AAUP Weighs Calling for Adjunct Faculty to Have Major Role in Shared Governance

November 13, 2011

The American Association of University Professors is considering whether to call for adjunct faculty members to be given a role, and a full vote, in nearly all shared-governance decisions.

The AAUP's subcommittee on contingent faculty and governance released its preliminary recommendations for a new statement of principles concerning adjunct faculty at a lunch session here Saturday during the association's fall conference on shared governance.

Among other ideas, the subcommittee said faculty senates and committees, and their leadership positions, generally should be open to any academic employees who do the work of faculty members, including adjuncts and librarians who participate in teaching and research. All faculty members, regardless of job status, should have a full vote in elections to such governing bodies. And because elections and offices would be open to all, the subcommittee said, that no seats on the governing bodies should be set aside for certain faculty members based on job status.

Half of the subcommittee's members are contingent faculty members, and the balance are tenured or tenure-track professors. Members of the panel said it is contemplating calling for contingent faculty members to get a vote on nearly every governance matter. They said they do not plan to recommend that contingent faculty members have a vote on the tenure and promotion of tenure-track colleagues, although they do plan to recommend that contingent faculty members be allowed to participate in the evaluation of others working on a contingent basis.

The subcommittee sought to phrase its recommendations "not as prescriptions, but as principles to be considered," said one panel member, Joe T. Berry, an independent labor educator and the author of Reclaiming the Ivory Tower, an organizing handbook for contingent faculty members. In drafting its recommendations, he said, the panel sought "not to ratify existing disparities in power" but to promote "vigorous democratic participation."

The panel, which was jointly established by the association's Committee on College and University Governance and its Committee on Contingency and the Profession, presented its preliminary recommendations here to get feedback from the audience. The crowd of nearly 200, consisting of a combination of AAUP members and outsiders, expressed enough reservations about the recommendations to suggest they are likely to meet resistance from some AAUP members.

Among the concerns was whether governance bodies open to all faculty members would be dominated by those who work on a contingent basis. Members of the audience questioned whether adjunct faculty members with little involvement in the institution, such as those who teach a single class and have full-time jobs outside academe, should have the same voting rights as tenured professors. Some expressed fear that the broad eligibility criteria being considered by the subcommittee would open the door for administrators who teach a class to intrude into faculty governance.

James Morley, a professor of clinical psychology at Ramapo College of New Jersey, said he worried that the association, by adopting such a statement of principles, would be "normalizing" colleges' growing reliance on contingent faculty. "Are we making it acceptable?" he asked.

Audience members also questioned whether it would be wise for the association to open the doors of governance bodies to graduate teaching assistants. Mr. Berry argued, however, that graduate students who are the teachers of record for courses "are doing the fundamental work of the university," and that "we are hurting ourselves" by excluding them from decisions related to matters such as curriculum.

The subcommittee, which is not on a rigid timetable for issuing its final recommendations, urged audience members to send additional feedback. In coming up with its proposals, it has informally surveyed faculty members around the nation on the role contingent faculty play in governance at their institutions.

Mr. Berry said the panel's work has been complicated by how much colleges differ in how they treat adjunct faculty members. For example, he said, it had been difficult for the panel to come with a formal distinction between part-time and full-time faculty members, given how much colleges vary in defining the terms. "We are learning a lot about the humongous diversity of faculty governance bodies," he said.