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'Imperative for Change'

February 22, 2013

Reform-minded adjunct professors and their advocates now have a few more resources to work with, thanks to the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success.

The University of Southern California-based initiative, led by Adrianna Kezar, professor of higher education, recently released “The Imperative for Change: Understanding the Necessity of Changing Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Policies and Practices” and “The Path to Change” on its website. The first report details the impact of the growing employment of adjuncts across academe on student learning and equity among faculty, as well as potential legal consequences. The second set of documents provides real-life models of healthy integration of adjunct professors into the greater faculty body at various colleges and universities.

“My hope is that it can be used as a wake-up call to institutional leaders about a practice that has become commonplace but that is very problematic,” Kezar said in an e-mail of “Imperative for Change.” “The key, I think, is how many issues campuses overlook in terms of the emerging problems of employing so many non-tenure-track faculty.”

Kezar said both resources are designed to be used alongside previously released Delphi Project campus guides to adjunct faculty issues and initiatives and provide a rationale for why campuses should create task forces for reform.

According to research by Kezar and others, increased numbers of adjuncts in higher education lead to diminished graduation and retention rates, reduced faculty-student interaction and use of high-impact teaching practices, and decreased student transfers from two- to four-year institutions. Adjuncts themselves are not to blame for these effects, the report cautions; rather, “poor working conditions and a lack of support diminish their capacity to provide a high quality learning environment and experience for students.” Institutional leaders in particular should be concerned with such effects, it continues.

Beyond student learning, the report addresses serious concerns about differences in salary, benefits, shared governance and professional development opportunities and job security among adjuncts and their tenure-track counterparts. Only 51 percent of part-time faculty receive some benefits from their institutions, for example, and they make far less per course than their full-time peers. Additionally, even where adjuncts are allowed to participate in shared governance, “they are typically given only a token status – without equal voting rights or proportional representation.”

The report also points to a growing body of lawsuits waged by adjuncts against their employers in light of such issues. “A tight academic job market, poor working conditions, significant inequities, power imbalances and often adversarial relationships with colleagues and administrators leaves aggrieved non-tenure-track faculty with little recourse than to resort to litigation in efforts to protect their perceived rights,” it reads. Common adjunct hiring practices, such as annual rehiring, could violate fair employment laws, for example, while adjuncts who are forced to meet with students in places such as coffee shops due to lack of office space could open up their institutions to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act violations. Legal concerns relating to discrimination, academic freedom, harassment, rehiring practices and due process, and collective bargaining, as well as students’ opportunity to enjoy an “equal education” also could stem from the proliferation of adjunct employment, the report says.

The Delphi Project aims to examine and develop solutions to change the nature of the professoriate, the causes of the rise of non-tenure-track faculty (who now make up the majority of instructors) and the impact of this change on teaching and learning.

Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority national adjunct advocacy organization, said the Delphi Project’s newest effort “is really important because it articulates for the first time not just the educational quality and social justice arguments for correcting the abuses of the contingent employment system, but also the potential legal ramifications of not doing so.” Calling it a sort of “inconvenient truth” about adjuncts, she added, “It's kind of a last-ditch attempt to open the eyes of many institutions that have been willfully blind to this problem for decades.”

Path to Change

Accompanying the report is a set of cases studies of institutions that have taken steps to address such concerns. All have used different “levers” of change. But, said Daniel Maxey, an education doctoral student and Kezar’s co-investigator at the Delphi Project, “most of the efforts we describe in the cases were advanced by the participants' recognition of the importance of collecting data, building relationships, appealing to their institutions' mission and values, and using existing processes, such as governance or accreditation, to create a dialogue and push for changes.”

Adjuncts at California State Polytechnic University-Pomona, for example, voted to join the faculty union and networked and assumed leadership positions while participating in faculty programs and collaborating with students to gain visibility on campus spanning several years. By contrast, the University System of Maryland launched a focused effort to gather input from various faculty and administrative groups on how best to support adjunct faculty (state legislators also proposed a bill to allow for collective bargaining for adjuncts and graduate students at public institutions in 2009; it ultimately did not pass, but helped raise awareness of adjunct employment issues).

The list of eight institutions is limited, due largely to the lack of successful adjunct faculty integration models across higher education, said Maxey. However, he added, “we hope to help individuals working on other campuses to see that change is possible, provide some examples of how it has been achieved under a variety of circumstances, and to start conversations in departments and across campuses about the types of changes that can be undertaken to better support non-tenure-track faculty in the short and long term.”

Maisto said adjuncts and students should have the “strongest voice possible” in such discussions. And although they’ll take place at the campus level, she said, “there should be some commonly held values and standards that should apply across higher education and govern any change efforts that are undertaken: for example, rejecting the practice of simply kicking to the curb adjuncts who have served for years in favor of new tenure-line positions for new Ph.D.s.”

 

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