Recent Scholarship on Contingency: Academic Labor: Research and Artistry—Volume I (2017)

Academic Labor: Research and Artistry, vol. I, no. 1, 2017, Accessed 16 July 2018.


In my first entry on Recent Scholarship on Contingency for Contingent, I reviewed Sue Doe’s article about the work she co-leads at The Center for the Study of Academic Labor (CSAL) (Brown … Forum, September, par. 10-12). One of the CSAL’s projects is a new scholarly journal, Academic Labor: Research and Artistry, which appeared for the first time in 2017. This posting will review that first volume of the journal.

The journal focuses on both tenure studies and contingency studies (“Academic Labor: Research and Artistry,” par. 1). It is open to “a wide range of contributions, from the statistical to the historic/archival, from the theoretical to the applied, from the researched to the creative, and from empirical to essayist forms (“Academic Labor: Research and Artistry,” par. 1).

Volume I of the journal contains five articles:

  1. Steven Shulman’s “Contingency in Higher Education: Evidence and Explanation” (pp. 1-14)
  2. Amy Lynch-Biniek’s “‘Don’t Rock the Boat’: Curricular Choices of Contingent and Permanent Composition Faculty” (pp. 15-30)
  3. Kathleen Vacek’s “‘It’s Not as Rosy as I’d Like It to Be’: A Literacy-and Identity Case Study of a Contingent Academic (Not) Writing for Publication” (pp. 31-48)
  4. Raymond L. Hogler’s “Saying Goodbye to Unions in Higher Education: LaborPolicy under the Trump Administration” (pp. 49-58)
  5. Erik Juergensmeyer’s “The Labor of Scholarship: Rhetorical Advocacy andCommunity Engagement” (pp. 59-74)

The editors have made the entire volume open access for maximum accessibility (for a copy of the entire journal, see “Volume 1, Issue 1”). In what follows, I will briefly summarize each article and state its importance.

Shulman’s “Contingency in Higher Education: Evidence and Explanation”

Steven Shulman, one of the co-directors of the CSAL and a faculty member of the Department of Economics at Colorado State University—Fort Collins, opens the journal with “Contingency in Higher Education: Evidence and Explanation.” This article analyzes and further contextualizes recent research on faculty employment in higher education, published in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System by the National Center for Education Statistics (Shulman 1). Shulman notes that in 1975, contingent academic labor comprised 43% of faculty in higher education (2). By 2004, that number had risen to 63%; and by 2014, the number rose even higher to 65% (2).

To illustrate his argument, Shulman provides line graphs that show the rise in reliance on contingent labor (4-7). He notes that between 2002 and 2015, “tenure-line positions rose by 6.6% while the number of contingent positions rose by 26.1%” (3). Universities that grant doctorates are increasing their reliance on contingent faculty at a higher rate than other types of schools (7). Shulman predicts that contingent faculty at doctoral granting institutions “will soon surpass its level at public associates’ degree colleges” (8).

Shulman’s explanation for the increased reliance on contingent academic labor complicates the standard explanation that the adjunctification of higher education is due to decreased support from the state (9). He argues that “[t]uition revenues at public colleges and universities have risen by much more than state support has fallen” (9).

In a nice turn of phrase, Shulman observes that “higher education budgets are not mostly about higher education” (9). He shares research which shows that “administrative positions and salaries have grown more rapidly than faculty positions and salaries” (9). Customer service-oriented expenses in student housing, student centers, and recreation have been prioritized, as has athletics (10). Shulman frames the reliance on contingent faculty as administrative “choices rather than necessities” (11).

Value of Shulman’s article. Shulman’s training and experience as an Economics professor reminds me of one of the values of the journal Academic Labor: Research and Artistry: it provides perspectives on contingency from different fields—another article in the journal written by a professor in a College of Business (Raymond L. Hogler). Most of my reviews of Recent Scholarship on Contingency are of articles that appeared in journals that I subscribe to because of my membership in various learned societies related to English. It was valuable to read a perspective on contingent academic labor from an economist in the academy.

Lynch-Biniek’s Article on “Curricular Choices”

The second article in Academic Labor: Research and Artistry is by Amy Lynch-Biniek. Lynch-Biniek is the editor of the College Composition and Communication insert Forum, a journal I have reviewed twice on Contingent. In “‘Don’t Rock the Boat’: Curricular Choices of Contingent and Permanent Composition Faculty,” Lynch-Biniek continues the exploration of academic freedom and contingency that she began in the most recent edition of Forum (Brown … Forum May). Her article explores two research questions:

  1. Does employment status influence the curricular choices of composition teachers?
  2. Do perceptions of inclusion in the academic community intersect with employment status and curricular choices? (Lynch-Biniek 17)

She posed these questions to three full-time contingent faculty and three permanent faculty (Lynch-Biniek 19). Unsurprisingly, the answer is “yes” to both questions. Both sets of faculty had the academic freedom to choose textbooks, but only the permanent faculty exercised that right without second guessing their right to do so (20-23).

