AAUP Proposes Giving Contingent Faculty a Much Bigger Role in College Governance

June 28, 2012

The American Association of University Professors is poised to urge colleges to give much more say in their governance to contingent faculty members, including many part-time adjuncts, librarians, and graduate students who are paid to teach or conduct research.

In a draft report being released today, the association argues that colleges are ill-served by policies that exclude most instructors who are off the tenure track from governance activities, and offers a list of recommendations for giving contingent faculty members much more say in the affairs of the institutions that employ them.

The current exclusion of most non-tenure-track faculty from most governance activities at colleges "undermines faculty professionalism, the integrity of the academic profession, and the faculty's ability to serve the common good," the report argues. Such faculty members are "cut off from participation in an integral part of faculty work," and their exclusion from department meetings and other governance activities "undermines equity among academic colleagues," it says.

Noting that full- and part-time adjuncts, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows account for well over three fourths of all faculty appointments by the nation's colleges, the report describes the inclusion of faculty in contingent appointments as "crucial to establishing strong faculty governance." It argues that "the exclusion of so many faculty from governance activities undercuts the ability of the faculty to carry out its responsibilities in this area," and leaves the dwindling proportion of full-time and tenure-track faculty at colleges "overburdened with governance responsibilities as the pool of colleagues eligible to share this work shrinks."

The report concedes that integrating contingent faculty into college governance poses difficult questions, such as how to compensate such faculty members for governance-related activities, how to protect non-tenured faculty members from retaliation for expressing opinions that offend those in power, and how to prevent administrators from unduly influencing faculty bodies by pressuring those with little job security. But, it argues, "no faculty member should be excluded from participation in governance because of the appointment conditions over which most have little control."

The AAUP's joint subcommittee on contingent faculty and governance, which consists half of contingent faculty members and half of tenured or tenure-track professors, took the lead in writing the report. The document has been approved for publication by the association's Committee on Contingency and the Profession and its Committee on College and University Governance, the two panels that established the subcommittee. The AAUP is soliciting comments on the report before releasing a final version.

Tackling Early Concerns

When the joint subcommittee aired a preliminary list of its recommendations in November, at an AAUP conference on shared governance, some audience members worried that college governance bodies that are open to all faculty would become dominated by adjuncts. Others asked whether adjunct faculty members who have full-time jobs outside academe and little involvement in colleges' affairs should have the same voting rights as tenured professors on faculty bodies. Some expressed fear that the eligibility criteria being considered by the subcommittee was so broad it would open the door for administrators who teach a class to intrude into faculty governance.

The report being released today tackles some of those concerns. It says people whose duties are primarily administrative should not be defined as faculty for governance purposes. To deal with worries about adjuncts with little connection to their college having too much say over governance matters, it suggests that institutions or departments can establish "time in service" eligibility requirements precluding either contingent or tenure-track faculty from involvement in certain governance activities until they have worked at the college some minimum amount of time.

The report adds, however, that people who have little interest in their college are not likely to seek or win election to governing bodies. And, challenging the idea that being on the tenure track predisposes faculty members to be more involved with their college, it argues that institutions "have found ways to accommodate 'star' faculty" who come in once a week to teach one graduate seminar, faculty who have little interest in their institution, and faculty with substantial clinical practices or consulting businesses, without denying them a role in the system of faculty governance.

It dismisses fears that contingent faculty members will come to dominate college governance as predicated on the idea that such people are not "real" faculty members, when they have many of the same responsibilities as tenured and tenure-track professors.

Among its recommendations, the report says eligibility for voting or holding office in governance bodies "should be the same for all faculty regardless of full- or part-time status," and a college's assertion that it cannot afford to compensate adjuncts for governance activities should not preclude such faculty members from voluntary involvement in governance.

It says that reserving contingent faculty a specified number of seats on governing bodies "may be adopted as a transitional mechanism" to ensure them at least some representation, but "ideally there should be no minimum or maximum number of seats reserved in institution-wide senates and councils."

And it says faculty members in contingent appointments should have the opportunity to contribute in the evaluation of other contingent faculty members, though they may be restricted from participating in the evaluation of faculty members who are tenured or on the tenure track.