AHA Ad Hoc Committee on Contingent Faculty: Final Report

Approved by AHA Council, January 2016


The AHA has worked for the past 16 years to understand and improve the condition of historians employed as adjunct or other non-tenure-track faculty, beginning with an ad hoc committee formed in 1999. (See, for example, committee reports from 1998 and 2003.)

Indeed, the AHA Standards for Employment of Part-Time Faculty from the 2003 report are still listed on the website of the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, representing scholarly societies since 1997. These standards included recommendations to cap the proportion of courses taught by part-time/adjunct faculty, set pay at a minimum of 80 percent of a full time peer faculty member, provide seniority for hiring and raises, and provide work resources.

The AHA Council formed this current committee in the spring of 2014 with the charge of analyzing how working conditions for contingent history faculty affect educational quality in the classroom as well as quality of life; and to respond to these findings with specific and cost-conscious recommendations addressing working conditions, institutional culture, and student learning. More specifically, the following five tasks were given:

  • Examine existing data about contingent and adjunct faculty
  • Survey how working conditions for contingent faculty affect educational quality and quality of life
  • Offer specific and cost-conscious recommendations to address working conditions, institutional culture and student learning
  • Consider how the AHA might work with other scholarly societies to develop national strategies for these issues
  • Propose a research agenda for the future

To achieve these aims, the committee was asked to survey existing data about contingent and adjunct faculty. The data are at best imprecise, as some compilations include graduate assistants and one might argue that for-profit universities—also included in some reports—constitute a separate problem. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has used department reports, which are likely to be skewed downwards, to generate an estimate of percentage of non-tenure-track faculty. As one benchmark, that report found that in 2012, when the range of humanities disciplines employed from 19 to 50 percent non-tenure-track faculty—in history 28 percent of history faculty members were non-tenure track, and nearly three-fourths of these were employed part time.

The committee was also asked to consider how the AHA might work with other scholarly societies to develop national strategies on these issues, and to propose a research agenda for the future.

The committee was organized to include of a mix of contingent/adjunct and tenured/tenure-track faculty, with the latter including historians with substantial experience hiring contingent faculty.

Philip Suchma, St. John’s University, Lehman College, Fordham University
Lynn Weiner, Roosevelt University

Monique Laney, Auburn University
Sharlene Sayegh, California State University, Long Beach
Charles Zappia, San Diego Mesa College

Elaine Carey, AHA Teaching Division
Julia Brookins/Emily Swafford, Project Coordination
Jim Grossman, Executive Director

The committee chairs met with AHA staff and Council members on June 24, 2014, to discuss the committee charges and create a timeline. This initial meeting was followed with a videoconference on August 1, 2014, that included the committee members and a representative of the Teaching Division. Out of this meeting a survey was developed to assess non-tenure-track faculty, history department chairs, and history students. The survey was then edited by AHA staff and the Teaching Division before being implemented.

Throughout the year the committee received materials published in the higher education press and elsewhere from Emily Swafford, who also facilitated various virtual discussions of nomenclature and survey design, and oversaw the nuts and bolts of survey distribution and collection.

In October 2014 the surveys were distributed via the AHA Chairs list and AHA membership lists. Initial survey results were received and collated, and on January 3, 2015, the committee met during the AHA annual meeting in New York to discuss the initial data and next steps.

It was then decided to create a second-round distribution for non-responders, target more Research 1 institutions and community colleges, and refine some of the questions. In March 2015 these results were distributed to the Committee for review. The committee held an online meeting in the summer. Committee members summarized the data for adjuncts, department chairs, and students, and the chairs then created a draft document that was circulated to the committee.

Note that in the comments below we refer to NTTF—non-tenure-track faculty—as a group but that one of our findings is that it may be a mistake to conflate all in this category as there are a wide variety of definitions—including full-time NTTF, half-time NTTF, NTTF with multi-year contracts, adjunct (course-by-course) NTTF, graduate students, postdocs, emeriti faculty, cross-department teachers, professionals (e.g. attorneys, or archivists) who are employed full time but teaching a course in their specialty, etc. Indeed, the wide variety of employment status is perhaps the most important reason for the need for more precise data. It is impossible to assess the impact of employment structures on the quality of history education without a clear understanding of who is teaching what and where.

What follows are summaries of the three surveys and recommendations for improvement and further research.

Survey Summaries

A. NTTF Survey

The survey of non-tenure-track faculty garnered 667 responses from universities around the country, ranging from community colleges and small private colleges to state universities and research 1 institutions. 417 different institutions were represented according to the self-identification of respondents who volunteered information as to where they were employed as an instructor.

54.3 percent were male and 45.2 percent were female. The largest group reporting—45 percent—were between the ages of 40 and 59. The majority of respondents—71.1 percent—hold PhD degrees, with over 70 percent receiving their education from public institutions. Nearly 80 percent of respondents report being active researchers and scholars.

