How higher education makes part-time faculty invisible

One way to cover up a problem is to make it invisible.

Part-time faculty, who generally make low wages and receive no benefits even though they comprise two-thirds of college and university faculty nationwide, are rendered invisible because so many different words are used to name them, according to Marisa Allison, acting director of research at the New Faculty Majority Foundation and a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at George Mason University.

Marissa Allison, acting research director of New Faculty Majority, presents her research on contigency and women at the AAUW Ohio Equity Day and Convention 2013.

Marisa Allison, acting research director of New Faculty Majority, presents her research on contigency and women at the AAUW Ohio Equity Day and Convention 2013.

Part-timers are called adjuncts, contingent employees, lecturers, non-tenure-track, term, part-time, post-doctoral, teaching assistants, and auxiliary employees. As a result, they exist generally unrecognized and unrepresented within the academy.

The low status of part-time faculty presents them with a number of challenges:

  • unequal compensation
  • lack of job security
  • no academic freedom
  • lack of professional development
  • lack of advancement opportunities
  • little to no benefits

Allison shared data on these issues at two breakout sessions she led on “Women as ‘Professor Staff‘: Gender Inequity in the Academy” at AAUW Ohio Equity Day and Convention, held April 6-7 in Newark, Ohio. She was joined by April Freely, co-chair of the Organizing Committee of the Ohio Part-Time Faculty Association.

Inequitable compensation

Allison said that another way that part-time faculty are made invisible is by not addressing the inequitable way they are treated. While nationwide the median pay for tenure track faculty to teach a three-credit course is $6,000, part-time faculty make $2,700. Meanwhile, the median revenue that a three-credit course brings in is $84,000 nationwide, Allison said.

So it should come as no surprise that the number of individuals with advanced degrees who are receiving government aid such as food stamps has increased. Of the 22 million individuals with advanced degrees, 360,000 were receiving public assistance in 2010, she reported. That figure more than doubled between 2007 and 2010.

In addition, part-time faculty often lack access to support services and resources such as copying, office space, computers, telephones, and textbooks.

The demise of the tenure track

The problem will only get worse, Allison said, because the number of tenure track faculty is decreasing, while the number of part-time and non-tenure-track full-time faculty is on the upswing.

“The reliance of universities on contingent faculty is dramatic. They have become the majority of faculty across the United States,” she said.

This is particularly true because tenured faculty are staying on the job longer — 20-plus years — and there is a lack of tenure track jobs. According to Allison, universities are converting tenure track positions to non-tenure-track once a faculty member retires — if the position is filled at all.

The real numbers of contingency

Allison brought her tale close to home — and underlined the discrepancy between the figures universities and colleges publicize and those their institutional research departments compile — by sharing the latest figures from the University of Akron’s Office of Institutional Research.

While UA admits to having 58 percent contingent faculty, UA’s official employee count shows that in 2012, 78 percent of its faculty was actually contingent or non-tenure track, which is above the national average.

That means that just 22 percent of the university’s total faculty on all campuses was full-time tenure track or tenured, according to Allison’s calculations.

She pointed out that 42 administrators and 21 librarians, both groups with faculty rank, are included in the tenure track total. However, both groups may teach occasionally or not at all.

Gender, race and contingency

“While gender and race are generally left out of the conversation, these are important factors

because universities and colleges have more women students and faculty,” noted Allison, whose doctoral research addresses gender inequality in higher education. Her specific focus is the growth of women’s participation in the adjunct and contingent labor force.

She shared the percentages of female students in colleges and universities nationwide during the 2007-2008 academic year:

April Freely of OPTFA  and Marisa Allison of NFMF

April Freely of OPTFA and Marisa Allison of NFMF

  • 62% associate degree programs
  • 57% bachelor’s degree programs
  • 61% master’s degree programs
  • 50% professional degree programs
  • 51% doctoral degree programs

Women make up a large percentage of part-time faculty, so the lack of equity in the higher education workplace hits them hard, Allison said.

At Ohio State University, for example, 35 percent of the faculty is tenured or tenure-track, while 65 percent is contingent. Of the total number of faculty, less than half, or 42 percent, are female. But when it comes to contingent faculty, it is clearly a woman’s world. Females comprise 72 percent of contingent faculty, according to the figures Allison provided.

Contingency and student outcomes

“Our working conditions are student learning conditions,” Allison noted, with pay inequities and poor working conditions affecting students as well as faculty.

Research shows that colleges and universities with a high percentage of contingent faculty have diminished graduation and retention rates, negative affects from early exposure to part-time faculty, and reduced student-faculty interaction. Those institutions also see a decline in graduation rates and lower GPAs, she said.

Allison cautioned that the negative affects on students are not because of the quality of part-time faculty, as “contingent faculty are some of the best and most-beloved faculty on campuses.” But the poor working conditions suffered by part-time faculty make it impossible for them to serve students well.

One comment

  1. [...] inequities faced by part-time faculty at UA. UA’s approximately 1,000 part-timers make up more than 70 percent of all faculty on campus, receive no benefits and earn about $2,400 per three-credit course. OPTFA wants to [...]

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