Lesson II: Contingency Faculty

The Invisible Majority: Contingency Faculty and Diversity*

It is impossible to talk about the practices and issues related to race and tenure in any meaningful way without considering how much universities rely on contingent faculty to prop up their educational missions. Women and faculty of color are disproportionally clustered in contingent positions, and the majority of tenured faculty spend at least part of their careers in contingent positions—as adjunct or part-time faculty, visiting professors, post-doctoral fellows and, of course, as teaching assistants.  A good place to start thinking seriously about the subject is by reading the 2010 report released by the Association of American University Professors.  It offers concrete examples of ways to stabilize the tenuous situation contingent faculty regularly find themselves in; it also offers startling and troubling facts (all quoted from the original report):

•  By 2007 almost 70% of faculty working at colleges and universities were off the tenure track.

•  Non-tenure track faculty and graduate students teach the majority of classes at many institutions, commonly at shockingly low rates of pay.

•  Contingent faculty frequently pay for their own computers, phones, and office supplies, and dip into their own wallets for journal subscriptions and travel to conferences to stay current in their fields.

•  At many institutions, the proportion of faculty with tenure is below 10 percent.

For more on the issue, see Confronting Contingency: Faculty Equity and the Goals of Academic Democracy.

One of its more salient arguments about the problems with current approaches to resolving the unethical treatment of contingency faculty:

4. The debates that have raged within and about higher education over vocational versus liberal education, tenure, the “corporatization” of higher education, governmental oversight and accreditation, and funding models and sources have obscured, deferred, or overridden the need for action on the fundamental ethical and practical concerns that attend the professional and personal needs of faculty on contingent appointments. Yet, ironically, attending to those concerns—ensuring a living wage, access to health care, professional development, and the protections of academic freedom—would exercise the very values of academic democracy that these debates are really all about.

* I owe an enormous debt to Karen Cardozo for educating me on the myriad issues that face contingency faculty.  She has pointed me to important books and articles that have shaped my understanding of the issue and the essay on this subject for the book.

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