Documenting Adjunct Work

Coalition of academic groups starts national survey in effort to gain data to promote better treatment of those off the tenure track.
September 27, 2010

The Coalition on the Academic Workforce -- a group of disciplinary and professional associations and faculty unions -- is undertaking a major effort to document the working conditions and needs of adjuncts.

The goal of the strategy is to advance efforts to improve adjunct pay and working conditions by showing the extent of the challenges faced by those off the tenure track. Many adjuncts and their tenure-track supporters have complained about being rebuffed by administrators who cite examples (which may well be real for individuals, but not reflective of the group at large) of adjuncts who love being adjuncts, or who aren't worried about health insurance or retirement benefits because they have other, full-time jobs.

In addition, many of the national databases on academic working conditions -- such as the American Association of University Professors' much-cited annual survey of faculty salaries -- focus on full-time, generally tenure-track professors and so do not yield much information about a group that is already the majority at many institutions.

A statement from Robert Townsend, assistant director of research and publications for the American Historical Association, one of the coalition members, explained the survey this way: "Although the majority of U.S. faculty are now off the tenure track, information about their working conditions is sorely lacking. Most of the limited data that exist on the working conditions of the contingent academic workforce are too generic to be of much use in really understanding how these professionals are being compensated and treated."

The survey, which will be open on the coalition's website from today until November 30, features questions on how much work adjuncts are doing, their career goals, and their compensation. The survey reflects the way many adjuncts work at multiple institutions with differing pay and benefits.

Some of the questions appear designed to quantify the proportion of adjuncts who do and don't rely on their college employers to put food on the table and to provide life essentials such as health insurance. Questions cover such topics as whether higher education is the "primary employment" for these individuals, and whether they are seeking or would accept tenure-track positions. Benefits questions cover health insurance, retirement benefits and any other benefits. Adjuncts are also asked about limits on the number of courses they may teach, and about whether they are members of unions. Questions about courses include the number of students per section and such factors as whether the course is in person, online or hybrid.

The new survey will be open to all who are teaching off the tenure track -- full-time, part-time and graduate students. A survey released in March by the American Federation of Teachers included only part-time adjuncts. That survey found that part-time faculty members are generally satisfied with their jobs, but that many have concerns about the lack of health insurance, the lack of job security and other issues.


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