Advice & News

May 9, 2024

HigherEdJobs Podcast Recap – Rewarding Institutions for Transformative Work to Support Contingent Faculty


Did you know that 70% of faculty at colleges and universities in the U.S. are contingent or part-time? In episodes 54 and 55, Kelly Cherwin and Andy Hibel talk with Adrianna Kezar, director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California.

She highlights changing faculty trends in the U.S. and talks about the Delphi Award, which recognizes institutions that have created innovative ways to support part-time or contingent faculty. The program is now in its seventh year.

In the first part of the interview, Kezar describes the early days of the Delphi Project. Armed with years of research, the project's goals include enhancing awareness about changing faculty trends and helping colleges to use data to better support contingent faculty.

In addition, the team highlights emerging policies and practices to support VITAL (visiting, instructor, temporary, adjunct and lecturer) faculty and helps to develop and disseminate these new approaches.

Cherwin, a faculty member at two institutions in Illinois, expressed appreciation for the VITAL definition for part-time faculty created by the Pullias Center.

"As a contingent faculty member myself, I would prefer to not be labeled as non-essential," she said. "There's a huge benefit in how we're framing these roles."

Kezar said it's hard for an institution to address teaching improvement when faculty are cycling in every semester, and they might not be there the following semester. But the best practices and success stories she and her team have identified "serve as a beacon, a light for others and provide ideas that campuses may not otherwise be able to identify."

Award Winners Underscore Innovations

The 2023 Delphi Award winners - University of Arizona and Loyola Marymount University - are highlighted on the center's website with detailed case studies.

Loyola Marymount created a more inclusive environment where more than 950 contingent faculty have clear rank and promotion criteria, fair faculty evaluation for part-time and full-time faculty and lecturers, and improved compensation and benefits. According to the case study, produced by the Pullias Center, the program also allows for annual and extended contracts that help ensure employment stability.

At the University of Arizona, leaders developed a Career-Track Faculty Model, which targets appointment, advancement and retention as key policy and practice areas for contingent faculty. The university significantly increased clarity and consistency in titles, roles and compensation, created a transparent and equitable pathway for career advancement, and increased the overall faculty salary pool by more than $500,000.

Contracts, Tenure Track Roles, Salary Among Big Issues

During the first episode, Kezar highlighted efforts from previous award winners including the University of Denver, which has implemented contracts ranging from five to 10 years for full-time contingent faculty. Worcester Polytechnic Institute created a teaching-intensive tenure track role while Bay Path University focuses on a comprehensive set of changes for part-time faculty.

Salary is a major issue, with the average part-time faculty member receiving $24,000 in one year. Kezar noted that figure is about the same as a fast-food worker's salary, or even less. Many award winners have worked to address the issue of salary and the 2023 winners are no exception, she said.

In the second episode, Hibel said that the average annual pay of $24,000 is "absolutely shocking."

Learn From Others, Networking is Key

What advice does Kezar have for a VITAL faculty member who is struggling and wants to help improve working conditions?

She suggests talking with faculty at other institutions and other universities, for starters.

VITAL faculty themselves can advocate for change, Kezar added. The Pullias Center has almost 50 case studies that show how faculty members were able to create changes on their campuses.

"There are a lot of campuses out there that are trying to improve [and] create a better environment," she said. Organizations including the American Association of University Professors help advocate for individual faculty, too. Kezar said the AAUP has excellent resources available online.

Andy said this could be the most important work being conducted for the next generation of college students.

Kezar said that she and her team are seeing a trend that institutions are hiring more full-time faculty. Something as simple as building community can also go a long way for VITAL faculty. Connect with other part-time faculty at your university, in addition to reaching out to other institutions. Nurture a relationship with your department chair, too. This can be pivotal, Kezar said.

"Reach out to them," she said. Establishing a personal relationship can make a difference. You might even get a better schedule for the next semester.

"Sometimes making the effort can be hard, but it really is important to do that," Kezar said. "It can turn things around."

Listen to Part 2, episode 55.

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