Earlier this month, we sent you a data snapshot breaking out the numbers on faculty and graduate employee appointments at US colleges and universities. The composition of the academic workforce varies between institution types–at community colleges, a whopping 66 percent of positions are classified as part-time, while at research institutions much of that work is done by graduate employees. At all US institutions combined, the percentage of instructional positions that is off the tenure track amounted to 73 percent in 2016, the latest year for which data are available.
Two recent AAUP investigative reports illustrate what these numbers mean on the ground. At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln last year, the administration dismissed Courtney Lawton, a doctoral student who also held a part-time lecturer appointment, following her protest of an on-campus recruitment table for Turning Point USA. Lawton’s protest was recorded and widely disseminated online, which led to threats against her and the university. Political pressure on the university was at the very heart of the case, and the investigating committee concluded that the basis for Lawton’s dismissal was related to the political content of her speech and that the due process afforded to her was inadequate.
At Colorado’s Community College of Aurora, part-time faculty member Nathanial Bork, an advocate for adjunct rights, was fired because he allegedly had failed to adequately implement a curriculum redesign mandated by the administration. Bork, who had taught philosophy and related courses at the college for six years with positive reviews, had written to the institution’s regional accrediting agency, criticizing CCA’s efforts to raise course completion rates by lowering standards. Investigators noted that at CCA the academic freedom of part-time faculty members “is not universally guaranteed as a matter of institutional policy but selectively bestowed as a function of administrative benevolence. That is to say, it does not exist.”
Exposing such conditions is one tool that the national AAUP has to improve protections for academic freedom. When institutions are censured by the AAUP, as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Community College of Aurora both have been, they often respond by making restitution to affected faculty members and working to improve their practices and bring their policies into accordance with the AAUP’s Recommended Institutional Regulations. These regulations spell out, in language suitable for use in faculty handbooks and collective bargaining agreements, policies that protect academic freedom.
The AAUP this year released a revised version of the Recommended Institutional Regulations that clarifies the AAUP’s long-standing position on due process protections for part-time faculty members. As a newly added note in the regulations explains, “There should be no invidious distinctions between those who teach and/or conduct research in higher education, regardless of whether they hold full-time or part-time appointments or whether their appointments are tenured, tenure-track, or contingent. All faculty members should have access to the same due-process protections and procedures.”
AAUP chapters and members are vital in the fight for academic freedom. Member support enables the national AAUP to produce research on the state of the profession, conduct investigations of particularly egregious academic freedom cases, and provide tools such as the recommended institutional regulations. And working at the campus level to improve institutional policies is a key function of AAUP members and chapters. Joining together in solidarity across ranks and roles is the only way we can protect academic freedom and shared governance for all.
Here’s a simple step you can take right now: share the graphic below to help raise public awareness of contingency in higher education.
AAUP Senior Program Officer