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Contingent faculty report

April 11, 2014

It’s not often that my work overlaps with that of the U.S. Congress.

In January the House Committee on Education and the Workforce released a report on the working conditions of contingent faculty, “The Just-In-Time Professor.” As one story on the report noted, this is the first time that Congress has formally addressed the issue.

Not to be outdone, and certainly not by the U.S. Congress, the Faculty Council of the College of Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies (SSIS) at Sacramento State, which I currently chair, recently sent out a brief report on the working conditions of contingent faculty in our college.

When we first started working on the issue about 18 months ago, we had a brief discussion on what term to use for non-tenure-track faculty. We eventually settled on “contingent faculty,” which has long been used by the AAUP and other groups to highlight the uncertain working conditions of non-tenure-track faculty. It’s also the term used by the House Committee report. The more familiar terms “part-time faculty” and “adjunct faculty” have become somewhat misleading, since non-tenure-track faculty now comprise between 50 and 80 percent of university faculty, and many teach full-time. The California Faculty Association (CFA) and our university employment guidelines use the term “Lecturer,” while the CSU Collective Bargaining Agreement refers to “temporary faculty unit employees.”

The CFA officially represents contingent faculty and has secured significant contract improvements over the years. The CFA also has an excellent “Lecturers’ Handbook.”

At Sacramento State, about half of the faculty are on contingent appointments, with substantial variations among departments. In the fall of 2012, the SSIS Faculty Council sent a survey on contingent faculty to the College’s department chairs, and a year later we sent an online anonymous survey to all 109 contingent faculty then teaching in the College. The total number of respondents was 56, which makes for a response rate of 51 percent.

Most respondents expressed satisfaction with questions of collegiality and autonomy in course design, among other things. But there were many areas of considerable dissatisfaction, which won’t surprise anyone familiar with the issue:

Unpaid work (44 responses). On their own initiative and without additional pay:

  • 29 advise/mentor undergraduates, and 18 advise/mentor graduate students
  • 21 attend conferences or colloquia, and 24 attend professional development functions
  • 12 develop new courses
  • 18 publish research papers

Receipt of contract for appointment or reappointment:

  • 10 have, at least once, received their contract after the semester started (46 responses)
  • 33 usually receive their contract less than 15 days before the semester started (47 responses)

Recognition:

  • 5 said their college has a mechanism for recognizing outstanding contributions from faculty with their appointment title, 13 said it did not, and 30 said they don’t know (48 responses)
  • 48 said they had never applied for a performance award from their college (48 responses)

Professional Development:

  • 14 said their department provides them with professional development opportunities, 34 said either it did not or they were not sure (48 responses)
  • 25 said their college or university provides them with professional development opportunities, 23 said either it did not or they were not sure (48 responses)

Governance:

  • 33 are not aware of opportunities to participate in governance in their department (46 responses)
  • 35 are not aware of opportunities to participate in governance in their college (46 responses)
  • 28 are regularly invited to department meetings, 19 are not (47 responses)
  • 9 have a vote on some issues at department meetings, 15 do not, and 16 are not sure (40 responses)
  • 13 would like to play a larger role in department meetings and/or department committees, even without additional compensation, 12 if they were compensated financially, and 20 if they were compensated in some way (52 responses)

Our report also included a brief set of recommendations for consideration by all members of the College:

  1. Consider formally inviting contingent faculty to attend department meetings, and trying to schedule meetings at times when the maximum number of contingent faculty can attend. Contingent faculty cannot be contractually required to attend meetings, because service is not part of their contracts, but departments can consider inviting contingent faculty to provide input on decisions that affect them. Department meetings also provide an opportunity to share information and ideas, and including contingent faculty may help strengthen department collegiality and morale.
  1. Consider allowing contingent faculty to vote on departmental decisions that do not involve ARTP for tenured and tenure-track faculty, such as department chair, curriculum, and other matters pertaining to faculty working conditions. Departments might consider establishing a minimum service threshold for voting rights (e.g., two semesters).
  1. Consider ways of more fully including contingent faculty in departmental social events.
  1. Consider inviting qualified contingent faculty to teach the full range of courses taught by tenure-line faculty (lecture, seminar, lower-division, upper-division, graduate, etc.). Relatedly, consider establishing explicit criteria for course allocation.
  1. Consider providing contingent faculty with department-level funding for professional development, preferably on an equal basis with other faculty.
  1. Consider using a wide range of factors to evaluate contingent faculty. The recent memo from the Dean’s office indicates various possibilities.
  1. For department chairs, in cooperation with the Dean’s office, consider ways of providing contingent faculty more advance notice and confirmation of employment. Whenever possible, confirm appointments on an individual basis, rather than waiting until all appointments can be confirmed at once. Contingent faculty need the earliest possible notice of their teaching assignments for adequate course preparation and other matters, and they require a confirmation of contract to make decisions about other work opportunities.

Some departments were already doing some of these things before we starting working on the report, and we’ve gotten positive feedback from some faculty. But it will take some time to see to what extent individual departments undertake significant changes.

One exciting change already is that our college dean proposed to solicit nominations for a lecturer representative to join the Council this fall, and the Faculty Council approved. The person will be elected by the College’s contingent faculty, and given that lecturers are not paid for university service, he or she will be eligible for one unit of assigned time. I’m told that two people have already nominated themselves.

Of course, there’s only so much we can do at the college level, but as they say, “you gotta start somewhere,” and we might make some relatively easy but significant improvements.

 

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