Report Back


Use this space to report back on the results of your campus discussions and what you learned from the questionnaire about employment practices for non-tenure-track faculty members. For all other discussion, including your suggestions regarding what the MLA can do to help, please visit the General Discussion page.

Please note that comments not related to your department’s discussion of the questionnaire have been moved to the General Discussion page.

7 thoughts on “Report Back”

  1. At U of Texas at Austin, I worked with my chair at the Dept of Middle Eastern Studies to build in more job security for fixed-term contract faculty, who in our case were six full time Lecturers. In the past, their contracts were typically of a one-year term funded by the Dean, usually renewed in a mad dash in April (or later), which left many not knowing if they should look for another job, renew leases on housing, or take on big purchases. The chair agreed to build up a reserve of soft money to cover shortfalls in funding from the Dean, and together we got the endorsement of Dept’s Executive Committee to offer by default two-year contracts to Lecturers. These contracts would be renewed on a rolling basis every year, so that each lecturer would have the security of knowing in late spring that they have at least one year of contract employment remaining.

    All in all, this was a communal solution to the terrible risk and anxiety imposed upon our Lecturers. It just required the will to share Dept-wide the risks and burdens in the unlikely event of a shortfall, if the Dean did not renew a contract or two.

  2. At the University of Connecticut, my first e-mail inquiry to contingent faculty on January 30 coincided with a planning session by the AAUP, as the union prepared the “Walk In” event on behalf of contingent labor at our Student Union on February 25. The AAUP set up a table for four hours with information sheets and organized film showings that day. To prepare for the “Walk In” event, I contacted a number of our adjunct faculty on the Storrs campus, sharing bullet points assembled from the Committee on Contingent Labor in the Profession survey posted on the Commons, which supporters of “Action for Allies” were asked to fill out. I also contacted the other main literature department of the university (Literatures, Cultures, and Languages) for further information about their policies, which are, in fact quite different, relying on Assistant Professors in Residence with three-year contracts and benefits who teach as many as 7 courses a year. On February 25 the Chair of the English Department, Robert Hasenfratz, led a group over to the Union, and decided to launch the departmental discussion at a meeting on April 8 to which all faculty, including contingent faculty, were invited.

    At the departmental meeting on April 8, four of us led a panel, then opened the floor for discussion. I presented a powerpoint with links to materials that we had shared on the Executive Council discussion list and at our February meeting, such as the MLA employment graph, and a cluster of questions about contractual issues followed by another cluster of questions about working conditions and “citizenship” in the department. I noted that adjuncts may be told a few days before term that their course assignment has been canceled. Moreover an adjunct’s two-course per term contract covers roughly half of an annual health insurance policy (not included in the contract at the University of Connecticut). Three representatives from our department to the AAUP (1 tenured and 2 adjunct) presented data about the number of adjuncts employed across the university (English is in the top bracket of adjuncts employed). They also discussed the perceived lack of professional status in the department, the difficult working conditions of job insecurity as well as the lack of access to office machines and even to the building at some hours. Adjunct Professor Mary Gallucci presented the relationship of the AAUP bargaining unit to the national AAUP, and we noted that ¼ of our English full-time tenure-track faculty are not members of the AAUP. Most of the following discussion concerned the instability of teaching assignments and the lack of involvement in course selection and development. Chris Henderson of the AAUP spoke about the kinds of issues that should be addressed in AAUP negotiations, such as opening wider access to multi-year contracts (currently limited to those who have taught 5 consecutive years). Wage increases and health care should be part of any new contract for those on multi-year contracts. In short, the meeting raised both major contractual issues and circumstantial changes that could improve the working conditions of adjuncts.

    In the following weeks, we have created an Adjuncts Taskforce. We will be led by Mary Gallucci, our chair, who teaches at Storrs. Upon learning that the conditions of work differ significantly from campus to campus, we have added regional representatives to the team. We have also formulated a “best practices” list for scheduling; developed a mailing list for adjuncts across the system in English departments (which we lacked), and gathered information about matters such as awards for teaching by adjuncts, professional development, and access to travel grants. Our Institute for Teaching and Learning provides training in use of teaching tools and teacher observations, upon request.

