February 14, 2018 | University Life

By Philip PecorinoThree buttons: Adjunct and proud, I learned from an Adjunct today, and Adjunct Ally.

How do we fully respect our adjunct colleagues in contingent positions?

How do we create structures that honor them as professional educators without establishing structures that will make it more difficult to reduce their numbers and the dependence of higher education institutions on contingent labor?

This is the practical and ethical challenge for the American university in the twenty-first century.

Over the last few years, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has a lot to say about the plight of contingent faculty and possible remedies.  Beyond raising their salaries and converting their positions into full time positions there is the acknowledgement that if contingent faculty are truly to be accepted as faculty they need to be accepted as professional educators.  For that they need to participate in shared governance.  In 2003 the AAUP issued its statement Contingent Appointments and the Academic Profession which recommends that contingent appointments include “the full range of faculty responsibilities:” teaching, scholarship, and service. Also recommended is the protection of academic freedom through tenure or, for part- time faculty after successive reappointments, the “assurance of continuing employment.” The AAUP statement also called for “extending shared governance responsibilities to “all faculty at an institution, including those appointed to less- than-full- time positions.“  The statement was expanded in 2014.

The rise in the use of contingent faculty has been said to have a negative impact on student learning, as well as the faculty role in shared governance. Even if positions for adjuncts in governance bodies and faculty committees have been created in good faith, is it really realistic to expect contingent faculty who are named or elected to those positions to attend?  Are contingent faculty really free to express their academic judgments without the support of that academic freedom afforded through tenure?

The Professional Staff Congress (PSC) of CUNY has done much to improve the plight of contingent faculty in CUNY and continues to work to further secure a living wage and greater security for their positions.  Some years ago, the PSC managed to have the professional status of contingent faculty partially recognized by securing for many adjunct faculty a paid professional hour.  This supports time educators spend preparing for classes and interacting with students in several supporting roles.

If contingent faculty are professional educators and deserve to be accepted and supported as such, then is it not in order to support their contribution to shared governance with a paid service hour, similar to the support given to adjuncts for their classroom activities?  Full time faculty are, after all, expected to contribute service to their college along with teaching and scholarly and creative work.  Such work is supported in their annual salaries.  Shouldn’t  the faculty who teach upwards of 40% of all contact hours also have opportunity if not a requirement to contribute service and along with those opportunities receive the protections afforded by tenure to exercise academic freedom to express their best academic judgments as professional educators?

There are many questions to be seriously considered in moving towards further recognition and support for contingent faculty.  Would a paid service hour secure the actual presence and participation of contingent faculty in governance and college service?  Would having contingent faculty serving on various bodies without tenure allow them to express their academic judgments freely?  Perhaps the most difficult of all questions on this matter would be: to what extent would providing further supports for contingent faculty for participation in governance further establish and ensconce the use of contingent faculty to provide for a large portion of all instruction?

There are those who do not wish to normalize the current status of contingent faculty.  For them moving to provide for a paid professional service hour might not be advancing to achieving the desideratum: less dependence on contingent labor and faculty and greater use of faculty with the protection of tenure for the expression of their academic freedom with academic judgments as they fulfill their professional responsibilities in their traditional roles in governance. The dilemma then is how to involve contingent faculty in more of what faculty do while not normalizing the status quo thought to be unsatisfactory by all faculty.

Philip Pecorino is a professor of Philosophy at Queensborough Community College where he serves as Chair of the Faculty Executive Committee.  He is also a member of the UFS Executive Committee.

The UFS Blog is a forum for CUNY Faculty, and welcomes the expression of all points of view.

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Phot0: precarious faculty, 2012, October 12. Buttons designed by Colorado NFM member Natalie Barnes.