The things Janus shared with us about Amazon employees was chilling and it’s easy to just write it off and say that it won’t happen in our white collar ivory tower world. But I can see how in EVERY system or institution, the most precarious workers always seem to be the least trusted and most surveilled. At my college, we have three meetings per year where all faculty in a specific discipline (psychology, history, library, etc.) get together to discuss curriculum and learning assessment. Part-time faculty are paid to be there and usually, they just fill out a qualtrics survey telling how many hours they were in meetings. Easy peasy. This time, I, as the Chair for the Library SAC, was told I need to also send academic affairs a list of every part-time faculty member who showed up to our meeting, the assumption being that part-time faculty can’t be trusted and might try to bilk academic affairs for more $ than they deserve. WTF???
In my experience, my part-timer colleagues are, in many cases, more dedicated to students and their work and are more reliable than my full-time colleagues. The only difference between them is that they weren’t lucky enough to get a full-time position. And yet academic affairs is sending a message that they are less trustworthy.
I think we have a responsibility to speak out when we see things like this, however small and subtle. This is what I sent to the administrators in Academic Affairs:
I’ve been sitting with this since it was first announced and, upon reflection, I’m not feeling any better about it. I’m wondering why the SAC Chairs suddenly need to write down which part-time faculty attended the meeting when the part-timers will be filling out the form to get paid in the meeting. Maybe my interpretation is off, but it feels like it sends a message that we don’t trust our part-timers. If SAC Chairs knew the reasoning behind the change it might feel less like surveillance and lack of trust for those who are often our most reliable and hard-working colleagues.
I’ve also found in academia that surveillance overreach from administration (especially IT) rarely stands up under scrutiny. The last time IT tried to slip seriously overreaching policies under our noses, one of my library colleagues got wind of it and shared it widely with faculty so we could all share feedback during the comment period. It ended up getting HUNDREDS of comments and they ended up backing down on all of it. The IT policies now read more like typical ones in academia rather than the corporate overlord big brother tail-wagging-the-dog feel in the earlier draft.
The more light we can shine on these issues – for our colleagues and for our patrons – and the more we speak out when we can, the better. But I do recognize that it’s much easier to fight these things in academia where values like academic freedom are a big part of our ethos and where we are often safer speaking out. A friend of mine who has been fighting her library’s curbside service is expecting to get fired any day now and all she’s done is written letters and spoke out at a library board meeting. We’re definitely not all equal in our ability to speak out without fear of incurring consequences.