Reviews of Recent Books Concerning Current Issues in Higher Ed: No. 4
Kezar, Adrianna. Embracing Non-Tenure-Track Faculty: Making Change to Support the New Faculty Majority. New York: Routledge, 2012.
A faculty member at the University of Southern California, Kezar has written several books on the issues currently confronting higher education. In Embracing Non-Tenure-Track Faculty, she makes the case that an over-reliance on adjunct faculty affects the quality of the instruction that an institution provides and should be reflected more pointedly both in formal institutional appraisals such as accreditation reports and in annual media rankings of institutions.
Kezar founded the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success, the aim of which is to promote innovative and substantive ways of maintaining the quality of instruction provided by our institutions even as the composition of the professoriate undergoes unprecedented changes.
The subtitle of Kezar’s book acknowledges the emergence of a national advocacy group for adjuncts, the New Faculty Majority, which is based in Akron, Ohio. Kezar advocates for fundamental changes in the institutional treatment of adjunct faculty that align with the primary aims of the New Faculty Majority: an adequate period between the signing of a teaching contract and the first day of classes to allow the instructor to prepare the course effectively; compensation for course preparation if a course is canceled between the time a contract is signed and classes begin; provision of adequate office space, basic computer equipment, and clerical support; compensation that takes into account the amount of instruction that is likely to occur informally outside of the designated class period; some voice for adjunct faculty, and especially for experienced adjunct faculty, in curricular decisions; and some provision of support for the continuing professional development of adjunct faculty. Indeed, Chapter 11 of Kezar’s book has been written by Maria Maisto, the President of the New Faculty Majority, and is titled “Taking Heart, Taking Part: New Faculty Majority and the Praxis of Contingent Faculty Activism.”
Kezar’s book is actually a collection of essays, identified as “chapters,” and the twelve chapters are divided among three sections: “Setting the Stage: Background and Context,” “Case Studies,” and “Synthesis of Lessons Learned.” The first and the third sections consist of two chapters each, and the bulk of the book, eight chapters, is presented in the middle section.
Kezar herself has authored or co-authored four of the chapters: Chapters 1-2, Chapter 12, and Chapter 10, one of the case studies. The case studies focus on a broad range of institutions, from a doctoral institution to a small, private Roman Catholic college, as well as several community and technical colleges.
Kezar’s book complements other very recent research conducted on the working conditions of adjunct faculty. The Center for the Future of Higher Education is the policy center for the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education, which is a loose consortium of the major faculty unions nationwide: AAUP, AFT, and NEA, as well as the unions representing large state system in California (the California State University and California Community College systems), New York (SUNY and CUNY), and Pennsylvania (APSCUF). In conjunction with the Center for the Future of Higher Education, the New Faculty Majority Foundation has produced a report on one of the most extensive surveys of adjunct faculty conducted to date. The resulting report, Who Is Professor “Staff”, and How Can This Person Teach So Many Classes, was compiled by Steve Street, Maria Maisto, Esther Merves, and Gary Rhoades, and it presents the results of a survey completed by 500 adjunct faculty.
The respondents to the survey can be described in the following ways: 54% teach in one institution; 29% teach in two institutions; 11% teach in three institutions; 6% teach in four institutions; 52% teach in four-year institutions; 48% teach in two-year institutions; 14% teach in both four-year and two-year institutions; and 59% teach at institutions at which the full-time faculty belong to collective bargaining units. The percentage of adjuncts teaching at two-year institutions is much higher nationally than among the respondents to the survey, and the number of institutions at which the full-time faculty are unionized is much lower nationally.
Nonetheless, the results of the survey are very instructive. Specifically, the report provides some quantification of the downsides to “just-in-time” faculty hiring: 47% received access to copying services less than two weeks before classes started; 45% were granted library privileges less than two weeks before classes started; 38% were assigned office space less than two weeks before classes started; 34% received sample syllabi less than two weeks before classes started; 32% received curriculum guidelines less than two weeks before classes started; 21% never received curriculum guidelines; and 21% never obtained access to office space.
Although the exploitation of adjunct faculty is now so widely established that eliminating it has become close to impossible, both Kezar’s book and the CFHE/NFMF report provide much evidence that our institutions and our students suffer in proportion to how much we ignore the needs of adjunct faculty—and that the opposite is also true, that the more that we seek to treat adjunct faculty as professionals who have become integral parts of our institutions, the more that we empower them to meet the needs of our students more effectively. Indeed, both the book and the report suggest that even incremental progress toward improving the working conditions of adjunct faculty can pay disproportionate dividends.
Clearly, at some point in the not very distant future, our institutions will very likely confront one of several, seemingly untenable realities. The reliance on adjunct faculty might continue to increase until the decrease in the number of full-time, tenure-track positions finally becomes so discouraging that graduate programs will attract fewer and fewer students and the pool of available adjuncts will inexorably shrink–even as the demand for them grows. Or, perhaps, adjunct faculty will become not just the majority but the institutional norm, in which case, what we expect from our faculty and from our colleges and universities will need to change in some very radical ways. Most obviously, it is hard to imagine research being conducted at institutions employing almost exclusively contingent faculty.
But, then again, just thirty years ago, the “majority” of faculty were securely tenured or on tenure tracks, the desktop pc was a new and expensive gadget, and the Internet didn’t even exist, not even as a word.