Contingent academic democracy
If asked to list what they like most about their jobs, most university faculty would not put department meetings and committees at the top.
Nonetheless, a key part of academic self-governance occurs in university departments. Department committees address all manner of issues large and small: faculty hiring and evaluation, curriculum changes, equipment purchases, student awards, and so on. At meetings of the full department, faculty share information, discuss plans, and vote on policies. And if you’re lucky to be in a department like mine, where people generally get along, department meetings can actually be kind of fun.
Unfortunately, the faculty who teach the most students — faculty with part-time, adjunct, contingent appointments — are often excluded from university self-governance. And even when they hold seats on a university-level Faculty Senate, as they do at my university, contingent faculty may not be invited to participate in department-level meetings and committees.
But contingent faculty participation varies widely, “with some institutions encouraging it, some allowing it, and some barring it,” according to a recent report by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), “The Inclusion in Governance of Faculty Members Holding Contingent Appointments.” (For a discussion, see this article on “Making Room for the Majority.”)
The AAUP report notes that excluding contingent faculty from academic self-governance has many implications for instructional quality, academic freedom, and faculty morale.
The causes and repercussions of a system in which some faculty receive vastly more compensation, privilege, autonomy, evaluation, information, professional support, and respect than others extend far beyond governance. But the routine exclusion of some faculty from department meetings, curricular planning, and other governance activities does much to foster the sense of inequity.
The AAUP report discusses several common concerns about participation by contingent faculty in university governance, such as: 1) if contingent faculty only teach occasionally, they may not know the university very well or have much stake in how it’s run; 2) contingent faculty may not have the professional qualifications or job experience needed to evaluate tenure-track faculty for tenure and promotion; 3) since contingent faculty do not have tenure, they may be vulnerable to pressure from administrators or tenured faculty; and 4) contingent faculty are usually not paid for governance activities.
Rather than taking such concerns as decisive, the AAUP report discusses strategies for addressing them.
1) On the question of part-time faculty who teach only one or two courses per year or whose primary employment is elsewhere, the report states:
Since the part-time faculty in question here do teach courses, they are members of the faculty, are experienced with their courses and their students, and should be involved in curricular planning and similar work. While it would likely not be appropriate for a person who either has another career or teaches at several institutions and has little interest in the one in question to assume a major faculty leadership role, such a person would be unlikely to stand for election to an important governance role and would be unlikely to get elected.
Moreover, the report notes, many full-time tenured faculty show little interest in their institutions, and many have substantial outside employment, and yet they are not excluded from university governance.
The report also proposes a “time-in-service threshold” for governance activities, applicable to both contingent and tenure-track faculty.
2) With regard to performance evaluation, the AAUP report notes that when contingent and tenure-track faculty have different job duties, asking the former to evaluate the latter may not be practical. But the report criticizes the common practice of allowing a single department chair or administrator to evaluate contingent faculty, as well as the tendency to rely solely on student evaluations:
While faculty on contingent appointments may be restricted from participating in the evaluation of tenured and tenure-track faculty, faculty on contingent appointments should have the opportunity to contribute to the evaluation of other contingent faculty.
That is, contingent faculty hiring committees should include contingent faculty.
3) And what about contingent faculty who dare to challenge the views of tenured faculty and administrators? Aren’t they vulnerable to retaliation? Yes, they are, but the AAUP report argues that “the solution is not to bar some faculty from service but to better protect the academic freedom of those serving in governance roles.”
The governance system must be protected by the most rigorous possible commitment in spirit, in writing, and in fact to prevent retaliation against all those who voice opinions in the governance process that may offend those with more power.
Tenure-track faculty without tenure face similar risks, but they are not excluded from academic self-governance.
4) Finally, with regard to the important concern that contingent faculty are generally not paid for governance activities, the report considers but rejects the possibility of direct payment for participation, noting that it would create undesirable incentives. But compensation for service can be incorporated into contingent faculty contracts.
Faculty holding contingent appointments should be compensated in a way that takes into consideration the full range of their appointment responsibilities, which should include service. Where such compensation does not exist, its absence should not be used to exclude faculty on contingent appointments from voluntarily serving in governance.
As long as contingent faculty are not paid to participate in university governance, we shouldn’t require it, but excluding them for that reason only makes a bad situation worse.
Given how much tenured faculty complain about committee work, it’s a bit suspect that we haven’t been willing to share it more widely.