CFHE’s Report on Contingent Faculty

At the end of August, the Center for the Future of Higher Education released its second policy report from. The report is titled “Who Is “Professor Staff? And How Can This Person Teach So Many Classes?” It offers a very detailed and deeply unsettling view of how our colleges and universities exploit contingent faculty. The full text is available at:

The Center is a think tank associated with the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education (CFHE:, and CHFE is essentially a loose consortium of faculty union leadership from across the United States. At the last meeting, held in May in Ypsilanti, Michigan, about 65 faculty from 28 states met to highlight the major issues facing higher education, to share strategies in dealing with those issues, and to issue statements and initiate actions in response to those issues. Most of the major faculty unions in the nation were represented: AAUP, AFT, NEA, as well as the major unions in California (representing faculty in the University of California system, the California State University system, and the California community college system), in New York (representing faculty in the SUNY and CUNY systems), and Pennsylvania (APSCUF).  Also in attendance was the leadership of the New Faculty Majority, the national advocacy group for contingent faculty ( In conjunction with Gary Rhoades, the director of the Center, three members of the new Faculty Majority–the late Steve Street, Maria Maisto, who is the president of NFM, and Esther Merves–produced the second policy report.

CFHE has articulated seven core principles (elaborated on in detail at that shape its mission:

1. Higher Education in the 21st Century must be inclusive; it should be available to and affordable for all who can benefit from and want a college education.

2. The curriculum for a quality 21st Century higher education must be broad and diverse.

3. Quality higher education in the 21st Century will require a sufficient investment in excellent faculty who have the academic freedom, terms of employment, and

institutional support needed to do state‐of‐the‐art professional work.

4. Quality higher education in the 21st century should incorporate technology in ways that expand opportunity and maintain quality.

5. Quality education in the 21st Century will require the pursuit of real efficiencies and the avoidance of false economies.

6. Quality higher education in the 21st Century will require substantially more public investment over current levels.

7. Quality higher education in the 21st century cannot be measured by a standardized, simplistic set of metrics.

All of these principles are very apparent in the policy report on contingent faculty, but it speaks very directly to the three principles “dealing with investment in faculty, use of technology, and the avoidance of false economies.”

The report focuses on two major disadvantages imposed on adjunct faculty: “just-in-time hiring practices and limited access to pedagogical resources.”

Because adjunct faculty are often hired at the last minute when course enrollments become actual rather than projected and when final adjustments to full-time faculty schedules have been made, adjunct faculty are subjected to what the authors’ describe as a “double contingency”: that is, they must either use “their own resources to prepare for classes they may not be assigned” or they must accept “the reality of teaching a course for which they have not been able to adequately prepare.”

Worse, even when adjunct faculty do have sufficient notice of which classes they will teach, “they are given, at best, inadequate access to sample course syllabi, curriculum guidelines, library resources, clerical support, and the like.” Moreover, “they often have only limited, if any, access to personal offices, telephones, computers and associated software, and technological tools and training.”

The report emphasizes that these disadvantages inevitably affect the quality of instruction that students often receive, both inside and outside of the classroom, from adjunct faculty, despite their best efforts. Indeed, the authors assert: “It is only the extraordinary effort, personal resources, and professional dedication of contingent faculty that allows them to overcome the obstacles to quality education that derive directly from their employment status.”

The authors charge that fiscal constraints have long been offered as an excuse for the over-reliance on and economic exploitation of adjunct and other contingent faculty. But the thinness of that excuse is apparent when one considers how little administrative attention has actually been paid to the working conditions of adjunct faculty and how little institutional data that has been gathered on the topic in order to provide a basis for more thoughtful and ethical treatment of professionals engaged in what is supposed to be the core mission of our institutions—instruction.

The report draws from data gathered through a survey completed by 500 adjunct faculty in September 2011. The survey was supported by a grant from the Foundation of the New Faculty Majority.

After acknowledging that contingent faculty are a very diverse group, the authors offer the following facts about the respondents to the survey:

  • 77% teach in part-time, contingent positions
  • 54% teach in more than one institution
  • 29% teach in two institutions
  • 11% teach in three institutions
  • 6% teach infour institutions
  • 52% teach in four-year institutions
  • 14% teach in both two- and four-year institutions

When I was studying for my doctoral exams and writing my dissertation, I moved from being a graduate teaching fellow to a research fellow, to an itinerant adjunct faculty member. Ultimately, I was teaching a large variety of courses at four very different institutions: a private doctoral-granting research university, a Roman Catholic Masters-granting university, a private women’s college (sustained by large evening and weekend co-ed programs), and a very large public community college. Class sizes varied from 10-14 (during the day) at the private women’s college to 35-40 at the public community college. Compensation also varied (but not always in proportion to class sizes) from $1450/course to $3500/course. That was a quarter century ago, but, very tellingly, adjunct compensation has not changed very dramatically since then.

At all of these institutions, I taught the basic courses in English composition, though the departmental approaches varied from institution to institution—and often from year to year. Those approaches included responses to a great variety of readings—from the “Great Books” or the Western canon, to “everyday writings” from the popular culture, including advertising and newspaper op-eds. Likewise, those approaches included quite varied pedagogical emphases— from intensive in-class writing and extensive self-editing or peer-editing, to one-on-one tutorials held during class time but in the instructor’s office. (Given class sizes, these always ate up at least several whole days, not just a class period.)

Besides the composition courses, I also taught business writing, technical writing, and a broad range of literature courses, including several courses in postcolonial literature, an area that has subsequently become one of my major scholarly focuses.

During those years, I worked very hard. For several years, I taught six courses each semester, plus another three or four over the summer. I was very aware that the number of classes that I was teaching might become an issue, and so I prepared my classes very diligently and commented on student papers very thoroughly.  I typically worked 60 to 70 hours per week, for an annual salary of about $35,000—while trying to find another ten hours per week for very concentrated effort on my own doctoral work.  Because of my efforts, my student evaluations were consistently very good to excellent. I am not at all suggesting that I was universally liked or admired. That was hardly the case. But most students did give me credit for being well prepared, conscientious, and concerned about their progress. Even when supervisory and “peer” evaluations (that is, class visits by tenured faculty) were not required, I requested them.

So, especially because I tried so hard to forestall such criticisms, I was very exasperated when I heard second- or third-hand that a tenured professor at one institution had said when my name came up, “Oh, he’s becoming the academic equivalent of streetwalker.” This from a professor who was teaching four courses per year, two of them graduate seminars and two upper-level undergraduate courses. The total annual enrollment in his courses could not have exceeded the combined enrollment in two of the composition courses that I taught at the community college.

I wanted to tell him that he simply did not have a clue, but an adjunct literally cannot afford the cost of expressing indignation at things said or done by anyone with more—that is, with any degree of—job security.

Whether you work as an adjunct or hold a tenure-track position, the work that the New Faculty Majority is doing will ultimately impact the ways in which all faculty at your institution are treated. Please consider joining and supporting this very worthwhile organization.

Likewise, if you are interested in attending an upcoming meeting of CFHE, the next meeting will be held in Sacramento in January 2013, and the May 2013 meeting will be held in Columbus, Ohio. Currently, CFHE depends primarily on voluntary contributions from faculty chapters and conferences to sustain its work.

4 thoughts on “CFHE’s Report on Contingent Faculty

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