Publication Date

May 1, 1995

Perspectives Section

AHA Activities

Editor's Note: At its January 1995 meeting the , at the recommendation of the AHA Professional Division, endorsed the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) report, "The Status of Non-Tenure-Track Faculty." The full text of the report appeared in the July–August 1993 issue of Academe, the bulletin of the AAUP. Following is an excerpt from the report.

Non-tenure-track faculty account for about half of all faculty appointments in American higher education. The nontenure track consists of two major groups, those who teach part time and those who teach full time but are not on tenure-track lines. Part-time faculty now hold 38 percent of faculty appointments, and non-tenure-track, full-time faculty hold 20 percent. The variety of persons and kinds of appointments within these two broad categories was discussed at some length in the 1980 AAUP report on part-time faculty and the 1986 report on full-time, non-tenure-track faculty. Since those reports the variety within non-tenure-track, full-time faculty has expanded, as many faculty who were once on tenure track have been moved to term contracts. Together these two categories of faculty constitute a growing and critical problem for higher education. The impact of a long-term fiscal crisis that has produced fluctuating funding patterns has exacerbated the problem. Many institutions increasingly relied upon non-tenure-track faculty as a way to staff classes without having to make long-range commitments to faculty. Most of the relative growth in part-time faculty occurred during the period from 1972 to 1977, a period often characterized as one of sharply reduced financial strength for both private and public institutions, and increased institutional interest in alternatives to the tenure system. If those events are important causes of the growth of part-time faculty, then the fact that the supposedly temporary situation did not improve after the economic recovery suggests a growing administrative desire for budgetary discretion. The pressure for flexibility also translates as a need to control the size and density of the tenured faculty. In addition to increased use of part-time faculty, administrative strategies to contain tenure have included extending the probationary period until the full seven years for most faculty, moving numerous faculty off the tenure track, and issuing more term contracts to the growing number of full-time non-tenure-track professors.

Guidelines for Improvement

Improving the professional status of the growing number of non-tenure-track faculty members is difficult in financially hard times and unpopular with most administrations and many faculty members. Still, the AAUP believes that the long-range health of higher education requires that institutions greatly reduce their reliance upon non-tenure-track faculty members, and that faculty members who are appointed to part-time positions should be extended the benefits and privileges of the academic profession. The AAUP's position about full-time faculty is clear: "with the exception of special appointments clearly limited to a brief association with the institution, and reappointments of retired faculty members on special conditions, all full-time faculty appointments are of two kinds: (1) probationary appointments; (2) appointments with continuous tenure." The possibility of tenure for part-time faculty should also be an option when the need for less-than-full-time work extends indefinitely. Administrators often oppose tenure for part-time faculty because it constrains the budget flexibility that makes non-tenure-track appointments attractive to them. Some part-time faculty members oppose tenure for part-time faculty because they fear it would eventually result in the termination of their own services. Non-tenure-track faculty members who usually lack research support often worry about standards of judgment that measure them against tenure-track faculty members who engage in research.

The 1980 AAUP report on part-time faculty recommended: (1) that some part-time faculty members should be eligible for tenure; (2) that security of employment for part-time faculty include regularized appointment practices, reasonable notice, and access to the institution's regular grievance procedure; (3) that part-time faculty should participate in academic governance; and (4) that the compensation and fringe benefits of part-time faculty should be equitable, perhaps including prorated compensation and equal access to benefits. The report's recommendation that "those individuals who, [in] their professional career, share the teaching, research, and administrative duties customary for faculty at their institution, but who for whatever reason do so less than full time … should have the opportunity to achieve tenure and the rights it confers" (Academe 67 [February–March 1981]: 29), echoes that of the 1973 report of the Commission on Academic Tenure in Higher Education, a study jointly sponsored by the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges.

Although some institutions have moved in the direction of tenure for part-time faculty, and several are negotiating tenure eligibility as part of collective bargaining agreements, others have developed long-term contract arrangements. Extended term appointments or seniority-based security gives part-time faculty members greater appointment stability. Stability of appointment opens the way for the fuller integration of part-time faculty into the academic profession. Only 6 percent of institutions offer tenure to any part-time faculty, but 22 percent of research universities and 17 percent of doctoral universities report having some tenured part-time faculty. Institutions need continuity in their faculty, and contract arrangements that provide security to part-time faculty ameliorate the problems inherent in an instable work force.

Institutions which habitually employ many part-time and "temporary" faculty members should calculate how many full-time faculty equivalents they routinely need and begin converting their non-tenure-track positions to full-time, tenure-track lines. Whenever possible, the regular academic instruction of students should be the responsibility of faculty members who are responsible for the curriculum and participate in the governance of the institution, and to whom the institution is willing to make the commitment of tenure.

In order to address the growing use of non-tenure-track faculty, the AAUP calls on institutions to work toward achieving the following goals:

  1. Institutions should limit reliance on non-tenure-track faculty. [The AAUP recommends] as guidelines that institutions limit the use of special appointments and part-time, non-tenure-track faculty to no more than 15 percent of the total instruction within the institution, and no more than 25 percent of the total instruction within any given department.
  2. In circumstances in which an institution has legitimate needs for a specialized class of faculty in part-time or fractional-time positions, the institution should have policies that provide for their long-term contract stability and for tenure.

The consolidation of non-tenure-track faculty, full and part time, to full-time, tenure-track positions requires a long-term commitment of institutional dollars, but failure to make such a commitment will perpetuate the steady erosion of the quality of education in our colleges and universities. Institutions that fail to preserve and advance the quality of education, especially undergraduate education, undermine public confidence in higher education. Accreditation agencies should also regard the growing use of non-tenure-track faculty as a sign of weakness in the health of academic programs. An immediate commitment to equitable professional treatment of non-tenure-track faculty, combined with a reduced reliance on part-time faculty, is necessary to halt the deleterious effects on the profession that this report identifies.

