Are We Really Supporting the Inclusion of Contingent Faculty in Governance?

It is time to compensate contingent faculty members for shared governance work.
By Shawn Gilmore

What do we imagine when we think and talk about shared governance? Most of our discussion about governance principles—including the important, ongoing work of the AAUP—tends to focus on standards, policies, structures, and the participation of key groups. We hope that well-considered shared governance systems will serve our institutions in good times and bad, observing key tenets and involving faculty members and administrators appropriately in decision-making processes.

However, we rarely discuss the necessary supporting elements for these governance systems, leaving unanswered questions about who will fill various governance roles; whether, and if so how, those who serve should be compensated; and whether governance models that presume all faculty participants are tenured (or on the tenure track) carry with them unintended consequences. By leaving unaddressed the support systems that undergird shared governance, we are unable to discern some of the barriers and disincentives to faculty participation. These unexamined elements of our governance conversation—particularly those stemming from the assumption that the faculty members who participate in governance have the security of tenure and a contractual expectation of institutional service—pose problems both for how governance systems function and for the individuals who serve in them.

I am a full-time senior lecturer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I chair a governance committee of the academic senate. In addition, I sit on our senate’s executive committee, present resolutions at most regular senate meetings, and am involved with ancillary governance matters, such as interviewing candidates for administrative positions at the level of dean or above. This fall marks the start of my fifth year as a senate committee chair; before that, I served for six years as an elected senator. At the college and departmental levels, I have served on a number of committees, including, most recently, an ad hoc committee charged with shepherding through a long-overdue revision to our department’s bylaws (which took two years to complete), a committee on specialized faculty (UIUC’s term for non-tenure-track faculty), and departmental advisory and search committees. I’ve participated in accreditation reviews, curriculum reviews, task forces, working groups, and countless problem-solving meetings that don’t have official names but fill in the gaps in our governance systems.

Throughout this governance work, one thing has been clear: all of the positions I’ve held were designed to fit into a portfolio of teaching, research, and service for tenured or tenure-track faculty. The flexible category of institutional “service,” the glue that holds shared governance systems together, allows seats on our senates, committees, task forces, and working groups to be filled by those who will receive some degree of institutional credit or compensation for doing governance work. But therein lies the rub—service is an ill-defined concept for most contingent faculty members, who are now a majority among faculty across American colleges and universities.

I am one of those contingent faculty members. While I am not on the tenure track, I have a stable position, thanks to a combination of a strong AAUP-affiliated union, the Non-Tenure Faculty Coalition (NTFC), and conscientious leadership, grounded in shared governance, at UIUC. But my position, like that of so many other faculty members on contingent appointments, does not require service or provide compensation for it, meaning that the service work I do is neither expected nor rewarded. (UIUC has reclassified some non-tenure-track positions as teaching, research, and clinical professorships, which may have service obligations.)

I’ve taken on these shared governance roles for a variety of reasons: to support programs and projects that I care about; to represent my department at the college and campus levels; and to contribute my time, energy, and voice to governance processes, as I’ve been asked time and again to do. And it is a welcome change that contingent faculty members are now able to participate in governance at institutions like UIUC. While I am currently the only non-tenure-track faculty member serving as a senate committee chair, I am not the only one who has held such a position. Our senate now permits non-tenure-track faculty members to serve as part of the regular faculty electorate. Over the last decade or so, I’ve seen a gradual lessening of distinctions between tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty members in matters of governance and a recognition (much of the time) of the voices and contributions of all members of the faculty.

My institution, like many others, has made such changes in response to internal pressures, including the unionization of its full-time non-tenure-track faculty, as well as a broader set of external shifts in the roles and need for recognition of the ever-increasing ranks of contingent faculty. As reported elsewhere in this issue, the 2021 AAUP Shared Governance Survey found that a growing number of institutions have moved to include contingent faculty members in governance.

Such positive developments are broadly in keeping with the recommendations of the AAUP’s 2003 statement Contingent Appointments and the Academic Profession: “To support the essential mission of higher education, faculty appointments, including contingent appointments, should incorporate all aspects of university life: active engagement with an academic discipline, teaching or mentoring of undergraduate or graduate students, participation in academic decision making, and service on campus.” However, that statement also goes on to note that for “faculty members in contingent positions, this participation should be supported by compensation and institutional resources and recognized in the processes of evaluation and peer review.” While determining such compensation could be difficult, the statement continues, “it is the responsibility of duly constituted faculty bodies to meet this challenge.” (This report also contains a valuable addendum tracing the AAUP’s work on the status of contingent faculty going back to the late 1970s.)

The AAUP’s subsequent 2012 report The Inclusion in Governance of Faculty Members Holding Contingent Appointments returns to matters of compensation for service and governance work, arguing that “the appropriate response is not to keep contingent faculty from carrying out governance responsibilities but to provide adequate support so that they can do so.” Reaffirming the 2003 statement, the 2012 report recommends “that the best way to provide compensation is by structuring appointments to include an expectation of and compensation for service . . . with the understanding that the basic principle of equal pay for equal work and for work of equal value should be the goal.”

These calls for compensation are more difficult to heed, especially when contingent faculty contracts (like mine) do not specify how service should be counted or compensated. This problem could be partly addressed by treating governance positions equally, regardless of the rank or status of the faculty member who holds them. This academic year, for example, I am starting in a director position within my department that comes with course releases, just as it would if I were on the tenure track. But my service as an academic senator, on any variety of committees, or even as chair of a senate governance committee remains uncompensated work. Like most contingent faculty members, I can’t count governance work as an official aspect of my appointment, because “service” remains ill-defined for faculty members like me.

This is not a problem specific to UIUC. As both the AAUP’s 2003 statement and its 2012 report argue, the ideal of including contingent faculty members in governance systems must be coupled with compensation and support mechanisms that both enable and reward their inclusion. Otherwise, faculty serving on contingent appointments are put in a bind, being asked to participate in governance but able to do so only in addition to, not as a defined part of, their appointments. I am lucky to teach at an institution that has stabilized its non-tenure-track faculty ranks over recent years, ensuring that faculty members in such positions have full-time appointment and retention protections through the NTFC collective bargaining agreement. But many other contingent faculty members are already overburdened with heavy teaching loads or are offered only part-time (or irregular) appointments.

Inviting contingent faculty members to participate in governance satisfies one aspect of the AAUP’s call for inclusion, but ignoring whether or how they are compensated for doing so fails the necessary second aspect. Reexamining this second, structural element would allow institutions to integrate contingent faculty members more fairly in governance systems and to make clear the material support necessary for any principled shared governance system to thrive. Possible solutions might include course releases, salary adjustments or other direct compensation, credit toward promotion timelines, or other institutional rewards. We may need to think creatively to identify how this work can be rewarded, and each institution might pursue a different mix of elements. But now is the time to recognize and reward the contingent faculty who do their part to fulfill the principles of shared governance.

Shawn Gilmore is a senior lecturer in English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a member of the AAUP’s Committee on College and University Governance.