Contingent faculty are college and university faculty who are hired off the tenure track-----lecturers, adjuncts, post docs and graduate students. Their contracts may be full time or part time, but all contracts are contingent. The contingencies include course enrollment, budget, and others. For instance, a contingent faculty member (CFM) who has been hired for a course may end up NOT teaching the course if the course enrollment is too low by some point in the quarter or semester during which the course is offered. Therefore, even if the faculty member was hired a year before the course was to be taught, the course could be cancelled, and the faculty member not paid, if enrollment did not “make.” At many colleges and universities, a CFM’s course(s) could (all) meet minimum enrollment, but the CFM loses a course (and therefore is not paid for it) if a tenured or tenure-track faculty member’s course does not meet minimum enrollment. That is, the tenured/tenure-track faculty member may “bump” the CFM. Another common contingency is budget. If a university’s budget changes either gradually or very suddenly, a CFM’s course(s) may be cancelled (and the CFM not paid) at the discretion of an administrator who argues that the university’s budget does not support the course(s). CFMs may work in an academic department as their primary, perhaps sole, job, or their university teaching may serve as an adjunct to their work in private industry. CFMs may possess Master’s degrees, Ph.D. degrees, or other higher education degrees. The qualifications and work duties of some CFMs are completely indistinguishable from the qualifications and work duties of their tenure-track/tenured colleagues. Many CFMs possess the terminal degrees (e.g., PhDs.) that their tenured/tenure-track colleagues possess, do research and present and/or publish, and provide service to their universities. However, the working conditions (including salary and job security) of the two groups of faculty are worlds apart. Today, most faculty in higher education are hired into contingent positions.
In my newsletter article of November 2011 I wrote about a large-scale survey of contingent faculty conducted by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW), a coalition of higher education organizations, faculty organizations, and disciplinary organizations devoted to reporting on the effects that the decline of faculty working conditions has on students, faculty, and society in general. The survey, involving more than 20,000 participants, was conducted in the fall and winter months of 2010. At this point, the CAW is continuing to tabulate the results. I hope to be able to present their results in an upcoming newsletter.
The CAW, which can be found at www.academicworkforce.org, continues to be an excellent resource for those interested in the plight of contingent faculty and the plight of higher education in general. In addition to making information available, the CAW has other stated goals which include: 1) discovering and promoting plans/approaches for addressing the problems that arise from exploiting and misusing people on contingent appointments, and 2) identifying and supporting conditions by which all faculty members can improve their teaching and scholarship, provide excellent service to their students, and nurture their professional careers. The website provides policy statements written by higher education organizations, statistics on contingent faculty, and other information.
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to discuss any issue regarding contingent faculty.