Adjunct Faculty: From the Chronicle

David Keller passed this along:

November 1, 2009

When Adjuncts Push for Better Status, Better PayFollows, Study Suggests

By Peter Schmidt

If adjunct faculty members want to improve their working conditions, they might be better off focusing less on bread­and-butter concerns and more on securing their place at the table, a new study suggests.

The study, being presented this week at the annual conference of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, examined 30 North American colleges at which full-and part-time adjunct faculty members had gained benefits or some other improvement in their workplace. It concluded that adjuncts had made the most progress at colleges where they tried to transform the campus climate to be more inclusive of them, rather than simply fighting to change one employer practice at a time.

"Contingent faculty leaders tend to focus on a narrow set of rights such as salary and benefits and tend not to focus on deeper issues such as climate and inclusion," says a paper summarizing the study's results.

But where the overall campus climate has been changed so that adjunct faculty members are valued and included in decision making, the paper says, colleges are "naturally drawn" to tend to adjuncts' concerns. Much of the resistance to improving their working conditions, especially from tenure-track faculty members, dissipates. Adjuncts at such colleges not only get better pay, benefits, and job security, but also often find their institutions taking other steps, such as paying them for office hours, adopting policies intended to protect their academic freedom and intellectual-property rights, and providing mechanisms for them to get on the tenure track.

The authors of the study—Adrianna J. Kezar, an associate professor of higher education at the University of Southern California, and Cecile Sam, a graduate assistant in that department—conducted their analysis mainly by reviewing employment contracts and interviewing faculty leaders at 14 community colleges, 12 four-year

colleges, and four technical colleges, all of which had at least some policies favorable to adjuncts. They decided which colleges to examine based partly on the recommendations of officials of the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the American Association of University Professors.

The faculties were unionized at 22 of the institutions studied, but the researchers concluded that, when it came to adjuncts' working conditions, the differences between the unionized and nonunionized campuses they examined were few and minor.

The researchers' analysis placed colleges on a three-stage spectrum based on how much progress had been made in improving adjuncts' working conditions. In the initial stage, "mobilization," people on campus organize to demand change and publicize the need for it, but have not yet brought much about.

A college in the second stage, "implementation," has laid the groundwork for change and has adopted some new policies to improve adjuncts' work situations, but these may have amounted to only minor improvements in pay or benefits.

In the third stage, "institutionalization," concern for the welfare of adjuncts has firmly taken root throughout the college. It has moved from tending to the bread-and-butter concerns of adjunct faculty members to taking steps, such as offering mentors and professional development, to ensure that adjuncts feel included in the overall faculty.

On such campuses, the paper says. "there is no longer talk about tenure-track versus nontenure track, full-time contingents or part-time contingents." At one college studied, faculty leaders noted that the pictures of adjunct faculty members hang on the walls of academic departments alongside pictures of tenured faculty members.

Of the 30 colleges examined by the researchers, 12 were in the mobilization stage. Some seemed to be stuck there because others at the college would not listen to adjunct faculty leaders' demands.

Ms. Kezar said she was surprised at the extent to which mobilization was hindered by adjunct faculty members themselves, many of whom had absorbed the negative images that full-time faculty members had of them and did not think they deserved better working conditions.

Another 13 colleges were in the implementation phase, where

adjunct leaders continued to encounter resistance and gains were sometimes jeopardized by turnover in the administration or backlash from tenure-track professors.

The researchers placed just five of the colleges in the institutionalization stage. Unlike adjunct faculty members at other colleges, instructors at these five had focused, in mobilizing, on changing how others on the campus regarded them, a key step to overcoming any resistance from tenure-track faculty members. They also advocated a plan for broad change and rejected incrementalism.

And at all five, adjunct faculty members and their allies on the tenure track had won support for their cause by drawing connections between the working conditions of adjunct faculty members and the quality of the education they were able to provide students. Having something close to proportional representation on faculty senates also appeared to significantly help adjunct faculty members realize their goals.

Keith Hoeller, a longtime advocate for adjunct-faculty rights and co-founder of the Washington Part-Time Faculty Association, said he would like details on the colleges where action was taking place—names were omitted from the report—before accepting that adjuncts were making substantial progress anywhere.

"There just aren't monumental changes going on at a rapid pace right now," Mr. Hoeller said. "I wish there were."

Copyright 2009. All Rights reserved


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