Thursday, June 28, 2012

Non-Tenure Track (Contingent or Fixed Term) Faculty and Shared Governance, A Report From the AAUP

Among the most important changes in the nature of the university is the character is the composition of the faculty.  Though many cling to the ideal of a university composed of faculty-administrators and tenured faculty (and the ideology of education that follows), the reality is much different.  Administrators are increasingly disconnected from the faculties they manage and faculties are no longer composed primarily of tenured members. Universities are now grappling with the consequences even as they cling to the old ideology. (E.g. on this blog, Is it Possible for a University to Abandon a Passive and Defensive Attitude in the Face of a Weak Economy and Lack of Government Support--The Price of "Yes";  and Coalition on the Academic Workforce and AAUP: Publication of Results of Its Survey of Contingent Faculty).
Most attention on contingent or fixed term faculty focuses on their working conditions and their effect on the ideal of a tenured faculty as in threat to the tenure system, a weakening of academic freedom, the corporatization of the university and the development of a class system in education and research). There has been little focus on the role of fixed term or contingent faculty in governance. Now comes the AAUP with a Report, "The Inclusion in Governance of Faculty Members Holding Contingent Appoints," June 28, 2012, that seeks to fill that void,

The AAUP announcement of that report described it in the following terms:

New Report on Contingent Faculty and Governance

As the AAUP has documented time and time again, the proportion of faculty appointments that are “contingent”—lacking the benefits and protections of tenure and a planned long-term relationship with an institution—has increased dramatically over the past few decades. By 2009—the latest year for which national data are available—75 percent of US faculty appointments were off the tenure track, and 60 percent were part-time.
The structures of faculty governance, however, as well as AAUP policies on the subject tend to assume a faculty that is employed primarily full time and on the tenure track. The participation in institutional and departmental governance of faculty holding contingent appointments—the great majority of faculty—is uneven, with some institutions encouraging it, some barring it, and others incorporating various groups of contingent faculty in different, sometimes token, ways. In short, the current state of affairs couples a steadily rising proportion of faculty in contingent appointments with a system in which such faculty are only sometimes included in governance structures.
A report just out from the AAUP examines these issues and makes recommendations for the inclusion of faculty holding contingent appointments in campus governance structures.
Recommendations include:

  • Faculty members who hold contingent appointments should be afforded responsibilities and opportunities in governance similar to those of their tenured and tenure-track colleagues.
  • Institutional policies should define as “faculty” and include in governance bodies at all levels individuals whose appointments consist primarily of teaching or research activities conducted at a professional level.
  • Eligibility for voting and holding office should be the same for all faculty regardless of full- or part-time status.
  • All members of the faculty should be eligible to vote in all elections for college and university governance bodies on the basis of one person, one vote.
  • While faculty in contingent appointments may be restricted from participating in the evaluation of tenured and tenure-track faculty, they should have the opportunity to contribute to the evaluation of contingent faculty.
  • All faculty members should, in the conduct of governance activities, be explicitly protected by institutional policies from retaliation.
  • Faculty holding contingent appointments should be compensated in a way that takes into consideration the full range of their appointment responsibilities, which should include service.

Produced by a joint subcommittee of two AAUP standing committees, the report is published for comment and may be revised in response to comments received. Comments should be addressed to Gwendolyn Bradley ( by September 10.

The finds of the report are worth considering.  One in particular has ramifications for both contingent and tenured faculty--the protection of faculty against retaliation in the conduct of governance activities.  There is currently little by way of legal protection for any faculty in the conduct of their governance activities. I have spoken of this problem before within the general context of shared governance.  Larry Catá Backer,  Between Faculty, Administration, Board, State, and Students: On the Relevance of a Faculty Senate in the Modern U.S. University, March 2012.

The AAUP Report notes:
The second consideration is very serious and has implications both for the faculty themselves and for the integrity of the governance system. Since contingent faculty by definition have little job security, they are at greater risk than others of retaliation if their speech or actions in the context of governance displease administrators or other faculty members. In addition, faculty in contingent, particularly part-time, appointments, often have no recourse if they believe they have been subject to retaliation. Because of these precarious working conditions, they may be susceptible to pressure, whether real or imagined, to vote or act in a certain way, thus compromising the integrity of the governance process. (AAUP, "The Inclusion in Governance of Faculty Members Holding Contingent Appoints," supra, at p. 21).
But what applies with full force against contingent faculty applies as well to tenured faculty.  And the courts have been reluctant to interfere in what to the outside world is little more than an ordinary course employment relationship.  The problems of contingent faculty with respect to retaliation provides an opening for a discussion of retaliation and the management of faculty governance by others that may point to the adoption of general provisions, with contractual effect, for the protection of all faculty against retaliation or abuse in the conduct of their governance activities.  

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