Press Room

Communication Studies Discipline Can Play Important Role in Combating Casualization of Academic Labor

March 12, 2018
Discipline News

(Washington, DC)—For decades, the higher education system has had a supply-and-demand problem: while there are increasing numbers of Ph.D. graduates, there are not nearly enough tenured or tenure-track positions to support them. Therefore, hundreds of job seekers each year take on “academic labor” workers – they are lecturers, part-timers, and adjunct faculty members, all of whom are ineligible for professional development funds, retirement benefits, or even dedicated office space. A 2016 study from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) found that 70 percent of all faculty in higher education worked off the tenure track.

A new special issue of the National Communication Association’s journal Review of Communication takes a closer look at the issue of academic labor and how the Communication discipline can play a role in changing the conversation about it. An introduction by San Jose State University’s Kathleen McConnell gives a history of academic labor in higher education, how its growth has been casualized, and the potential for Communication scholars to help reshape the surrounding narrative.

Here are some highlights from the four other essays in the special issue:

  • Faculty with master’s degrees who teach Communication at two-year institutions face particular challenges, but they are at the forefront of reimagining and revitalizing the role of the basic course in civic education. Gonzaga University’s Carolyn M. Cunningham presents a case study of a teacher preparation program that emphasizes the role of the discipline in community colleges, whose students make up 42 percent of all undergraduates.
  • University of San Francisco’s Brandi Lawless addresses the hot topic of emotional labor within the context of academia. She asks, “How did we become caretakers, guidance and grief counselors, and life coaches in the neoliberal expansion of academia?” Lawless calls on Communication scholars, especially women, to clearly name the additional, emotional labor they take on.
  • Rebecca M. L. Curnalia and Dorian Mermer of Youngstown University make an explicit call for institutions to renew their commitment to tenure and shared governance and thus give voice and protection to one of their greatest assets: faculty members’ insight and expertise.
  • The problem of casualization gets a closer look via an in-depth conversation between Communication Studies colleagues Christina R. Foust of the University of Denver and Daniel J. Lair of the University of Michigan-Flint. The two authors offer practical ideas for disciplinary change, and they pose a question: How can we reprofessionalize ourselves?

Read the special issue on Taylor & Francis Online here.

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To arrange an interview with the authors, contact Jenna Sauber at 202-534-1104 or

About the National Communication Association

The National Communication Association (NCA) advances Communication as the discipline that studies all forms, modes, media, and consequences of communication through humanistic, social scientific, and aesthetic inquiry. NCA serves the scholars, teachers, and practitioners who are its members by enabling and supporting their professional interests in research and teaching. Dedicated to fostering and promoting free and ethical communication, NCA promotes the widespread appreciation of the importance of communication in public and private life, the application of competent communication to improve the quality of human life and relationships, and the use of knowledge about communication to solve human problems. NCA supports inclusiveness and diversity among our faculties, within our membership, in the workplace, and in the classroom; NCA supports and promotes policies that fairly encourage this diversity and inclusion.

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