Faculty Development for All: A Broader Vision for Supporting Non-Tenure-Track Faculty

Surprisingly, when we talk about faculty development, the perspective is almost always from tenured and tenure-track faculty, even though they represent only 30 percent of faculty nationally. Contingent full- and part-time faculty, who now make up 70 percent of all faculty (52 percent part-time and 18 percent full-time non-tenure-track), typically are ignored when we consider professional development (American Federation of Teachers 2009; Finkelstein, Conley, and Schuster 2016). This is particularly problematic because they have the most challenging teaching assignments—remedial education, large introductory courses, and general education.

The reality is that professional development is not offered to most non-tenure-track faculty (NTTF), or, when offered, it is at times they are less likely to make it—the middle of the day when they are teaching—and through challenging modes that require them to participate in person rather than online. NTTF are usually not paid to attend the sessions, leading to economic challenges. In addition to the lack of professional development, there are few formal mentoring opportunities. Contingent faculty must hope (if they even have the time for concerns about growth) that they can find individuals around them who are willing and able to share insights and invest time in them. NTTF often do not receive any teaching evaluations and have few opportunities to discuss student evaluations and plan for improvement. Thus, contingent faculty are frequently left without a compass for their teaching.

In addition to being excluded from professional development, dozens of policies and practices negatively affect the ability of NTTF to be quality teachers—last-minute hiring; lack of stable teaching appointments that permit effective planning and preparation; and exclusion from departmental meetings, curriculum development, and book selection. NTTF typically have limited understanding of the course goals and their relationship to broader program or college goals. The lack of professional development invested in NTTF, along with poor policies and practices, interferes with their ability to be excellent educators. The accumulation of poor working conditions and lack of support has led to a phenomenon called “lack of opportunity to perform,” essentially creating an environment in which NTTF are barred from educating to their potential and frequently experience burnout from overcompensating for poor support for their teaching (Kezar 2013).

Yet, some pioneering campuses are beginning to consider ways to support NTTF in their teaching. Consider the recent winners of the Delphi Award, presented by the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success in partnership with the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). Santa Monica College set up an adjunct mentoring and support committee that used a survey to identify professional development needs. It now offers comprehensive professional development on

  • syllabus creation;
  • course management software;
  • pedagogical practices;
  • campus resources;
  • adjunct rights and responsibilities; and
  • instruction and assessment strategies.

The college also hosts an annual Spring Flex Day, a daylong professional development event for faculty. Classes are canceled on Flex Day, which signals Santa Monica College’s commitment to professionally developing its instructors.

Harper College has developed a new evaluation system that allows faculty to choose how they will be evaluated, in ways that are much more developmentally oriented, such as peer observations, portfolios, and other such processes. And this year, the leadership of the Delphi Project and AAC&U were excited to provide the award to Penn State University. The institution is committed to professionally developing the non-tenure-track scholarly community across its twenty-four campuses. Two key initiatives demonstrate this support.

The Innovative Teaching at Penn State (ITAP) Lunch Series highlights innovative teaching across disciplines, departments, and campuses, and specifically includes NTTF. It aims to build a community of faculty, staff, and administrators interested in improving student learning. Topics in the past year have included “How Improv Theatre Can Improve Your Classroom” and “Combining the Tools of Research/Scholarship with the Practice of Teaching to Improve Your Teaching.”

The Teaching and Learning with Technology Center is also offering Faculty Learning Communities for NTTF. Typically, learning communities are groups of faculty that meet regularly to discuss their teaching practice. They often last a year or two and involve a combination of reading together and engaging in changes to professional practices such as teaching techniques or curricular approaches. At Penn State, these small communities are formed around specific topics. Faculty learning community leaders receive a $500 stipend and another $500 for resources and meetings. Topics include “Mentoring Undergraduate Student Researchers” and “Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Chemistry.”

This successful strategy of faculty learning communities is also the topic of another important project. AAC&U’s Project Kaleidoscope, in partnership with the Pullias Center and the Delphi Project, recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation to work with campus teams to develop learning communities for NTTF. This project, Scaling Support for Non-Tenure-Track Faculty in STEM through Learning Communities and Design Teams, will explore how to make this key strategy work for time-pressured NTTF in STEM disciplines.

In summary, I hope more campuses will consider a broader vision of professional development as represented by the Delphi Award winners and that Peer Review readers will follow the work of the Pullias Center and AAC&U in the coming years. 


American Federation of Teachers. 2009. American Academic: The State of the Higher Education Workforce 1997–2007. Washington, DC: AFT Higher Education.

Finkelstein, Martin J., Valerie Martin Conley, and Jack H. Schuster. 2016. The Faculty Factor: Reassessing the American Academy in a Turbulent Era. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Kezar, Adrianna. 2013. “Examining Non-Tenure Track Faculty Perceptions of How Departmental Policies and Practices Shape Their Performance and Ability to Create Student Learning at Four-Year Institutions.” Research in Higher Education 54 (5): 571–598.


Adrianna Kezar, Dean’s Professor of Leadership, Wilbur-Kieffer Professor of Higher Education, Director of the Pullias Center, and Director of the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success, University of Southern California

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