    Inherent in the situation of adjuncts, whose employment depends on enrollments and variable funding, are problems with maintaining discussion lists and creating a website entry in a timely fashion. Comparison among different departments and campuses has revealed that some of our problems of access to mailboxes and machinery are purely local. We have already begun to remediate such problems. Other institutions offer stipends for participation in departmental responsibilities such as advising, directing senior theses, and independent studies, or attending department meetings. We are considering such patterns of remuneration, especially in light of the long commuting distances for some adjuncts who work across the state.

    On the positive side, the department has already made an effort to include all adjuncts in our spring party. We have begun to explore how travel funds might be made available for adjunct travel to conferences to give a paper. On those campuses where access to mailboxes and machines is difficult in off-hours, we have started to explore the options within pragmatic reach. These items on our agenda will be sorted out over time, but it has been encouraging to see through comparison with other institutions and departments how we can improve our own practices.

  3. Rather than a walk-out, UNC held a teach-in where a group called Student Action with Workers and some TT faculty lead an action consisting of the reading of anonymous testimonials from contingent faculty and a talk concerning the facts at UNC in connection to teaching and labor. 56% of UNC’s faculty is contingent, which I hope is an eye opener for many.

    People who organized the event thought it was successful, and it has lead to a provost wanting to meet with the organizers to talk about the situation. The event was also covered by regional papers. The teach in has led to a great deal of discussion among the lecturers in my dept. Many lecturers feel that we’re not quite “contingent,” that we are hired with the idea of permanence, and yet–yearly contracts, low wages, the most demanding courses as far as student contact and grading, and very few resources (I share a small office with 2 other lecturers).

    UNC does have a strong lecturer’s committee, along with a strong chair over faculty governance. These groups have done a lot of strong work, and I hope the walk out and all of the surrounding talk will empower them more.

    Next week, I present to my department during a full faculty meeting about Faculty Forward and its relationship to our work on campus.

  4. The first difficulty I encountered in trying to invite the adjuncts in my department to a meeting was deciding what an adjunct at NYU might be construed to be: some thought those paid at adjunct rates but on multi-year contracts were not adjuncts, many of our adjunct teachers are also graduate students, and there are members of the department who are full-time, whose jobs are very secure, but are not on a tenure track. I invited everyone of course, but self-selection kept the group small. Much was learned in the subsequent discussion, perhaps, above all, that adjuncts at NYU are not clear what benefits they have, or when they are entitled to them; their performance is never reviewed in any holistic way (and they have no access to the student evaluations completed about their own teaching); they are routinely aware of their responsibilities to tenure-line faculty (particularly when functioning as TA’s) but unaware of the responsibilities tenure-line faculty have to them (and expectations turn out to vary greatly). Much was learned in this conversation by all participants but I learned, most of all, as chair, how a number of simple but systematic changes could ensure that adjuncts were better informed about their rights and had greater access to the information crucial to them in their work.

  5. A productive start. Wages came up first. (Wages, Wages, Wages. ) As chair, I was able to realize how different faculty members want and need different things from their jobs. When I noted the department’s hopes to shift courses to full-time instructors, some expressed fear of losing work — also noting, correctly, that such an arrangement continues to keep adjuncts at the margins. A second, very uncomfortable question remained unanswered: Why not walk away from an exploitative, low-paying position? At my school the administration has stated — with alarming frankness — that there will always be people to cover the courses taught by adjuncts. So why pay more? I struggle with this question.

    1. Yes, it’s true that there is an army of people still looking for teaching positions, but I do feel that this number will eventually drop as people are encouraged to take their PhDs elsewhere work-wise. The other factor I would note is that this idea of replaceability should put TT people on notice, too, and that’s why they need to be a strong voice on making all positions equal. Without TT and departments really pushing for change, TT itself will sooner rather than later be under further assault. 56% of the faculty at my R1 are contingent and not TT. To me, this is the moment for TT faculty and departments to do what they can before they themselves become marginalized.

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