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Stability, Equity, and Strong Communities

How two institutions are supporting non-tenure-track, contingent, and adjunct faculty

By Marilyn Cooper

January 12, 2023

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 in pursuing strategic priorities such as student learning and community engagement. AAC&U and the Pullias Center are grateful to the TIAA Institute for generously funding the award.

In 2022, Montgomery College and Dominican University of California were honored with the Delphi Award for their efforts to support adjunct and part-time faculty by providing opportunities for professional development, equitable pay and benefits, and professional security. The University of Texas–San Antonio and the University of California/University Council–American Federation of Teachers, Local 1474, were also selected as finalists. Read case studies about their work on the Delphi Award webpage or join campus representatives at AAC&U’s 2023 annual meeting for an in-depth discussion.

An equal playing field

When Montgomery College, a community college in Rockville, Maryland, decided to create a new academic master plan in 2015, the aims included improving coursework completion and graduations rates and strengthening the overall quality of general education. “But we quickly realized that we could only meet our academic goals by doing more to fully support the faculty, including the part-time faculty,” says Carolyn Terry, associate senior vice president for academic affairs at Montgomery College. Part-time faculty (PTF) teach 40 percent of all Montgomery College classes and constitute an important pipeline for full-time hires—around 20 percent of current full-time faculty members previously taught part time at Montgomery College.

To provide more resources and support for PTF, Montgomery College created the Institute for Part-Time Faculty Engagement and Support (IPTFES). The administration worked with a group of faculty members, full- and part-time, to identify and address the needs of PTF.

“We found that very basic needs like having a place to meet with students, hang a coat, or eat lunch were not being met because PTF members don’t have offices,” Terry says. They also identified more complex needs such as lack of funding for professional development and the absence of designated seats for PTF on the different governance councils such as the Academic Services Council and the Faculty Council.

During the past seven years (2015–22), faculty and administrators have worked together through the institute to expand and improve policies and resources that support part-time faculty, raise the visibility of their contributions, and assist them in navigating the opportunities and resources described below.

Opportunities for leadership and advocacy

In partnership with Montgomery College academic departments, the IPTFES created a faculty associates program that helps PTF understand and utilize different college resources. PTF faculty associates answer questions, direct PTF to appropriate resources, meet with PTF, and sit on the faculty governance council. Serving as a faculty associate provides valuable opportunities for PTF such as strengthening their curriculum vitae, deepening their knowledge of the college, helping plan PTF compensation, and gaining access to aspects of campus life that have not historically included PTF.

The Achieving the Promise Academy offers other leadership opportunities for PTF. By serving as coaches for students, PTF can support the academy’s mission of decreasing drop, fail, and withdrawal rates in classes with large enrollments. PTF are compensated for this work.

Recognizing PTF

Department chairs and academic deans nominate PTF for annual outstanding faculty awards in teaching, counseling/advising, and scholarship. Award winners receive $2,000. The IPTFES also gives a PTF member of the year award; the recipient receives $5,000.

To increase PTF visibility, the IPTFES spotlights one part-time faculty member each month. The spotlights feature personal content about the PTF’s life including quotes from them about their family, things that bring them joy, and about their professional life. The initiative seeks to build a community among PTF that extends beyond their work.

Benefits, compensation, and course load stability

PTF are eligible to receive $1,000 to use toward external professional development programs such as conferences, workshops, and related travel. They’re also eligible for partial gym/wellness reimbursements equivalent to that of full-time faculty.

To stabilize their course loads, PTF can apply for “good faith consideration,” which allows them to teach the same number of classes as in previous semesters. Since spring 2022, qualified PTF are also eligible for a full-time course load for one semester in instances when a department has immediate or emergency needs. If the resulting course load exceeds the one specified in their contract, the PTF receives a pro-rated salary.

Professional development and community building

The IPTFES holds the Dr. Antonio Thomas Part-Time Faculty Conference twice a year. The conference serves as an onboarding experience for new PTFand offers returning PTF an opportunity to participate in professional development workshops. Recent workshop topics include tips to support student success, advice on classroom management, and guidance for creating conversations that matter. In addition, each PTF member meets with their academic dean or department chair. PTF receive $100 for participating in the conference.

In 2020, the IPTFES began offering up to three Shoenberg Fellowships annually to qualified PTF members who are interested in pursuing full-time faculty positions in higher education. The fellowship supports a fully paid, one-semester leave during which fellows complete a research-based project and receive mentoring and professional development support. Montgomery College plans to use its Delphi Award money to offer a fourth Shoenberg Fellowship in the coming year.

