Faculty Forum: Ways to Organize Non-Tenure-Track Faculty

By Mayra Besosa

Lecturers, adjuncts, instructors, postdocs, visiting professors, graduate student teachers, and others in non-tenure-track positions now constitute the great majority of faculty in US higher education. But many college and university policies were written decades ago and barely acknowledge the existence of faculty like me who work in contingent appointments. And many institutions still operate as though non-tenure-track faculty are primarily people with other jobs who teach a few classes on the side—instead of acknowledging that for many of us, teaching is a full-time job and our main source of income. Scattered across campuses and odd class periods (or teaching online), excluded from many institutional structures, non-tenure-track faculty often lack a voice in the profession.

In order to change this situation, we need to organize. Depending on the particular campus, that might mean forming a committee or an AAUP chapter, working within an established chapter or union, or working with the faculty senate. Here are some suggestions for starting such an organizing effort:

1. Learn your institution’s demographics: map out the faculty by head count, appointment types, representation in institutional governance, and so on. Share your findings with the faculty through e-mail, a newsletter, a chapter website, or a meeting.

2. Establish a non-tenure-track faculty committee, either as a freestanding body or as a part of your AAUP chapter, faculty senate, or union, and survey non-tenure-track faculty about their priorities and needs.

3. At the departmental level, advocate to improve course-selection rights for non-tenure-track colleagues.

4. Nominate and elect or appoint non-tenure-track faculty to leadership positions within your AAUP chapter or union.

5. In collective bargaining units that include both tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty, campaign among your colleagues to build support for bargaining proposals that benefit those off the tenure track.

6. Combat the divide-and-conquer strategy of your institution’s administration. Make your chapter newsletter a vehicle through which to promote solidarity between tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty, underscoring AAUP principles and shared interests.

7. Sponsor practical workshops about non-tenure-track faculty rights, benefits, retirement, unemployment, and related issues.

8. Think and act both locally and globally. Engage in “inside-outside” organizing. Support statewide, national, and international campaigns and actions for educational (and labor) reforms that reflect your values.

Once non-tenure-track faculty have a meaningful voice, you can develop proposals on specific topics and work toward the adoption of those proposals as policy. Establishing a broad definition of “faculty” that includes everyone who holds a nonadministrative academic appointment is a crucial step. When such definitions are adopted, policies and procedures regarding faculty should apply equally to all.

Other proposals could seek to establish better policies for non-tenure-track faculty, including requirements for adequate written notice of appointment, a written statement of reasons for nonreappointment, and opportunity to pursue a grievance or appeal before a faculty review committee; a process for converting non-tenure-track appointments to the tenure track; seniority preferences and layoff rights for non-tenure-track faculty; a plan to integrate non-tenure-track faculty into institutional governance, to make service a component of every faculty appointment, and, where applicable, to extend committee voting rights to non-tenure-track faculty; longer appointments, salary equity, and improved access to professional development funds; and improved procedures for student evaluations and their use in faculty evaluations.

The AAUP has many resources on contingent appointments at http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/issues/contingent/. Other sources of information on organizing non-tenure-track faculty include the Adj-l.org mailing list, the New Faculty Majority, the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education, and the Coalition on the Academic Workforce.

Mayra Besosa is a full-time lecturer in Spanish at California State University, San Marcos, and chair of the AAUP’s Committee on Contingency and the Profession. Academe accepts submissions to this column. Write to academe@aaup.org for guidelines. The opinions expressed in Faculty Forum are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the policies of the AAUP.

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