The majority of NTTF are Americanists. Two-thirds report teaching at only one institution. Two-thirds report that teaching is their primary source of income. Over 70 percent have applied for full time positions, but half of those report being place-bound by family or other considerations.

The major issues emerging from the non-tenure-track faculty were as follows:

  1. Income

    Unsurprisingly, the respondents were concerned about the lack of economic stability. Many noted they could not continue in their positions without a second or third job or without a partner with full-time employment. Others mentioned the erosion of working conditions, stating that health benefits have been taken away, courses reassigned, and often there is no guarantee of employment beyond the current term. One person wrote: “We are drowning financially and yet do outstanding work ... but the real matter is that universities are committing real wage theft in using the expertise and experience of highly degreed and published faculty as adjuncts (stop calling us ‘contingent faculty’—we are not contingent as in disposable) but not paying us.” (The problematic terminology of non-tenured/tenure-track employees appears throughout the comments.)

    It should be noted that many respondents said their positions provide economic security with health benefits, especially those at institutions with faculty unions or at small liberal arts colleges. This points to an initial conclusion: it is possible to get at least this far. But even those faculty who are in fairly stable positions note the discrepancy in remuneration for the same work as tenured faculty. “I have been very fortunate to be in a congenial department and a university with much support for research; also I have enjoyed a half-time position with full benefits and security for the past 25 years. I teach more than my tenure-track colleagues and get paid half, and that is what it is.

    Even non-tenure-track faculty who teach full time are not being compensated adequately relative to their training, skills, or cost of living in the region. The low salaries, according to the comments, have had severe economic, social, and psychological effects on the non-tenure-track population.

    Earlier AHA reports recommended that salary structures be put in place to compensate non-tenure-track instructors commensurate to 80 percent of the average salary of full time tenure-track professors, calculated by course load. This has not been accepted by colleges and universities and will not be for the foreseeable future. To recognize this reality, however, is not to either accept it or to assume that remuneration cannot be higher than it is today. The AHA is aware that historians are teaching for as little as $1,400 per course and not infrequently for $2,000. This is unacceptable.
  2. Course Assignments

    One of the most consistent issues non-tenure-track faculty face is lack of advance notice to prepare for courses. Consequently, respondents believe their courses are not as well developed as they could make them, as sometimes they are given a week or less to prepare for an entire course.

    The inability of colleges and universities to promise courses in a timely way contributes to the difficulties confronting non-tenure-track faculty. One NTTF noted that “There are many times in which I did not find out I would be teaching until only two or three days before classes started. So there is a last-minute all-out effort to prepare a syllabus ... and a psychological issue in never knowing whether I will be teaching any semester. This means my income is irregular and I cannot make plans in advance.

    The practice of institutions cancelling classes because of low enrollment, giving no choice in assignments, and not allowing non-tenure-track faculty to develop their own syllabi mean that many don’t teach in their field, compete rather than collaborate with other job-seekers and often have a series of other time-consuming tasks, including constant job searching, traveling between institutions, and learning the different logistics at different institutions. It is not possible for teachers to maximize their pedagogical contributions to students or institutions under such circumstances.
  3. Treatment by Institution

    The responses indicate that the majority of NTTF are not included in departmental meetings or curriculum development. While some noted that this practice provided more time for research and teaching, others lamented that they could not participate in committee work and governance. One commented that while they are invited to meetings they are not paid for their time. Another noted how important the chair’s approach is, that it makes a big difference if the chair thinks inclusively and invites NTTF to participate in meetings and decision-making. Some union organizations of non-tenure-track faculty do include paid time for meetings in their contracts.

    The general tenor of responses suggests that while tenure track faculty are often friendly, the department chairs and administration often treat NTTF as second-class citizens. Respondents also said that their low salaries reflect administrative disrespect. Some offered comparisons with tenure-track faculty as evidence. They suggested that NTTF are sometimes better qualified, are paid less because they are not compensated for scholarship (although many TTF are not actively engaged in research), that they receive no institutional support for conferences or research, and that they receive no recognition from their departments for their accomplishments.
  4. Treatment by Tenure-Track Faculty

    The reports on how TTF treat NTTF were mixed. Some NTTF feel valued by their tenure-track colleagues, but others describe a caste system and TTF as arrogant and disrespectful. There seems to be little interaction between NTTF and TTF, which sometimes means that TTF are unaware of their NTTF colleagues. Often that may be because NTTF are not on campus very much and frequently teach at odd times.

