Labor & Work-Life Issues

Coalition Seeks Better Conditions for Those Off the Tenure Track

February 08, 2010

The key to securing better workplace conditions for the growing number of full- and part-time faculty members who are not on the tenure track lies in setting standards for how all faculty members should be treated, according to a document released by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce.

The coalition, whose members include disciplinary associations and other faculty groups, calls on colleges in its issue brief to give contingent faculty members better pay and more on-the-job support, to treat longtime adjuncts as members of their departments and institutions, and to ensure that a certain share of courses are taught by full-time faculty members.

"As a coalition, we've been working on documenting the issues related to contingent faculty and bringing awareness to them," says Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, which is a member of the coalition. "Contingent faculty members in all of our associations should feel that we've all collectively taken a step in support of them."

Expanding Who Gets Benefits

The issue brief, "One Faculty Serving All Students," includes specific recommendations, such as giving contingent faculty members who teach at least half of a full teaching load access to the health and retirement benefits offered at their institutions and paying all faculty members for work done outside of the classroom. The coalition also says that non-tenure-track faculty members should be included in planning the curriculum and should be "hired, evaluated, and renewed in a professional manner."

The longtime debate over the rising use of non-tenure-track faculty members has spurred numerous documents about how to improve their plight. In fact, some members of the coalition have crafted their own policy statements. However, finding enough common ground to sign on to the coalition's recommendations was easier for some to do than others.

The American Association of University Professors is conspicuously not among the 15 groups listed as supporters at the end of the 10-page brief. The AAUP's Committee on Contingent Faculty and the Profession released a draft of a report last fall boldly urging colleges to convert contingent faculty members to the tenure track, among other things. And the association has a separate statement, adopted in 2003, about faculty members who work off the tenure track.

Marc Bousquet, a co-chair of the AAUP committee, wrote in an e-mail message that the panel "commended disciplinary associations for paying more attention to this issue" and for putting the onus on departments to monitor their academic work forces. He added: "Given the weaknesses of the CAW statement, however, AAUP leadership felt that the appropriate discussion of these issues is best found in AAUP's own statements."

Standards Could Backfire

One concern Mr. Bousquet and his colleagues have about the coalition's document is a recommendation that departments should make sure the "percentage of course sections taught by full-time faculty members does not drop below the majority of the course sections a department offers in any given semester."

Mr. Bousquet says such a base line, effectively calling for full-time faculty to teach just over 50 percent of classes, can be problematic when some institutions have surpassed that.

"Since there's no real teeth to this to raise numbers of those below, the actual lasting effect of this recommendation will likely be to legitimate the existing downward pressure on those with better numbers," Mr. Bousquet wrote.

Ms. Feal acknowledges that, for some of the coalition's members, the issue brief was "too strong or didn't go far enough."

"But the important thing," she said, "is that we're all working toward progress. Our ultimate goal is to decrease the exploitation of contingent faculty members."

Next up for the coalition is to study the salaries of part-time faculty members.