Academic Staffing

No trend has changed the face of higher education more than the shift away from a corps of full-time, tenure-track faculty to an underpaid and undersupported contingent instructional workforce. This workforce includes part-time/adjunct faculty; full-time, nontenure-track faculty; and graduate employees. Together these employees now make up an amazing 73 percent of the nearly 1.6 million-employee instructional workforce in higher education and teach over half of all undergraduate classes at public institutions of higher education.

Total postsecondary instructional workforce, by employment type

CategoryNumberPercent Total
Full-time, tenured/tenure track faculty437,77826
Full-time, nontenure-track faculty245,67915
Part-time/adjunct faculty623,56438
Graduate employees343,01421

U.S. Department of Education, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, via AFT Higher Education Data System.

The growth of the contingent instructional workforce over the last four decades has tracked the ongoing cutbacks in the proportion of state funding provided to public colleges and universities. As a result, it became very attractive for college administrators to hire instructors without job security who could be paid lower wages and be given few, if any, benefits. But money isn't the whole story.

The growth of contingent labor also mirrors the movement to run higher education institutions "more like a business." The traditions of tenure and shared governance—which guarantee due process and academic freedom, and give faculty a major role in academic decision-making—run counter to a command-and-control business model. The fact that large numbers of academic workers are hired without effective job security, without decent salaries and benefits, and without a guaranteed role in academic decision-making is of great concern to those of us who value a free and independent academy.

Addressing this "academic staffing crisis" is a top priority for AFT Higher Education. The effort to reverse these trends is all part of the Faculty and College Excellence (FACE) campaign. Through legislative advocacy, collective bargaining, research and public education, the FACE campaign aims to improve the working conditions of contingent faculty and to create more full-time, tenure-track faculty positions. The FACE campaign is a key component of our work to promote quality postsecondary education. Contingent faculty are the majority of faculty and their experiences and perspectives must be a part of the larger conversation about the future of higher education. Specifically we aim to:

  • Achieve full equity in compensation and benefits for contingent faculty members;
  • Increase the percentage of undergraduate courses are taught by full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty members; and
  • Offer preference to contingent faculty members in filling new tenure-track positions and protect the job security of current contingent faculty members as this process plays out.

This is a long-term effort that uses different approaches depending on the conditions in a state or at an institution, and the most effective strategy for improving those conditions. Some state and local affiliates have already made significant gains on academic staffing issues, and others have just begun the process. We are interested in collaborating with any stakeholders who share these goals.