Report of the Two-Year College Faculty Task Force (2016)
According to a report issued by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University in 2014, nearly half of all undergraduates in the United States were enrolled in two-year colleges in the 10 years prior. The American Historical Association’s Two-Year College Faculty Task Force was established by Council in 2009 to determine and better serve the professional needs of historians who teach at those colleges—and, through them, the substantial percentage of American students whose primary contact with college-level history will take place there.
The task force issued its first report in 2012 with a series of 29 recommendations for the AHA to consider implementing in areas ranging from the annual meeting, to publications and awards, professional activities and administration. At its June 2015 meeting, Council reconstituted the task force and asked that it evaluate the AHA’s progress—determining which recommendations were not a good fit; which had been set in motion or, in some cases, already accomplished; and areas where significant work remained undone. The reconstituted committee served for one year, meeting periodically via teleconference and convening in person during the annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, in January 2016. The reports that follow are the findings of four committee members—Trinidad Gonzales, chair (South Texas Coll.); Shannon Bontrager (Georgia Highlands Coll.); Sarah Shurts (Bergen Comm. Coll.); and Emily Sohmer Tai (Queensborough Comm. Coll.)—each of whom addressed a section of the recommendations in turn and in his or her own style. The reports are followed by an analysis of a new survey conducted with two-year faculty from colleges across the country.
The reports make clear that while not all recommendations were wholly realized, many were achieved in “spirit” (as Shannon Bontrager puts it in his assessment of publications and awards). Among the task force’s objectives was a resolve to increase two-year faculty memberships in the AHA. When the report was accepted in June 2012, two-year faculty memberships numbered 453, or 3.8% percent of the AHA’s total membership. Today, two-year membership remains the same percentage (3.8) but has declined to 401 members (a drop in-line with an overall decline in membership; figures are based on self-reported institutional status). Still, a new era of inclusiveness for two-year faculty within the AHA has plainly influenced attitudes towards it, particularly with regard to the annual meeting. It is the spirit of inclusiveness that represents the greatest accomplishment of this process to date, and a targeted marketing strategy should now leverage that success while the AHA continues to follow through on and expand its commitment to inclusivity.
The Annual Meeting
Recommendation 1: Getting community college faculty to the annual meeting and offering sessions of genuine interest is crucial for engaging them with the Association. The AHA should ensure that the annual meeting offers sessions and events relevant to two-year college faculty.
The AHA has made significant strides over the past four years in engaging community college faculty at the annual meetings by providing relevant workshops and sessions that include community college faculty on their panels. This is particularly important since many of the two-year faculty surveyed in 2010 indicated that attending and presenting papers at the annual meeting played a significant role in their decision to join a professional society.
Based on a search for the words “community college” in every annual meeting program from 2009 to 2016, the number of community college faculty on panels has increased dramatically since 2009, which saw only three individual presenters from a community college and only one full panel of community college participants (sponsored by the Community College Humanities Association). The 2010 meeting included only one community college presenter and one CCHA panel. Following the survey in 2010, the 2011 conference saw a jump to four panels and three papers, while numbers fell again the next year. Both 2013 and 2014 saw eight individual papers and two full panels, and by 2016 ten community college panelists sat on mixed panels with another full CCHA panel. The numbers are small but growing.
Affiliates such as the CCHA, American Catholic Historical Association, Conference on Latin American History, and Society for Italian Historical Studies have an important role to play here, having maintained a higher rate of sponsoring the panels that include community college faculty than has the AHA proper. Examining presentation topics provided additional insight into the kinds of sessions considered relevant by the program committee. Proposals that indicate areas of interest for community college faculty more broadly—including those centered around pedagogy, teaching, Tuning, and general education or survey course topics—could help with outreach/advertising of the annual meeting and boost attendance from two-year campuses within the conference region.
Recommendation #2: The annual meeting should regularly feature sessions on teaching online classes, a growing practice in both two-year and four-year colleges.
There has been growing interest in promoting sessions that explore online teaching. Since 2009, at least one or two panels have taken up online instruction every year (save 2011 and 2013), but only one year (2012) included a community college representative on said panel.
Recommendation #3: The Association should regularly organize a preconference workshop or full-day workshop for community college faculty at the annual meeting.
