Colleges not adequately supporting their teaching force

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Colleges and universities are relying ever more heavily on part-time faculty while failing to support them adequately. The extent of that failure—and its impact on the majority of the higher education instructional workforce—is documented in a new survey released this week by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce.

Currently, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education, 1.3 million of the 1.8 million faculty providing instruction in two- and four-year institutions are part-time or adjunct faculty, teaching off the tenure track.

Yet, according to CAW, higher education employers pay part-time faculty poorly, fail to provide them the kind of academic and work supports that most professionals rely on to do their jobs, and don't attach rewards or incentives to the credentials their academic employees hold or earn. They also continue to offer part-time employees work deemed "temporary," despite the fact that their reliance on part-time faculty seems to be a permanent trend.

The survey, "A Portrait of Part-Time Faculty Members," was conducted during the fall semester of 2010 and was open to any faculty member or instructor who wished to complete a questionnaire. CAW received 28,974 responses. Faculty members in part-time positions were the largest group of respondents, providing 10,331 of the 19,850 valid responses by contingent faculty members and instructors who were teaching at least one course in fall 2010.

The survey's key findings 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. "Clearly, part-time faculty are undersupported," says Bonnie Halloran, president of the Lecturers' Employee Organization at the University of Michigan. "Part-time faculty [at the University of Michigan] have phones, offices and access to support staff through our collective bargaining agreement. But we have less access to professional development opportunities, even though we make up 33 to 50 percent of the faculty across the University of Michigan's three campuses."
  • Part-time teaching is not necessarily temporary employment, and those teaching part time do not necessarily prefer a part-time to a full-time position. More than 80 percent of respondents reported teaching part time for more than three years, and more than half, for more than six years. And 75 percent of respondents said they have sought, are now seeking, or will be seeking, a full-time tenure-track position.
  • In addition to gathering information about their academic background and other personal characteristics, the survey asked part-time faculty respondents to provide data for each course they taught—a total of 19,615 courses. Course loads varied significantly among respondents. Slightly more than half taught one or two courses during the fall 2010 term, while slightly fewer than half taught three or more courses.

CAW is a group of higher education associations, disciplinary associations and faculty organizations committed to working on the issues associated with deteriorating faculty working conditions and their effect on the success of college and university students in the United States. The AFT is a leading member of the group and a chief supporter of the survey.

One of the primary features of the academic staffing crisis, says CAW, is that information available on the working conditions of part-time faculty is minimal. The Department of Education used to collect significant data on faculty, but funding has dried up. As a result, the large and growing majority 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." [Barbara McKenna]

Download the full report at www.academicworkforce.org.


June 20, 2012