With respect to question 1, contingent faculty tended to “choose” the department’s recommended text (20). Only one of the permanent faculty used the departmentally recommended textbook, and that was because he was on the committee that helped to select it (21).

With respect to question 2, contingent faculty were influenced heavily by “colleagues, textbooks, and feedback from students” (22). Permanent faculty based their decisions entirely on “disciplinary knowledge” (23).

Although the contingent and permanent faculty worked under the same policies of academic freedom, only the permanent faculty exercised that academic freedom in the spirit intended. The contingent faculty worked with the knowledge that without job security academic freedom has the potential to become a pyrrhic victory—i.e., a Writing Program Administrator who does not approve of their current curricular choices does not have to renew them in the future.

My experience. In all of my teaching positions, First-year Composition textbooks were selected prior to my employment, and I was required to use that textbook. Textbook selection decisions were made to make administrators’ work easier and to give the illusion of equivalence across the curriculum. At one place I worked, the needs of the bookstore were explicitly placed above the faculties’ academic freedom to select textbooks that suited their teaching needs. That is, a uniform textbook for First-year Composition classes made it easier for the bookstore to stack their shelves and handle returns.

I have had similar conversations about academic freedom on the job market. When I was on the job market, at some point in the interview process, I always asked about academic freedom. One community college stated that faculty did not have to create their own syllabi or assignments because they had two syllabi with assignments for faculty to choose from. A business school looking for a business communication instructor did not try to hide their indifference to academic freedom, when the director of the program stated that only permanent faculty could choose their own textbooks because they could not be made to do anything; implicit was the threat that non-compliance would result in non-renewal.

Value of Lynch-Biniek’s article. The great value in Lynch-Biniek’s case study is showing that even if contingent faculty have ostensible academic freedom, they are afraid to exert it because of the potential for retaliation.

Vacek and “(Not) Writing for Publication”

Vacek’s “‘It’s Not as Rosy as I’d Like It to Be’: A Literacy-and Identity Case Study of a Contingent Academic (Not) Writing for Publication” presents a case study of a recent graduate of a doctoral program and her challenges with writing after graduation.

The subject, Elle Stewart (pseudonym), had been successful as a graduate student and even published research in a scholarly journal; however, after she graduated, she no longer had the academic support of her graduate program and her productivity diminished (Vacek 38). Life after graduation was more complex for her because she had to move to another location with a lower cost of living, far from the subjects of her research (41); and she began teaching a new subject (First-year Composition) as a freeway flying adjunct (39).

Vacek’s interpretation of Stewarts’ writing paralysis is interesting because it identifies her problem as two different types of “(Dis)Identification with Professional Academic Literacies” (43). On the one hand, her multiple adjunct positions disincentivize research because publishing is not a requirement of the position; in fact, if she did publish, it would earn her no credit on her job evaluation (44). On the other hand, her post-graduation work took her across the country, away from dissertation research subjects (44). Over time, her identification as a “successful researcher and writer” give way to an identity based on her status as “a contingent labor[er] … and “an unsuccessful job seeker” (45).

Value of Vacek’s article. Institutions shape us in the way that they want us to be, through a sophisticated system of praise, rewards, admonishment, and penalties. Through her series of interviews with Stewart, Vacek shows how important the institution of higher education is in maintaining a culture of research and inquiry. In graduate school, where Stewart was rewarded with praise for her research, she thrived as a promising researcher and publishing scholar; as an adjunct, where she had no support, her research productivity diminished not only because of the lack of time but also the lack of institutional and collegial support.

Her post-graduate experience exemplifies what Daniel Davis calls “cooling-out,” the process by which one loses the illusion that there is a tenured full-time job with benefits awaiting after graduation (23-28). “Cooling-out” is a term associated with confidence games (Davis 23). After a mark is conned, there has to be a cooling-out period where the individual accepts his or her role in being fooled (24). Stewart seems to be going through what Davis calls “gradual disengagement,” that is, “a slow cooling out of ambition” (24).

I wonder if part of the reason that graduate programs do not hire their graduates is that the tenured faculty do not want to witness this “cooling-out.” If they do not have to witness the “waste product of graduate education” (Bousquet 21) “cool-out,” then they do not have to think about the implications of their complicity in a system of inequitable treatment.

Scholarship is produced with a community in mind and with the intent of persuading that community. As an adjunct, Stewart has no community of scholars to inspire her or challenge her. Stewart’s condition echoes a sentiment in Lynch-Beniek’s contribution to this volume: “our working conditions, as framed by employment status, directly affect students’ learning conditions” (Lynch-Beniek 17-18). As a researcher and writer, Stewart is adrift in the university, even as she teaches students research and writing.

