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Principles for 'One Faculty'

February 8, 2010

A coalition of academic associations is today issuing a joint statement calling on colleges to recognize that they have "one faculty" and to treat those off the tenure track as professionals, with pay, benefits, professional development and participation in governance.

The joint statement, "One Faculty Serving All Students," calls for colleges to adopt a series of policies that would significantly improve the treatment of adjunct faculty members at many institutions. The statement was organized by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, and has been signed by 14 disciplinary associations as well as by the American Federation of Teachers. The disciplines involved represent such major fields as anthropology, art, composition, English, foreign languages, philosophy and religion.

Among members of the coalition, one notable non-signatory was the American Association of University Professors, where some viewed the statement as not sufficiently focused on the tenure track. But at least some adjunct leaders applauded the statement for exactly that reason.

A Set of Principles

The statement notes the increase in part-time faculty members, from around one-fifth of teaching faculty in 1970 to about half today.

"No matter the conditions, full- and part-time faculty members teaching off the tenure track are professionals who make indispensable contributions to their institutions. They are committed educators who often serve institutions for significant periods of time," the statement says. "A third of full- and part-time faculty members teaching off the tenure track in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences have been in their current teaching position longer than six years; a fifth or more have held their current position longer than ten years. These faculty members effectively function as permanent members of the staff at their colleges and universities, yet institutions often perpetuate outdated personnel and compensation policies that assume non-tenure-track faculty members are short-term employees who will make up only a small proportion of the faculty."

Specifically, the coalition calls on colleges to:

  • Set minimum levels of per-course pay for adjuncts that are "equitable to those of tenure-track faculty" and to make those pay levels public.
  • Provide health and retirement benefits to all faculty members, including adjuncts, who teach more than 50 percent of a teaching load.
  • Compensate all faculty members for "work outside of the classroom, including student advising, committees, and other service work."
  • Provide adjuncts and all faculty members with "regular support for professional development in regard to teaching skills, new course creation, scholarship, and occupational promotion."
  • Maintain tenure lines "sufficient to cover courses in the upper-division undergraduate and graduate curricula and to ensure an appropriate presence of tenured and tenure-track faculty members in the lower division."
  • Organize departmental course offerings such that "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."
  • Make all faculty members, including adjuncts, "eligible to teach upper-division undergraduate and graduate curricula when they are qualified and can contribute to their respective programs."
  • "Ensure that 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."
  • Include those off the tenure track "in curriculum planning, student advising, and other aspects of college life fundamental to sustaining good learning environments and positive departmental cultures."

These standards would represent significant movement for many colleges. While some colleges have improved benefits for adjuncts who teach more than half a normal course load, health insurance is more common than retirement benefits and many colleges do not offer even health coverage. Likewise, while some colleges have raised per-course pay, it rarely meets standards of being "equitable" to that for tenure-track faculty members, and compensation for out-of-class work remains uncommon. Many departments today commonly have a significant majority of sections taught by part-timers.

Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, one of the groups that signed the statement, said that she saw it as part of a long-term effort to change the way faculty members are hired and treated. Disciplines (as the statement notes) have individual standards on many of these issues, she said, which makes it an "extraordinary accomplishment" for so many groups to "come together and say that the balance is off and that we must correct the balance."

She said she hoped that departments would first share the information. She said it is still the case that many tenure-track faculty members are "surprised if not shocked" by how extensively colleges rely on those off the tenure track. She said she hoped that departments would then try to enact the various measures and encourage discussion at their institutions about ways to offer adjunct faculty members working conditions that are appropriate and that promote "optimal" student learning.

In many cases, she noted, colleges have not adopted their policies on the use of adjuncts through some thought-out strategy, but step by ad hoc step. Faculty leaders need to be armed with information such as that contained in the new statement to push back, and to raise questions when institutions try to move toward further use of adjuncts without treating them professionally.

Robert B. Townsend, assistant director for research and publications at the American Historical Association, another signatory to the statement, said that this is a good time to come forward with such principles. While the economic downturn has depressed hiring in many fields, he said, hiring will return eventually. When that happens, he said, "we don't want departments just filling positions with part-time faculty without thinking about these issues," he said, which should lead them to improve working conditions for adjuncts and to devote more resources to restoring tenure-track positions.

