Coalition Calls for Equal Treatment for Non-Tenure Faculty

The Coalition on the Academic Workforce just released a brief calling on colleges and universities to recognize that they have 'one faculty' and to offer equal benefits and better professional treatment to professors off the tenure track.

Adjunct Faculty

One Faculty, Created Equal

The ratio of part-time faculty at U.S. colleges and universities climbed from 22% in 1970 to 48.7% in 2007, and more than one-third of full-time faculty members do not have access to tenure. If you include graduate teaching assistants in the calculation, you'll find that only one quarter of America's collegiate teaching staff is full-time or has access to the benefits and privileges of tenure.

Noting that the majority of U.S. college professors are part-time and non-tenured, a recent brief from the Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW) asks our country's colleges and universities to adopt a 'one faculty' policy that would dramatically improve how adjunct faculty are treated. The statement is signed by 14 disciplinary associations and by the American Federation of Teachers, but the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is notably absent.

Coalition on the Academic Workforce

Although adjunct faculty once played a small, short-term role at most colleges, many are now full-time, and most are long-term members of their institution's teaching staff. A third of the professors not on the tenure track have occupied their current positions longer than six years, and a fifth have held their positions longer than ten years. Yet they still get treated as a second class, with lower pay and fewer benefits. The CAW brief, 'One Faculty Serving All Students', calls on institutions of higher education to offer all faculty members 'compensation, institutional support and recognition commensurate with their professional status.' The CAW's recommendations include:

  • Institutions should set equitable minimum levels of per-course compensation for faculty members both on and off the tenure track, and all faculty members should be compensated for work outside of the classroom.
  • All faculty members with at least 50% of a full teaching load should receive equitable health and retirement benefits.
  • Institutions should provide regular support for professional development for all faculty members, including improving teaching skills, creating new courses and occupational promotion.
  • The number of tenure lines in each department should be sufficient to cover upper-division undergraduate and graduate courses, as well as providing an appropriate presence of tenured and tenure-track faculty in the lower division.
  • Qualified full- and part-time faculty members teaching off the tenure track should be allowed to teach upper-division graduate and undergraduate courses.
  • Key information on academic staffing in both departments and institutions should be transparent and made available to all faculty to ensure that professors can advocate for change.
  • All long-term faculty members should be fully enfranchised in their departments and institutions. They should be included in activities such as curriculum planning and student advising, and hiring, evaluation and renewal should be done in a professional manner.

The full brief is available to download from the CAW website.

Lecture Hall

The AAUP issued a statement praising many of the brief's recommendations and noting their own recent letter calling that adjunct positions be converted to tenure-track. However, the organization refused to sign the brief, citing reservations about certain proposals. Marc Bosquet, a co-chair of the AAUP's Committee on Contingent Faculty & the Profession, felt that by calling for 51% of positions to be full time, the statement may backfire and create 'downward pressure' that reduces the number of tenure track positions. He noted that institutions that have 'irresponsibly small' percentages of tenure-track faculty and high levels of full-time adjunct faculty will be legitimated, rather than pressured into restoring the high number of tenure-track positions.

Rosemary Feal, who is executive director of the Modern Language Association (MLA), one of the groups signing the brief, agreed that restoring tenure lines is important, and asserted that the minimum standards in the statement should be viewed as exactly that - minimums. However, she noted that by focusing exclusively on conversion to tenure, the AAUP is dismissing the needs of those who will remain adjunct faculty: 'Many of them aren't tenure track but that doesn't mean that they shouldn't have job security, appropriate professional review standards and support for professional development.'

Other groups support the brief. Maria Maisto, president of the board for a national adjunct group called New Faculty Majority, lauded the 'one faculty' theme. She noted that viewing on- and off-tenure track positions as similar roles represents 'fundamental change' in the culture of higher education and a rejection of the 'class structure multi-tiered system.'

Keith Hoeller, co-founder of the Washington Part Time Faculty Association, said that his only disappointment with the brief is that it didn't go far enough. He would have preferred to see it outline a specific path toward meaningful job security for adjunct faculty.

One of the most important accomplishments of this brief is to attract more attention to the plight of off-tenure faculty. Although the effectiveness remains to be seen - will institutions actually adopt the CAW's principles? - the statement is another step toward getting equal pay, equal benefits and job security for the majority of America's professors.

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