With Student Learning at Stake, Group Calls for Better Working Conditions for Adjuncts

July 31, 2012

Academe needs a new model for the professoriate that better supports the growing number of instructors who are off the tenure track, the participants in a national project about the changing faculty have concluded.

The participants, who represent a cross-section of academe and its stakeholders, also said in a report being released this week that they need to align to gather data that will paint a clearer picture of higher education's increasing reliance on contingent faculty.

A key reason for those two strategies to improve the jobs of contingent faculty members is that their poor working conditions may harm student learning, says the report, a "working document" produced by the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success.

The 49-page document, in part, details the challenges linked to the rising number of contingent faculty, who now make up about 70 percent of all instructors at the nation's colleges and universities. But data that quantify the effects of this shift in the make-up of the faculty and the issues it creates aren't readily available, the report says. Without hard numbers, campus policy makers may be unaware of the extent of the challenges they face.

"Everybody agreed that we lack good data tools to help inform policy making at various levels as it relates to non-tenure-track faculty," says Adrianna Kezar, director of the project and an associate professor of higher education at the University of Southern California.

"What we're doing now is creating all of these data tools and resources so that we can make people aware of the extent of the issue and then have a series of best practices that have been put in place at various institutions that we can point to that we know work."

Participants in the Delphi project also agreed that the current system—with tenure-stream faculty on the one hand, and full-timers and part-timers who work off the tenure track on the other— "isn't working," Ms. Kezar says. "We all thought, What is the new model of the faculty that we need to have?"

The document reflects a year's worth of work by more than 40 people, including college presidents, higher-education researchers, leaders of scholarly associations, faculty union leaders, and representatives of organizations that represent faculty who are off the tenure track. The report and the strategies it proposes emerged from discussions at a recent meeting where most of the project's participants gathered.

The participants will be pared down into two task forces to work on advancing the project's strategies in various ways.

For instance, they will need to develop a conceptual paper that details what the future faculty should look like and how it could be adopted by all types of institutions. And eventually, the project will need some grant money to make pieces of both strategies a reality—such as setting up models at individual institutions or university systems of how to best support non-tenure-track faculty.

Ms. Kezar says she expects to post the document at the project's Web site later this week. Other documents related to the project's current efforts will be posted over the next six months.