For the Good or the Guild? Scholars Respond to Kate Daley-Bailey: Kerry Danner


In this series, a number of scholars respond to Kate Daley-Bailey’s provocative essay, “For  the Good or the ‘Guild’: An Open Letter to the American Academy of Religion,” which appears in the most recent issue of the Bulletin journal, Vol 44, No. 4 (2015). The essay can be found here, with an abstract reading as follows: This letter/essay addresses some of the critiques and recommendations I have for the American Academic of Religion regarding its treatment of adjunct concerns. I recommend the American Academy of Religion reassess its values and priorities and ask that the organization decide if it is a nonprofit organization or a guild. Subsequently, I recommend the American Academy of Religion discontinue its obfuscation of data on adjunct existence in the field, readjust its membership dues and conferences fees with the monetary plight of its underemployed or unemployed members in mind, and avoid marginalizing or patronizing those members who find themselves within the cycle of contingent employment.

by Kerry Danner

For the Good of All and the Guild: We Need to Work Together

I deeply appreciated Kate Daley-Bailey’s open letter to the American Academy of Religion as well as Charles McCray’s and Jack Fitzmier’s responses. As a part-time faculty member and member of AAR’s Contingent Faculty Task Force, I am deeply sympathetic with and share frustration on many of her points. Here I won’t review and respond to all of her recommendations. Rather, I focus on issues raised by both Daley-Bailey and Fitzmier, and I take this opportunity to let you know a bit more about the Task Force.

Contingent Concerns are Part-time Concerns

The AAR’s Contingent Faculty Task Force seeks to address issues of concern to part-time and full-time non-tenure line faculty. We share very similar critical vulnerabilities: we are contract employees who neither share in the governance of our departments nor have the academic freedom provided by tenure. Short-term contracts often aren’t long enough for faculty to settle into a new teaching environment, prepare new courses, build community, and make time for tending to their own humanness, which means illness, deaths, births, dissolution of relationships and other significant life events. Bodies may ache from too much time in the car driving from campus to campus or from constantly carrying one’s teaching material due to lack of office space. Home ownership may be unreachable or deferred because of inadequate or unstable income. While I agree with Fitzmier that contract full-time and part-time faculty may pose different administrative challenges, the burdens on the workers still have much in common. This is why the Task Force encompasses the concerns of both groups.

Better, More Relevant Data and Understanding of its Implications

The Contingent Faculty Task Force is also very much interested in obtaining better information but is also limited. How do we obtain data from those who are no longer affiliated with the AAR due to lack of funds or frustration? Solving these problems takes communal effort from all those who are willing and able to work on it.

In regards to Daley-Bailey’s charge of the obfuscation of data, and Fitzmier’s response, certainly both parties know that the AAR can’t control the number of jobs listed or the market. I don’t think Daley-Bailey expects AAR to fix all the problems to which she points. Rather, I read her whole piece as well-grounded lament about the irony of academic conferences and employment opportunities for contingent faculty while offering specific ways to make it better. Her overarching point again and again is simply this: the system is broken for the vast majority of people. The cited data, both Daley-Bailey’s outlier of 993 applications for one job and Fitzmier’s average of 58.7 applications per position from 2008-2013, demonstrate this point.

AAR’s Contingent Faculty Task Force’s Statement: A First Step

I also appreciated Fitzmier calling attention to the Statement on Contingent Faculty Practices, which was approved by the AAR Board of Directors in September 2015. I also urge you to read it and discuss it:

The AAR’s Statement on Contingent Faculty Practices is the start of the Task Force’s work not the end. It is a step in promoting conversation among all the relevant participants: contingent faculty, tenured faculty, chairs and deans, as well as professional societies. The Caucus for Contingent Faculty Concerns of the Society of Christian Ethics is currently working on its own document (though it has yet to be submitted to their Board for consideration). I urge every society to consider releasing such a statement as part of a larger effort.

Fitzmier is right to point out that part-time and term faculty members are (or frequently feel) vulnerable. However, I was puzzled by the statement, “The fix (to the extent that such is possible) should begin with their tenured and tenure-track colleagues” (my emphasis). In so far as beginning a conversation is an effort to reduce the vulnerability of contingent faculty members, sure, I agree. But this work has already begun, and, contingent faculty members are often the ones to begin the conversation. When they do, they should be able to do so without fear of retribution or rehiring discrimination. In the past few years, nearly 200,000 part-time faculty members have voted for union representation. Many departments are instituting changes initiated by tenured faculty. All of us have a role, perhaps small, perhaps large, in working to fix (yes to the extent that such is possible) the current situation.

The Contingent Faculty Task Force invites all members of the AAR and those who work (or hope or hoped to work) in higher education to engage in personal and collective reflection on these issues of how to fix this system. Both institutions and individuals can be a combination of forces for good or for ill. Both are bound by historicity, resources, the will of its leadership and members, and the hours in the day. However, both are capable of change though it is often uncomfortable, awkward, and some may resist even the most modest of changes. Don’t many of us insist on honest, rigorous, even uncomfortable examination of hard issues by our students? This is such an issue for us.

An Invitation to Reflect and Action

AAR’s Contingent Faculty Task Force is working on ways to raise awareness and highlight best practices and to make long overdue changes. I invite you to collaborate with us in thinking, working, and acting on these critical issues. Here are several ways you can be involved:

  1. Participate in the ribbon campaign at this year’s November meeting to raise awareness about academic labor justice.
  2. Dialogue with your colleagues about issues relating to academic labor and how to address issues of just and professional compensation for courses or salaries, contract lengths, access to or subsidy of benefits, retirement matching and more.
  3. Participate in one of our roundtables. One will focus on supporting tenured-faculty to make changes in concrete ways. The other will focus on the precariousness of all of our lives but pay special attention to race, gender, contingency, and academic freedom.
  4. Dialogue with your peers no matter what your “rank.” Even better, set up spaces for safe dialogue between various faculty categories.
  5. Come out to our events if you are at the AAR. If you are not able to attend this year please contact the Contingent Faculty Task Force chair Kelly Baker at [email protected] to share your ideas and concerns.

Kerry Danner has been a professorial lecturer at Georgetown University since 2011 and she is a member of the AAR’s Contingent Faculty Task Force which began its work in 2012. Its charge is to attend to issues impacting individuals who work on a contractual basis; understand the shifting labor market and hiring practices that AAR members encounter; and develop initiatives and programs that will help this growing segment of college and university educators.

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