Voting Rights for Adjuncts
It's time for faculty senates and academic departments to make sure adjuncts can vote in their meetings and elections and hold offices, just as tenure-track and tenured faculty members are permitted to do, says a new report being released today by the American Association of University Professors.
According to the report, even though adjuncts now make up about 75 percent of the postsecondary teaching workforce, they continue to be routinely excluded from department meetings, discussions on curriculum, and governance activities, leading to a “sense of inequity.”
The report says that the word “faculty” should be used to describe all full- and part-time non-tenure-track teachers, graduate-student employees who have independent teaching or research duties (tutoring students and grading papers in courses taught by someone else don’t count), postdoctoral fellows who mainly work as teachers or researchers, and librarians. These faculty members should all be eligible to hold office in governance bodies and to vote “on the basis of one person, one vote.” In other words, if an adjunct teaches only two courses a year, and most tenure-track faculty teach three such courses, the adjunct would have a full vote, not two-thirds of a vote.
The study acknowledges that many previous AAUP policies were primarily written for faculty members who are tenured or tenure-track, and the new study is a way of addressing concerns for those off the tenure track. And while it addresses these concerns, there is one crucial caveat: the report says that contingent faculty “may be restricted” from evaluating tenured or tenure-track faculty. The reason: the job duties of adjuncts and those of tenured and tenure-track faculty at some institutions may be very different.
“Every individual group may prefer that things were said differently, but there is a difference between what is perfect and what is doable,” said Joe Berry, a labor educator and a prominent activist on behalf of adjuncts who was part of a committee that produced the report. “I think the report is reasonable enough that it can be taken seriously, especially by tenured faculty and administrators.”
Berry said the main goal of the study, which included an informal survey of academic senate leaders, was to stimulate discussion at institutions where there had been none, and provide guidance at the local level.
The informal survey, where 125 senate leaders responded, found that about a quarter of respondents were at institutions where part-time faculty were eligible for governance duties while 88 percent of respondents said that non-tenure-track faculty were not compensated when they took part in governance duties, a crucial issue for adjuncts who are typically paid only for time directly associated for courses they teach. The report also says that some governance positions may be reserved for adjuncts as a temporary solution, but ideally there should be no minimum or maximum number of seats set aside for them in academic senates or councils.
Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, praised the report but also said it might be logical to have contingent faculty evaluating tenured faculty on the basis of expertise and experience. “I'm not sure that any trepidation about this on the part of some tenure line faculty is warranted, particularly if the contingent faculty member is only one person on a committee -- in fact it would probably be riskier for the contingent faculty member to do it, unless his/her freedom from retaliation is protected as the AAUP recommends,” she said.
Maisto said she was pleased that the report talked about contingent faculty evaluating others on the non-tenure track. “...[I]t makes no sense to have only tenure line faculty evaluating adjuncts, like a brand-new assistant professor with little teaching experience evaluating a contingent faculty member with decades of experience,” she said, adding that the proof of the report’s effectiveness would be in how local chapters of the AAUP work with the report’s suggestions.
Adrianna Kezar, an associate professor of higher education at the University of Southern California who studies adjunct issues, said contingent involvement in governance tends to be episodic. “It is still dependent on individual administrators, rather than institutional policy.” She said the report addresses key issues such as adequate compensation for contingent faculty who take part in governance duties and their protection from any kind of retaliation.
But carrying out these ideas may be difficult.
At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the faculty wanted to give adjuncts voting rights, and the administration -- citing concerns about adjuncts voting on tenure or promotion -- suspended the Faculty Senate in 2007. Kezar, who was part of an AAUP committee that investigated the RPI situation and found that the institute violated the basic principles of shared governance, said the events there were atypical and more to do with resistance from new administrators. Other conflicts have nothing to do with administrators. The faculty union for community colleges in Massachusetts took years to approve a proposal for full voting rights for adjuncts.
The AAUP report says that, over the long term, the best system would be to employ only tenure-track and tenured faculty members, because then everyone involved in faculty governance would have full academic freedom. Still, the report recommends that efforts to include contingent faculty in shared governance “go hand in hand” with efforts to convert these positions into tenured and tenure-track positions. “The faculty must be able to exercise its collective voice freely and fully if it is to effectively determine the course of higher education,” the study says.
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