Background Facts on Contingent Faculty

The term “contingent faculty” includes both part- and full-time non-tenure-track faculty.

  • Their common characteristic is that their institutions make little or no long-term commitment to them. 

Today, more than 50 percent of all faculty appointments are part-time.

  • This includes positions that may be classified by the institution as adjuncts, part-time lecturers, or graduate assistantships. 
  • Many faculty in so-called “part-time” positions actually teach the equivalent of a full-time course load.
  • Over one-fifth of part-time appointments are held by graduate student employees, whose chances of obtaining tenure-track positions in the future are increasingly uncertain.
  • To support themselves, part-time faculty often commute between institutions and prepare courses on a grueling timetable, making enormous sacrifices to maintain interaction with their students.
  • Since faculty classified as part-time are typically paid by the course, without benefits, many college teachers lack access to health insurance and retirement plans. Back to top

Both part- and full-time non-tenure-track appointments are increasing.

  • Non-tenure-track positions of all types now account for over 70 percent of all instructional staff appointments in American higher education. Back to top

View a chart that compares tenure-line and contingent appointments 1975–2015.

The majority of contingent faculty do not have professional careers outside of academe, and most teach basic core courses rather than narrow specialties.

  • While a small percentage of part-time faculty are specialists or practitioners of a profession such as law or architecture and teach a class on the side, this situation is the exception rather than the norm. Back to top

The excessive use of, and inadequate compensation and professional support for, contingent faculty exploits these colleagues.

  • Positions that require comparable work, responsibilities, and qualifications should be comparably compensated.
  • As the Association recommended in 1993, compensation for part-time appointments should be the applicable fraction of the compensation (including benefits) for a comparable full-time position. Back to top

The turn towards cheaper contingent labor is largely a matter of priorities rather than economic necessity.

  • While many institutions are currently suffering budget cuts, the greatest growth in contingent appointments occurred during times of economic prosperity.
  • Many institutions have invested heavily in facilities and technology while cutting instructional spending.
  • Though incoming students may find finer facilities, they are also likely to find fewer full-time faculty with adequate time, professional support, and resources available for their instruction. Back to top

Excessive use of contingent faculty has costs.

  • It damages student learning, faculty governance, and academic freedom. Each of these is an educational cost that institutions incur when they choose not to invest adequately in their instructional missions. Back to top

Many contingent faculty members are excellent teachers and scholars.

  • But no matter how qualified and dedicated, contingent faculty members are hobbled in the performance of their duties by a lack of professional treatment and support.
  • Many lack access to such basics as offices, computer support, and photocopying services. Back to top

Heavy reliance on contingent faculty hurts students.

  • Contingent faculty are typically paid only for the hours they spend in the classroom, and they are often hired on the spur of the moment with little evaluation.
  • The high turnover among contingent faculty members mean that some students may never have the same teacher twice, or may be unable to find an instructor who knows them well enough to write a letter of recommendation. Back to top

Overuse of contingent faculty hurts all faculty.

  • The integrity of faculty work is threatened as parts of the whole are divided and assigned piecemeal to instructors, lecturers, graduate students, specialists, researchers, and administrators.
  • Proportionally fewer tenure-track faculty means fewer people to divide up the work of advising students, setting curriculum, and serving on college-wide committees. Back to top

Academic freedom is weakened when a majority of the faculty lack the protections of tenure.

  • The insecure relationship between contingent faculty members and their institutions can chill the climate for academic freedom, which is is essential to the common good of a free society.
  • Contingent faculty may be less likely to take risks in the classroom or in scholarly and service work.
  • The free exchange of ideas may be hampered by the fear of dismissal for unpopular utterances, so students may be deprived of the debate essential to citizenship.
  • They may also be deprived of rigorous and honest evaluations of their work. Back to top

The use of non-tenure-track appointments should be limited to specialized fields and emergency situations.

  • While it recognizes that current patterns of faculty appointment depart substantially from the ideal, the Association affirms its 1980 and 1993 recommendations that no more than 15 percent of the total instruction within an institution, and no more than 25 percent of the total instruction within any department, should be provided by faculty with non-tenure-track appointments. Back to top

Shared governance responsibilities should be shared among all faculty, including those appointed to part-time positions.

  • Curricular and other academic decisions benefit from the participation of all faculty, especially those who teach core courses.
  • Faculty and administrators should together determine the appropriate modes and levels of participation in governance for part-time faculty, considering issues such as voting rights, representation, and inclusion in committees and governance bodies. Back to top

When contingent appointments are used, they should include job security and due process protections. Contingent faculty appointments, like all faculty appointments, should include:

  • the full range of faculty responsibilities (teaching, scholarship, service);
  • comparable compensation for comparable work;
  • assurance of continuing employment after a reasonable opportunity for successive reviews;
  • inclusion in institutional governance structures; and
  • appointment and review processes that involve faculty peers and follow accepted academic due process. Back to top

The proportion of faculty appointments that are on the tenure line should be increased. This can be done by:

  • Changing the status of faculty members currently holding non-tenure-track appointments. Individuals holding contingent appointments are offered tenure-eligible reappointments.
  • Creating new tenure-line appointments. New tenure-line positions are created and open searches are held for candidates to fill them.
  • In both cases, transition to a higher proportion of tenured faculty should be accomplished primarily through attrition, retirements, and, where appropriate “grandfathering” of currently contingent faculty into tenured positions. Faculty in contingent positions should not bear the cost of transition. Back to top

Additional information about contingent faculty is available here.