The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed every part of society, including the university. This statement expresses solidarity with all those struggling for a fairer university in this context.
While we acknowledge the economic difficulty of this moment, we are gravely concerned that budgetary restrictions will exacerbate existing inequalities on our campuses, which in many cases have grown only more severe since the 2008 crisis.
Universities everywhere are now weighing layoffs, furloughs, and hiring and pay freezes. While we recognize that different institutions face widely divergent scenarios of budgetary constraint, staff needs, collective bargaining agreements, and more, we urge all universities to mete out cutbacks in the most graduated fashion possible—such that they shield the most vulnerable. While we may not all agree on a universal formula applicable to all institutional situations, we share this principle and urge university administrations to abide by it.
With regard to academic staff in particular, however, we converge on a clear and broadly-applicable principle of equity. In recognition of the profound disruptions to faculty’s personal lives, their research, and their teaching, hundreds of U.S. universities have offered year-long extensions of the tenure clock to assistant professors. This is a welcome and indeed unprecedented step. But its uneven application across academic ranks is inequitable and unfair.
Without extending the same measures to non-tenure track (NTT) faculty and to graduate workers, universities leave unprotected the most precarious academics, including those who shoulder the greatest teaching burden. NTT faculty and graduate workers are facing the same challenges as tenure-track faculty: adapting to remote teaching, massively increased caretaking responsibilities, lack of access to libraries, labs, and archives, and the foregoing of professional opportunities. They are also faced with an anemic job market that will only get worse as universities announce hiring freezes for the coming years.
The effects are predictable. The gulf between secure and precarious academics will deepen; countless promising academic careers will prematurely end, depriving the world of knowledge they would have produced. Thousands of scholars and their families will be stripped of economic security just as they need it most. Without employment, NTT faculty and graduate teachers will not have healthcare in the midst of this devastating pandemic.
We applaud those institutions that have offered extensions of the tenure clock to junior faculty and urge this minimal step—which has no meaningful budgetary impact—be taken everywhere. This, however, remains insufficient. We need to take immediate steps to protect all members of our academic communities.
We therefore call on all universities that have offered extensions of the tenure clock to include all academic workers employed for fixed terms in this extension—and regardless of institutional position on the “employee status” of graduate students. Whether it is the “guaranteed” package of funded years for graduate employees or the capped terms of lecturers and preceptors, all academic workers deserve the relief of knowing that they have job security and the opportunity to complete their projects in more favorable conditions.
Standing in solidarity with all academic workers, we invite our colleagues in graduate school and in NTT positions to submit the names of their institutions with evidence that they have failed to include NTT faculty and graduate workers in extensions of fixed term contracts. We, the undersigned, will not accept invitations for speaking engagements, workshops, and conferences at named institutions. By signing we commit to observing this policy for the 2020-2021 academic year. We will reassess pending future developments. We also commit to doing all we can to ensure that our own universities - wherever they are - make the most progressive and equitable possible provisions for all of their staff, graduate students and contingent faculty. In applying this policy, we realize we may need to exercise our discretion when it comes to academic institutions, especially state institutions, which are chronically underfunded.
We invite our colleagues to submit to firstname.lastname@example.org
the names and supporting information on the policies of their institutions to be covered by this statement.
For an up-to-date list of signatories and nominated institutions, please see: www.academicsolidaritystatement.com