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“Skilled, Cheap, and Desperate”: Non-tenure-track Faculty and the Delusion of Meritocracy



Over the past 25 or so years, geographers have produced sophisticated critical tools to examine systems like patriarchy, racism, and heteronormativity. However, they have not used those critical tools to examine the problem of institutional hierarchy in the academy. There are many kinds of institutional hierarchy, but the paper focuses on one particular structure: the difference between tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty. I call for much greater critical reflection on the existence and experience of non-tenure-track faculty in geography. I argue that it is essential to undermine the structures and assumed wisdom of the hierarchy, for the sake of non-tenure-track faculty, the discipline, and the academy as a whole. Destabilizing the structures requires multiple strategies. I argue that one key strategy is for non-tenure-track faculty to tell their stories, to offer their critical perspective from the lower rungs of the hierarchy. The last part of the paper is an autobiographical account designed to give a better idea of how one such story might look.