Adjunctification is the Ultimate “Cancel Culture”
The real threat to “viewpoint diversity” on college campuses is the precarity of faculty employment
Most college profs in the United States — over 70% — don’t have tenure and aren’t even on the tenure track. We are on year-to-year or semester-to-semester adjunct contracts. We are perilously vulnerable to the prospect of punitive treatment for our viewpoints, from conservative administrators, from boards of trustees drawn from “the business world,” from “angry taxpayers” hollering over the controversies deliberately ginned up by Campus Reform or The College Fix or right wing radio shock jocks.
The biggest risk to viewpoint diversity on campus is the precarity of the professoriate: how can we dare to foster difficult, challenging conversations that ask students to respectfully consider viewpoints they might strongly disagree with if we know that the slightest controversy could cost us our jobs?
And let me say this: you know those armchair observers and commenters who assume that “liberal professors” cannot make room for diverse viewpoints in the classroom, or do not allow for any viewpoint but their own? Those people are just telling on themselves and disclosing their own lack of professional integrity. Just like doctors or lawyers or counselors or other professionals, professors routinely set aside our own personal views, our politics, our religious commitments, and our individual circumstances or worries. When we walk into the classroom, we are on duty, and we have to set aside everything that might put up a barrier of understanding between us and our students.
It’s not about us; it’s about our students, and helping them learn. I have three semesters’ worth of anonymously completed course evaluations from my students at Collin College, and not a single student has ever complained about me not allowing other viewpoints or pushing my own viewpoint. Quite the opposite, in fact, as you would see from the student comments. (You will notice that every negative complaint about me on Rate My Professor was posted after October 8, 2020. Got mobbed by witless culture warriors.) I assume colleagues’ evals tell the same story—I count four women now who have been fired/discriminated against by the college. I haven’t seen their evals, but I know they are beloved profs.
So yes, I agree that the college classroom should be a place of robust discussion, and I do my best to make it so. And my students love it. They want that; they deserve that. What might be impeding these kinds of conversations more broadly? The lack of job security among faculty.
As a private citizen commenting on politics, I posted a snarky tweet about Mike Pence, and a state legislator called for my firing. And he got what he wanted. And it wasn’t for anything related to my teaching or my interaction with students. It was political intolerance for my view as a private citizen.
I believe faculty at publicly funded colleges and universities may have more free speech protections than those at private schools, but if government officials are politically hostile to “liberal professors” (or in some cases “conservative professors”), exercising our free speech may wrongly and unjustly cost us our jobs. Not everybody can afford to stand on principle. I can’t afford it, but here I am. Rather than run any risks, many faculty will choose to keep it dull, uncontroversial, and unobjectionable, in and out of class.
That’s a real shame; it’s a real loss for students. Most college students in America are enrolled in community colleges or state schools. Political hostility to professors is robbing those students of a rigorous education. No matter how much people cry about “cancel culture,” Stanford and the Ivies will continue to retain their prestige and their graduates will continue to do well (except for yours truly, apparently). The whole point of ginning up controversy about “cancel culture” or “viewpoint diversity” is not to unseat the ivies; it’s to whip up outrage and defund education at the state level.
And it’s working.