The Washington Post recently ran a photo essay “showing what it really means to be adjunct faculty”. The essay featured various adjunct faculty members at Ithaca College standing in front of chalkboards on which they’d written their grievances, many of which focused on their perceived low pay. In itself, this wouldn’t be worthy of note–complaints from adjuncts about their pay are nothing new. But what was striking about the complaints voiced by the Ithaca College adjuncts was the selfishness, snobbery, and sense of entitlement that were, at times, nakedly on display.
Several of the adjuncts indignantly noted that they had to supplement their teaching pay by doing part-time manual labour on the side. But if it’s true that they earned more doing manual labour than teaching, shouldn’t this tell them that other people value their work as manual labourers more than they value them as teachers? If this is the case, then, if they truly wanted to serve others, shouldn’t they switch to the jobs where they would serve the needs and desires of others best, leaving teaching for (apparently) construction or agricultural work? That they don’t indicates that they’re not really focused on serving others, but are more focused on satisfying their vanity. And while I think that such a selfish decision is perfectly fine, they shouldn’t then complain that they should be paid more to do the jobs that they choose to do when other, better-paying, jobs are available to them.
But isn’t manual labor just below someone who has a PhD? Some of the adjuncts certainly seem to think so. Now, I’m not going to wax lyrical about the “nobility of labour”. (I perform manual labour almost every day. There’s nothing especially noble about mucking out hundreds of pounds of chicken shit, getting up at dawn in winter to dig out frozen-in coops, or dealing with birds afflicted by mudballs, sourcrop, or eggbinding–all of which are as gross as they sound.) Yet holding that you’re too good to do the work that millions of people do every day to feed their families as you’ve had the luxury of spending several years getting up at the crack of noon to toil over poststructuralist texts is sheer snobbery.
Of course, the Ithaca adjuncts don’t see their cause in this way. They’re not really fighting to be subsidized to ply their chosen profession free from any concern about the needs and desires of others. No–they’re after “equal pay for equal work”. But, as has been said repeatedly by Philip Magness, Jason Brennan, and others, this is a red herring. Tenure-track faculty do MUCH more than just teach. They’re required to do service work, advise students, sit on committees, and publish, publish, publish. I suspect that the adjuncts are already receiving equal pay for their teaching, and just want pay that is, in Orwellian terms, “more equal” than that received by their more successful colleagues.
None of this is to deny that some adjuncts have legitimate grievances. Adjuncts hired to teach should only be expected to teach–not advise students, sit on committees, or work with administrators to satisfy accreditation requirements by doing unpaid service work. But the Ithaca College adjuncts aren’t complaining about such impositions. They’re just exhibiting some of the worst traits–selfishness, snobbery, entitlement, and a lack of awareness of how others less fortunate than them live–that the public attribute to the professoriate.