Improving the Status of Non-Tenure-Track Faculty: Recommendations for History Departments (2020)

Approved by AHA Council, January 2020

Faculty who hold non-tenure-track appointments (referred to here as Non-Tenure-Track Faculty, or NTTF) include a wide range of job statuses and working conditions. This category includes professional historians referred to as adjunct, contingent, part-time, contractual, affiliate, special, irregular, full-time untenured, or non-tenure track and off-tenure track faculty. They are designated with titles such as Instructor, Visiting Professor, Post-Doctoral Scholar, and Lecturer (in this last category, in some cases with titles such as Senior or Distinguished Lecturer). Some NTTF enjoy multi-year contracts and full benefits. Some participate in curricular decisions, have access to resources related to teaching and scholarly research, and feel valued by their department colleagues. However, among the most vulnerable are those who are paid very little-by the course on a part-time basis. They lack job security as well as basic employee benefits such as health insurance. They often enjoy little or no control over syllabi and other essential aspects of teaching, and remain largely invisible and marginalized within their departments. In many cases service responsibilities and duties related to teaching (such as holding office hours and writing letters of recommendation) are not compensated.

The American Historical Association laments the paucity of research on the impact of higher education labor structures on student learning. The AHA continues to join with other scholarly associations in advocating policy-level attention to working conditions, employment relations, and compensation. But we also want to intervene at a more immediately effective level-departments.

The following recommendations are designed for department chairs, many of whom can influence change in such important areas as the integration of NTTF into departmental life and cultures. A chair can often ensure that NTTF receive the resources and mentoring they need to develop and thrive as teachers and as professional historians. Not all NTTF will want to participate in the life of a department-indeed, many will probably consider the added time commitments related to service to be yet another unpaid drain on their time-but some might embrace the opportunity to learn more about the way academia works, and to participate fully in governance and in curricular discussions.

Chairs should make clear that NTTF participation in service and governance should be regarded as opportunities for professional development rather than as new expectations placed upon NTTF. Chairs may want to state explicitly that optional service and governance activities will not be considered in annual evaluations unless these duties are explicitly enumerated in letters of appointment. In any case, chairs should avoid the impression that a faculty member's reappointment may be contingent on undertaking new and potentially unwelcome service or governance responsibilities.

In that respect, these recommendations offer a menu of possibilities that department chairs might draw upon in consultation with individual NTTF, remaining sensitive to the circumstances, needs, and preferences of those faculty members. The goal is to integrate all faculty into the intellectual and teaching communities of the department, and to ensure that the principles and protections of academic freedom apply to all faculty regardless of rank or tenure status.

Recruitment and Hiring

Department chairs should:

  • craft job descriptions that are as clear and precise as possible with regard to the time commitments involved
  • offer all NTTF hires a written offer as soon as possible after their hiring, and process formal contracts speedily. Written offers should specify in detail the terms of the appointment:  courses to be taught, at what hours; responsibilities related to office hours, grading, responding to student emails, and writing letters of recommendation; compensation and benefits
  • provide all NTTF hires with a contact person in the department (either faculty or staff) who can help that person navigate the bureaucracy and explain any paperwork and procedures related to appointments and compensation
  • whenever possible, announce the cancellation of particular classes in a timely manner, providing plenty of lead time for the instructors who were prepared to teach them
  • give early notice and due consideration to any NTTF when a new position becomes available

Resources, privileges, information, and feedback critical to teaching

The chair should ensure that NTTF have access to:

  • the library, online library resources, and learning management systems (such as Canvas and Blackboard) before and during the contract period
  • training in the institution's learning management system for those faculty who are unfamiliar with it
  • adequate office space
  • a computer
  • a copier/printer
  • office/mailing supplies
  • support staff
  • information related to the availability of classroom space, with special attention to technology and classroom seating
  • course evaluations
  • classroom peer observations according to the standards established for tenure-track faculty (ie., a class visit followed by written and/or oral communication with the instructor)
  • constructive feedback on teaching
  • the same resources as TTF related to student mental health, grade disputes, disruption in the classroom, and counselling services
  • adequate notice to develop/offer new courses (avoiding last-minute assignments to the extent possible)
  • sample syllabi for courses taught (so the faculty member does not have to develop a new one from scratch)
  • input into/control over syllabi for courses taught
  • invitation to participate in discussions related to the revision of existing courses
  • mass transit, parking, and other transportation or commuting benefits

Support for scholarship and professional development

The chair should:

  • review the NTTF's teaching progress in the form of student evaluations and peer classroom observations
  • provide the faculty member with an evaluation related to teaching and scholarship appropriate to the institution
  • offer merit-based salary increases
  • provide access to the department's travel funds for both research and conference attendance
  • provide access to grant offices and the information they distribute to the T/TT faculty about funding opportunities for their research
  • offer each NTTF a web presence in the form of department-sponsored personal webpage (if offered to T/TT faculty)
  • write letters of recommendation for applications for other positions
  • invite NTTF the opportunity to present original research to colleagues and to participate in institution-wide symposia
  • offer the faculty member an opportunity to mentor junior faculty
  • for junior NTTF, offer to assign a faculty member as a mentor who can advise the faculty member on both teaching and scholarly pursuits
  • again, for junior faculty, offer feedback on job application letters and offer to conduct mock interview

Integration of the NTTF into the department and the institution generally

The Chair should play a leadership role and

  • oversee the creation of a document that stipulates NTTF members' rights and responsibilities in governance and service, with periodic updates to departmental "best practices" guidelines
  • revise the department's handbook to take into account NTTF's roles in the department
  • provide a formal orientation for NTTF
  • involve NTTF in course development, including discussions of curriculum, assessment metrics, and student learning outcomes
  • introduce NTTF to department members at the beginning of each year and encourage them to include NTTF into the professional and social life of the department
  • invite the faculty member to department social and professional events such as receptions and scholarly talks, seminars, symposia, and brown-bag lunches
  • invite the faculty member to attend appropriate department meetings
  • maintain the faculty member's web presence on department's homepage, Twitter, Facebook, list of faculty (this last to be organized alphabetically and not by rank)
  • announce to the department any honors and other forms of recognition (for scholarship, teaching, or service) accorded NTTF
  • lead by example and monitor the department climate in terms of guaranteeing that NTTF are treated with respect and welcomed as colleagues
  • invite NTTF to teach courses developed for undergraduate honors students, MA students, PhD students
  • invite NTTF to serve on department committees
  • assure NTTF that the principles and protections of academic freedom apply to all faculty regardless of rank or tenure status

Department chairs can promote the interests of NTTF with higher administration officials, in an effort to enhance the job stability and economic security of NTTF, by supporting:

  • multi-year contracts
  • pay set at a fair and equitable rate based on relevant institutional compensation scales
  • a well-defined ladder for advancement/seniority in terms of job titles, salaries
  • full-time teaching schedules whenever possible
  • benefits, especially health insurance
  • compensation for office hours, including time spent in responding to students' emails
  • consider consolidation of several part-time positions into fewer ones that are long-term/full-time
  • eligibility for merit and cost of living increases
  • eligibility for promotion
  • membership in campus faculty union
  • appropriate compensation for non-teaching responsibilities related to service, committee work
  • consideration of NTTF when a fulltime/TT slot opens up
  • representation in governance bodies such as institution-wide faculty councils and senates
  • grant proposal-writing workshops and college/university-sponsored grants for classroom and pedagogical innovation