Dive Brief:

  • Support for non-tenure-track faculty members continues to be a concern amid pandemic-related cutbacks and pushback over how some campuses plan to reopen.
  • A faculty industry group this week put out a list of principles and recommendations for institutions to protect those instructors, calling for them to get paid sick leave, unemployment benefits, and extended access to rehire or promotion opportunities.
  • The ideas come as calls for greater shared governance grow across the sector in light of the ongoing health crisis.

Dive Insight:

The guidance, from the American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP’s) Committee on Contingency and the Profession, calls contingent faculty “essential” and “the tiny and invisible lines of connection” between institutions and students. 

As of 2015, contingent faculty accounted for 70% of the academic labor force, according to AAUP. Contingent faculty include those who work full-time but are not on the tenure track, as well as part-time and graduate student employees. That’s up from a 55% share in 1975.

At least 51,000 college employees have been affected by furloughs, layoffs or contract nonrenewals, according to the latest data from The Chronicle of Higher Education, which doesn’t specify whether the faculty positions were tenured. Job cuts aren’t entirely unanticipated. Surveys administered since the pandemic began show college administrators have been weighing layoffs and furloughs.

Cuts to tenure-track faculty jobs tend to catch attention because of the protections inherent in that role. Typically, colleges must declare financial exigency in order to lay off tenured staff, according to AAUP principles.

But positions that sit off the tenure pathway can be more vulnerable. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in New York, cut around 60 full-time, nontenured faculty positions in May by not renewing their contracts, the Times Union reported. Northern Arizona University eliminated more than 100 nontenure faculty jobs, according to local media reports, and the University of Michigan-Flint, laid off 41% of its some 300 lecturers.

While Flint lecturers aren’t eligible for tenure, they teach “a majority” of the credit hours on campus, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Job security for contingent faculty has come up in campaigns against campuses’ reopening plans. At the University of Pittsburgh, a petition circulating among instructors called a suggestion from the institution that faculty who can’t teach in person ask another colleague, graduate student or staff member to facilitate for them “ethically unacceptable.”

“More troubling to us is the potential in this formulation for vulnerable faculty, staff, and students to be unable to refuse such a request from those of us who have more power,” faculty wrote in the petition. The university told Education Dive last month that the suggestion was not a requirement.

A change this spring to Pennsylvania State University’s contract language for non-tenure-track faculty — specifying that they are at-will employees  also raised eyebrows. The university told Education Dive last month that the move was designed to help allow for hiring on fixed-term contracts and that the university worded the language to put limits on when such contracts could be broken. 

Faculty criticism of colleges’ decision-making around pandemic-related budget cuts and reopening plans is growing. And it is adding momentum to ongoing calls for faculty to have more of a say in how their institution runs — at a time when some of them contend they’re losing ground. In its recommendations, AAUP calls for shared governance to be “expanded to more faculty, not further eroded in the name of efficiency.”

Source Article