academy · adjuncts

Privilege in things small and big

The more I stay away, the more elusive my return becomes. I have stayed silent for the past few weeks, because I felt both like I had not much of value to say, and like I could not rise to the bar set so high by my amazing co-bloggers. But stay away I cannot, because I have a duty to live up to the privilege that is participating in Hook and Eye. And it’s privilege I want to talk about.
I have been reading a lot lately, and mostly novels I thought would come nowhere near teaching. But you know what they say about taking the teacher out of the classroom? Yes. Most of the books I’ve been reading came from the library: yet another privilege. One day, I was walking back from the library, a prodigiously negative windchill biting at my cheeks, and I raised my eyes from their futile attempts at making my legs go faster, and looked around at the university campus I was strolling through. The first thought that pierced my frozen skull was how much I love university campuses. The second: what a fantastic privilege it was to walk them on a daily basis. Most of them are just so beautiful, and ambling along their paths reveals the amount of work and planning that produced such spaces designed for thoughts to expand courageously, and take flight. The antithesis of cubicles, really, but I digress.
So let me meander back to the point of privilege: HigherEd conversation has been focused on precarious labour for the last little while, seeking to direct energy towards identifying respectful and equitable ways to respond to what has been called “the adjunct crisis.” This week, the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English, ACCUTE, has announced that it has drafted a “Best Practices Checklist” for employing contract academic faculty in Canadian departments of English. It is “designed specifically to further greater awareness of, and respect for, the work of contract faculty members.” In spite of the much bemoaned lack of reliable numbers to contextualize the extent of adjunctification in Canadian Universities, the members of ACCUTE’s Task Force, Michael Brisbois (MacEwan), Heidi Tiedemann Darroch (Victoria), Dorothy Hadfield (Waterloo), Jason Haslam (Dalhousie), Nat Hurley (Alberta), Luke Maynard (Huron), Laura Schechter (Alberta), Stephen Slemon (Alberta), and Erin Wunker (Mount Alison) have put their money where all of our mouths are, and come up with suggestions to make sessional teaching less exploitative. It’s important to note that members of this Task Force represent diverse constituencies of university teachers, and I hope that Erin, whose activism and engagement are truly boundless, tells us more about the aims, workings, and future of the Task Force.
The uneasy question of privilege still haunts us, though, even if this first step in alleviating the discrepancy between different tiers of academic employment starts to respond to the larger question of what do we do with privilege. Privilege can feel like a huge burden, like an unearned reward in a system that looks increasingly more like a lottery than a meritocracy. Erin Morton elaborated on this tricky position in a very thoughtful post on Faculty Orientations. What I’m getting at is how easy it can be for emerging scholars who are in TT positions to feel like they cannot discuss the excessive demands of academia, when so many of their peers struggle to make ends meet. They feel their privilege acutely, and sometimes as a silencing force.
To my mind, privilege implies duty devoid of charity. It’s easy to couch that duty in terms and actions that reinforce exiting hierarchies instead of taking them down altogether. The former is charity, while the latter comes closer to equity. The ACCUTE document goes a long way in illustrating how to use this academic privilege and lack thereof, by working together towards a more respectful workplace in Canadian universities.
We all have some degree of privilege in one area or another, so I’m still left with the question of how can we make use of our own privilege ethically, and in ways that render the notion obsolete for the benefit of equity rather than silence

PS: Happy International Women’s Day Eve! How do you celebrate?