The Real ‘Second-Class Citizens’ Of AcademiaRoundup
tags: Cornel West, academic labor, adjunct professors
Donald Earl Collins is Lecturer of History at American University in Washington, DC and the author of Fear of a "Black" America: Multiculturalism and the African American Experience (2004).
At the end of February, pre-eminent Black philosopher Cornel West revealed that Harvard University has refused to consider him for tenure, triggering new discussions about inclusivity and justice in academia.
Arguing that tenure is the difference between “first-class citizenship and second-class citizenship in the academy”, West has since announced his decision to leave Harvard for the Union Theological Seminary.
West’s brilliant, four-decade-long career as a leading public intellectual and self-proclaimed “prophet of America’s present and future” has included tenure-stream and tenured professorships at Yale, Dartmouth, Princeton, and also Harvard (West left a tenured position at Harvard University in 2002 after a dispute with its then-president. He rejoined the institution in 2016). So it is understandable that he felt like a “second-class citizen” when the higher-ups in Harvard denied him tenure the second time around.
But he also does not know what he is talking about. He has been part of the privileged class for far too long to know what “second-class citizenship” in higher education actually looks and feels like.
By comparison, what West considers as “second-class citizenship” is a couple of hundred steps up from the abyss in which I exist. I am in many academic circles seen as a cautionary tale and a tragic figure. That is when I am considered at all.
My status in the world of higher education as an adjunct (or “ad-junk”, as I have often thought of myself) or contingent faculty? I am merely cannon fodder to the needs of the institutions for which I have worked off and on since 1997 – the last hired, the first to be let go. Even some of my former undergraduate and graduate students see me this way. I have certainly seen looks of pity mixed with contempt in their eyes enough times.
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