Worst Practices: How to Avoid Exploiting Contingent Faculty

The MLA’s 2011 “Professional Employment Practices for Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Members” has long served as a guide to help departments evaluate their hiring practices and ongoing treatment of contingent faculty members. All of us can and must work toward improving the working conditions of contingent faculty members. Building off the 2011 piece, the MLA’s Committee on Contingent Labor in the Profession created this document, which focuses attention directly on the material working conditions of faculty members who work off the tenure track and identifies five categories of exploitative practices against contingent faculty members that harm faculty members, students, and institutions:

  • Hiring and Promotion Inequality
  • Income Inequality
  • Benefits Inequality
  • Pedagogical Inequality
  • Infrastructure Inequality

Whether you are chairing a department, sitting on a hiring committee, or simply scheduling a meeting with colleagues, we urge you to guard against these practices.

Hiring and Promotion Inequality

The following hiring and promotion practices cause hardship to contingent faculty members:

  • Canceling a per-course faculty class assignment less than a month before the start of the semester, trimester, or quarter without providing appropriate compensation
  • Taking away a class from a contingent faculty member at the last minute because a full-time faculty member wants it
  • Capping the number of years that contingent faculty members can serve
  • Eliminating contingent faculty members from consideration for tenure-line positions because their promotion would force the department to hire a replacement contingent faculty member
  • Pressuring contingent faculty members to perform service without compensation, particularly when implying that it will look good if a job opening arises
  • Using student evaluations in considering per-course faculty members for longer contracts (Student evaluations are impacted by factors such as faculty gender and ethnicity and course type, making the use of these evaluations particularly problematic for faculty members who lack tenure-line protections and are more likely than tenured faculty members to teach mandatory courses.)
  • Excluding per-course faculty members from cost-of-living increases provided to other faculty members
  • Not providing the opportunity for advancement on a teaching-track position—that is, once an adjunct or lecturer, always an adjunct or lecturer

Income Inequality

The following practices reflect inequitable remuneration polices that are detrimental to contingent faculty members:

  • Paying per-course faculty members less than the MLA’s recommended minimum compensation guidelines
  • Requiring per-course faculty members to accept reduced pay for courses with low enrollment
  • Setting course enrollment caps of more than fifteen students in writing courses (see the ADE’s guidelines for class size) without offering additional per-student pay increases
  • Establishing an alternative estimate for time required to teach an accelerated or online course for the purposes of compensation without providing objective evidence of this estimate
  • Requiring faculty members to work with students during an assignment extension period without additional compensation

Benefits Inequality

Many contingent faculty members work without benefits equivalent to those provided to full-time faculty members:

  • Hiring adjuncts to teach the equivalent of full-time loads without providing health insurance, retirement, and other benefits available to full-time faculty members
  • Hiring additional per-course faculty members to avoid providing existing faculty members teaching with a sufficient number of courses to qualify for benefits
  • Excluding contingent faculty members from professional development funding
  • Denying paid family medical leave benefits to contingent faculty members while providing it to tenure-track faculty members.
  • Failing to provide equivalent clerical support for contingent faculty members
  • Having contingent faculty members use their personal funds to provide necessary supplies in the classroom
  • Requiring contingent faculty members to pay for parking
  • Failing to provide retirement benefits for full-time contingent faculty members comparable to those for tenure-track faculty members

Pedagogical Inequality

The following list details how higher education often limits pedagogical resources to contingent faculty members:

  • Holding orientation programs that affect contingent faculty members without consulting them about their schedules
  • Forcing faculty members to use canned syllabi rather than allowing them to create their own syllabi, assignments, and schedule
  • Requiring online faculty members to facilitate classroom discussions more than four days a week
  • Requiring per-course faculty members to respond to student questions within a set period of time throughout the week (e.g., twenty-four or forty-eight hours) rather than permitting reasonable, preestablished office hours
  • Excluding contingent faculty members from decision-making about teaching and from other shared governance decisions

Infrastructure Inequality

  • Inequitable treatment of contingent faculty members extends to access to the same workspace that tenured faculty members take for granted:
  • Failing to provide contingent faculty members with suitable office space for office hours
  • Failing to provide appropriate, visible campus security for contingent faculty members teaching outside traditional class hours (i.e., Saturday mornings or weekday evenings)
  • Assigning contingent faculty members to more distant parking facilities than tenure-track faculty members and not providing transportation between the lot and the campus

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9 comments on “Worst Practices: How to Avoid Exploiting Contingent Faculty”

  • Many thanks to the CLIP committee for producing this list: it’s important work. The reminder about governance exclusion is especially important. Defining contract/contingent faculty as “staff” so that they can be excluded from shared faculty governance is having a profound impact at many institutions.

  • Get other adjuncts together at your institution to agitate for change to be collectively bargained via your faculty association or union. If you don’t have a union or association, start one.

  • Adjunct faculty are worse off than ever. Due to the well-intentioned lower threshold of the Affordable Care Act, all 3/4 time faculty have had their teaching load cut in half to prevent them qualifying for benefits. Faculty who previously could have earned enough to live on, even at adjunct wages, have been forced even further down. Combined with an increasing cost of living, fewer available positions, and no raise in a decade at most colleges, the demand to perform at the same level of commitment as full-time faculty is unsustainable and unfair, and undermines student performance as well.

  • I think this policy should more clearly distinguish between full-time but non-tenure track faculty members (some colleges, in fact, only have such faculty), and adjunct faculty who are paid by a per-course contract. As it stands many of the dicta simply don’t make much sense for one or the other of the categories.

  • If you belong to a union, helping its leadership be more aware of this essential list is important. Post this on your own social network, email it around.

    The New Faculty Majority does important work based on the possible leverage and power part-time faculty hold since they often teach the majority of course workload at their colleges & universities. It’s a good way to touch base, raise awareness, and feel less alone:


  • Thank you for your work in compiling this, CCLIP! Best, worst, and so-so practices should be a fairly standard point of self-evaluation at colleges and universities. Someday, accreditors too might take a long, hard look at the care and feeding of adjunct faculty. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs applies to all.

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