The alarming extent to which many colleges and universities rely on non-tenure-track faculty means that even institutions which make an immediate commitment to curtail their use of part-time faculty may face an extended period of transition. Institutions should develop plans for a period of transition that project a timetable and numbers for consolidating part-time assignments into full-time, tenure-track lines.

Institutions may also need to assess more carefully the cost efficiency of part-time faculty members when their status is subject to change from semester to semester. Institutions face "the growing cost of unemployment benefits for part-time faculty who file and receive these benefits when their services are no longer needed" … [and ] "at a few urban institutions the money being paid out in unemployment benefits is beginning to approach the total money being paid in compensation for part-time faculty who are teaching. Part-time faculty members have to be employed for only one quarter to be eligible for unemployment checks for up to 26 weeks of the rest of the year." Many institutions are likely to be better served economically by long-term appointments that reduce frequent turnover in their faculty.

Reasonable assurance of continued employment, following successful completion of a probationary period, makes the profession more attractive to men and women of ability and provides for a better qualified professoriate. Above all, security of employment for qualified faculty safeguards the academic freedom essential to the integrity of teaching and scholarship. The best way to achieve these protections in institutions that rely heavily on part-time faculty is to combine part-time, non-tenure-track positions to form full-time, tenure-track positions.

To the limited extent that part-time positions cannot be replaced with full-time ones because of the need for part-time expertise or because of unexpected fluctuations in enrollment or funding, the institution should provide continued employment to those remaining part-time faculty found qualified for recurrent appointment. Such assurance may include lengthening the term of appointment and the notice required for nonreappointment, and offering continuing part-time appointments. Such continuing appointments would protect part-time faculty members except from demonstrable declines in enrollment and funding that necessitated reductions in courses and sections offered and would help to stabilize the faculty, protect academic freedom, and enhance the status of those who work part time.

Professional Standards

Many non-tenure-track faculty, especially those who work part time, express uncertainty about what rights and privileges they are due as faculty members. The AAUP seeks to ensure academic freedom and professional protection for all faculty whether full or part time, tenured or untenured. To that end [the AAUP] offers the following additional recommendations in an effort to set minimum standards designed to protect the professional standing of all faculty:

  1. All appointments, including part-time appointments, should have a description of the specific professional duties required. Complex institutions may require multiple models of faculty appointments consistent with the diverse contributions appropriate to the institution's requirements.
  2. The performance of faculty members on renewable term appointments, full time and part time, should be regularly evaluated with established criteria appropriate to their positions. Failure to evaluate professional appointment diminishes the institution and the professional regard of the faculty. Evaluation of performance provides essential information for sound and fair institutional decisions regarding compensation, promotion, and tenure. Each institution should define the credentials and quality of scholarship it requires of faculty members in different academic positions and then should make appointments and decisions regarding compensation and advancement based on the criteria specific to the position. Institutions faced with emergency appointments sometimes employ faculty members whose qualifications fall short of those normally required for tenure-track appointments. In general, institutions should avoid appointing, and should certainly not reappoint, faculty whose qualifications or performance are so far below the prevailing institutional standard as to make tenure eligibility an impossibility. Any lesser standard shortchanges the students and erodes support for academic standards in the institution and the wider community.
  3. Decisions on compensation, promotion, and tenure should be based on the specified duties of the position. Faculty members appointed to teach entry-level courses should have the opportunity to enhance their professional status and rewards based on performance of their defined responsibilities and should not be held to expectations which may prevail for other positions.
  4. Compensation for part-time employment should be the corresponding fraction for a full-time position having qualitatively similar responsibilities and qualifications. Compensation should include such essential fringe benefits as health insurance, life insurance, and retirement contributions.
  5. Timely notice of nonreappointment should be extended to all faculty regardless of length of service. The AAUP's 1980 report on part-time faculty recommends that part-time faculty "who have been employed for six or more terms, or consecutively for three or more terms" should receive at least a full term's notice of nonreappointment. Although it may be impossible to give a full-term notice to faculty employed for less than three terms, we recommend that every effort be made to notify faculty at the earliest possible opportunity, but in no case later than four weeks prior to the commencement of the next term. Similarly, all faculty members should have reasonable advance notice of course assignments to allow adequate preparation.
  6. Institutions should provide the conditions necessary to perform assigned duties in a professional manner, including such things as appropriate office space, necessary supplies, support services, and equipment.
  7. Non-tenure-track faculty should be included in the departmental and institutional structures of faculty governance.
  8. Part-time faculty should be given fair consideration when part-time positions are converted to full-time positions. The evidence suggests that part-time employment often works as a disadvantage on the job market when applicants are considered for full-time, tenure-track positions. Departments should be as scrupulous to avoid this type of discrimination as they are required to be in avoiding other forms of discrimination.

As the number of non-tenure-track faculty appointments grows, the base of the tenure system erodes. The treatment of non-tenure-track faculty appointments is the barometer whereby the general status of the profession may be measured. While the colleague whose performance is undervalued or whose potential is blighted by underemployment bears the personal brunt of the situation, the status of all faculty is undermined by the degree of exploitation the profession allows of its members. Institutions that rely heavily on part-time faculty marginalize the faculty as a whole. Failure to extend to all faculty reasonable professional commitments compromises quality and risks the stability of the profession and the integrity of our standing with the public.

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