The steady rise of contingent faculty appointments and the growth of administration in higher education present a significant threat to academic freedom and shared governance. That’s the conclusion of studies on contingency and administrative growth in the AAUP’s Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 2020–21.
Some key findings on contingency and administrative growth:
- In fall 2019, 63.0 percent of faculty members were on contingent appointments; 20.0 percent were full-time contingent faculty members and 42.9 percent were part-time contingent faculty members. Only 26.5 percent of faculty members were tenured and 10.5 percent were on the tenure track.
- From fiscal year 2011–12 to fiscal year 2018–19, the numbers of staff classified as “management” increased 12 percent per FTE student, real average salaries increased 7 percent, and salary outlays per FTE student increased 19 percent, including an extraordinary 24 percent increase in real salary expenditures per FTE student in public colleges and universities.
As we note in the report, contingent appointments are the least secure, lowest remunerated, and generally least supported faculty positions. Most faculty members who are paid per course section do not receive retirement or medical benefit contributions, and in most states, adjunct faculty members do not have rights to unemployment insurance. Faculty tenure is the only secure protection for academic freedom in teaching, research, and service.
The prevalence of contingent faculty appointments also means that shared governance in higher education is increasingly at risk. Without adequate numbers of full-time tenure-line faculty members, many institutions now appoint administrators to committees that govern areas formerly within the sole purview of faculty committees.
This deep imbalance between the rise of contingency and the rise of management, particularly the exorbitant rise in high-level administrative salaries, requires urgent action. Governing boards, legislators, and other policy makers must provide funds for a substantial readjustment of academic salary levels to avoid irreparable harm to the US higher education system. Additionally, the AAUP holds that full and part-time faculty members, regardless of rank, are to be considered eligible for tenure and the protections it affords. Faculty teaching, research, and service must remain the focus of higher education.
Next week, we will discuss the report’s findings on rising institutional debt and share resources from our New Deal for Higher Education campaign on this issue.
The AAUP Research Department