Hogler’s Article on “Labor Policy under the Trump Adminstration”

Hogler’s article short article provides a brief history of unions and higher education, as well as speculates on the future of unions under the Trump administration. Hogler divides the article into seven parts:

  • [Introduction]
  • Bargaining Frameworks
  • Unions and Wealth Distribution
  • The National Labor Relations Board and Private Sector Educational Institutions
  • The Fate of Public Sector Unions in the New Supreme Court
  • How Right to Work Laws Affect both Private and Public Sector Unions
  • Conclusion: No Way Out

Hogler is pessimistic about the long-term viability of unions in higher education because of Trump’s power to appoint members of the National Labor Relations Board and his role in appointing Supreme Court replacements (50).

Value of Hogler’s article. The article is valuable because it provides historical context for unions in higher education and warns of anti-union trends that have already begun under the Trump administration. Hogler is a College of Business professor. As with Shulman, I found it valuable to read about contingent academic labor from a faculty member in another field.

Juergensmeyer’s Article on “Rhetorical Advocacy”

Juergensmeyer’s “Rhetorical Advocacy and the Scholarship of Application” argues that scholars’ “academic labor in local communities” is just as important as publishing in scholarly peer-reviewed publications (61). Scholars should use their “personal and disciplinary expertise to collaborate within communities in order to address community problems and to rewrite a narrative that fails to understand the true purpose of college and university instruction” (61).

Early in the article, Juergensmeyer provides a useful summary of Ernest Boyer’s “four types of scholarship”: the scholarship of discovery, the scholarship of integration, the scholarship of application, and the scholarship of teaching (62). The first two types of scholarship are the traditional types of published scholarship that universities traditionally value; the last two types are more controversial because they focus on local communities and student learning (62).

Juergensmeyer argues that Rhetoric & Composition is particularly poised to make meaningful contributions to the community and to students’ long-term growth and development through the scholarship of application and the scholarship of teaching; however, the current preponderance of adjunct laborers teaching First-year Composition makes it challenging to integrate into courses the types of service learning associated with the scholarship of application and the scholarship of teaching (64).

Juergensmeyer discusses his work advocating for the rights of indigenous people in Durango, Colorado (67-72). Specifically, he discusses his role in helping to plan for Indigenous Peoples’ Day and how the planning was integrated into his classes (Juergensmeyer 67-72).

The work he describes is important to the community but does not receive the same sort of consideration in evaluations as traditional scholarly peer-reviewed research publications (72). Juergensmeyer would like for the type of community-focused labor to be valued for both full-time and part-time academic laborers (72).

Value of Juergensmeyer’s article. Juergensmeyer makes a compelling case for the importance of service learning as a part of pedagogy in Writing classes. Academic labor that increases the profile of academics in the local community has the potential to increase support for higher education. Scholars cannot be accused of being in “an ivory tower” if they are on the ground visible in the community.

Works Cited

“Academic Labor: Research and Artistry.” CSAL [The Center for the Study of Academic Labor], n.d., Accessed 15 July 2018.

Bousquet, Marc. How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation. NYU Press, 2008.

Brown, William Christopher. “Recent Scholarship on Contingency: Forum (May 2018) in Teaching English in the Two-Year College.” Contingent, 25 June 2018, Accessed 16 July 2018.

—. “Recent Scholarship on Contingency: Forum (September 2017) in The Journal of the Conference on College Composition & Communication.” Contingent, 24 January 2018, Accessed 16 July 2018.

Davis, Daniel. Contingent Academic Labor: Evaluating Conditions to Improve Student Outcomes. The New Faculty Majority Series, series foreword by Maria Maisto, foreword by Adrianna Kezar, Stylus, 2017.

Hogler, Raymond L. “Saying Goodbye to Unions in Higher Education: Labor Policy under the Trump Administration.” Academic Labor: Research and Artistry, Vol. I, no. 1, 2017, pp. 49-58. Accessed 16 July 2018.

Juergensmeyer, Erik. “Rhetorical Advocacy and the Scholarship of Application.” Academic Labor: Research and Artistry, vol. I, no. 1, 2017, pp. 59-74. Accessed 15 July 2018.

Lynch-Biniek, Amy. “Don’t Rock the Boat: Curricular Choices of Contingent and Permanent Composition Faculty.” Academic Labor: Research and Artistry, vol. I, no. 1, 2017, pp. 15-30. Accessed 15 July 2018.

Shulman, Steven. “Contingency in Higher Education: Evidence and Explanation.” Academic Labor: Research and Artistry, vol. I, no. 1, 2017, pp. 1-14. Accessed 15 July 2018.

Vacek, Kathleen. “‘It’s Not as Rosy as I’d Like It to Be’: A Literacy-and Identity Case Study of a Contingent Academic (Not) Writing for Publication.” Academic Labor: Research and Artistry, vol. I, no. 1, 2017, pp. 31-48. Accessed 15 July 2018.

“Volume 1, Issue 1.” CSAL [The Center for the Study of Academic Labor], 2017, Accessed 15 July 2018.

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