Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

An Exploration of Contingent Faculty Experiences at a Private, Liberal Arts College

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

An Exploration of Contingent Faculty Experiences at a Private, Liberal Arts College

Article excerpt

Introduction

As colleges continue to strive to remain financially sound by growing student populations and campuses, it seems their budgets consistently dwindle, which includes cutbacks to full-time faculty hiring (Maldonado & Riman, 2009). More than ever, colleges are relying on contingent faculty to excel not only in teaching, but other institutional goals (Maldonado & Riman, 2009). Contingent work is defined by Labor Economists as "any job in which an individual does not have an explicit or implicit contract for long-term employment or in which the minimum hours worked can vary in a nonsystematic manner" (Umbach, 2007, p. 93). According to the U.S. Department of Education's Digest of Educational Statistics, higher education institutions now employ over half a million contingent faculty nationwide (Maldonado & Riman, 2009). Contingent faculty includes both full- and part-time positions that are off the tenure-track and represent three out of four new faculty appointments (Kezar & Sam, 2013). There is little doubt that with college enrollments increasing, employment of contingent faculty will continue to increase (Maldonado & Riman, 2009). Both internal and external factors have incited appeals for reform in higher education and its contingent faculty employment policies and practices (Baldwin & Chronister, 2001). Department and institutional work environments of contingent faculty tend to be negative because of outdated policies and practices that do not support contingent faculty (Kezar & Sam, 2013).

Contingent faculty offer institutions flexibility by increasing or decreasing the number of courses being offered based on student enrollment numbers (Meixner, Kruck, & Madden, 2010). Further, contingent faculty hiring allows institutions tractability in hiring at lower costs (Waltman, Bergom, Hollenshead, Miller, & August, 2012). As such, contingent faculty salaries are much lower than full-time faculty (Kimmitt, 2009). Even so, many contingent faculty make the choice to teach and their vulnerability to an institution's exploitation is evident (Modarelli, 2006). Contingent faculty cannot continue to be a means to service an end (Modarelli, 2006). Demands to teach a wider range of students with diverse needs, as well as teachers being held accountable for learning outcomes, puts tremendous pressure on contingent faculty to perform to high standards with little support (Waltman et al., 2012). While some disciplines have larger percentages of contingent faculty, many contingent faculty consistently experience the same common problems. They lack the compensation, benefits, inclusion in departmental social events, curriculum decision-making, professional development, respect, well-equipped offices and supplies, and overall open lines of communication that full-time faculty members enjoy (Fagan-Wilen, Springer, Ambrosino, & White, 2006). However, although contingent faculty can be a valuable resource in helping an institution achieve its mission, such experiences have led many contingent faculty to feel a sense of low job security and for their teaching standards to be compromised (Wallin, 2004). Research suggests contingent faculty who feel undervalued will not bring the same quality of teaching compared to those that feel valued and a part of the department team (Milliken & Dustin, 2008). Umbach (2007) states most contingent faculty spend less time with students and use less engaging teaching methods than tenure-track faculty. Furthermore, such minimal job security for contingent faculty can lead to relying heavily on positive student-teacher evaluations and possible grade inflation (Fagan-Wilen et al., 2006). As such, contingent faculty have just as much opportunity as full-time faculty to impact and influence an institution and its members either negatively or positively. With the increasing hiring of contingent faculty, institutions' understanding of contingent faculty experiences and how contingent faculty perceive their institutional support systems, plays an integral role in how institutions will reform their practices and policies for contingent faculty. …

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