Words are my life.
As a writing professor, I recognize perhaps more than most the power of language. I often dwell on my word choices for long enough to make most people crazy, but I do it because I know how powerful words can be. The perfect word can manipulate connotation so much so that it shifts the tone of an entire piece.
This power of language has been bouncing around the contingent labor blogs lately and it’s caught my attention. The basic argument is that we non-tenure track faculty members have historically allowed our names to be chosen for us. We have relinquished our agency and surrendered our power to choose our own name. As a result, we’ve ended up with titles like “adjunct,” “contingent,” “casual,” or one my personal favorites, “precarios.” It doesn’t take a linguist to recognize that all those names are titles of inferiority. By accepting those titles, we are internalizing the oppression and perpetuating the perception that we are, in fact, less important than our full-time colleagues. Therefore, I propose (as others have) that we reappropriate our faculty status by renaming ourselves in a way that distinguishes us from full-time faculty, but yet does not relegate us to some kind of inferior status by connotation.
I have to admit I’m actually a little bit obsessive about selecting names. I think it might come from my five years of experience in retail management during which I was charged with designing marketing and merchandising strategies that perfectly targeted the consumer mind. Beyond that, a chapter of my master’s thesis was devoted to postmodern branding and the role of the “brand” in the construction of the postwar American conscious. Anyway, the point is branding and advertising happen to be personal projects of mine, so naturally I’ve become really interested in the latest wave of discussion that is seeking to “re-brand” the persona of adjunct faculty.
The new name must be one that, first and foremost, lifts the inferior label from the adjunct profession. We are no longer “a thing added to something else as a supplementary rather than an essential part.” We are the majority now and it’s time we have a name that reflects it. So no more precarious job titles. As long as we are referred to in this manner, we will continue to be thought of as such.
Second, I think we do still need a name that distinguishes us from full-time faculty. “Non-tenure track” is too broad and doesn’t really explain the levels inherent even within that classification. The name needs to be entirely different and new, and it needs to be reserved for us alone.
Finally, we need a name that is forward-thinking and suggests the future of our profession. It needs to be a name that sticks and it needs to redefine our role on college campuses. I want it to push administration and others to see us in a new light, one that carries a little more permanence than we currently have.
After much thought, the name I’ve come up with is: Annual Professor.
This title satisfies all three of the requirements I outlined above. It lifts the connotation of inferiority. It distinguishes us from full-time faculty. It carries a degree of permanence adjuncts have never before had. It implies a position that is renewed each year, rather than each semester. Because of this, it puts users of the word in the mindset that this job is much more sustainable and enduring than that of the semesterly adjunct. In fact, I believe it will push administrators towards the idea that adjuncts should be given annual contracts, which would, of course, be a big step in the right direction. Annuals should have contracts that last the entire school year. Makes sense, right?
Some other things I like about this new title are:
- easy transition from adjunct—both begin with “A” and both have six letters.
- shortened usage: Annuals
Like I said, I have given this serious thought—way more than I should have probably. I’m really liking this title, but I want to hear what my colleagues think. What do you say? Has anyone thought about this? Other suggestions? The bottom line is we have got to stop internalizing this aura of inferiority. Changing our name is a good place to start.