The increase in community college faculty participation seems to correspond to a simultaneous increase in the number of sessions devoted to pedagogy and the scholarship of teaching and learning. The AHA has also introduced SOTL sessions and pre-conference workshops, such as the Tuning Undergraduate Teaching Workshops (2014–15), Assignment Charrettes Workshop (2016), Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Workshops (2011–13), and the National History Education Clearinghouse Workshop (2009–10), as well as panels identified in the program as teaching sessions.
Recommendation #4: The AHA should encourage community college faculty to participate in sessions at the meeting, integrated with faculty at other levels of education.
Several respondents in the 2010 survey expressed frustration with the perception that community college faculty are not interested in traditional scholarship. This perception has created an artificial divide between two-year and four-year faculty. Since 2009, the AHA and its affiliates have added more panels with mixed institutional representation that focus on scholarship rather than pedagogy. This effort to include two-year scholars on panels might be enhanced by adding a recommendation in the submission instructions to consider diversity of institutions in the make-up of proposed panels.
Recommendation #5: Two-year college faculty should be represented on the Program Committee.
A dramatic change can be seen in representation of community college faculty on the Program Committee since commission of the first Two-Year Task Force Report. From 2009–12, no community college representatives served on the program committee; from 2013–16, one such representative served each year. The Teaching Division of the AHA has included community college representation for over a decade. According to the current two-year representative, this inclusion has been a matter of tradition rather than something codified in the bylaws. Moving forward, having a designated spot for a community college representative might be helpful.
Recommendation #6: The AHA should actively market the meeting to two-year college faculty, particularly those in driving distance of the meeting city. The Local Arrangements Committee should include someone with a broad network among the region’s two-year college faculty who can help with outreach.
The local arrangements committee has also included community college faculty for the past several years—which encourages attendance among those who teach in or near the conference city—but this inclusion has been somewhat sporadic: in 2010, 2011, 2014, and 2016 no community college representatives served on the committee.
Recommendation #7: The Association should continue to have a reception for two-year faculty at the annual meeting. A member or members of AHA Council should be in an attendance.
The reception has been faithfully held each year and has included appearances and words of welcome from the executive director, Division vice presidents, the president, and president-elect of the AHA. Based on individual testimonials, this has gone a long way towards engendering a feeling that the AHA appreciates and respects the work and membership of two-year faculty.
Recommendation #8: The AHA should evaluate the feasibility of reducing the cost of meeting registration for two-year college faculty, either by offering a one-day registration fee or through a significantly discounted registration. The potential costs of offering a discount would have to be evaluated and balanced with the potential increase in the number of attendees.
Discounted fees have not been introduced. While it is true that two-year faculty are usually paid less than their four-year colleagues in the same region, it is not true that they make less in all areas than do four-year faculty. Small liberal arts colleges in the Midwest or South sometimes pay less than urban northeastern two-year colleges due to lower costs of living. Decreasing fees for all two-year faculty might be less effective than decreasing them for lower-income faculty regardless of institution.
Recommendation #1: Explore the possibility of publishing more articles about teaching in the American Historical Review (AHR).
Reviewing back issues of the AHR, from volume 117 (2012) to volume 121 (covering the February and April issues of 2016), revealed zero articles focused on teaching history at two-year institutions or on community college issues more broadly.
Recommendation #2: Publish pamphlets addressing issues related to teaching from subject-centered publications to the mechanics of organizing a course and dealing with teaching to a diverse audience.
The AHA did not produce such documents in print media but instead developed them in newer digital formats—devoting significant server space to related issues, including a liberal use of the blog AHA Today.Most of these articles did not address two-year faculty directly, but eight articles discussed the Bridging Cultures initiative and four more dealt with two-year faculty who participated in the Bridging Historias through Latino History and Culture. AHA Today also published information about 2-year grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). In addition, the AHA maintained a “Resources for Two-year Faculty” page that includes links to professional, research, teaching, and service information.
Recommendation #3: Continue to increase coverage of community colleges in Perspectives on History.
While a good number of Perspectives articles discussed K-12 pedagogical and political issues, only one article, going back to 2012, dealt specifically with community colleges. Many articles focused on issues pertinent to two-year faculty: several of them on pedagogy; at least five on dual enrollment; seven on MOOCS; two on STEM; four on Bridging Cultures; one on the U.S. survey; two on teaching undergraduates; one on general education; and one discussing the 2012 Two-Year Faculty Task Force Report. A keyword search suggested that at least twenty articles appeared before 2012 that specifically covered community college or two-year faculty issues. By contrast, from 2012 to May 2016, only one article appeared in Perspectives that specifically spoke to the challenges of teaching in a community college.
