To the Editor:
In his Chronicle column for department chairs, Kevin Dettmar notes when asked about ways to leverage the department chair role to make conditions better for adjunct instructors: “One of the most difficult aspects of moving into academic administration is that you give up the ability to criticize the institution from the outside. And be expected to act in accordance with policies you disagree with” (“Ask the Chair: ‘How Can I Help Adjunct Instructors?’ The Chronicle, August 8). And within this limited position he notes you can create a genial course schedule for them, support their scholarly aspirations by providing funds to go to conferences, and offer to write letters of recommendation as they apply for other jobs.
Wow — well I am really glad that hundreds of academic administrators across various campuses have not seen themselves in this type of limited role where they give up being an advocate and say no to “accepting” inequities. Here I hope to share another perspective, in which academic administrators do not turn a blind eye or work within the parameters of the poor policies and practices of their institution. Instead, they act to change them, because that is what academic administrators — chairs or otherwise — who have integrity do.
As the Director of the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success at USC’s Pullias Center for Higher Education, I see dozens of examples of campuses each year where the administrators led or are partners with faculty in changing the working conditions for part and fulltime non-tenure-track faculty (NTTF) in very deep and meaningful ways. I see these examples through applications for the award we offer — the Delphi Award for support of non-tenure-track faculty, supported by the TIAA institute and in partnership with AAC&U.
The sheer number of applications we receive for the Delphi Award — a $15,000 cash award given to two winners annually — suggests that campus leaders do not see that the status quo is working, or right, and should be accepted. Additionally, the depth of consideration suggests creativity and boldness among academic administrators — championing issues including salary raises, benefits like sabbaticals and tuition remission, equal involvement in governance, pay for professional development and certificates that make faculty more marketable, job security through multi-year contracts, and a host of other changes that alter these positions from precarity and disenfranchisement to positions with dignity.
Let’s take this year’s winners. Dominican University of California has worked to improve the work lives of both full and part-time contingent faculty, making their roles much more secure and dramatically improving working conditions. It offers multi-year contracts, pay increases and a promotion track and health benefits for their full-time NTTF. They are also included in shared governance. Adjuncts, who are now unionized, have received a pay increase, seniority rights, awards, funding for professional development and conferences, and are compensated for professional development. They get tuition remission, emergency funds if sick and funds to offset work reductions. These changes were very much a result of a collaboration of academic administrators working with faculty. But it started with a recognition that contingent faculty roles were not aligned with Dominican’s mission and values around equity.
One of last year’s Delphi Award winners — Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) — established tenure paths for teaching faculty who used to be entirely contingent. All NTTF faculty were invited to move over to the new track. Those who choose not to could move from yearly or semester contracts to multi-year contracts providing more job security. WPI also developed stronger standards for evaluating teaching quality so that they have a strong way to promote faculty on these new tenure lines. What’s more, faculty at WPI are also now meaningfully included in university governance in ways they were not previously, allowing them voice for further changes.
The second Delphi Award winner this year, Montgomery College, focused on adjunct faculty. At this campus, stakeholders (senior administrators, deans, chairs, SEUI union reps, student-affairs staff, office of equity and inclusion, among others) came together to better support part-time faculty. They developed an Institute for Part-time Faculty Engagement and Support that created a host of changes ranging from awards and fellowships, professional development funds, compensated professional development, involvement in governance and security for number of courses taught, among other changes.
On some campuses, initial efforts are led by faculty, and in some cases, they are completely led by faculty such as at WPI (yet many faculty leaders also held roles such as chairs). But on many campuses applying for the award — such as Dominican University of California or Montgomery College — the academic administrators had a very active role in changes. And we see this activity at institutions of all types.
But, I realize that this question about adjunct support that was profiled in the earlier Chronicle column was asked of a department chair, as if administrators are in absolute isolation. Well, that is part of the problem with the response from Dettmar. On the campuses that have won the Delphi Award over the past five years — administrators saw themselves as a part of a system and network of people where anyone has agency to start change and they could work with others in collaboration to make it happen. And yet the germ of change often emerged from a single individual at the start — an aware and considered adjunct, faculty, chair or dean — and that is all it takes.
Wilbur Kieffer Endowed Professor and Dean’s Professor of Leadership
University of Southern California