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Survey Results on Contingent Faculty in Higher Education

posted by Christopher Howard


The results of a 2010 survey of contingent faculty members and instructors in American higher education, published today by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW), have confirmed much of what has been reported anecdotally: part-time faculty members demonstrate a dedicated level of commitment to teaching and to the institutions that employ them, but this commitment is not reciprocated by those institutions through compensation or other professional support. The findings also describe larger course loads for teachers, imbalances in compensation in relation to not only professional credentials but also gender and race, and minimal participation in academic decision-making. Further, contingent faculty face longer durations of provisional employment and slim prospects for career advancement, with schools failing to meet their preference for full-time status.

According to a 2009 government study, 75.5 percent of all faculty members at colleges and universities in the United States are contingent: that is, they hold part-time or adjunct positions, have full-time non-tenure-track jobs, or serve as graduate-student teaching assistants. Part-timers alone make up nearly half the total professoriate. The US Department of Education, however, has not kept statistics on contingent-faculty salaries since 2003, when it last carried out its National Study of Postsecondary Faculty. CAW’s comprehensive survey, administered in fall 2010, was conducted in an effort to provide meaningful data for this rapidly growing concern. Of the nearly 30,000 survey respondents, 1,102 were CAA members: 591 in studio art and design, 362 in art history, and 149 in art education. The CAW report focuses on the largest group of contingent faculty: part-timers.

CAA is a founding member (1997) of CAW, which is a group of higher-education associations, disciplinary associations, and faculty organizations committed to addressing issues associated with deteriorating faculty working conditions and their effect on college and university students in the United States. Specifically, CAW’s purpose is to: collect and disseminate information on the use and treatment of full- and part-time faculty members serving off the tenure track and the implications for students, parents, other faculty members, and institutions; articulate and clarify differences in the extent and consequences of changes in the faculty within and among the various academic disciplines and fields of study; evaluate the short-term and long-term consequences of changes in the academic workforce for society and the public good; identify and promote strategies for solving the problems created by inappropriate use and exploitation of part-time, adjunct, and similar faculty appointments; promote conditions by which all faculty members, including full- and part-time non-tenure-track faculty members, can strengthen their teaching and scholarship, better serve their students, and advance their professional careers.

Andrew Delbanco, the author of College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be (2012), stated that, in 1975, 60 percent of college professors were full-time faculty with tenure. The reasons for the accelerated shift toward contingent labor since that time are many. Decreases in state funding, capital expansion without commensurate revenue, increases in specialized knowledge requiring thousands of course offerings, and swelling student enrollment all have had a detrimental effect on faculty budgets, more so than on any other area of expenditures in higher education. Jane Wellman, who led the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability, affirmed these observations in a recent New York Times interview:

What the evidence shows is that we’ve done more to cut costs in the faculty area than elsewhere in the budget, and we’ve done it by bringing in more adjuncts and part-timers. So there’s a handful of professors with tenure, who don’t teach very much, and then there’s [a] lot of people who have no benefits who do more of the teaching. I think it’s probably hurting academic quality, especially at institutions where the students are not well prepared. The attrition [of students] is mostly in the first two years, and that’s mostly where the adjuncts are.

While no hard evidence has determined that an increase of adjuncts has diminished the quality of teaching in higher education, the CAW survey results clearly demonstrate pressure on part-time faculty due to not only expanding workloads and larger classes—especially for part-time faculty teaching at multiple institutions—but also expectations to be involved in academic decision-making without additional compensation.

Professors of studio art and art history are acutely aware of all these issues. Enrollment has risen persistently for art-history and studio courses for years, while tenured positions have diminished. The survey results do bring some slightly positive news: median pay for contingent faculty in studio art and design and in art history is $3,000 per three-credit course (the nationwide median is approximately $2,700). In addition, workers at campuses with a union presence earn more than those at nonunion schools. Compensation is lower, however, for survey respondents who identified themselves as black, although the number of African Americans who participated in the survey was low. Please visit the CAW website for details on these issues and more.

The CAW report will provide important data for discussions taking place in several of CAA’s Professional Interests, Practices, and Standards Committees. The Student and Emerging Professionals Committee will be addressing contingent-faculty issues at a panel at the 2013 Annual Conference in New York, which will include Michael Bérubé, president of the Modern Language Association and director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University, who will present an overview of the Academic Workforce Data Center, a compilation of historical data of the growth of contingent faculty by universities. Bérubé will also discuss the need to nationalize the academic-job market. Jeanne Brody, an adjunct professor at Villanova University and Saint Joseph’s University, will summarize the ways in which adjunct faculty members are effectively organizing and advocating better treatment within the university system. Victoria H. F. Scott of Emory University will discuss the establishment of an Art History Society of the Americas, which would explore abolishing adjunct position types, raising salaries, collecting statistics, and setting policies to improve and monitor working conditions.

The Committee on Women in the Arts, which focuses on women’s issues in the workplace and beyond, will respond to survey results on gender. Although women make up two-thirds of all CAA members, they tend to occupy the lowest rungs of academia, while men continue filling the higher-ranking and higher-paid positions. To continue the discussion, the committee will present a panel at the 2013 conference, chaired by the artist and professor Claudia Sbrissa, on how the “feminization” of art history may have contributed to lower salaries and prestige for women.

Similarly, the Committee on Diversity Practices will discuss issues related to retention of faculty members of color during its panel at the 2013 conference.

CAA would like to thank the individuals who generously volunteered their time and expertise to develop and tabulate CAW’s survey: John Curtis, director of research and public policy, American Association of University Professors; David Laurence, director of research, Modern Language Association; Kathleen Terry-Sharp, director of academic relations and practicing and applied programs, American Anthropological Society; Craig Smith, director of higher education, American Federation of Teachers; and Robert B. Townsend, deputy director, American Historical Association.




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