Recommendation #4: The Association should actively encourage two-year college faculty to nominate colleagues for the Asher Award for Teaching.
In 2011, there were five nominees for the award; three were nominated in 2012; four in both 2013 and 2014; and only one in 2015. No two-year faculty member won the award during these years. Additionally, no two-year faculty member has won the Nancy Lyman Roelker Mentorship award, which rotates annually between a K12, undergraduate, and graduate mentor.
And although the Asher Award has not been conferred to community college faculty in recent years, two recipients of AHA Book Prizes at the 2016 annual meeting were community college faculty: Dr. Benjamin Trotter, an adjunct professor of history at Columbus State Community College, received the Leo Gershoy Prize for co-authoring A World of Paper: Louis XIV, Colbert de Toucy, and the Rise of the Information State; Dr. Libby Garland, an assistant professor of History at Kingsborough Community College, CUNY, received the Dorothy Rosenberg Prize for After They Closed the Gates: Jewish Illegal Immigration to the United States, 1921–1965. This is a real milestone for the AHA that brings practice into accordance with the growing welcome community college historians can now find in learned societies dedicated to sub-fields of history.
Recommendation #5: The task force suggests that the AHA consider creating a research grant for two-year college faculty who are members of the Association. An initial endowment of $50,000 would support a $1,000 annual grant to one scholar. The task force encourages the AHA to begin a fundraising drive.
The AHA did not initiate this recommendation and no plans currently exist to implement it. However, community college faculty are welcome to apply for one of the four existing research grants offered by the Association. Additionally, the AHA won a $350,000 federal grant from the NEH to put toward two-year faculty professional development, money it used to create a three-year institute for twenty-four two-year faculty members from across the country to collaborate in revamping the U.S. history survey through the “Bridging Cultures: Atlantic and Pacific Worlds” institutes. The AHA has since provided collaborative opportunities for Bridging Cultures participants to work with colleagues in the Tuning Project, cross-pollination that has had a decisive impact on course plans, assignment ideas, and general practice recommendations.
The AHA has been more effective at implementing the spirit of the task force recommendations than in completing each action item literally. AHA personnel have used digital media in innovative ways and have also sought out newly emerging grant opportunities. Still more opportunities could be explored to convince two-year faculty that they should participate in AHA sponsored programs. What remains is for the AHA to persuade more two-year faculty members to nominate their colleagues for the Asher Award (and other awards as well) through direct correspondence via Facebook, Twitter, AHA Today, and direct professional email correspondence. Direct intervention (“cold calling”) may encourage more participation in the nomination process for the Asher award (this method successfully generated interest in the Bridging Cultures program). The AHA might consider developing a research grant specifically for two-year faculty, which could go a long way towards recognizing that in addition to teaching, two-year faculty also engage in high-level research.
Recommendation #1: The Teaching Division should help maintain the resource page for two-year college faculty on the AHA web site, adding sites of interest, news on collaborative efforts involving cooperation between community colleges and transfer institutions, information on grants and fellowships to support research and teaching, etc.
The AHA website hosts a dedicated page of resources for community college faculty with sections on research, teaching, professional development, and service. Multiple links on this page were outstanding, especially the “Advocacy Calendar.” The AHA might consider adding additional links to resources such as The Adjunct Project, the findings of the 2012 Survey completed by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor, grant opportunity listings at the National Archives, and the website of the American Association of Colleges and Universities, whose “LEAP” project has real implications for the future of history teaching and whose newly-conferred head, Lynn Pasquerella, began her education at a community college. Additionally, the page should highlight the AHA’s own directory of free history journals.
The AHA currently offers its members several concrete benefits of particular value to community college faculty, including discounted subscriptions to journals such as The History Teacher, online resources, and an individual discounted subscription to JSTOR known as JPASS. The annual JPASS purchase option was made available to AHA members in 2014. A critical resource, it represents substantive progress toward helping adjunct faculty, community college faculty at smaller institutions, and historians who teach at secondary schools. If this resource cannot be expanded at this time, it might be useful to highlight it on the two-year faculty and K-12 faculty websites. Offering additional resources would help further, especially through departmental memberships (including a subscription to the AHR, currently available through individual memberships only).
