The modern university is contingent. Despite stereotypes of high-earning, high-prestige professors, there’s increasing casualization of labor in higher education.
Many campus employees work in the low-wage, low-prestige positions. Tenure-track positions are becoming more rare. Adjuncts, instructors, and graduate students teach the majority of college courses. Non-tenure track jobs are the norm, not the exception. And adjuncts, on average, earn about $2700 a course without benefits, office space, or much-needed technologies.
Undergraduates are also a part of this low-cost and easily replaceable workforce. Labor exploitation has emerged as a routine part of higher education. Faculty, graduate students, staff, and undergraduates work long hours for low and stagnating wages.
Contingency complicates the branded images of campus that colleges and universities present to current and prospective students (as well as their parents). If you believe the ad campaigns, campuses are the spaces where students live, laugh, learn, and thrive. These ads, however, neglect to tell students or parents that courses are often staffed by adjuncts and graduate students, not full-time professors.
What does this increasing reliance on contingent labor mean for our campuses? What do the dominant forms of labor mean for scholars in the humanities and social sciences? What are the conditions of our labor in departments and larger institutions? What about scholars who lack affiliation and institution? How has the increasing reliance on contingent labor impacted how and what we teach? How does contingency impact the scholarship we produce and the functions of our departments? What do we learn when we pay careful attention to the working conditions of scholars?
For this series at Political Theology Today, we’re looking for essays, analysis, interviews, and/or theoretical approaches to the contingent campus. What is life like, for students, staff, and faculty, on the contingent campus? What factors have contributed to the contingent campus, especially as related to political theology? And what can we do about it? What must we do about it?
To submit pitches and proposals, please email firstname.lastname@example.org by October 11th.
Kelly J. Baker is a freelance writer and a columnist for Chronicle Vitae. She writes regularly about her post-academic life, gender, contingent labor, and religious studies. She blogs at her own site, Cold Takes. Additionally, she is the author of Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930 (University Press of Kansas, 2011) and The Zombies Are Coming! (Bondfire Books, 2013). She holds a Ph.D. from Florida State University.