Reality Check: American part-time faculty struggle to achieve job security, fair pay, and institutional support

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A recent report from the US Coalition on the Academic Workforce indicates that close to 70 per cent of faculty in the US are members of the contingent academic workforce. Based on a survey of part-time faculty and instructors, it finds that “those increasingly responsible for educating the undergraduates who reap this earnings premium [of an undergraduate education] are themselves excluded from the economic benefits of advanced educational attainment.”
Although three-quarters of part-time faculty respondents have sought or are looking for full-time academic positions, more than 80 per cent have been contingent faculty for three or more years. More than half had been in that position for six or more years. Even though fewer than 10 per cent have a modicum of job security, almost three-quarters see teaching as their primary occupation, and nearly the same proportion regards their teaching income as essential or very important.
Median pay per three-credit course for part-time faculty with doctoral degrees is US$ 3,200. The report estimates that even if a part-time faculty member could teach five courses in each of the fall, winter and summer terms, they would still make only slightly more than half of the income of other Americans with comparable education who are employed year-round.
Part-time faculty also receive less institutional support than their full-time colleagues. For four-year and graduate universities, less than 10 per cent of contingent faculty reported getting paid for work outside of course work, including office hours and departmental meetings. About 80 per cent reported having office space, library access, and copying privileges, but barely two-thirds had access to computers, and even fewer had telephones or support staff assistance.
It bears repeating the comments we made when we reported on an Australian part-time faculty survey with comparable findings: “OCUFA has noted that similar problems – ‘permanent casualization’, multiple appointments, lack of paid time for preparation, and unequal access to resources – exist for Ontario’s contract academic staff. We believe that all academic jobs should be ‘good’ jobs, with job security, fair compensation, and the resources needed to fulfill their responsibilities. When we invest in contract faculty, we invest in both their quality of life and in the quality of our higher education system.”

This article originally appeared in the OCUFA Report. To receive stories like this every week in your inbox, please subscribe.

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