Academic Freedom from Below: Toward an Adjunct-Centered Struggle

By Jan Clausen and Eva-Maria Swidler

In most discussions of academic freedom, tenure-track employment figures either implicitly or explicitly as the normative model of academic work. When contingent faculty are taken into account, it is usually to discuss how the proliferation of adjuncts negatively affects academic freedom overall, or to lament the extraordinary lack of protections and vulnerability to pressures for conformity that result in adjuncts having considerably less academic freedom than their colleagues with tenure. In contrast, this essay affirms that today the adjunct reality is the new norm, and that reframing conceptions of academic freedom to reflect this reality is key to any strategy to defend and expand this freedom. What we hope to offer here, however, goes beyond a litany of the fears and restrictions under which adjuncts labor, or an enumeration of the ways increasing reliance on adjuncts undermines the freedoms of the entire academy, for our contrapuntal analysis considers the various important strengths that adjuncts bring to the fight for academic freedom. In a world where contingent faculty now comprise the majority of college and university teachers, effectively defending academic freedom requires that we locate and amplify the strengths specific to this large group.

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