    Those reporting being disrespected by TTF provided many examples. One noted that some TTF do not greet him even after he has worked for the department for five years. Another said that TTF do not know his name. Yet another commentator is looked down on as not being “good enough” to get a TT job. One said that NTTF are paid much less with no benefits while teaching the same courses as TTF. Another lamented the lack of collegiality, and another that she has no one with whom to share research, teaching strategies, or course ideas.

    At the same time, almost 80 percent of those surveyed agreed somewhat or strongly that “my employer and colleagues in the history department respect me as a colleague.”
  5. Impact on Teaching and Students

    Most respondents state that their non-tenure-track status has no negative impact on their teaching, with 92.9 percent strongly or somewhat agreeing that their teaching meets or exceeds the pedagogical standards of the department.

    Still, there are areas where NTTF status impedes teaching. NTTF report being overworked, with limited time to design a syllabus, with no guarantee of teaching the same class. As one reported, “I am constantly changing what courses I teach as needs change. This keeps me from developing or changing courses to fit student needs as I never know for sure what I’ll be teaching.” In addition there are few opportunities to interact with students outside of class, as NTTF are often not allowed to participate in advising, and many report a lack of private office space.

    Still, just over half of the respondents believe that their teaching load and travel between institutions did not prevent them from adequate preparation.

    Several of those surveyed however note they teach more students than tenured and tenure track faculty but are expected to provide the same level of feedback, grading, office hours, and recommendation letters. As one commentator stated, this in effect means that many NTTF are donating their time to the institution.

    Many complained of the lack of appropriate office space, seeing a need for private space to deal with student behavioral issues. Others lack access to such tangibles as supplies, a mailbox, a copier and printer, and adequate computer equipment.

    Several commentators complained they were not allowed to teach honors classes or classes beyond the first or sophomore year students, or to serve on M.A. or PhD committees. And several noted they receive little or no feedback on their teaching, and are not invited to skill development courses.

B. History Department Chairs Survey

The department chair survey drew responses from 172 colleagues. Most of the chairs (88.4 percent) worked at four-year colleges and universities—30.2 percent of these at public institutions. Only seven percent came from two-year or community colleges. Most of the respondents institutions granted bachelor’s degrees (86.6 percent), with 55.2 percent awarding masters degrees and 40.7 percent PhDs. Only 8.1 percent awarded associates degrees.

One surprise was that a significant number of chairs—72.1 percent—reported that they had worked as non-tenure-track faculty at some point in their careers. The question specified that working as a teaching assistant while a graduate student was not to be included.

The chairs reported considerable variety in their numbers of tenured and tenure-track faculty. 30.6 percent consisted of between 21 and 50 faculty, 25.3 percent employed between 11 and 20, 21.8 percent between 6 and 10, and 20 percent from 1 to 5. Only 2.4 percent reported over 50 faculty.

In reporting numbers of non-tenure-track faculty, the chairs were given three categories—full time (multi-year contract), full time (annual contract), and part-time (but without specifying if these adjuncts held limited contracts, tentative assignments, or were at-will employees). The survey found that 118 of chairs reported NTTF held full-time multi-year contracts, 105 chairs reported that NTTF held full-time annual contracts, and 154 chairs reported NTTF were employed as part-time adjuncts. Chairs could report numbers in multiple categories. It is likely these results would have been different if community colleges had been better represented; in general most of the NTTF in those institutions teach no more than two or three classes in institutions where the tenured faculty course load is usually five per semester.

Not surprisingly, the types of classes most often taught by NTTF were surveys or introductory courses. Chairs reported that NTTF sometimes taught upper division and graduate courses.

Chairs also reported that NTTF attended lectures, receptions, and other department events, that 49.7 percent were involved in curriculum development, and that 47.8 percent engaged in online teaching. Furthermore—and in an interesting contrast to the NTTF responses—chairs reported that significant percentages of NTTF participated in faculty governance (31.4 percent), directed studies (29.6 percent), and served on MA and PhD committees (23.3 percent).

The perceptions of NTTF involvement was presented more positively by chairs in every instance than were the responses of NTTF in their parallel survey.

For example, regarding the availability of institutional resources, the difference between the perceptions of department chairs and NTTF is even more dramatic. Chairs claimed that the teaching performance of NTTF was assessed annually in 71.5 percent of their institutions; only 37.6 percent of NTTF reported such assessment. And chairs reported the availability of access to a copier/printer (98.2 percent, compared to 88.2 percent of NTTF), mailbox (98.2 percent, compared to 83.6 percent of NTTF) office space (95.8 percent, compared to 75.6 percent of NTTF), computer (92.7 percent, compared to 74.7 percent of NTTF), parking (75.8 percent, compared to 54 percent of NTTF), and travel funds (66.7 percent, compared to 42.8 percent of NTTF).

Finally, 32.2 percent of the chairs reported the availability of a union open to NTTF at their institutions.

