Nicole C. Kirk is an associate professor (non-tenure track) and holds the Frank and Alice Schulman Chair of Unitarian Universalist History at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, Illinois. She earned a Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary in 2012. Before her doctoral studies, she was as a parish minister. Her research uses the lenses of material culture, race, and gender to examine religion, mobility, business, and technology in North America during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her book, Wanamaker’s Temple: The Business of Religion in an Iconic Department Store (New York University Press, 2018), analyzes the intersections of business and religion in the public space of John Wanamaker’s Philadelphia department store. The book was featured in both the Wall Street Journal and Smithsonian Magazine. Nicole has contributed to several edited volumes, including a chapter on business and religion in the Blackwell Companion to American Religious History (Blackwell, expected 2020). She is working on a book tentatively titled Railroad Religions: The Religious Lives of Traveling People, which focuses on the complex and surprising ways railroads transformed American religion and the people who traveled on the railroads.
I am honored to be nominated for the Contingent Faculty Director position on the AAR Board of Directors. Colleagues are often surprised to learn I am a contingent faculty member. I boast titles often associated with tenure-track positions—associate professor and endowed chair—yet I am a hidden member of the contingent faculty. Every three to four years, after devoting myself to my students, engaging in research, and serving my institution and the broader academy, I wait for my contract renewal.
Since 1980, the use of contingent faculty has skyrocketed. What was once a temporary fix to meet institutional needs and budgets has become the norm: contingent faculty now make up approximately 70 percent of all faculty positions in the American academy. The pandemic has magnified the precarity of those positions. As the global pandemic unfolds, all faculty will be affected. But contingent faculty, graduate students, and those on the job market will feel this impact the most.
What are the costs of this unjust system? No less than the health and excellence of higher education. Our students suffer when their instructors struggle to teach without the basic tools of office space, library privileges, photocopiers, and technology support. Contingent work takes a toll on the physical, emotional, and mental welfare of faculty, who often lack access to affordable health care, fair pay, and retirement savings. In many cases, contingent faculty hold more than one job to make ends meet. In an effort to secure tenure-track positions, contingent faculty often carry heavy teaching loads and take on extra duties. Scholarship suffers when faculty lack the protection of academic freedom, collegial support, mentoring, ongoing professional development, and research funds. Exclusion from faculty decision-making renders contingent faculty invisible and voiceless. While not all contingent faculty work under all of these conditions, all contingent faculty face at least some of them. People in marginalized groups—including women and BIPOC—bear the brunt of this system of exploitation.
In 1909, the first iteration of the AAR brought scholars together to promote scholarship and teaching. Since that time, the AAR has expanded its scope, services, and membership. If elected, I will work to ensure that contingent faculty and scholars can participate more fully in the AAR by building on the work of the previous contingent faculty director and the academic labor and contingent faculty committee. While I strongly advocate in-person meetings (barring a pandemic), supporting full participation requires creativity and online spaces (webinars, panels, and other resources) so that contingent faculty and scholars can network, organize, advocate, and develop professionally. I want our AAR to meet the needs of all of its members. I will also commit to generating systemic change in the academy by partnering with other academic professional and guild organizations (e.g., AHA, AAUP, SCE) committed to addressing the contingency crisis and its impact on all facets of academia. I hope you will cast a vote to support me in this work.