Supporting Contingent Faculty for High-Quality Learning:
This blog post was coauthored by Susan Albertine, AAC&U Vice President, Diversity, Equity, and Student Success; Daniel Maxey, Dean’s Fellow in Urban Education Policy, Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California (USC); and Adrianna Kezar, Associate Professor, Higher Education, USC.
The American professoriate has fundamentally shifted over the past few decades. We now see a predominantly contingent workforce, with two-thirds of positions held by faculty off the tenure track. This change raises significant questions about working conditions for non-tenure-track faculty—and connections between the quality of their working conditions and the quality of student learning outcomes.
To address these daunting questions, AAC&U has joined the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success. A consortial project led by the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California, the Delphi Project is producing resources to help educators and institutions weather the change and envision what lies ahead for faculty of the future.
Research on working conditions for faculty on contingent contracts and the effects on student outcomes is sobering:
•Numerous studies have found poor faculty working conditions to have an adverse effect on student retention, transfer from two- to four-year institutions, grade point averages, and graduation or completion rates.
•Non-tenure-track faculty who receive little support and whose working conditions hinder what they can do are limited in their capacity to support students through engaged and high-impact learning—the learning AAC&U advocates as most valuable to students.
The core of our educational missions and our capacity to ensure a twenty-first-century education for all students is at risk if we do not make changes.
The Delphi Project supports our understanding of factors that have led to our current state. The project started with a convening that brought together more than thirty leaders from a broad range of groups representing faculty, administrators, higher education organizations, unions, accreditation agencies, and policy makers.
The initial convening discovered points of consensus among the participants. Conversations with these and other leaders point, in part, to the need for data, resources, and tools that can be used to guide change on campuses.
The first project report from the convening likewise recognizes and values our diversity as a sector and affirms the importance of individual campus cultures and contexts. Not all constituencies within higher education have the same understanding of the changes that have taken place in the composition of the faculty, the working conditions experienced by non-tenure-track faculty members, or the impact of these conditions on student learning outcomes and institutional outcomes, including loss of shared governance.
Our conversations suggest a need nonetheless to build awareness across all institutional types: two-year, four-year, public, private, graduate, professional. What data and assessment practices are available to help leaders make good decisions about faculty work and student learning? How, given the diversity of higher education and the pace of change in our world, do we gather consensus among constituencies toward a new vision for faculty of the future?
To facilitate progress, the project has created a series of resources and tools aimed to meet these needs. A first set of guides is designed to help campus communities create a vision for the changes that are necessary. These guides, Non-Tenure-Track Faculty on our Campus: A Guide for Campus Task Forces to Better Understand Faculty Working Conditions and the Necessity for Change and a similar guide for departments, are based on an inquiry approach. They include questions that help teams on campuses to collect and examine data so they can better understand the issues and make decisions that are both contextualized and rooted in evidence. We encourage you to use these guides, share them with colleagues, and provide feedback. An additional set of guides is being developed to facilitate work with governing boards, institutional researchers, and centers for teaching and learning.
The Delphi Project has also created a framing document, titled The Imperative for Change, which helps different constituencies in higher education to understand the reasons for pursuing change beyond short-term fixes and reforms. The Imperative for Change outlines important concerns related to student learning outcomes, equity, and risk management for institutions. Another set of process guides, titled The Path to Change, provides a brief overview of ways that faculty members and administrators on selected campuses are addressing working conditions for non-tenure-track faculty.
We know that building awareness and prompting movement toward consensus is a necessary but insufficient start. Next steps will need to include governing boards, presidential organizations, accreditation agencies, and others who are concerned with the practice of good citizenship in the academy. For these groups, the project guides will offer a set of emerging criteria that can be used to help campuses take responsibility and frame their future efforts. We invite you to join this partnership by sharing your ideas about additional resources the Delphi Project might create or sending feedback about your experience using the guides.
For stewardship of the twenty-first-century academy, we hope that you will join this essential discussion and call to action for the future of the faculty and student success.