Thursday, September 15, 2016

Background Facts on Contingent Faculty (from the American Association of University Professors)

The term “contingent faculty” includes both part- and full-time non-tenure-track faculty:

  • Their common characteristic is that their institutions make little or no long-term commitment to them. 
  • This includes positions that may be classified by the institution as adjuncts, part-time lecturers, or graduate assistantships. 
  • Many faculty in so-called “part-time” positions actually teach the equivalent of a full-time course load.
  • Over one-fifth of part-time appointments are held by graduate student employees, whose chances of obtaining tenure-track positions in the future are increasingly uncertain.
  • To support themselves, part-time faculty often commute between institutions and prepare courses on a grueling timetable, making enormous sacrifices to maintain interaction with their students.
  • Since faculty classified as part-time are typically paid by the course, without benefits, many college teachers lack access to health insurance and retirement plans.

Both part- and full-time non-tenure-track appointments are increasing:

  • Non-tenure-track positions of all types now account for over 70 percent of all instructional staff appointments in American higher education.

The majority of contingent faculty do not have professional careers outside of academe, and most teach basic core courses rather than narrow specialties:

  • While a small percentage of part-time faculty are specialists or practitioners of a profession such as law or architecture and teach a class on the side, this situation is the exception rather than the norm.

The excessive use of, and inadequate compensation and professional support for, contingent faculty exploits these colleagues:

  • Positions that require comparable work, responsibilities, and qualifications should be comparably compensated.
  • As the Association recommended in 1993, compensation for part-time appointments should be the applicable fraction of the compensation (including benefits) for a comparable full-time position.

The turn towards cheaper contingent labor is largely a matter of priorities rather than economic necessity:

  • While many institutions are currently suffering budget cuts, the greatest growth in contingent appointments occurred during times of economic prosperity.
  • Many institutions have invested heavily in facilities and technology while cutting instructional spending.
  • Though incoming students may find finer facilities, they are also likely to find fewer full-time faculty with adequate time, professional support, and resources available for their instruction.

Excessive use of contingent faculty has costs:

  • It damages student learning, faculty governance, and academic freedom. Each of these is an educational cost that institutions incur when they choose not to invest adequately in their instructional missions.

Many contingent faculty members are excellent teachers and scholars:

  • But no matter how qualified and dedicated, contingent faculty members are hobbled in the performance of their duties by a lack of professional treatment and support.
  • Many lack access to such basics as offices, computer support, and photocopying services.

Heavy reliance on contingent faculty hurts students:

  • Contingent faculty are typically paid only for the hours they spend in the classroom, and they are often hired on the spur of the moment with little evaluation.
  • The high turnover among contingent faculty members mean that some students may never have the same teacher twice, or may be unable to find an instructor who knows them well enough to write a letter of recommendation.

Overuse of contingent faculty hurts all faculty:

  • The integrity of faculty work is threatened as parts of the whole are divided and assigned piecemeal to instructors, lecturers, graduate students, specialists, researchers, and administrators.
  • Proportionally fewer tenure-track faculty means fewer people to divide up the work of advising students, setting curriculum, and serving on college-wide committees.

Academic freedom is weakened when a majority of the faculty lack the protections of tenure:

  • The insecure relationship between contingent faculty members and their institutions can chill the climate for academic freedom, which is essential to the common good of a free society.
  • Contingent faculty may be less likely to take risks in the classroom or in scholarly and service work.
  • The free exchange of ideas may be hampered by the fear of dismissal for unpopular utterances, so students may be deprived of the debate essential to citizenship.
  • They may also be deprived of rigorous and honest evaluations of their work.

The use of non-tenure-track appointments should be limited to specialized fields and emergency situations:

  • While it recognizes that current patterns of faculty appointment depart substantially from the ideal, the Association affirms its 1980 and 1993 recommendations that no more than 15 percent of the total instruction within an institution, and no more than 25 percent of the total instruction within any department, should be provided by faculty with non-tenure-track appointments.

Shared governance responsibilities should be shared among all faculty, including those appointed to part-time positions:

  • Curricular and other academic decisions benefit from the participation of all faculty, especially those who teach core courses.
  • Faculty and administrators should together determine the appropriate modes and levels of participation in governance for part-time faculty, considering issues such as voting rights, representation, and inclusion in committees and governance bodies.

When contingent appointments are used, they should include job security and due process protections. Contingent faculty appointments, like all faculty appointments, should include:

  • the full range of faculty responsibilities (teaching, scholarship, service);
  • comparable compensation for comparable work;
  • assurance of continuing employment after a reasonable opportunity for successive reviews;
  • inclusion in institutional governance structures; and
  • appointment and review processes that involve faculty peers and follow accepted academic due process.

The proportion of faculty appointments that are on the tenure line should be increased. This can be done by:

  • Changing the status of faculty members currently holding non-tenure-track appointments. Individuals holding contingent appointments are offered tenure-eligible reappointments;
  • Creating new tenure-line appointments. New tenure-line positions are created and open searches are held for candidates to fill them;
  • In both cases, transition to a higher proportion of tenured faculty should be accomplished primarily through attrition, retirements, and, where appropriate “grandfathering” of currently contingent faculty into tenured positions. Faculty in contingent positions should not bear the cost of transition.


  1. Sorry, but there are other choices than teaching.

    The number of high school and grammar school teachers available is dropping right now due to the new demands.

    If I had to do it all over again, I would have made another choice.

  2. From Beth Emma Goldman:

    As far back as 1971, The Powell Memorandum spelled out very clearly the intentions of corporateers to 1) Organize themselves and they did to the likes of Heritage House and other think tanks in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce as well as other national organizations. 2) Gain political control - many of these wealthy businessmen began running for political office and took office eventually resulting in ALEC which is basically a ways and means to control voting, laws which reach down into individual states. This initial tribe of business elites passionately hated Ralph Nader. 3) Taking control of the Supreme Court. 4) Media control. 5) A well-orchestrate effort to dismantle higher education as we knew it.

    “This essay reviews recent books and articles that examine the politics and economics of the restructuring of public universities in the United States. The author weaves the arguments together to point to several prominent trends: increased corporatization of university governance and increased dependence on the market for resources previously provided by the state, reduction of full-time faculty in favor of instructors and adjuncts, dramatic growth of administrative personnel, and mounting student debt. The history of these developments is explored by examining the roots of the political attacks on the public university”:

    Cox, Ronald W. (2013) "The Corporatization of Higher Education," Class, Race and Corporate Power: Vol. 1: Iss. 1, Article 8.
    Available at

  3. I would love to teach at a college or a university, but NO WAY would I attempt to apply for a position ALREADY HELD BY SOMEONE ELSE (so they'd get me cheaper). This is akin to being a scab. TFA has come to higher education, & it's not pretty. Oh, wait--I shouldn't be saying this--because next they WILL be hiring actual TFAs at colleges & universities.
    And how about what's been going on at the Brooklyn Campus of Long Island University? (They locked out the ENTIRE teaching faculty {locked their e-mail accounts, took them off their health insurance, locked them out of their offices & have thus far replaced them with administrators unqualified to teach the classes they had been assigned to {or--some classes had NO instructor}). Of course, this isn't a story told on msm--saw it on Democracy Now!last week.
    But--OMG!--Angelina Jolie has filed for divorce from Brad Pitt (& there was more).
    Now, THAT's an important story.