By Amy Lynch-Biniek, Associate Professor of English, Kutztown University
For the past two years, I’ve been working on a qualitative study of contingent teachers. In particular, I’ve been examining how temporary faculty and permanent faculty choose text books and assignments. As a former, long-time adjunct myself (the highpoint of which was having three “part-time” contacts at a single school), my intent has been to document the concrete ways in which working conditions affect classroom practices.
What I’ve found is that, even in departments that offer adjuncts a context better than the national norm—union protection, benefits, above-average pay—full-time faculty’s behaviors and attitudes have tangible effects on the work of their contingent colleagues. That’s right, fellow tenured and tenure-track folks: our attitudes matter. We need not be openly antagonistic to have a negative impact on adjuncts’ teaching. When we treat these colleagues as a separate class, as something less than colleagues, we affect their teaching. Specifically, I found that when contingent faculty are excluded from the community of the department or the campus, they may be less likely to participate in professional development and to exercise academic freedoms when planning courses.
A simple but important example: the department meeting. In the PASSHE system, nothing in the contract prohibits contingent faculty from participating in department meetings. They cannot vote on all matters, but they can contribute and even vote when not specifically prohibited by the contract. They have a right to be a part of the discussion of policies and practices that directly affect their teaching and employment. Moreover, the opinions of our temporary colleagues, as fellow professionals in higher education and classroom teachers, are valuable to the department. Common sense: departments are less informed and less rich when they ignore the insights and experiences of what is, at some schools, the majority of their faculty.
What’s more, my research indicates that when our colleagues are meant to feel like the other, like second-class of professionals, they naturally feel less secure in their positions. In turn, they may want to avoid scrutiny, avoid drawing any kind of attention. To take risks and grow as professionals, we all need to feel that we are in a safe, supportive environment, and inclusion in departmental discussions is one of the ways we signal to each other that we are all in this together.
Keep in mind that simply being allowed to attend department meetings is not enough to establish a sense of mutual respect and inclusion—something contingent faculty want and deserve. Permanent faculty might better demonstrate both if they not only talked about contingent teachers, but made much greater efforts to talk to them, both during and after department meetings.
In our PASSHE system, practices vary widely not just from school to school, but even from department to department on each campus. Sadly, many faculty unwittingly perpetuate myths about the contract that keep us from being more inclusive, claiming, for example, that temporary faculty aren’t to be evaluated on service and scholarship, or that they can’t attend meetings, vote on any issues, or serve on committees. Of course we don’t want to add more work to the shoulders of faculty already working with less pay and less security than their tenured and tenure-track colleagues. But in our efforts to protect them, we shouldn’t treat them as less than professional equals, with valuable insights and deserving of a say in our departmental policies and discussions.
We can’t change the whole system overnight, but we can make headway in our own departments. During this Campus Equity Week, consider what steps you can take to include all faculty in your departmental conversations.