Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Labor

My university treats non-tenure track faculty very differently from the way in which it treats tenure-track faculty. In particular, it gives them twice the teaching load and does not permit them to participate in department governance. Given these structural limitations, what can I do (as chair) to counter this imposed class structure?

Strategize as best you can to treat non-tenure-track faculty as the full-fledged people they are.  Here are some ideas. You can ask the non-TT faculty members individually what would make their work lives better, given the parameters of your institution. What matters to one person might not matter to another. For one person it might be a change of office, but others care more about the times of day they teach.  For example, ask for their preferences for days and times to teach and for what their “dream” classes might be (even if realistically their choices get less weight than those of tenure-track faculty).  If possible, ask these questions at the same time you ask the tenured/tenure-track faculty for their schedule preferences for the next year.  Make sure that all faculty members get the same allotment of teaching assistants or graders (though if rules permit, non-TT faculty members in medium-large classes sometimes prefer to do their own grading in exchange for more paid units).  Have an all-inclusive email list for all faculty for events such as lectures, parties, alumni gatherings, and so on.  Invite them to receptions, dinner, or other social events before or after talks.  Make sure that they are introduced as colleagues on all the usual occasions. Ensure that the office manager and other staff treat them well and do not slight them by giving them badly located mailboxes or the like.  Discuss your plans with your TT colleagues and ask them to be sure to treat your non-TT colleagues as full-fledged human beings as well.

Institutionally, work through appropriate channels to improve working conditions.  If you do not have a faculty union, then try to work in concert with other chairs (though don’t be surprised to meet resistance—some chairs seem to enjoy being “management”) to improve the work structure, salaries, and benefits for non-tt faculty.  Increase their pay to the degree within your power and bend rules when it’s feasible.

They will appreciate your efforts!

–Magenta

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5 thoughts on “Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Labor

  1. An additional consideration: try to ensure that graduate students treat NTT faculty as professional philosophers and not as glorified high school teachers. I’ve seen this attitude from graduate students in more than one department, even when TT faculty are more respectful. It’s especially problematic in departments with predominantly male graduate students where women are hired primarily in NTT positions. Encouraging graduate students to consult NTT faculty with relevant research questions (informally, that is) can serve as a corrective.

  2. Think about class preparation from the perspective of non-TT folks. I’ve taught places where they are denied access to the library and even the copy machine. Sometimes a last-minute course assignment is unavoidable, but basic administrative changes can make it less painful.

    Also, develop a means to share developed materials between faculty members. For example, I have offered to share materials I’ve developed for online courses..

  3. In my experience as someone who has had both TT and non-TT positions, there’s a certain problem with the “just ask” approach recommended here (though I like Magenta’s other recommendations). When I was non-TT, I correctly thought that my chair and department would treat me respectfully, etc. However, awesome as these people were, it didn’t matter when I was asked for my opinion on something, especially on how I was treated. In these cases, honesty was never my top priority. Rather, my top priority was to give the answer that I thought would guarantee me continued work, which means giving the answer I thought my chair/dept/dean wanted to hear. And that means that I would answer Magenta’s questions by saying “I want to teach more intro logic” (or whatever I thought the TT faculty didn’t want to teach) and “I’ll teach whenever it’s convenient for the department,” and so on, as it would make them more likely to hire me again the following semester. When you’re a temp looking to scrape together work for 2 months out, you can’t trust that even reasonable people won’t make unreasonable decisions down the road (bias and all that…), so the right answer to all such questions is just whatever gets you to your next semester (and it is reasonable to feel like every question, however innocently intended, is part of a never-ending job interview).

    So better than just asking the adjuncts what they want, maybe either ask yourself what you’d want if you were in their shoes, or better yet, set up a system where these things are distributed in a lottery or other fair manner. For instance, go alphabetically when determining course assignments and class times, and change the starting place in the alphabet each semester.

    Also for the original poster, lobby for non-TT faculty to have a say in governance!

  4. At U Mass Amherst, we have a union — the Massachusetts Society of Professors, a local of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, affiliated with the National Educators Association. The bargaining unit includes tenure-stream and non-tenure-stream faculty (“contract faculty” as they are called here) and all librarians. Our contract faculty are guaranteed work space and equipment necessary for them to do their jobs, they receive full benefits as long as their contracts are for at least 50% time, and they achieve virtual tenure after their third contract renewal — after that, contract faculty can only be terminated for cause, or if their particular position is being converted into a tenure-stream position.

    You can read the contract here: http://umassmsp.org/msp_contract Click on “MSP Contracts and Policies” on the left. While you’re there, check out our family leave policies.

    Union. I’m just saying.

  5. Thanks, everyone, for your responses. You make excellent points and have creative suggestions. Some fact situations would simply never have entered my mind (e.g., no access to the library). I guess the overall suggestion should be “counteract whatever dehumanizing or otherwise nasty features” your colleagues or institution have managed to enact.
    As for the “ask yourself what you’d want” approach suggested by Anonymous — I certainly appreciate your point that it can be risky to tell the truth. Nevertheless, I was reluctant while I was chair to try to project my preferences onto my colleagues. I saw the bad consequences of other chairs (well meaning people, all) having done so. If you think you can trust your chair, consider that chairs really need to know about your time preferences, back-to-back scheduling, how far you’re commuting, and so on — even if you are teaching courses that aren’t your favorites.
    One can also use external reviewers (who come as part of program review) to find out preferences and complaints from nonTT faculty — assuming there are enough nonTT faculty for anonymity.
    And as Louise notes, stick with the union if you have one.
    Magenta

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