Plan Offers Better Pay, Job Stability, and a Career Path for Contingent Faculty

June 13, 2012

A plan that would provide job stability, a clear path of advancement, and better pay for faculty who work off the tenure track—roughly 70 percent of the professoriate nationwide—was the talk of a session on Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Association of University Professors.

The proposal, modeled partly on standards in Middle Tennessee State University's English department, calls for contingent faculty to progress through four phases of employment. Their career progression would not culminate in tenure. But, the plan says, the path would allow the instructors to gain what it calls "reviewable permanence" in their jobs, as well as a means to professional development.

For institutions that adopt the detailed plan to professionalize the growing numbers of contingent faculty, the payoff would be worth it, the proposal says. Faculty members would be more fully engaged in their jobs and more fully vested in the success of their students. That would better position contingent faculty to be key players in helping institutions meet their goals, such as improving student retention.

The plan was developed by a group of professors at Middle Tennessee State in response to concerns of the institution's non-tenure-track faculty, particularly those who work full time but still feel like outsiders on the campus, in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Of all full-time faculty at Middle Tennessee State, the non-tenure-track percentage nearly doubled over a six-year period, growing from 15 percent in 2005 to 26 percent in 2011, according to a paper that details the contingent-faculty plan and describes the working conditions of adjuncts in Tennessee.

With those full-time, nontenured faculty members often employed at the university for a decade or longer, their status as "temporary" employees puts them in "perpetual career limbo," wrote the paper's authors, Josie McQuail, a professor of English at Tennessee Technological University, and Scott McMillan, an associate professor of English, history, and political science and chair of the Faculty Council at Volunteer State Community College.

4 Phases of Employment

The four phases of employment outlined in the plan begin with the semester-to-semester contracts commonly associated with adjunct employment. Contract instructors, who would need to hold at least a master's degree, would teach three lower-division courses each semester, have a group office, and earn $550 to $700 per credit hour.

Once promoted to full-time temporary faculty, the second phase, they would each teach five lower-division courses a semester, share an office, be appointed for two three-year terms, and make a minimum of $32,000.

Full-time lecturers, the third phase, would have the same appointment terms but would get a course release to teach nine lower-division courses or select upper-division courses in an academic year. They would be expected to do departmental and professional service work, would have their own office space, and would be paid a minimum of $35,000.The final phase, reserved for faculty members with terminal degrees, would be promotion to full-time senior lecturer. That position, which has some of the same benefits and responsibilities as a full-time lecturer, would, in addition, offer semipermanent status, teaching select upper-division courses (some within an area of expertise), and a minimum salary for the academic year of $48,000. Full-time, non-tenure-track faculty at this level would also get to teach a lighter load of four courses per semester, sit on departmental committees, and serve as mentors to their peers.

Under the plan, non-tenure-track faculty at all levels would receive periodic scrutiny, with yearly assessments and an intensive five-year review for those who hold the most senior of contingent-faculty ranks. Career advancement for non-tenure-track faculty would hinge on their teaching performance and their commitment to scholarly and institutional work.

The cost of adopting the new system would be "marginal," according to the plan, in that the salaries and office space the plan recommends "are not greatly out of step with current practices across several departments" at Middle Tennessee State.

'A Start'

Mr. McMillan emphasized at Wednesday's session that the "pragmatic" plan recognizes the limits imposed by states' straitened budgets and the resulting strains on public colleges' bottom lines. "We're just not going to see an explosion of tenure-track positions," he said.

Under those circumstances, he and his colleagues wanted to improve the jobs of instructors off the tenure track, by giving them more career support and opportunities for advancement. "It's a start," he said.

Meanwhile, the AAUP remains focused on contingent-faculty issues, with a new push to get colleges to include non-tenure-track faculty in the structures of shared governance. A draft report soon to be released by the association's Committee on Contingency and the Profession and its Committee on College and University Governance contains recommendations for how that should be done.

Among the report's eight recommendations: All faculty engaged in governance activities should be protected from retaliation by institutional policies; non-tenure-track faculty should be allowed to contribute to the evaluation of other contingent faculty; and both part-time and full-time contingent faculty should have the same requirements for being allowed to vote or hold office in an institution's governance bodies.