Background Facts on Contingent Faculty Positions

"Contingent” faculty positions include both part- and full-time non-tenure-track appointments.

  • Their common characteristic is that institutions make little or no long-term commitment to faculty holding these positions. 

Today, a large proportion of faculty appointments are part-time.

  • This includes positions that may be classified by the institution as adjuncts, part-time lecturers, or another name. 
  • Many faculty in so-called “part-time” positions actually teach the equivalent of a full-time course load.
  • Other part-time appointments are held by graduate student employees, whose chances of obtaining tenure-track positions in the future are increasingly uncertain.What is billed as a teaching apprenticeship often instead amounts to years of intensive, low-paid work that distracts from, rather than complementing, graduate studies.
  • 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-time and full-time non-tenure-track appointments are increasingly prevalent.

Contingent positions that are ineligible for tenure now account for nearly 70 percent of all instructional staff appointments in American higher education, including 49 percent part time and 19 percent full-time non-tenure-track. See more data hereBack to top

The majority of faculty working on contingent appointments 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.
  • In other words, contingent faculty are "real" faculty, not other professionals who are moonlighting by teaching a course.
  • Students at community colleges and in lower-level undergraduate courses are disproportionately taught by faculty on contingent appointments.  Back to top

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

  • Positions that require comparable work, responsibilities, and qualifications should be comparably compensated.
  • As the AAUP 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

Many contingent faculty members are excellent teachers and scholars.

  • But no matter how qualified and dedicated, faculty teaching in these positions 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 appointments hurts students.

  • Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions.
  • Faculty on contingent appointments are typically paid only for the hours they spend in the classroom. While they may be excellent teachers, they are not given adequate institutional support for time spent meeting with students, evaluating student work, and class planning and preparation. 
  • Adjuncts are often hired on the spur of the moment with little evaluation or time to prepare--sometimes after a semester has already started.
  • Faculty in contingent positions often receive little or no evaluation and mentoring, making them especially vulnerable to being dismissed over one or two student complaints. 
  • Faculty in contingent positions, though they may teach the majority of some types of courses, are often cut out of department and institution-wide planning. The knowledge that they have about their students and the strengths and weaknesses of the courses they teach is not taken into consideration.
  • The high turnover among contingent faculty members mean that students in a department 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. 
  • 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  evaluations of their work. Back to top

Overuse of contingent faculty appointments 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.
  • Divisions among instructors create a less cohesive faculty; on some campuses, tenure-track and adjunct faculty rarely interact or participate in planning together. 
  • Tenure should be a big tent that provides due process protections for the academic freedom of all faculty; where contingent appointments predominate, it becomes instead a merit badge for a select few. Back to top

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

  • The insecure relationship between faculty members in contingent positions and their institutions can chill the climate for academic freedom, which is essential to the common good of a free society.
  • Faculty serving in insecure contingent positions may be less likely to take risks in the classroom or in scholarly and service work.  Back to top

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

  • While we recognize that current patterns of faculty appointment depart substantially from the ideal, the AAUP recommends 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.
  • While institutions often cite "flexibility" for a reason to hire faculty off the tenure track, contingent appointments are often clustered in programs with very high levels of predictability--such as freshman writing courses that are required for all students.  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.