How to Help Adjuncts

Gwendolyn Bradley offers suggestions for administrators or chairs who want to improve working conditions for contingent faculty members.

March 13, 2007

Occasionally I make presentations to groups of administrators and department chairs about the issue of contingent faculty -- that portion of the professoriate, now well over half, who work in insecure, untenured and untenurable part- or full-time appointments. I argue, as the  American Association of University Professors has argued for years, that the widespread and ever-increasing reliance on contingent teachers and researchers is a major threat to the quality and stability of higher education, since it undermines academic freedom, shared governance, and traditional academic values.

In case there is any doubt, I point out that this threat stems from the working conditions of contingent faculty, usually imposed by administration, not from the individuals doing the contingent work. If the main purpose of higher education is, as its name seems to suggest, education, does it not make sense to direct the bulk of resources into a highly qualified, well-supported faculty instead of into facilities, technology, and sky-high presidential salaries?

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many people in the room tend to agree with me -- though perhaps this only indicates how bad the problem has gotten. With 65 percent of the faculty now off the tenure track and 46 percent holding part-time appointments, it’s getting pretty hard to keep our heads in the sand. But what, audience members want to know, can they as department chairs or mid-level administrators do about this? What do contingent faculty need?

What contingent faculty need, of course, are non-contingent appointments. They need academic freedom protected by tenure and they need adequate compensation and professional support. The most important thing that administrators and chairs can do, both for contingent faculty and for their students, is to fight for this standard whenever they can -- and many do, and some are successful.

But, as I am often reminded, we need to be “realistic.” And the reality is that many contingent faculty members, and especially many part-time contingent faculty members, face working conditions that are very far from this standard, and are employed at institutions where the creation of more tenure-track positions is unlikely to happen soon. That’s why the AAUP has adopted policies  to improve job security and due process for individuals who do hold contingent appointments at the same time that we illuminate the negative consequences of the proliferation of such appointments. The AAUP’s 2006 Recommended Institutional Regulation on Part-Time Faculty recommends the following, among other things:

  • State the terms and conditions of every appointment in writing.
  • Allow for a hearing if a part-time faculty member is dismissed before the end of the term.
  • If part-time faculty members are not reappointed, give reasons.
  • For part-time faculty who have served for three or more terms within three years, give notice of reappointment a month before the term’s end, even if it is conditional on enrollment or other considerations.
  • Provide very long term part-time faculty -- those who have taught at least twelve courses or six terms within seven years- -- with a comprehensive review that results in either part-time tenure, appointment with part-time continuing service, or non-reappointment.

Similarly, administrators and chairs can fight to preserve and increase tenure lines whenever possible -- often a complicated and long-term battle -- and take immediate steps to improve working conditions for the contingent faculty currently employed in their departments and programs.

The key to improving working conditions, of course, is ensuring that all faculty members have a voice in decision-making, so that they can identify the issues that are most important to them. The following suggestions, gathered in conversations and e-mail exchanges with a variety of contingent faculty members, might serve as a starting point for discussing the working conditions at your institution, any problems that should be remedied, and benefits that could be added, either for every part-time faculty member or for those with seniority.

Basic Tools and Access

  • Provide every faculty member with a phone number, voice mail, and an institutional e-mail account so he or she can easily be reached by students. List all faculty members by name in campus and department directories.
  • Create dedicated office space, even if it’s shared by several people. Every faculty member should have access to a desk, a bookshelf, a functional computer, and a place on campus to meet with students. Expecting students to meet with faculty in food courts or faculty members to answer student e-mail and prepare exams in open computer labs undermines professionalism and privacy. 
  • Make sure all faculty members have reasonable access to their buildings, offices, faculty bathrooms, and copy rooms. Too often, part-time faculty who teach at night or on weekends arrive to find things locked up. If you trust them to teach your students, you can trust them with keys.

Funds for Non-Classroom Teaching Activities

Compensating only for classroom hours means hourly wages are quite low once other teaching activities are factored in. Offer some funding for part-time faculty to:

  • Develop a new course.
  • Supervise an independent study course.
  • Attend required meetings and orientations.
  • Hold office hours.

Funds for Research and Professional Development

While students expect faculty to remain current in their fields, many contingent faculty receive no support for doing so. Offer some funding for:

  • Attending a conference or presenting a paper.
  • Attending required professional development meetings and orientations.
  • Keeping up membership in disciplinary associations.


  • Include all faculty in the information pipeline. Part- as well as full-time faculty should have institutional e-mail accounts where they get department-wide messages, memos about institution business, and the like.
  • Make a handbook for new part-time faculty. Describe program or department , nuts and bolts such as where to get copying and supplies, as well as academic elements such as expectations for courses, grading scale, grade challenge procedures, and the academic honesty policy. Include information about the shared governance structures and note if part-time faculty have access.
  • When benefits are available to part-time faculty, include information about them on Web sites, in handbooks, and/or alongside the information provided to full-time faculty.

Inclusion in Community

  • Create a department-wide or college-wide faculty e-mail list to encourage participation within the local faculty community.
  • Treat contingent faculty as colleagues, and encourage inclusiveness and collegiality. Invite contingent faculty to departmental events, staff/faculty meetings, commencement, and other functions and celebrations.
  • Create a mentor system that helps incorporate contingent faculty into the life of the department or program.
  • Establish a process for complaints and resolution of complaints, and include contingent faculty in this process. Consider establishing a contingent faculty ombudsman or advocate position.   
  • Establish systems of regular communication between supervisors and contingent faculty. 
  • Allow contingent faculty to serve on committees and to be part of governance (and pay them for doing so).

Other Benefits

  • Provide tuition remission or free classes.
  • Provide all faculty with equal access to library facilities and equal borrowing limits.
  • Provide all faculty with equal access to parking and recreational/athletic facilities.
  • Provide part-time faculty with cost-of-living increases on a similar system to full-time faculty.

It may surprise some administrators to learn that even the most fundamental of these suggestions -- such as providing part-time faculty with access to photocopying facilities or with information about departmental events -- are not in place at some institutions. On the other hand, many of even the most ambitious are in place -- or are well within reach -- at institutions that have union representation for part-timers, strong faculty advocacy organizations, or chairs and administrators who are attentive to the working conditions of all faculty members.


Gwendolyn Bradley is a senior program officer at the American Association of University Professors.


Be the first to know.
Get our free daily newsletter.


Back to Top