Author Archives: MFulwiler

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AdjunctChat Topic for 11/12: Making Contingency Visible

Facilitators: Megan Fulwiler and Jennifer Marlow

Armed with a borrowed video camera, we’re two writing teachers who set out to record the voices of faculty who are often invisible in and marginalized by the institutions where they teach. Our documentary film, Con Job: Stories of Adjunct and Contingent Labor, describes and makes visible the pedagogical, economic, and ethical costs of higher education’s growing reliance on adjunct and contingent faculty.  In an effort to document the complexity of higher education’s “hidden economy” (Schell), our film features interviews with contingent faculty from across the nation, as well as with labor activists and leading figures in the field of Composition and Rhetoric. Building on and extending existing scholarship about the origins and effects of contingency, we think our film provides a powerful visual means of conveying the issues, challenges, and material conditions of what has become the “new faculty majority.”

The twinned issues of invisibility and silence have long abetted the system of contingency. The contingent faculty we interviewed described themselves as ghosts on their campuses, routinely denied access to physical space (offices), financial rewards (retirement and health care benefits), and status. This institutional invisibility is further reinforced by excluding contingent faculty from full participation in curricular and governance decisions. Yet in the face of such conditions contingent faculty often choose to remain silent due to the fear of job termination without reason or recourse. In addition to being invisible and silenced on their own campuses, contingent faculty, like many other disenfranchised groups, have been largely isolated from each other across the nation which creates a “divide and conquer” atmosphere allowing the system to continue unabated and unchallenged.

Likewise, in our professional conferences and publications, contingency can be all too often marginalized (in terms of space, attention, and discourse) or merely accepted as an unpleasant reality in today’s job market. Finally, the fact of contingency (its existence, prevalence, and implications) has remained largely invisible to the general public.  In the national debate about the value of higher education in the 21st century, the topic of contingent labor has been noticeably absent. (When mentioned, contingent faculty are often cited as a cause of the problem rather than a casualty of the problem, as Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa do in Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses).

As a result of these many layers and forms of invisibility and silence, large-scale collective action has been difficult to achieve. Increasingly activists are turning to social media to pool resources, share stories, and make connections—and now #AdjunctChat on Twitter. (See also Josh Boldt’s crowd sourced data collection  The Adjunct Project where he’s collecting statistics on salary, class load, and conditions of employment or New Faculty Majority’s blog .)   Our documentary, Con Job: Stories of Contingent and Adjunct Labor, joins in this growing social movement by bringing focused attention to the individual testimonies of contingent faculty while underscoring our collective responsibility to ensure equity in higher education.  We look forward to facilitating the November 12th #AdjunctChat twitter extrvaganza!

For more information, please contact Megan Fulwiler at or Jennifer Marlow

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