A reader who teaches college in Missouri can relate to our recent piece from Oliver Bateman on the tension that many adjunct professors feel over the growing demand for safe spaces and trigger warnings. First, a passage from Bateman:
Many college instructors, including some of my former colleagues, rushed to defend the University of Chicago’s statement. Their decisions initially puzzled me, as the construction of safe spaces had always been central to my teaching. But it eventually struck me that perhaps their opposition to safe spaces has to do with the nature of their teaching experiences: Whether tormented by the tribulations of being on the tenure-track or underemployed as adjuncts on short-term contracts, these academics have little control of their professional lives. The classroom, where they essentially dictate the content of their syllabi, offers one of the few places for them to exert themselves as intellectuals deserving of respect.
All too often, that respect is absent. As an academic writing for Vox under the pseudonym “Edward Schlosser” observed last summer, “I once saw an adjunct not get his contract renewed after students complained that he exposed them to ‘offensive’ texts written by Edward Said and Mark Twain.” Schlosser’s piece was intended as a critique of oversensitive students, but many full-time academics have borne witness to the callous discarding of an adjunct who no longer fits the department’s plans.
I wonder: Do adjuncts, in all their precariousness, often tread very carefully on controversial curriculum—or scrap it altogether—because it might provoke a reaction similar to the one “Edward Schlosser” experienced? Are you an adjunct who can attest to that, or do you think Schlosser is an aberration? We’d love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our reader in Missouri essentially argues that adjuncts will have less friction with students over their emotional needs if the former’s job is more secure and better paid. As she writes, “when both the professor and the student feel financially unsafe, no one has any patience for anyone else’s emotional concerns when they feel attacked, denigrated, or downplayed as ‘oversensitive.’” She elaborates:
I’m a 31-year-old female and have been an adjunct instructor for about nine years, at two giant state schools and a community college. I have been in and out of full time Non-Tenure Track (NTT) status. Like most of my adjunct colleagues, I have cobbled together as many courses as I could while juggling health problems and constantly shifting access to health insurance.
When it comes to safe space, Bateman’s article really hit the nail. As he mentions, I’ve seen a whole range of reactions/responses from my fellow adjuncts over the years. What most of us have not thought about enough is how our own lack of safety contributes to our classrooms.