Actually, the 2010 policy proposal from the AAUP’s Committee on Contingent Faculty contains no such language. As with the 2009 proposal from the same committee, the later paper says only that long-term adjuncts should be converted to the tenure track, which is not the same as granting them tenure: “The best practice for institutions of all types is to convert the status of contingent appointments to appointments eligible for tenure with only minor changes in job description” (italics in the original).66

It is not clear what importance to give Nelson’s views, since he appears to have been speaking only for himself and not for the AAUP. Did he mean to go beyond the AAUP’s official policy? Or was he simply not careful to make a distinction between “tenure-eligible” and “tenure”?

In any event, Chronicle reporter Audrey June has said, “For administrators, non-tenure-track faculty members equal flexibility, a term that means that colleges can cut costs in these strained economic times by nixing the jobs of those who work outside the tenure system. It’s difficult to envision a scenario in which institutions would willingly give up that arrow in their quivers.”67


Shared Governance

Virtually everyone in academe agrees that faculty should be active participants in “shared governance.” Indeed, colleges and universities often leave many decisions in the hands of the faculty, and the faculty consult and advise in many others.

Departments develop their curriculum, and divisions produce bylaws. Faculty senates often speak for professors on a multitude of issues. And, of course, unions negotiate contracts.

Whereas tenure-stream faculty have ample opportunities to express their views in meaningful ways, adjuncts rarely do. Adjuncts are routinely left off of tenure committees, even though students may sometimes serve on them, and student evaluations are used to determine tenure decisions. And faculty senates nationwide either exclude contingent faculty or else allow only a few token slots. Even where contingents do have the right to participate, there are several major obstacles that stand in the way.

The full-time tenure-stream faculty are hired not only to teach, but also to help run the university. Consequently, their annual pay compensates them for all of their on-campus activities and rewards them accordingly. Service to the college is often one component in their tenure review.

In contrast, the vast majority of contingent faculty are hired solely to teach, as if this piecemeal approach were possible, and they are paid only for their classroom contact hours. Adjunct faculty, already paid at least 50 percent less than their tenure-track counterparts, are in fact donating their time when they participate in the life of the college community. Often this is time taken away from supplementing their meager incomes by teaching at other colleges.

Adjuncts also run the risk of losing their jobs if they engage in activities where they might take issue with the tenure-stream faculty or administrators who control every aspect of their employment, including whether or not they are rehired. While the tenure-track faculty are indeed vulnerable to retaliation for rocking the boat, they have much firmer protections than adjuncts, who may have only term-to-term contracts.



If for no other reason than to avoid losing lawsuits, all colleges and universities have some kind of due process rights for faculty who believe they have been treated wrongly. These grievance procedures can be found either in faculty handbooks or else in union contracts. Sometimes rules governing procedures for the awarding and denial of tenure at public colleges are written into state law. Normally, employees must show that they have exhausted all internal remedies before they can take a case to court. The rules specify which kind of actions can be grieved, the process for filing a grievance, and strict deadlines for complying with each step.

Virtually all tenure-stream faculty have access to extensive grievance procedures concerning each and every aspect of their employment, including their dismissal, which must follow strict guidelines. Though tenure-track faculty can expect to have their contracts automatically renewed during the probationary period, they can be dismissed for cause.

Tenured faculty can also be fired, but the procedures are so onerous for the college, and the publicity so negative, that it remains a rare occurrence. There are usually substantial due process rights afforded to both tenure-track and tenured faculty, and they have the right to grieve their dismissal, if they wish. If the faculty member is covered by a union contract, he or she may be represented by the union, which usually has a grievance committee with a grievance chair.

Colleges and universities, however, do insist on special clauses to cover financial emergencies and strict rules for what is often called a “reduction in force.” During the current recession, some colleges have declared a “financial emergency,” and laid off some tenure-stream faculty, though the nationwide number has remained relatively small.

Nearly all colleges give adjuncts access to some form of grievance procedures, although there are several major hurdles unique to adjuncts. A major obstacle is the fact that an adjunct who pursues any kind of grievance runs the risk of losing her job. Even if she were to win the battle of her particular grievance, she is likely to lose the war of ever being hired back by the college. Finally, in many cases the grievance may be against a tenure-stream faculty member who serves as his or her supervisor and who is also a member and/or official of the same union. Many professors are under the illusion that they have a right to a grievance when in fact they do not if there is a union contract. The union has a right to a grievance, not the individual, and the union has a right to settle a grievance.

In the event the adjunct has a grievance against a tenure-stream faculty, the union, if dominated by such faculty, may simply decline to bring a grievance, or else the adjunct may be barred by law from bringing a grievance against another member of the same bargaining unit.


Evaluations and Awards

Evaluations are to help the instructor improve and should result in a reward, such as a raise or a promotion. Awards often serve the function of highlighting excellent work and can also lead to better jobs.

But none of this applies to contingent professors. While negative evaluations can lead to the loss of a job, positive evaluations and even winning a teaching award generally do not lead to raises or promotions.

Like other treatment of contingent faculty, the overriding feature of evaluation might be ambivalence. Tenure-stream faculty generally evaluate adjuncts (but never vice versa). Rarely does the institution have specific rules as to how teaching evaluations will be used, who will perform them, or who will review them, nor does the institution provide for any kind of appeal procedure if the adjunct should disagree. All this means is that a department chair who likes an adjunct’s teaching evaluations may offer continuing employment or extra courses, or may never hire the adjunct again.

One institution that considers faculty evaluations important is Vancouver Community College in British Columbia, which distinguishes between evaluations that have a bearing on an instructor’s future employment and those that are for the enrichment of the instructor’s teaching. The failure to make that distinction—and the presumption that all evaluations are job-bearing—underscores the perpetual probationary status of contingent faculty in US education.

In most academic disciplines, contention exists between differing schools. In philosophy, for example, analytic philosophers dominate those who take a historical or European approach to the subject. Yet there are still analytic philosophers who do not think that continental philosophers are really doing philosophy, which makes adjuncts who teach from this point of view vulnerable to prejudice when being evaluated by analytic philosophers.

In psychology, likewise, while Freudianism was once dominant, biological approaches have become the norm. Jeffrey Schaler, an opponent of biological approaches to “mental illness,” published a book entitled Addiction is a Choice, in which he objects to dominant views about twelve-step programs. When hired as an adjunct to teach psychology at Chestnut Hill College, a tenured faculty member objected to Schaler’s views. When he went to the department chair, he was grilled about his perspective on Alcoholics Anonymous and mental illness, and after answering honestly, Schaler claims he was no longer hired to teach any more courses. The AAUP failed to pursue his complaint.68

While some colleges have set up separate teaching awards for adjuncts, winners are not viewed as the best teachers; they are simply the best adjunct teachers. When contingent and tenure-stream faculty must compete for the same awards, however, the adjuncts usually lose.

Since 1985, the Green River Foundation has run the Distinguished Faculty Awards program for Green River Community College in Auburn, Washington, with prizes of up to $1,500, giving as many as three awards a year. During the first twenty-six years of the program, virtually every longtime tenured professor won the award, but no adjunct professor had ever done so, even though by 2011 the adjuncts outnumbered the tenure-track professors by more than two to one.

Until about five years ago, adjuncts could not even vote. Astronomy adjunct Dana Rush, who has been nominated five times for the award, was not eligible to vote even when he became a finalist. It was only after the foundation was asked to change their policy that adjuncts were allowed to vote and one was placed on the committee that chose the finalists.

In June 2012, I became the first adjunct ever to win the Distinguished Faculty Award at Green River.

Print Page


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.