Recommendation #2 and #3: The task force urges the Association to provide professional development opportunities for two-year college faculty. The AHA should consider working with other organizations, such as the Community College Humanities Association or the American Studies Association, to organize regional professional development programs.
The AHA successfully completed the “American History: Atlantic and Pacific” Bridging Cultures NEH grant project and continues to support the Tuning Project, a nationwide, faculty-led initiative to articulate the disciplinary core of historical study and define what a student should understand and be able to do at the completion of a history degree program.
The AHA has collaborated on workshops and other professional development opportunities with the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History, the Library of Congress, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Additional suggestions to explore possibilities for collaborative effort include the New-York Historical Society, the New York Public Library, and the East/West Center.
The AHA continues to offer research grants to support faculty at all institutions, including community college faculty. But in a competitive environment that will increasingly see learned societies vying for the loyalties of faculty with limited resources for annual conference travel, and in which community colleges stand to attract a growing number of job applications from newly-minted PhDs, the AHA should seek innovative ways to support the research projects of community college and two-year faculty as well as their interests in such areas as online teaching, digital scholarship, curriculum development, and pedagogy.
Recommendation #4: Develop webinars, podcasts, and other professional development resources for two-year college faculty who do not have access to conference travel funds.
The AHA currently films many of its annual meeting sessions; makes them available on the AHA’s YouTube channel; and is exploring opportunities to provide podcasts to its members. The AHA should consider promoting the involvement of its members in podcasts that are free and available for download. One such example is Paula Findlen’s webinar about the Italian Renaissance. Additionally, collaborative opportunities between community colleges and local museums and libraries abound; virtual tours, for instance, led by community college faculty of local sites of interest, can in turn be made available for teaching.
Recommendation #5: If the Teaching Division moves forward with the “Teaching Tips” website project, there should be active outreach to ensure participation by two-year college faculty.
Although the AHA did not move forward with the “Teaching Tips” website, it has developed an extensive teaching and learning domain that features dozens of classroom resources and assignments. Additional websites to consider include History Matters, Digital History, the World History Network, and the Fordham University Internet History Sourcebooks Project.
Recommendation #6: The Teaching Division/Council member who represents two-year institutions should maintain a presence in online conversations in venues such as the Yahoo group for community college historians. The AHA should make a conscious effort to involve two-year college faculty in any social media projects it undertakes.
The AHA Council member who represents two-year institutions has maintained a presence in online conversations. However, the AHA does not have a presence in the Yahoo group for community colleges and could do more to include the two-year faculty representative in social media campaigns on Facebook and twitter.
Recommendation #7: The Association should use existing resources, such as the department chairs’ listserv, to learn about current articulation agreements between two- and four-year colleges.
Significant progress has been made in this area through the Tuning Project.
Recommendation #8: Gather information to develop a broad professional profile of community college history faculty through surveys and other data collection and publish regular reports in Perspectives on History.
The AHA has begun gathering information about community college faculty through extensive internet searches and a recent survey. Research in this area should continue, with foreknowledge that Wood and Townsend’s Mellon-funded study (spanning the decade from 1998–2009 and presented in 2013) may have underestimated the number of PhDs teaching history at community colleges due to difficulties identifying full faculty cohorts. Understanding who community college history faculty are would help the AHA to serve them better in the future. For example, it would be useful to have a sense of what professional publications community college faculty read on a regular basis, and what they publish—teaching materials as well as research. The intent of this research is to provide a clearer picture of the needs of two-year faculty and how the AHA can best respond. This would involve significant costs for staff time to identify research objectives, develop and distribute surveys, and analyze the results.
Recommendation #9: The taskforce encourages the AHA to draft a best practices document concerning group adoption of textbooks for multiple sections and instructors.
This has not been completed.
Recommendation #1: The task force encourages the AHA to look into offering discounted health insurance to its members, which would be particularly valuable to part-time and contingent faculty teaching in two-year as well as four-year institutions.
Council reviewed the option to offer health insurance to faculty and concluded that it has many attendant financial issues that make it unfeasible for the AHA to provide health insurance.
Recommendation #2: Encourage community college faculty to volunteer for AHA committee service. For example, faculty who have published a book could serve on book prize committees.
