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Colleges and universities rely on adjunct faculty (Dec. 10, 2008)

WASHINGTON - More than half of the undergraduate courses at U.S. public colleges and universities are taught by “contingent” faculty and graduate instructors rather than full-time tenured faculty, resulting in an unstable and financially exploited workforce, according to a report released today by the American Federation of Teachers. The report, “Reversing Course: The Troubled State of Academic Staffing and a Path Forward,” also includes a novel formula to track staffing and wage trends and correct inequities. “Reversing Course” was prepared for the AFT by the research firm JBL Associates.

“This report shows that contingent instructors not only make up the majority of the higher education teaching force, but are teaching most of the classes and are teaching across all disciplines,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Contingent faculty members must be better compensated and treated as full professionals on their campuses. Part-time faculty, in particular, are miserably compensated, and often have to teach at several institutions to patch together a living. Disinvesting in faculty is not only unfair to the contingent faculty, but also shortchanges students who may not have their professors as available as they would otherwise be.”

According to the report, contingent faculty and instructors, including graduate teaching assistants, make up almost 70 percent of the people teaching in U.S. colleges and universities today. The report also found that contingent faculty members teach nearly 49 percent of all undergraduate public college courses. Because graduate teaching and research assistants are not counted as college “faculty” in most databases, that figure does not include graduate instructors. When graduate teaching assistants—who teach 16 percent to 32 percent of undergraduate sections at public research universities—are added to the mix, it becomes clear that nonpermanent faculty members instruct well over half of all undergraduate classes.

In addition to the disturbing loss of full-time tenured positions, the report found that contingent faculty face job insecurity, financial inequity and lack of professional support. According to the report, contingent faculty members are earning disproportionately low wages per class. Part-time/adjunct faculty members, who comprise the majority of the contingent faculty pool, receive an average of $2,758 per course, often with few or any health benefits and pensions.

Sandra Schroeder, chair of the AFT Higher Education program and policy council and president of AFT Washington, explained that the significant shift over the past few decades, from campuses with a majority of full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty to a contingent workforce, is only partly due to funding.

“Administrations are increasingly running colleges and universities more like businesses, with a top-down structure that drowns out the voice of its faculty in academic decision-making. This jeopardizes institutions’ fundamental strengths in educating a high-quality workforce; enhancing economic development; and fostering academic freedom, innovative thinking and groundbreaking research,” said Schroeder, who also is an AFT vice president.

To push the policy debate forward toward solutions, the report includes an Interactive Model using a Microsoft Excel database that states, college administrators, faculty members and faculty unions can use to calculate the number of people and financial support that would be necessary to change staffing in a significant way.

“Solving the staffing crisis is the single most urgent issue in higher education today. The crisis developed incrementally and even invisibly, but it has now reached the point where it threatens everything from research to teaching to basic principles of fairness,” said Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress at the City University of New York and an AFT vice president. “The crisis won’t be solved by thinking small; the first step is to identify what is really happening with academic staffing at our colleges and universities, and then to develop a timetable for reinvesting in faculty.”

To use the Interactive Model, stakeholders will first gather and assemble key data from a particular institution on the structure and compensation of the instructional staff—like basic salaries and average pay per class for contingent faculty. After filling out the information in the report’s database, individuals can manipulate the data to figure out how to best work toward achieving a more stable and equitable staffing structure for their colleges and universities.

“If America is to move beyond the current financial crisis and economic downturn, remain a competitive global force, and maintain our global leadership in education, research and technology, we cannot afford to undermine the quality of our public colleges and universities, and that begins with addressing the issue of academic staffing,” Weingarten said.

To reverse the trends highlighted in this report, AFT Higher Education launched the Faculty and College Excellence (FACE) campaign to achieve equity for contingent faculty and more full-time tenure-track faculty jobs through legislative action, collective bargaining and public education. A full copy of the new report can be found on the FACE Web site.

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