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New report blasts working conditions of adjunct faculty

The report, based on a 2011 survey of 500 adjunct faculty, finds two significant issues for those who make up the majority of the higher education workforce. Many are hired “just in time” to teach courses that are to begin three or fewer weeks after faculty are notified, and they have limited access to pedagogical resources.

For example, two-thirds of those responding to the survey reported receiving three weeks’ notice or less to prepare for their classes. Almost all (94 percent) of survey respondents received no departmental or institutional campus orientation. In terms of sheer logistical support, respondents reported inadequate access to such basic materials as copying services, library privileges, office space, sample syllabuses and curriculum guidelines.

The report, “Who Is Professor ‘Staff’ and How Can This Person Teach So Many Classes?”, is the work of the New Faculty Majority Foundation. The authors—Steve Street, Maria Maisto, Esther Merves and Gary Rhoades—conclude, “If universities and colleges fail to engage professors as professionals whose work extends beyond an isolated class to include interaction and relationships with other faculty as well as with students, they are also failing to engage the students in ways that clearly have a significant impact on their learning.” They recommend increased transparency regarding the working conditions of contingent faculty and ask institutions to “commit themselves to collecting the data necessary to a serious study of the situation of contingent faculty and its impact on student learning.”

The center’s report mirrors findings of a report released in June by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, of which the AFT is a leading member. The CAW report is the subject of the September/October AFT On Campus cover story, “Dismantling the Professoriate.” Major findings of the CAW report include:

  • The median pay per course, standardized to a three-credit course, was $2,700 in fall 2010, and ranged from a low of $2,235 at two-year colleges to a high of $3,400 at four-year doctoral or research universities.
  • Part-time faculty respondents saw little, if any, wage premium based on their credentials.
  • Professional support was minimal for part-time faculty members’ work outside the classroom and for their inclusion in academic decision-making.

As with the Center for the Future of Higher Education report, the CAW report notes that information available on the working conditions of part-time faculty is minimal. The U.S. Department of Education used to collect significant data on faculty, but funding has dried up. As a result, the large and growing majority of faculty employed in contingent positions are rendered largely invisible, both as individuals on the campuses where they work and collectively in the ongoing policy discussions of higher education.

“In order to a solve a problem, you have to understand it,” says Sandra Schroeder, chair of the AFT Higher Education program and policy council, president of AFT Washington and an AFT vice president. “The plight of contingent faculty is one of the most urgent problems we face in higher education. This survey will give us crucial information about the next steps to take toward systemic improvements so that students are better served in our colleges and universities.”


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