the goal of this campaign is to get conference organizers to accommodate registration fees to scholars inhabiting the shadows between PhD and tenure/tenure-track positions SHOW YOUR SUPPORT
the campaign consists of sending an email to conference organizers with an invitation to create a new fee category to accommodate academics who are neither students nor TT. If you like this idea and would like to join me for this campaign, please send me an email email@example.com
Usually conferences have a regular and a student registration category, the latter being lower compared to the former. A few conferences include unemployed people within the student category, and so people without a job can get a reduced registration fee. But most conferences do not have this option. And even expanding the category of student to include unemployed still misses an important point. The lack of a third option in conference registration fees reflects a more general neglect of a big part of academia: adjuncts, lecturers, postdocs without financial support from their institutions, and in general scholars who already graduated but do not have a tenure or tenure-track position.
These scholars usually have no stable income. In the case of adjuncts, their income is generally lower than that of a graduate student and they have no stability. They might work one semester and have income during 4 and a half months, and then remain unemployed for the summer or during another whole semester. Lecturers’ income varies a lot, and so do their job conditions, but they share with adjuncts the lack of financial support from their institutions to cover research expenses. Postdoc researchers’ conditions vary enormously, with some postdocs (usually in the sciences) having 4 or even 5 years contracts and institutional support to cover their conference expenses, while other postdocs have one or two-year contracts with an income equal to that of a graduate student, and without any financial support to pay for research expenses in general.
Let’s take a real example: someone, let’s call them Adjunct, who works as an adjunct, teaching two courses in a semester, with a monthly salary of $1,443 (a salary which will be interrupted during the summer). Adjunct has been accepted to two conferences this summer, the Cognitive Science Society meeting in Pasadena, CA, and the meeting of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology in Durham, NC. For the former, the registration fee for non-students members is $350, plus $75 of the membership fee, a total of $425, which is around 30% of Adjunct’s salary. In the latter conference, the student category includes “postdocs and low-income”, so Adjunct can register for a reduced fee, $75, plus $40 of the membership fee, a total of $115, which makes another %8 of their salary. This does not include travel and accommodation expenses, which obviously amount to a much larger number. Importantly, given that Adjunct is not a student, they cannot apply for the travel grants that the Cognitive Science Society offers, or to any of the funding opportunities available in their department or their university. Without any financial support from their institution, it is easy to see that Adjunct’s opportunities to have their work discussed are very limited.
It is paradoxical that those who are in heightened need of financial support and accommodation on the part of conferences organization and institutions, are the same people who have the highest pressure to present at conferences and publicize their work, for that is the best chance they have to step out of the invisible niche they inhabit.
It has recently become news that adjuncts and other part-time instructors, the so-called contingent faculty, are the fastest growing working force in the United States. According to the American Association of University Professors, “Non-tenure-track positions of all types now account for 76 percent of all instructional staff appointments in American higher education.” In their article “The Changing Academic Workforce”, Adriana Kezar and Daniel Maxey review the changing landscape in working conditions at universities, and report an increase in the number of contingent faculty. Compared to 21,7% in 1969, by 2009 faculty members who are not elegible for tenure amount to 66,5%. However, as Kezar and Maxey comment, “most campuses ignore the needs of this group, operating as though tenure-track faculty members are the norm”. I haven’t looked at the numbers in other countries, and it would be interesting to see if that trend is also happening in other places.
The bad working conditions of this growing group of academic workers has also received attention. According to a 2012 report of the Coalition of Academic Workforce, for a 3 credit college course adjuncts get paid on average $2700. Outside of the academic world, recent articles in The New York Times and The Washington Post also point out the mistreatment contingent faculty members get.
And yet, our universities and our academic events (including conferences) keep ignoring this reality. It’s time for conference organizers and, more generally, our departments and universities to acknowledge the existing variability in job conditions, and stop ignoring it. Adjuncts and lecturers, and (perhaps to a lesser extend) also postdocs, are generally outside the domain of most, if not all funding opportunities, in spite of constituting an important part of our universities and carrying an important burden of each department’s teaching load. They are neither students, nor real faculty members. They are at the margins. Creating a third category for conference registration is just one step, but an important one, towards recognizing the conditions of scholars who are struggling to be part of the research community, in spite of their uncool job titles and their job instability.
The invisibility of these scholars working on the margins (in particular, adjuncts and lecturers) could perhaps be explained appealing to the common things we associate with them. Part of the stereotype of adjunct is that they are not-brilliant scholars more interested in teaching than in research; scholars who couldn’t get a better job, perhaps due to insufficient skills. These ideas fit well with their invisibility within the research community. We assume they don’t go to conferences and publish and engage in up-to-date research; they just teach, they are not part of the vibrant discussions researchers have. But they do. Or they try, at least.
As it happens with other instances of disadvantage, there is a feedback loop reinforcing the system. Going back to our example of Adjunct, given their limited resources ($1,443 monthly salary, and only for the duration of one semester), and the high portion of it that goes into fees (something Adjunct cannot bargain or avoid; They can minimize accommodation expenses, for example, by staying at youth hostels or trying to find friends with comfortable-enough couches, but there is no cheap way around registration fees) it is likely that Adjunct will not be able to present their work at many conferences, regardless of its quality, which in turn will make them less likely to step out of the invisible niche they inhabit, by keeping Adjunct outside of the research community. The stereotype of adjuncts as people who are not skilled enough as to engage in research will therefore be reinforced. Thus, the marginal shadows these scholars inhabit seem to have no escape, inviting individualistic, narrow explanations that appeal to some intrinsic property of Adjunct that makes them be where they are, as opposed to more structural, broader explanations appealing to the constrains affecting Adjunct and reducing their opportunities and the likelihood they will get out of the shadows.
I propose to start a campaign and invite conference organizers to consider a category for all those scholars who inhabit the shadows in between PhD and tenure position (be they postdocs without financial support from their institutions, lecturers, adjuncts or unemployed). My proposal is to use an additional criterion for reduced fees, besides the one based on student/non-student status. I propose to use a criterion based on income and funding opportunities from institutions. If the attendee has a low-income salary, and/or unstable job (which usually equals low income), and/or is not eligible for any institutional financial support, they should qualify for an additional registration category. Without such a category, a big part of the academic world is excluded from the research community.
As it happens, Adjunct wrote to the organizers of this year’s Cognitive Science Society meeting, asking if there is a way for them to register at a reduced rate. First answer was: “the Cognitive Science Society has no policy to manage such cases”; second answer: “Unfortunately, the Society does not offer registration discounts for specific cases”. It is interesting that Adjunct’s petition is seen as a specific case, as if isolated and unique, revealing the assumption that everyone in academia is either a student or a faculty member with income and/or institutional financial support. Our conferences need to make room for the big (and growing) part-time sector of the academic world. Our departments need to confront this reality and stop their denial. Adjunct is not a specific, unique case.
The campaign will consists of sending an email with an invitation to create this new category to all conference organizers when a call for papers is announced.
If you like this idea and would like to join me for this campaign, please send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org expressing your interest, and we will find a way to organize.