From its beginnings it has been accepted that the education part of higher education needs to be left to the experts (the practitioners), the faculty. The accrediting agencies, the gatekeepers of higher education quality in the U.S., have accepted this from the beginning. Over the last 20 years, as the percentage of tenure track faculty has declined significantly as they are replaced by “contingent” (adjunct, lecturers, part-time, temporary, etc.) faculty, there has been a debate about what this means for higher education. The debate is over.

So-called “contingent” faculty need to become participating (to use one accrediting agency’s term) teaching faculty in the full sense, to join tenure track teaching faculty and tenure track research-teaching faculty in the governance of colleges and universities. This means taking the contingency, the precariousness, out of the job as much as possible. A livable wage, security of employment (continuing appointments, seniority, regularized hiring and firing procedures), professional development support and a significant role in governance are needed to sustain (or restore) faculty control of educational decisions at U.S. colleges and universities. Otherwise, affordable, democratic, mass, academic education in the U.S. is not viable.

This is now the consensus of accreditors, faculty organizations, disciplinary and field organizations, higher education researchers, organized higher education labor, and even the Association of Governing Boards (AGB), which includes the University of California Regents among its 1,900 members, the vast majority of U.S. college and university trustees and regents.

In the past, the main accrediting agencies in the U.S. failed to take the status (and therefore their ability to contribute to their colleges and universities) of contingent faculty into account when evaluating colleges and universities for accreditation. This is now changing. Driven by years of reports and initiatives by disciplinary groups (which do their own important accrediting as well), faculty groups, and individual colleges and universities, a major policy shift has taken place.

It is no longer defensible (intellectually or morally) to assume lecturing at the University of California is a temporary job for recent graduates or a simple class-by-class “at will” hire that can wait for the last minute, or something that graduate students, community professionals, or even undergraduates can step in and do in a pinch. The convenience of precarious employment for Deans and other middle management is meaningless in the face of the need for Lecturers to be participating faculty and afforded the opportunity to fully contribute to the educational mission of the University of California.

An excellent overview of this new consensus is the recent article in Trusteeship Magazine, of the AGB, by the leading researchers Adrianna Kezar and Daniel Maxey. As it points out, better treatment of so-called “contingent” faculty is crucial for the future of higher education in the U.S. It goes into great detail about how better treatment/status of participating faculty is fundamental for the viability of colleges and universities, including better pay, more participation in governance, and more security of employment. The legal dangers Universities face if they fail in these reforms is among the surprising highlights. Particularly revealing are the principles that the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland has recently adopted.

These principles are significantly better than many of the UC administration’s policies, calling for a 45-day advance hiring deadline, for example. The AGB’s recent report on the “Changing Academic Workforce” by Kezar et al, fleshes this analysis out.

A recent report by the Council of Higher Education Accreditors, “An Examination of Changing Faculty” urges more emphasis on adjunct faculty conditions in accreditation determinations, is described in Inside Higher Ed in the article “New Report Urges More Emphasis on Adjunct Faculty Conditions in Accreditation.”

If one wants to look at this debate historically, a good place to start is with the history of the attempts by writing and English teachers and their professional associations to improve the status of “contingent” faculty. Published in 2011, in a special issue of College English dedicated to Contingent Faculty, Mike Palmquist and Sue Doe describe in detail how groups like the NCTE, the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the Modern Language Association, the American Studies Association and the American Historical Association, among others, have been campaigning for, in some cases, 25 years, to improve higher education by improving the conditions of non-tenure track faculty.

Another good reference, is the prescient Association of American University Professors (AAUP) 2007 report: “Looking the Other Way: Accreditation Standards and Part-time Faculty.”

In the accompanying Bibliography, these and other reports and analysis are listed. Once the bureaucrats “catch up” with the educators and the students and the workers–we can all work toward participatory faculty status for the precarious. It will be a big step toward more democratic, and more viable, universities and colleges across North America.

Chris Hables Gray, Ph.D., Lecturer, Crown College, University of California at Santa Cruz

Member, UC-AFT and Vice-President for Organizing, but this is not an official statement of the union.

American Anthropology Association (2010) “Resolution on Contingent Part-time Academic Labor.”

American Federation of Teachers (2014) “Accreditation standards for academic staffing.”

American Historical Association (2014) “Charge for the Committee on Contingent Faculty.”

American Psychology Association (2007) “The expansion of contingent faculty.”

American Sociology Association “Academic Relations: The Use of Supplementary Faculty.”

Association of American University Professors (2007) “Looking the Other Way?Accreditation Standards and Part-Time Faculty.”

Association of Governing Boards (AGB) (2013) “The Changing Academic Workforce”

Cross, John G. and Edie N. Goldenberg (2011) Off-Track Profs: Nontenured Teachers in Higher Education, MIT Press.

Council of Higher Education Accreditors (2014) “An Examination of the Changing Faculty: Ensuring Institutional Quality and Achieving Desired Student Learning Outcomes” (led by Adrianna Kezar, co-director of USC’s Pullias Center for Higher Education).

The Delphi Project/Pullias Center for Higher Education  The Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success.

Flaherty, Colleen (2014) “Focus on Faculty,” Inside Higher Ed, January 28.

Kezar, Adrianna (2012) Embracing Non-Tenure-Track Faculty, Routledge.

Kezar, Adrianna and Daniel Maxey (2013) “The Changing Academic Workplace, Trusteeship Magazine, May/June.

Kezar, Adrianna and Cecile Sam (2010) Understanding the New Majority: Contingent Faculty in Higher Ed, Volume I and II, Jossey-Bass.

Palmquist, Mike and Sue Doe (2011)“Contingent Faculty: Introduction” College English, vol. 73/no. 4, March, pp. 353-55.

Society for Classical Studies (2014) “Contingent Labor in the Classics: The New Faculty Majority?”

Trower, Cathy A. (2012) “Academic Tenure and the Traditional Assumptions Boards Should Question.” Trusteeship, November/December.

Trower, Cathy (2013) and Barbara Gitenstein, What Board Members Need to Know About Faculty, AGB Press.