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Reclaiming the Ivory Tower: Organizing Adjuncts to Change Higher Education


Paperback, 160 pages
ISBN: 1-58367-129-3
Released: November 2005

In the last twenty years, higher education in the United States has been eroded by massive reliance on temporary academic labor—professors without tenure or the prospect of tenure, paid a fraction of the salaries of their tenured colleagues, working without benefits, offices, or research assistance, and often commuting between several campuses to make ends meet. Contingent instructors now constitute the majority of faculty at U.S. colleges and universities.

Reclaiming the Ivory Tower is the first organizing handbook for contingent faculty—the thousands of non-tenure track college teachers who love their work but hate their jobs. It examines the situation of adjunct professors in U.S. higher education today and puts forward an agenda around which they can mobilize to transform their jobs—and their institutions. In this context, Reclaiming the Ivory Tower also provides a guidepost for all those concerned about higher education: tenure track faculty, students, graduate employees, parents, other campus workers, and anyone interested in why a new labor movement has grown up on campuses across the United States and Canada.

Full of concrete suggestions for action—from starting a campus committee to finding allies in the community—and based on extensive interviews with organizers, Reclaiming the Ivory Tower is the most comprehensive and engaged account to date of the possibilities for a movement that has important lessons for labor organizing in general, as well as for the future of higher education in the United States.

Joe Berry has made a vital contribution to the most urgent subject on many a campus: the sudden transformation of the teaching workforce, the degradation not only of teachers but also of students and of society’s gains from higher education. Everyone who teaches, every humane administrator and every alert student will want to read this book. It is even possible that Reclaiming the Ivory Tower will light the fire for a rebuilding of basic values of American education.

—Paul Buhle, Brown University, author-editor of Encyclodpedia of the American Left, Insurgent Images, and other books

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Contingent Faculty Today—Who we are

  • Casualization as corporatization
  • A few statistics
  • Good work but a bad living
  • How our class position has changed
  • Contingent life and conditions
  • Other losers: students and society

Chapter 2: Contingent Faculty Organizing

  • Material conditions and power relations
  • Consciousness: how our colleagues think
  • Our full-time tenured and tenure track colleagues (FTTT)
  • Administrators’ perspectives and vulnerabilities
  • Who are the activists?
  • The message: respect
  • Competitive unionism, pro and con
  • The politics of lists
  • Going on staff: promotion or demotion?
  • Reverse engineering a good union: participant action research (PAR)
  • Guides for a national strategy

Chapter 3: The Chicago Experience

  • Map of the Metro Chicago workforce
  • Organizers’ voices
  • “How and why I first got involved”
  • Campaign beginnings: sparks and issues
  • “How we chose a union”
  • “What we did right”
  • “What didn’t work”
  • “How the employer responded”
  • Organizing committees and who leads them
  • Relations with union staff
  • Negotiating a first contract
  • Contrasting viewpoints
  • Building a real union
  • Future strategies, visions and goals
  • Lessons from interviews

Chapter 4: A Metro Organizing Strategy

  • Research
  • A “Contingent Faculty Center”: virtual and actual
  • Services: professional and presonal Assistance for organizing
  • Regional publicity
  • Direct demands and advocacy
  • Alliances, coalitions and external solidarity
  • Alternatives in sponsorship and organizational structure
  • Calendar
  • Budget

Chapter 5: Getting Down to Work—An organizer’s toolbox

  • Even two are a committee
  • Your right to organize
  • Building a committee
  • Taking care of each other
  • Acting like a union
  • Dealing with divisions
  • Communications—from office whispers to the Internet
  • Analyzing the enemy
  • We have some advantages
  • We are not alone: finding allies on campus and off

A final note

Joe Berry teaches labor education and history at the University of Illinois and Roosevelt University in Chicago and chairs the Chicago Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor.

SKU: mrp1293 Categories: ,

Publication Date: November 2005

Number of Pages: 160

Paperback ISBN: 9781583671290