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Career Paths and Community

The 2023 Delphi Award winners are improving the working conditions of non-tenure-track, contingent, and/or adjunct faculty

February 8, 2024

In partnership with the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), the University of Southern California’s Pullias Center for Higher Education annually grants Delphi Awards of $15,000 each to two institutions working to support non-tenure-track, contingent, and/or adjunct faculty (NTTF) in pursuing strategic priorities such as student learning and community engagement. AAC&U aand the Pullias Center are grateful to the TIAA Institute for generously funding the award.

The 2023 awards were announced in August, and the winners were honored at the AAC&U annual meeting in January 2024. Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in Los Angeles was honored for its efforts to develop greater inclusion and stability for non-tenure-track faculty. The University of Arizona was honored for its policies and practices around appointment, advancement, and retention of non-tenure-track faculty. The University of Massachusetts Amherst was selected as a finalist.

In the following Q&A with Liberal Education, Pullias Center director Adrianna Kezar talks about the program and the 2023 winners.

What stood out about the work of the 2023 winners? What made them rise to the top?

We are always looking for new faculty models, and the University of Arizona’s career-track faculty fit into this important category. Like past winners such as Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the University of Denver, Arizona boldly rethought its faculty models, going beyond the traditional tenure-track or adjunct model to create a more secure, engaged, and supported career-track line that rewards teaching faculty for their work.

LMU stood out among institutions working to comprehensively change their campuses to support NTTF. Its long-term commitment to this effort represents a clear overall culture shift that respects and values NTTF.

Based on the accomplishments of Delphi Award winners, what are the major lessons learned for other institutions that want to do more to support NTTF?

These campuses have not only made the right kinds of changes—respecting and valuing NTTF, involving them in governance, giving them greater job security, and increasing their pay, for example—they have also been very thoughtful and intentional about the processes for making these changes happen. The efforts have reflected the needs of NTTF, honored the campus context, and ensured that the campus and its community also remain strong. Some campuses may have to phase in changes to maintain financial stability. Stakeholders need to collaborate so changes work for all parties and support the broader good.

The award program began in 2018—what overall trends have you seen develop since then with regard to institutional support for NTTF?

We now see many more submissions of new, bolder faculty models than in the past. Campuses are moving beyond tinkering and realizing that supporting NTTF will require major alterations. We also see comprehensive and long-term changes more routinely. Instead of describing a new orientation or professional development program, applicants now talk about eight to ten changes in policy and practice that add up to a broader culture change. Many campuses have now been working earnestly on changes for close to a decade, so we are seeing the type of culture shifts needed to make a difference to the lives of NTTF.

What direction and progress do you hope to see with these kinds of efforts in 2024?

I would love to see a larger entity like a consortium, union, national organization, or disciplinary society win the award for joining the efforts to support NTTF. The University Council-AFT, the union representing librarians and non-senate faculty working throughout the University of California system, was a finalist a few years back. We have had some submissions from these groups, but their efforts have been too early, too narrow, lacked collaboration or NTTF input, or could not demonstrate impact. But I feel like these groups are now joining the effort, and we should see a winner in upcoming years. This is exciting as these groups can make a large difference across higher education. But, of course, working at this level is also more complex and takes time to ramp up.

What are you most excited about for 2024 when it comes to the work of your team at the Pullias Center?

First, I am excited that KC Culver, assistant professor of higher education administration at the University of Alabama, has taken on the role of codirecting the Delphi Project with me. (The Delphi Project is a Pullias Center initiative that provides research on NTTF and develops resources for higher education leaders and organizations to better support NTTF.) KC’s new position ensures consistent leadership for the project. KC has been working with the project for about five years now and is an amazing mixed methods researcher and faculty advocate. KC is knowledgeable about faculty research, as well as the scholarship of teaching and learning.

In 2023, we launched a pilot for a national survey of the faculty (both of faculty themselves and institutions) and hope to share the results in summer 2024 about how faculty are experiencing their work environments—what makes them successful, what hinders them, how rewards and culture affect them, and how campuses are supporting or not supporting their individual backgrounds. We also have data from campuses about faculty contracts, policies, and practices. We submitted a grant to the National Science Foundation to scale up the survey and hope to be conduct it in 2025. This would be the first such national survey in twenty-five years. Conditions are so different from 1998 so this study is very important.

The Delphi Project is also proud to announce that the TIAA Research Institute has agreed to keep supporting the Delphi Award. Without the institute’s generous support, we could not offer the award. And, the institute is publishing and promoting the work of Delphi winners, which helps spread the word.

What qualities does the Pullias Center look for in an institution’s work when evaluating Delphi Award submissions? What advice do you have for applicants?

We are looking for campuses that demonstrate a thoughtful process of change that actively includes NTTF themselves and involves collaboration across faculty groups, staff, and administration (and students—although this rarely happens). So, we value a strong process. But, ultimately, it is about demonstrating meaningful alteration to policy, practice, and culture that NTTF say is making them successful and helping them feel valued and respected. We look to see if campuses can show that their changes to support faculty are positively affecting student success. These changes might be in areas such as professional development orientation, advance notice of teaching, mentoring, or course support. The specific changes may be and look very different campus to campus.

My advice is to plan with your NTTF, be collaborative, and bring in lots of stakeholders. Our Design for Equity in Higher Education report emerged from a study of Delphi winners’ planning processes. I suggest campuses use this model to advance changes.

To learn more about the Delphi Awards, read the case studies about the winners’ work, and tune in to a webinar hosted by AAC&U on February 21 at 4 p.m. ET.