By Clara Gibson ’21
After publishing my article about the role adjunct professors play at Holy Cross and some of the abuses of the tenure system, I received a great deal of feedback, some positive, some negative, some constructive, some less so. Overall, however, I have been pleased to inform my fellow students about this aspect of higher education. As the daughter of two professors, one of whom is tenured, and one of whom worked as an adjunct for almost twenty years, I realize that I am unusually familiar with the vicissitudes of a career in academia. However, I do believe that some clarifications are in order. Firstly, it is true that I did not provide full citations for my sources in the body of my article. While a fully sourced version is available on my Medium page (https://medium.com/@dis_comrade/economic-injustice-at-holy-cross-79a10e83c179?sk=d61c57928d414e714350a448d23ff3cb), I felt that due to space constraints, it would be better to keep my full bibliography out of the print edition. My piece was intended to be an opinion piece, not an investigative piece about Holy Cross specifically. If I violated a journalistic norm, I genuinely apologize. That was not my intent.
Secondly, I would like to clarify that this piece was born out of interviews I conducted with several adjunct professors at Holy Cross, one of whom is now at a different institution after the College failed to renew their contract. However, out of sensitivity to their desires to remain anonymous, I used their experiences as background and elected not to quote or identify them. This leads me to my third point: compensation. I am indeed aware that Holy Cross is far ahead of the curve in terms of providing their adjuncts with the salaries they deserve. This is something the College is justifiably proud of, and it was not my intention to suggest that the College falls short of the industry standard.
However, the centerpiece of my argument is that despite competitive salaries, adjuncts at Holy Cross, just like adjuncts everywhere else, do not receive the job security, and the academic freedom that comes with it, that they need. Because adjuncts are hired per semester and have very few protections in place to secure their jobs, they are more constrained in what they can say, how they can teach, and how active they can be in their campus communities. An adjunct who is too “difficult,” or who takes too many risks, is easily replaced. Because of this, many adjuncts are hesitant to take risks within the classroom, critique their bosses, or agitate for change for fear of losing their jobs. I believe that this is incompatible with a campus that values social activism, free discourse, and a culture of respectful dissent. I believe that the learning atmosphere at our campus can only improve if we take steps to ensure the intellectual freedom of the faculty who teach us.
Lastly, I was criticized by Professor Schaefer for mentioning other institutions like Georgetown, Duquesne, and George Mason and comparing them to Holy Cross. I think it is a facile argument to invalidate the parallels I am drawing by arguing that Holy Cross is different and cannot fall into the same pitfalls as other institutions. I do not believe that it falls outside the purview of my argument to point out abusive and dysfunctional trends in higher education as a whole, even if they are not practices the College currently condones, as both a way of promoting awareness of social issues off campus while identifying practices to avoid. By identifying a cross-section of stories, I hope to argue that Holy Cross cannot rest on its laurels, but rather must always strive to be better, just as we as students always strive to become better thinkers. Also, Professor Schaefer’s assertion that gender discrimination is nonexistent in academia is simply not true. According to the Brookings Institution, there are fewer female tenured Associate Professors now then there were in 2003. Women make up only 31% of the full time faculty in academia (Menges 1999). Only 27% of tenured faculty at four-year schools are women. (American Association of University Women 2004). Moreover, associate professor appointments, which usually connote tenure, disproportionately do not go to women (Christman, ed. Irvey, Browen 2003, 5) (Finklestein, Seal, and Shuster 1998, 18). Women are also significantly more likely to leave academia before the completion of their second year (Glazer-Raymo 2001) (Bechhofer and Berger 1999) (Moody 2004). A synthesis of all of these sources is available through the Brookings Institute (Turner Kelly, 2019). While allowing for lurking variables, these statistics clearly point to structural gender inequity within academia.
Furthermore, I was taken aback by the aggressive and dismissive nature of his response. I would be lying if I said that my confidence and zeal for expressing my opinions in campus publications was not a bit shaken. Were I two years younger, that response probably would have shut me up for good, and I think professors should encourage students to express themselves, even if they do it imperfectly, while encouraging them to be better. I feel that Professor Schaefer’s response, as a tenured adult professor addressing a twenty-year-old student is professionally inappropriate.
Holy Cross must continue to set high standards for other institutions to follow. We lead in how we treat our adjuncts, and I believe we can lead in the amount of job security and intellectual freedom we give them, too. There is another lesson here related to our power and potential to be leaders – specifically in how we handle campus sexual assault and harrassment. Last semester, I wrote an opinion piece critiquing how the chair of the philosophy department discussed faculty misconduct in his department. This piece met little resistance from the administration. This semester, when I discussed the mistreatment and exploitation of contingent faculty in academia as a whole, I was immediately met by reprisals from the Provost and a tenured faculty member. I believe greater transparency in how Title IX complaints are handled would greatly increase the rate of reporting and students’ confidence that their complaints and concerns are being taken seriously. In a wider sense, the students and faculty at Holy Cross are crying out for increased transparency from the administration.
From how policy decisions are made, and how donations are handled, the lack of transparency from the administration regarding sexual misconduct and Koch donations undermine our trust. This trust must be repaired, and our faith, as students, should be honored and respected.
True school spirit is not about pretending that our campus has no problems. Like any other place, it, of course, has issues that need to be sorted out. True school spirit is about believing that this is a place that has the capacity to live up to the promises it makes its students and the ideals that it espouses, and being willing to roll up one’s sleeves, put in hard work, and take risks to ensure it does. I wouldn’t bother to criticize Holy Cross if I didn’t believe in it.
American Association of University Women Educational Foundation and Legal Fund. 2004. Tenure Denied: Cases of Sex Discrimination in Academia. https://history.aauw.org/files/2013/01/TenureDenied.pdf
Bechhofer, Shoshona and Joseph Berger, ed. Menges, Robert. 1999. “Learning From the Leavers.” Faculty in New Jobs: A Guide to Settling In, Becoming Established, and Building Institutional Support. Hoboken: Wiley.
Calian Trautvetter, Lois, ed. Menges, Robert. 1999. “Experiences of Men, Experiences of Women.” Faculty in New Jobs: A Guide to Settling In, Becoming Established, and Building Institutional Support. Hoboken: Wiley.
Christman, Dana. 2003. “Women Faculty in Higher Education: Impeded By Academe.” Advancing Women in Leadership 1, vol. 14 (Fall): 5-11. https://awl-ojs-tamu.tdl.org/awl/index.php/awl/article/download/172/152
Finklestein, Martin, Robert Seal, and Jack Shuster. The New Academic Generation: A Profession in Transformation. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP.
Glazer-Raymo, Judith, ed. William Tierney. 2001. Faculty Work in Schools of Education: Rethinking Roles and Rewards for the Twenty-First Century. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Moody, JoAnn. 2004. “Supporting Women and Minority Faculty.” Academe 90 (1) (Jan): 47-52. https://search.proquest.com/docview/232313869?accountid=11456.
Turner Kelley, Bridget. 2019. “Though More Women Are on College Campuses, Climbing the Professor Ladder Remains A Challenge. Brown Center Chalkboard (blog). Brookings Institution, March 29, 2019. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2019/03/29/though-more-women-are-on-college-campuses-climbing-the-professor-ladder-remains-a-challenge/