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Making Room for the Majority

January 23, 2013

The final version of the American Association of University Professors’ report on the role of adjunct faculty in governance out this week includes new recommendations to counteract the possible influence of term employment on the process.

“There’s a balancing act in this report,” said Joe Berry, a retired labor rights professor and a principal author of The Inclusion in Governance of Faculty Members Holding Contingent Appointments.”

“On the one hand, [adjunct faculty] are legitimately open to influence and intimidation and all those sorts of things because they don’t have academic freedom. But on the other hand, that has to be balanced with the fact that they are three-fourths of the [overall higher education] faculty and if they don’t have any role in governance, you’ve zapped that majority of power.”

AAUP released a draft of the report for member review in June. Key recommendations include extending tenure-track professors' voting rights and governance body leadership opportunities to all faculty members who are primarily engaged in independent teaching or research, including adjuncts, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and librarians; the ability to participate in evaluating other adjunct faculty (if not tenure-track faculty); and compensation for work performed outside of instruction.

Berry said that while much of the feedback consisted of statements along the lines of, “It’s about time,” some pointed to the danger of recommending a larger governance role for adjuncts, who don’t have the job security of their tenured counterparts. Rather than change recommendations for increased adjunct participation, however, the report subcommittee added protective language, including the recommendation that adjunct faculty hiring mirror tenure-track hiring processes, making it more objective and less dependent on the whims of individual faculty members, such as department chairs. 

At the institutional level, the report reads, “[t]he governance system must be protected by the most rigorous possible commitment in spirit, in writing, and in fact to prevent retaliation against all those who voice opinions in the governance process that may offend those with more power.” The final report also states that all faculty members should be able to vote or abstain freely and without having to defend their decisions.

Experts on non-tenure-track faculty praised the additional protective recommendations for adjuncts in governance roles.

“That’s definitely the right instinct and attitude,” said Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, a national adjunct advocacy organization. “We believe [adjunct] rights include their right to professional hiring, compensation, evaluation and job security, since all of these help to ensure the high quality of education to which students are entitled, and access to governance can definitely help secure those rights.”

Adrianna Kezar, director of the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success, a partnership between the University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education and the Association of American Colleges and Universities, said rethinking hiring and rehiring criteria is an effective way to protect adjuncts in governance roles, and suggested multiyear contracts and due process processes as additional means.

"I think, given [that] this group is absolutely critical to governance, the key is figuring out ways to reduce these types of problems, rather than use them as reasons not to include non-tenure-track faculty [in governance]," she said.

 

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