Congressional report spotlights the working conditions of contingent faculty

Relying on hundreds of comments submitted to an eForum by contingent faculty in 41 states, the Democratic staff of the House Education and the Workforce Committee released its report, “The Just-In-Time Professor”, today highlighting the precarious conditions under which these academics work.

“What’s been happening to the higher education workforce during the last couple decades should give all of us pause,” said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), senior Democrat on the committee. “The number of part-time contingent faculty at institutions of higher education has been rising rapidly, with more than one million people now working as adjunct faculty, providing a cheap source of labor even while tuition is skyrocketing. These are people who have played by the rules and found employment in a highly skilled, in-demand field, but are being put under extreme stress—with some even living in or on the edge of poverty. The stories from this eForum have provided us with valuable insight into the world of contingent faculty and raised a number of issues that deserve further scrutiny.”

“This report is in no way an exhaustive account of the circumstances of adjunct faculty, but it does raise some serious concerns,” continued Rep. Miller. “Over the next few months my fellow committee Democrats, my staff, and I intend to work with universities and colleges, committee Republicans, contingent faculty, and their advocates to seek ways to address the troubling issues raised by this report and by contingent faculty across the country.”

We are grateful to Rep. Miller for listening to the voices of contingent faculty and giving the issue of their working conditions and treatment a broader platform, and we are looking forward to working with him and the Education and the Workforce Committee to address these problems. However, it’s also clear that organizing contingent faculty to advocate on their own behalf will continue to be of the utmost importance in improving the lives and working conditions of these educators, something that the report recognizes – if we may quote at length (from page 30 of the report):

Recent press accounts show that a growing number of contingent faculty have turned to organizing with labor unions like the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the United Steelworkers (USWA), and the United Auto Workers (UAW) to improve their lot in the academy. The 2010 CAW survey found that unionized adjuncts earned 25 percent more per course than non-unionized adjuncts, and eForum respondents said that adjuncts who are union members have more job stability and better access to benefits.
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I am fortunate because I have a faculty union. I am paid much more than most adjunct faculty, and I have the same benefits as tenured faculty–medical, dental, vision, retirement.

One adjunct asked if she [the administrator] would give preference in hiring to adjuncts. She replied, “not only will I not give preference to adjuncts, I want people who have been out in the world doing things not teaching.” This was the impetus for us to form a union. We realized the futures for which we had prepared would be denied to us unless we worked together to change our situation.

For now, due primarily to our faculty union, I make a decent salary, have full health benefits, and am looking forward to retiring with a modest pension.

I work at [school] which is a better place than most for adjuncts thanks to a union contract that gives us access to health insurance and a minimal number of paid sick days.

Our administration tried this year to change the contract for part-timers, asking us to directly contribute to full-timers retirement health benefits (which we do not get), take away our benefits and eliminate seniority so they can reduce our course loads to avoid paying health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Luckily, the union stood by us and those changes were not made.

We welcome Congressional action, but we know that the most powerful agent for change are contingent faculty members themselves. We will continue to organize and work together with them in order to achieve a just academic workplace that will benefit nontenure-track faculty, their institutions, and most importantly, their students.

2 Responses to Congressional report spotlights the working conditions of contingent faculty

  1. Eric Strayer January 26, 2014 at 5:59 am #

    As a CTA local rep (NEA nationally) I am encouraged to see this reporting from both my guys (NEA) and the AFT. I am passing it on to my local membership.

    Congressional action would be great, but I really love the final paragraph in this release that states

    ” …but we know that the most powerful agent for change are contingent faculty members themselves. We will continue to organize and work together with them in order to achieve a just academic workplace that will benefit nontenure-track faculty, their institutions, and most importantly, their students.”

    If we could only think of each other as humans instead of pieces of a bureaucracy, well, just think about it.

    es

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