Why the AAUP Didn't Sign

Gary Rhoades, general secretary of the AAUP, issued a statement that praised the report as "an important step in recognizing problematic academic staffing issues" and "laudable." While the statement noted a recent AAUP call for the conversion of adjunct jobs to tenure-track positions, Rhoades didn't specify which parts of the coalition statement discouraged the group from signing.

Marc Bousquet, an associate professor of English at Santa Clara University and co-chair of the AAUP's Committee on Contingent Faculty and the Profession, said that while he agreed with "90 percent of the statement," there were "troubling" sections that worried him and some of his colleagues. He said that the statement's call for tenure-track faculty to "cover" upper level courses basically "abandons the lower division to a system of contingent faculty being supervised by tenure-stream faculty and that's a very troubling abandonment."

Further, he questioned why the statement was calling for 51 percent of positions to be full-time, given that many full-time positions these days are not on the tenure track. He said that departments and colleges that have irresponsibly small percentages of tenure-track faculty, but have many full-time adjuncts, will be "legitimated" and that there may be "downward pressure" from more colleges to bring their departmental hiring down the lowest level that the coalition report endorses. The report should have focused further, he said, on the importance of tenure-track positions and the need for departments to restore them.

Feal said that she agreed that colleges should restore tenure-track lines. And she said that the "minimal standards" in the statement should be viewed as a floor only, and that she applauded efforts to go beyond those measures. But she said it was appropriate for the associations in the coalition to also recognize the realities that so many colleges depend on (and unfairly take advantage of) contingent faculty members.

"There are so many positions of people not on the tenure track, positions that do not require a Ph.D. or a research career," she said. "Many of them are not tenure track but that doesn't mean that they shouldn't have job security, appropriate professional review standards, support for professional development. If you make your battle exclusively about tenure, you may miss" the needs of this large group of faculty members, she said.

Maria Maisto, president of the board of New Faculty Majority, a national adjunct group, said that she agreed with the statement, and in particular with its "one faculty" theme. The idea of viewing professors as having similar jobs -- whether on or off the tenure track -- "is a fundamental change in the culture of higher education and a rejection of the class structure, multi-tiered system" present today, she said.

Maisto said her major concern was over how to be sure departments and colleges act on these principles. "Many adjunct and contingent faculty have become cynical about these statements if they don't see follow-up," she said. What she would like to know, she said, is what impact it would have on "a department's standing" with one of the disciplinary associations if it didn't follow these goals.

Keith Hoeller, co-founder of the Washington Part-Time Faculty Association, said his major disappointment with the coalition report was that it didn't outline a path toward meaningful job security off the tenure track. Hoeller is among those adjuncts who believe that people like himself, who have worked for years off the tenure track, will lose their jobs if colleges convert many part-time positions to tenure-track jobs. (While the AAUP report calls for converting the adjuncts themselves, and not just the positions, Hoeller doubts that would happen.) The only way adjuncts can be "fully enfranchised" as part of "one faculty," as suggested by the coalition report, he said, is with specific measures to provide "real job security and academic freedom for existing adjuncts."

Hoeller praised the coalition report for seeking to improve the treatment of adjuncts while "not seeking to create more tenure track positions at the expense of adjunct jobs." He said that the coalition's support for "sufficient" tenure-track faculty was much better than the views of the AAUP and the AFT (although the latter endorsed the coalition statement). In contrast, he said that the AAUP "has insisted that there should be only two types of professors: those serving a probationary period on the tenure track, and those who have passed a tenure review process, usually after seven years, and then been awarded tenure."

Given that such a model has long ceased to exist, and left many adjuncts without decent working conditions, Hoeller said it made sense to look at new models. And even if he doesn't think the new report goes far enough in that direction, he said it was recognizing that the traditional tenure system wasn't helping enough people. "For 40 years now, the two track system has meant job security for the lucky few at the expense of job insecurity for the unlucky many," he said. "We must think outside the tenure box and put contingent faculty job security first."

 

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