Tenured Faculty are the 18% – What Will They Do for the 82?

tags: labor history, tenure, academic labor, faculty labor

Claire Potter is the Co-Executive Editor of Public Seminar and Professor of History at The New School for Social Research.

This morning, around 48,000 academic workers at nine University of California campuses went on strike. As Stella Chan and Taylor Romine of CNN report, the two sides reached an impasse after more than a year of negotiation despite tentative agreements on some issues.

As is customary in such situations, charges of bad faith are lobbed back and forth like a pickleball: it’s probably not wise to fully believe what you hear from management or the unions. But Chan and Romine’s report points us in another direction. They ask us to think about the striking workers, an adjunct army of talented, well-educated people, many working at or slightly above the poverty level, who make up the majority of workers at a modern research institution.


It’s hard not to think that this unwillingness to invest in people, either faculty or students, points to an accelerating structural crisis in higher education. It is one that, yes, requires better labor contracts in the short term but demands a major reorganization and re-envisioning in the long term. Those changes will look different at different schools: for example, the University of California could change very little but rebuild its faculty on the strength of taxes. The New School, which cannot raise tuition to meet the challenge of a larger full-time faculty, may have to consider becoming smaller, doing less, and slashing administrative costs.

But regardless of size and wealth, it is hard to see any university surviving the challenges of the 21st century without rebuilding its faculty around full-time workers who are willing to commit to the institution in return for being treated fairly. Armies of contingent laborers will never align their interests with an institution built to serve the 18%, nor should they.

Read entire article at Substack

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