been criticizing could get over their bad faith, they’d recognize that on my account, their choosing to stay and fight has a *higher* moral status than it does on their account.
I think the adjunct problem is philosophically interesting, because it’s more normatively complex than, say, the sweatshop issue.
One major trend I’ve seen among responses to my argument is that people treat two compatible options as if they were mutually exclusive. They’ve been pushing hard on saying its either A or B, but not both, when in every case it could be both A and B.
For instance, I’ve heard that there are two options:
- The system is corrupt and should not offer adjuncts such a bad deal. More money should be dedicated to teaching and less to administrative tasks. The tenure system should be reformed.
- Most professional adjuncts living in poverty are victims of their own bad choices.
But as I’ve been saying all along, 1 and 2 are compatible. Both can be true at the same time. And there are compelling grounds to hold both are indeed true. With regard to 2: Most professional adjuncts have high opportunity for exit, and most either did or should have known what the risks were. So, their situation is quite literally chosen–in the most rigorous and agentful sense of “voluntarily”, they voluntarily chose to stay what they are calling an unfair and bad job rather than take what by their lights should be a better and more fair job. Calling themselves victims is bad faith.
Another false dichotomy:
- You (Brennan) can support the adjunct movement and help them reform the system.
- You (Brennan) can criticize adjuncts for their culpably bad choices.
Again, 1 and 2 are not mutually exclusive. I can and have done both.
One question I’ve been asked is why I’m not supportive of people who choose to stay, organize, and use their collective bargaining power to reform the system. This question is loaded and rests on a bunch of false assumptions. I don’t have a problem with adjuncts using their collective bargaining power to reform the system. Inevitably, this will mean that most professional adjuncts will get their least preferred outcome, but frankly that’s no skin off my back. Indeed, I’d rather have permanent non-TT teaching faculty around rather than a bunch of adjuncts. My pointing out that the adjunct movement is anti-adjunct doesn’t imply that I’m anti-adjunct movement.
All I’m asking, though, is for the people who choose to stay and fight to stop portraying themselves as “victims”. To extend the analogy: If some customers at Bob’s Steak and Poopburgers decide enough is enough, that they will organize a sit in until Bob stops serving poopburgers and only serves steakburgers, more power to them. It’s just bad faith for them to complain about being forced to eat poopburgers, because they could instead leave and eat tasty pizza at Orso.
Frankly, I’m surprised the people I’m arguing with here don’t agree. I see them as having bad faith and refusing to admit their agency. They see themselves as victims, and see me as victim-blaming. But, if my account is correct, instead of portraying themselves as victims, they could portray themselves as heroes who engage in supererogatory fights for justice. “Sure, we could easily quit and work for GEICO, but we choose to fight the good fight!” So, my account actually lets them portray themselves as higher status rather than lower status. A thoughtful social justice warrior working for adjuncts’ rights would recognize that my account is in that way more flattering than the standard account. When, say, Will Wilkinson (who is a TA, not an adjunct) chooses to stay and fight, he’s not like a mouse defending his last bit of cheese from the rats, but more like Luke trying to infiltrate the Death Star to take down the Empire.
Blogger Kevin Carson has been portraying this argument as a right versus left thing. In the end, that’s not correct. It’s not that Kevin is more left-wing than I am. It’s that I’m better at being left-wing than he is.