“Our motto for this work is that the IPTFES was created ‘for part-time faculty by part-time faculty,’” Terry says. “We’ve integrated PTF into the entire structure of that institute. They are the ones who drive its mission. It’s been a very effective model.”

A more inclusive community

Dominican University of California, an independent, designated minority-serving institution, views increasing inclusion for adjunct faculty as an important part of its efforts to break down divisions on campus and build a stronger community. “As a small institution, most of the things we need to do in order to thrive require considerable innovation and collaboration,” says Mojgan Behmand, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty at Dominion. “We cannot do that well if there are a lot of conflicts between different constituents on campus.”

Approximately ten years ago, Dominion began a process of uniting different constituents around initiatives important to the overall well-being of the university. “Previously,” Behmand says, “there were initiatives where funds were only available if there was a faculty lead—you couldn’t use a staff lead—and there were problematic distinctions between different kinds of faculty. We wanted to bring everyone together as a cohesive whole.”

Early in the process, Dominion focused on full-time term faculty. These adjunct faculty members had been issued annual contracts but lacked secure long-term employment and many of its associated benefits and policies. In 2013, Dominion developed a new policy that offered full-time term faculty multiyear contracts, a review process, professional development funds, and, generally, a more secure standing at the university. Dominion recently updated the policy to address rank and promotion.

Another factor came into play in 2014 when full- and part-time adjunct faculty members, who make up approximately 30 percent of Dominion faculty, unionized to address ongoing personal financial issues. The resulting collective bargaining agreement gave them new rights and elevated their standing and compensation at Dominion. “Ultimately, all these things worked out well for the entire institution,” Behmand says. “We’re too small to be divided.”

Through programs, policies, and initiatives relating to rank and promotion policies, professional development, benefits, compensation, and academic staff positions, Dominion continues its work to create a more inclusive professional community:

Rank and promotion policies that bolster adjunct professionalization

Dominion has adopted an approach in which adjunct faculty can earn points—one point for one credit course unit—to progress through a tiered system and increase their rank and pay. Titles improve as they accumulate points. For instance, the title for adjuncts in tier one with 0–25 points is “adjunct professor” or “adjunct professor of practice 1”, but once they accrue 26–50 points, their title advances to “adjunct assistant professor” or “adjunct assistant professor of practice 2”. Adjuncts can also earn points through a terminal degree, relevant professional experience, and teaching at another regionally accredited academic institution. This promotion policy helps professionalize adjuncts by rewarding long-term commitment, acknowledging professional accomplishments, and promoting employment stability.

Access to professional development

By offering workshops in both online and hybrid formats and compensating adjuncts for participating, Dominion ensures professional development opportunities are available to all faculty members. Facilitators design the professional development workshops with the goal of helping faculty better support Dominion’s diverse student body. Previous session topics include online teaching, trauma-informed pedagogy, and intercultural communications.

To promote research and scholarship, Dominion also grants merit awards of up to $1,000 for scholarly achievements such as publications, conference presentations, and professional performances or exhibits.

Fair compensation and inclusion in governance

Dominion compensates adjuncts for participating in different types of work and activities across the campus to fully integrate them into the wider community. This includes compensation for substitute teaching; writing letters of recommendation; developing a new course; attending university meetings, activities, and programs; and traveling to off-campus events.

Adjuncts are also paid for serving on shared governance committees such as the faculty forum, the diversity action group, the faculty development committee, and the curriculum and education policy committee. Adjuncts have a guaranteed seat on all these committees—this has helped advance Dominion’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

Academic Staff positions

To promote greater stability, Dominion created academic staff positions for adjuncts. Previously, adjuncts could only obtain a full and consistent workload by piecing together classes and professional tasks. The academic staff positions enable adjuncts to obtain a more secure professional and financial life while also contributing to student success. Adjuncts who hold academic staff positions can work in the office of community engagement, serve as integrative coaches who provide wraparound support to students, or work on behalf of the union as a union board member or steward.

Looking forward, Dominion plans to use its Delphi Award money in ways that focus on student success. Dominion will offer trainings to adjuncts on how to design and teach classes that offer more varied perspectives and how to use open education resources. “Beyond these trainings,” Behmand says, “we will connect with the leaders of our adjunct faculty to discuss where it would be most beneficial to use these funds.”

Dominion’s commitment to DEI will remain a top priority. “We must model how we want our students to perceive the world and we have to walk the walk,” Behmand says “We can’t point to our missions and our learning outcomes and say that DEI is important for our students but then not reflect that in our institutional structures, behaviors, and hierarchies.”

Photo: Dominion University adjunct faculty attend a leadership training session. (Dominion University of California)

Author

  • Marilyn Cooper

    Marilyn Cooper

    Marilyn Cooper is the associate editor of Liberal Education.

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