The AHA and its staff encourage community college faculty to volunteer for service. The Bridging Cultures and Tuning Project participants constitute a new pool of members with a vested interest in providing service for the association. In particular, the outgrowth of the Tuning project to regional conferences nationwide continues to expand the AHA’s presence; participants in the Texas Conference, for instance, demonstrated a willingness to provide service locally for AHA activities. Continuing to pursue a strategy of using local venues with AHA sponsorship/guidance could increase community college faculty service.
Recommendation #3: Continue efforts to market to two-year college faculty. Staff or the executive director should attend the biannual meeting of the Community College Humanities Association.
No concerted membership marketing effort was aimed at community colleges during this period because a marketing manager had not yet been hired. With a marketing manager now on staff, a focused attempt to increase community college membership has begun. The Community College Humanities Association relationship should continue its presentation at our annual conference, though timing makes it impossible for AHA staff to attend. Instead, the associations might consider possible points of collaboration to strengthen their ties to one another, such as applying for joint grants related to Dual Enrollment. As part of its regular duties, the AHA generally and the marketing manager in particular should strive to include assessments related to recruiting two-year faculty and helping meet their needs.
Community college historians face challenges on two fronts: within the community college culture, and within the historical profession. Within the community college culture, even in the context of an elevated level of support from the Obama Administration, the focus on STEM fields, with a nod to Humanities study in the area of English composition, leaves historians in a vulnerable position, defending the value of their fields against those who would focus relentlessly on “workforce development” and see their mission solely as a matter of teaching two-year college students some technical skills for immediate workforce entry. One might note the absence of any reference to humanities or history education in websites that purport to offer “resources” to “community college stakeholders (e.g., presidents, trustees, faculty, staff, students, families etc.)” from the United States Department of Education or the website of the American Association of Community Colleges. One might also note the dearth of references to Humanities programs on the site of the Community College Research Center—typing the term “Liberal Arts” into the site’s search engine summons up a Gates-Foundation funded study disparaging Liberal Arts programs at Community Colleges as “poorly structured.” Perceptions of the limited application of historical study hamper support for teaching it at two-year colleges despite the important contribution studying history can make to the “supportive school culture” advocated by educational reformers as well as the so-called “soft skills” essential to service-oriented markets.
Within the field, community college historians contend with a persistent prejudice that they are knowledge consumers rather than knowledge producers. This stance hurts the field by slighting the contribution that a faculty member’s own research makes to her effectiveness in the classroom and by discouraging conversations about how to promote an interest in historical knowledge among non-majors and the consumption of historical knowledge among a larger reading public.
Charles A. Zappia, who contributed to an earlier stage of this inquiry, was still calling for the full inclusion of history in the two-year college curriculum in 2011 (see “The OAH in the Community College Professorate”); the AHA appears to have made better progress on this front. Several community college faculty participated in a recent conference of the Society for French Historical Studies. The prominence of community college faculty in the World History Association goes back to that organization’s inception and the leadership of Kevin Reilly, who played a critical role at the AHA as well. Another community college faculty member, Dr. Tiffany Van Sprecher, associate Professor of History at Kingsborough Community College and a specialist in the legal and religious history of the late medieval period, recently published an article in the Medieval Academy’s premiere journal, Speculum, while the Medieval Academy itself has assembled a working group, composed of both four- and two-year college faculty, to address the relative absence of topics pertaining to the Medieval West in AP History curricula. The group will meet at this year’s Medieval Academy conference in Boston, and has been exchanging ideas by email since last summer. The Renaissance Society of America has indicated that two-year college faculty are eligible for society-awarded grants.
In other words, the Two Year Taskforce revealed a cohort of historians who’ve made real gains in recent years and who continue to face significant hurdles as well. We strongly urge the leadership of the AHA to regard two-year college faculty as they would the faculty of liberal arts colleges—as historians who pursue research, even if their lowered output reflects a concurrent professional commitment to more demanding teaching responsibilities, as faculty members serving an abundance of first-generation college students with diverse learning styles, limited resources, and time constraints. Community college faculty have enormously insightful things to say about teaching, insights often rooted in research undertaken in their disciplinary areas; this, too, should be part of the conversation.
In sum: two-year faculty in the United States serve a considerable and still-growing contingent of college students. Our commitment to those students specifically and to our discipline broadly will be greatly served by continuing to connect with two-year faculty—providing them with the resources for both research and teaching; with collegial respect and support; in short, by encouraging their membership and active participation in the American Historical Association.