C. Student Survey

500 students provided complete responses to the student survey. The majority were history majors (56.1 percent) or minors (7.3 percent). 96.2 percent were full-time students, with 32.1 percent of them in their senior year.

When students were asked if they understood the difference between tenured/tenure-track faculty and non-tenure-track faculty, the response was divided—51.6 percent declared that they did, while 48.4 percent responded negatively. The largest cohort of students (43.9 percent) stated they had never taken a history course taught by an NTTF, 28.5 percent said they had done so, and 27.6 percent said they didn’t know.

Those who stated they had taken a course taught by a contingent instructor were equally divided by those taking a general education or survey course, and those taking an upper-level course.

When asked to rate the quality of NTTF instructors on a scale ranging from 1 (extremely poor) to 10 (excellent) the largest percentage (23.7 percent) marked “10.” In fact, 74.6 percent of the responses were between 6 and 10.

Students reported they chose courses based on their view of the instructor or professor teaching the course.

Two questions provided revealing answers. When students were asked if, given a choice, they would prefer a course from a full-time or part-time teacher, only 41.2 percent said they would have a preference, and the vast majority of those were for full time. But it is unclear if they were identifying full time as TTF or part time as NTTF, and that’s complicated since there are full-time NTTF and part-time TTF.

Clearly the student survey demonstrated that to students whether a course is taught by a TTF or NTTF is not particularly important. Most students chose not to answer the open-ended questions, and those who did were terse. They did report that NTTF were just as passionate as TTF, their classes were just as rigorous, but that their availability was more limited.

Key Points & Areas of Concern

Our report is clearly very preliminary. Key points include:

  1. We have learned that the identity of non-tenure-track faculty has developed to include not only the part-time, contingent faculty who were the first concern of the AHA to a more complex group of part-time and full-time instructors. Therefore, we need to more sharply and more carefully define the population of non-tenure-track faculty, as recommendations and remedies may differ. It is likely that much of the literature on adjunct teaching in general overly conflates too many categories of those teaching in non-tenure-track positions. These positions vary wildly in terms of job security, autonomy, compensation, and satisfaction. While the common perception is that NTTF are “roads scholars” who teach on course-to course contracts, only 41 percent of those identified by the department chairs were in those categories, and anecdotally there is an increase in the hiring of full-time instructors on annual or multi-year contracts.
  2. There are many divergences in the responses of NTTF and department chairs regarding treatment of NTTF and the resources afforded them. In fact they disagree on almost every issue, ranging from access to office space, faculty development, mailboxes, copying machines, etc.
  3. The common perception that students are indifferent to the hiring status of their instructors seems to be confirmed.


  1. We need to determine more accurate nomenclature to describe the categories of NTTF.
  2. We should update our recommendations made in 2003 to the Coalition on the Academic Workplace, as the nature of non-tenure-track teaching has changed.
  3. Further research is imperative if we are to understand the landscape and condition of college and university teachers today. There is also plenty of historical documentation within the AHA to chart how the history professoriate has changed over time.
  4. There are some simple guidelines the AHA can provide to history departments to improve working conditions for non-tenure-track faculty. These echo earlier recommendations of the past 16 years and include:
    1. Departments should acknowledge NTTF fully as colleagues in the work of teaching students history. They should be invited to department meetings, lectures and social events. They should be treated respectfully, as colleagues. If teaching awards are regularly given, there should be NTTF teaching awards as well. And the accomplishments of NTTF in teaching and scholarship should be acknowledged.
    2. NTTF should be guaranteed the basic tools needed for successful work with students, including mailboxes, access to computers, copy and printing machines, parking, and office supplies. NTTF should be provided not only office space but space to meet with students privately. They should also be able to take part in faculty development and teaching workshops and training. When financially feasible they should be able to have access to travel and conference funds. They should also have their teaching evaluated regularly.
    3. We acknowledge the difficulty of administrators in planning for last-minute course needs occasioned by TTF illness, resignations, or last-minute leaves, and by erratic enrollment patterns combined with institutional mandates on minimum course size. At the same time institutions should hire NTTF as far ahead as is possible.
    4. How might the AHA work with other scholarly societies to develop national strategies? The MLA, OAH, CCAS, AERA, and other groups have recently surveyed the changing conditions of non-tenure-track teachers. There needs to be a summary of these surveys along with the national, increasingly voluminous literature. Possibly the ACLS or AACU or ACE would be a place to start with a discussion representing a range of scholarly societies on these issues. The conditions for historians, however, may differ, so cooperation with the OAH, should be reestablished. Finally, our work should be set in the context of the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, which includes the AHA.
    5. This exercise taught us how much we don’t know. We recommend that a professional social science researcher structure a more sophisticated survey instrument and then provide an analysis of the tenured/tenure-track and non-tenure-track professoriate in the history discipline.