WASHINGTON—The Democratic staff of the House Education and the Workforce Committee today released the findings of an eForum on the state of contingent faculty in higher education, which details working conditions, the role those conditions play in affecting adjunct instructors’ career prospects and ability to earn a living, and how the instructors’ working conditions may impact their teaching.
“What’s been happening to the higher education workforce during the last couple decades should give all of us pause,” said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), senior Democrat on the committee, who launched theeForum on the Working Conditions of Contingent Faculty in Higher Education in November 2013, after a witness testified before the committee about the difficulties she faces as an adjunct professor. “The number of part-time contingent faculty at institutions of higher education has been rising rapidly, with more than one million people now working as adjunct faculty, providing a cheap source of labor even while tuition is skyrocketing. These are people who have played by the rules and found employment in a highly skilled, in-demand field, but are being put under extreme stress—with some even living in or on the edge of poverty. The stories from this eForum have provided us with valuable insight into the world of contingent faculty and raised a number of issues that deserve further scrutiny.”
Over the course of six weeks, from mid-November 2013 through early January 2014, the Committee Democrats eForum received 845 submissions from 41 of 50 states. Today’s report, The Just-in-Time Professor: A Staff Report Summarizing eForum Responses on the Working Conditions of Contingent Faculty in Higher Education, provides an alarming snapshot of life as a contingent faculty member. The submissions received are consistent with news reports and other research indicating that contingent faculty often earn low salaries with few or no benefits, are forced to maintain difficult schedules to make ends meet, face unclear paths for career development, and enjoy little to no job security.
The forum received comments from a diverse set of respondents. Some participants have been working as adjunct faculty for more than thirty years, while others have just begun, with only one semester under their belt. Respondents are employed by public and private two- and four-year institutions.
The rise in the use of contingent faculty appears to mirror trends in the general labor market toward a flexible, “just-in-time” workforce, with lower compensation and unpredictable schedules for what were once considered middle-class jobs. This trend may have significant implications for the living standards and work lives of those individuals educating the next generation of scientists, entrepreneurs, and other highly skilled workers, as well as for the quality of higher education itself.
“This report is in no way an exhaustive account of the circumstances of adjunct faculty, but it does raise some serious concerns,” said Rep. Miller. “Over the next few months my fellow committee Democrats, my staff, and I intend to work with universities and colleges, committee Republicans, contingent faculty, and their advocates to seek ways to address the troubling issues raised by this report and by contingent faculty across the country.”