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New guides suggest questions to ask about adjuncts

Questions to Ask on Adjuncts
November 12, 2012

Over the years, various faculty advocacy groups, unions and disciplinary groups have issued reports calling for better treatment of non-tenure-track faculty members. The reports have called for adjuncts to be eligible for health insurance, to have guarantees of academic freedom or job security, and to be treated as true colleagues by those on the tenure track. These various studies have not hesitated to state that colleges have a moral obligation and an educational imperative to improve the way they treat adjuncts.

Now the Delphi Project, which brings together faculty groups, scholars of higher education, and college administrators, is tackling the issue of how adjuncts are treated. And the project has just released two guides -- one for colleges that are (or may soon appoint) committees to review policies, and the other for departments. The guides cover many of the issues that have been covered in previous reports, but in a decidedly different tone. They don't have lists of things that colleges must (or even should) do. Rather, they featured detailed questions.

The guide for campus task forces, for example, has questions on the availability of data on the faculty work force (among them: does the college track data? what do the data show?), questions on hiring policies (one example: are requirements different for those on and off the tenure track?), questions on performance evaluations that draw out differences for those on and off the tenure track and any rationales for those differences, questions on policies for reappointment of adjuncts, and broader questions such as whether the college has a staffing plan that seeks a certain ratio of tenure-track faculty, or seeks to employ adjuncts in certain kinds of positions.

While many of the questions relate to the way institutions treat adjunct faculty members, a number also focus on faculty decision-making. For example, there are questions on whether faculty unions represent some or all faculty groups and whether, if only tenure-track faculty members are unionized, there is any effort to be sure that the interests of adjunct faculty members are represented. And there is a question on whether -- in cases where one union represents tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty members alike -- all interests are reflected. There are questions on the degree of representation for non-tenure-track faculty members in faculty senates or equivalent groups. And there are questions on whether those off the tenure track have appropriate opportunities to be heard in discussions of curricular questions.

Given the common complaint of adjuncts that their pay and benefits lag appropriate levels of compensation, there are detailed questions in this area, on pay levels, the availability of specific benefits, and whether adjuncts are compensated for work out of class. For these and other questions, the task forces are asked to consider whether there are policies that differ for full-time and part-time non-tenure-track faculty members.

On academic freedom, campus committees are urged to ask: "Considering the purposes of academic freedom, what are the benefits of ensuring that all faculty receive the same protections in the classroom? In research or publication? Regarding extramural utterances?"

It would be hard to read the questions and not think that those who drafted them believe that non-tenure-track faculty members need better pay and benefits, more job security and so forth. But that isn't stated explicitly and no list of minimum rights and protections is put forth.

Adrianna Kezar, director of the Delphi Project and associate professor of higher education at the University of Southern California, said that the lack of directives is intentional. "This was reviewed by all of our stakeholders, by union groups and by presidents and chancellors and disciplinary groups," she said. "This was created by a very different mix of people," and the strength of that diversity is that more people may be open to considering the issues raised by the questions because a specific plan isn't outlined.

"You can't have a 'one size fits all' approach," she said. An approach with "blunt instruments" might not get many colleges involved, she said.

The project is starting to make presentations about the questions, and to distribute them, and is receiving enthusiastic responses not only from adjuncts but from deans and other administrators, Kezar said.

Maria Maisto is president of the New Faculty Majority, a group of non-tenure-track faculty members that has called for specific improvements in their treatment. But she also has been involved with the Delphi Project, and said that she endorses the approach it is taking. When groups rebuke colleges for not doing enough for adjuncts, "it feels good to do it, but it doesn't always yield results," she said.

A major problem facing adjuncts, she said, is that some people in power in higher education still don't grasp the prevalence of those off the tenure track, and their role in teaching. The questions being put out by the Delphi Project, if asked and answered honestly, could change that, she said. She compared trying to talk about the treatment of adjuncts to people who don't have the basic facts to those who try to talk about climate change to those who don't admit it is real. "You can talk until you are blue in the face, but if people don't acknowledge that there is an actual problem, they won't listen to you," she said.

The questions being distributed are an "inclusive" way to get administrators and faculty members (tenure-track and non-tenure-track) talking and looking at the issues. "It's the right strategy for this audience," Maisto said.

 

 

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