Responsible Institutional Practices:
A Statement on Standards Pertaining to Contingent Faculty in the Study of Religion
(Approved by the AAR Board of Directors on September 20, 2015)
Colleges, universities, and theological schools, like other institutions, are constantly changing and adapting to larger intellectual, cultural, social, and economic trends. Sometimes these shifts strengthen the goals and institutions of higher education. At other times they challenge our fundamental commitments—to academic freedom, to the intellectual well being of students, to the health of our institutions, and to the character of the professoriate.
Members of the American Academy of Religion are greatly concerned about the growing dependence on contingent faculty labor. This development, which began in the 1980s, represents a threat to the integrity of the academic profession itself, which is founded on the interaction of research, teaching, and service, and is dedicated to the protection of academic freedom and the modern notion of tenure (http://www.aaup.org/report/1940-statement-principles-academic-freedom-and-tenure). Increasing dependence on contingent faculty members in higher education threatens the foundations of our profession.
We are concerned about the just and ethical treatment of all contingent faculty members. While reliance on contingent faculty has expanded significantly during recent decades, insufficient attention has been given to the status of contingent faculty members within the profession. Some institutions have developed policies that extend generous benefits and protections to contingent faculty members, but many have not. Fairness demands that they do, hence this effort to delineate institutional responsibilities in relation to contingent faculty members.
For the purposes of this document, we use the term "contingent" to refer to full- and part-time faculty who serve under limited contracts off the tenure track. Here, “contingent” does not refer to graduate students whose teaching is formally related to their programs of study or to retired faculty who teach on occasion after long periods of well-compensated service.
With this document, the American Academy of Religion proposes a set of institutional responsibilities to help guide Department Chairs and institutions as they contract with contingent faculty to support the task of educating students in the study of religion.
At the outset, we acknowledge that the employment circumstances of contingent faculty vary widely. Some serve in unionized institutions; others in state systems whose employees are considered civil servants; still others in small institutions where individual departments have a great deal of freedom in hiring practices. Some contingent faculty serve in multiple institutions, commuting between campuses in order to scrape together enough part-time work to make a living. This variety of employment environments makes it difficult to draw easy comparisons among contingent faculty across institutions.
Similarly, we acknowledge that there are many types of contingent faculty laborers. These types run along a continuum, defined at one end by an instructor who is teaching a single course in a single semester and has no reason to expect to be hired again, and on the other by a person hired to teach full-time for a limited number of semesters or years. Like differing employment environments, so too these varied types of contingent arrangements make comparisons difficult. Regardless of the employment environment or the type of contingent service, however, institutions and faculty leaders have a responsibility to treat all contingent faculty with respect, equity, and professionalism, and to provide them every support, be it financial or administrative, necessary to their success.
We gratefully acknowledge colleagues in other professional associations whose work has guided us in the preparation of this document. These include the American Historical Association, the American Anthropological Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Studies Association, the College Art Association, the Linguistic Society of America, the Modern Language Association, the American Association of University Professors, and the Coalition on the Academic Workforce.
I. Terms of Employment
A. Initial Hiring: Notices of open contingent faculty positions should be circulated as widely as possible. The terms of employment for such positions should be plainly stated. To fill open contingent positions, formal applications should be required and reviewed carefully and an interview should be conducted, preferably in person.
B. Contract or Letter of Appointment: A written contract for contingent employees should explicitly state the following:
Compensation, including salary, benefits, and any other remuneration
Duties and responsibilities
Duration of employment
Process and timing of evaluation
Possibility and timing of contract renewal
Information about required minimum student enrollments and the date by which the contingent employee will be notified of the intent to cancel the course
On-line teaching responsibilities
Institutional rules governing the ownership of any intellectual property that may be developed by a contingent faculty member. Such rules should be comparable to those that govern the ownership of intellectual property developed by tenure track faculty.
C. Evaluation: Institutions should evaluate the work of contingent faculty using the same standards used to evaluate the work of tenure track faculty. Such evaluations may differ from one type of contingent faculty appointment to another. If, for instance, the contingent faculty member’s duties include activities other than teaching (e.g., student recruitment, public service, or scholarly production) then these additional responsibilities should also be evaluated. Evaluation standards and procedures should be clearly stated in writing, and made available to all faculty members at the time of their hiring. Evaluations should be provided to faculty members in writing in a timely manner.
D. Appointment Renewal: Contingent faculty with very good evaluations should have priority consideration to teach comparable courses in their field of specialization when and if such courses become available again.
E. Course Development: Contingent faculty should be permitted to order their own texts and design their own courses unless these are departmental decisions, in which case contingent faculty should be adequately briefed on the course expectations, learning goals, and any related texts and required assignments.
F. Eligibility for Tenure Track Positions: Contingent faculty should be considered equally, among all qualified applicants, for appointment to tenure track positions. Experience as a contingent faculty member should be considered a positive element of a candidate’s application.
G. Course cancellation: If a course is canceled due to under-enrollment or for another reason, the contingent faculty member should be notified in a timely manner and efforts should be undertaken to provide that faculty member with alternative teaching arrangements. If their course is cancelled, the contingent faculty member should be fairly compensated for the work they completed in preparation for the cancelled course.
Salary: Institutional administrators have a responsibility to make sure that contingent appointments are paid fairly. We recognize that determining equitable compensation can be challenging. There are many variables, including course load, class size, regional cost of living, and the number and nature of ancillary duties. As a general guideline, we suggest that this rate should be comparable to the compensation given to full-time tenure track faculty members performing the same duties. Since the ancillary non-teaching duties of tenure track faculty members often include expectations about research and publication as well as advising, committee service, community engagement, and student recruitment, the duties of the contingent faculty member might be fewer. In turn, fair compensation might not be calculated as a simple proportion of the full-time faculty member’s annual base salary. Yet contingent faculty compensation should increase proportionally as ancillary duties are added, just as institutions establish fair pay for full-time tenure track faculty.
Most broadly, we believe that institutions have a responsibility to do all they can to provide a humane work environment and a living wage. In practice, that might mean in 2015–16, $7,350 for a standard 3-credit hour semester course or $4,900 for a standard 3-credit hour trimester course. (We rely here on standards recommended by the Modern Language Association for 2015–16, and assume that equitable compensation would need to be recalculated annually. See “MLA Recommendation on Minimum Per-Course Compensation for Part-Time Faculty Members,” available at https://www.mla.org/mla_recommendation_course, accessed June 24, 2015.)
All full-time contingent faculty should be provided with basic benefits (such as health and life insurance, sick leave, and retirement plans) as part of their standard contract.
To the extent that local statutes and institutions allow, part-time teaching staff should be allowed access to basic benefits (such as health and life insurance, sick leave, and retirement plans).
Mechanisms should be developed to allow faculty members serving in continuing contingent positions who are not employed during one or more academic terms (for example, for reasons of childbirth, illness, family leave, or other exigencies) to maintain benefits until their return to the institution.
II. Institutional Support
A. Orientation: Upon initial appointment, contingent faculty members should be oriented to the institution and to the department, to opportunities for mentoring and professional development, to the curriculum and support services, to the institution's governance and structure, and to the department's expectations regarding the successful performance of their duties.
B. Class Assignments: To ensure adequate preparation time, class assignments should be made, whenever possible, using the same planning calendar and timeline accorded tenure track faculty.
C. Administrative and Academic Support: Contingent faculty should be provided administrative support including office space (with telephone and access to computing technology), clerical support as necessary, and parking privileges. Academic support should also be provided, including access to library collections, writing labs, sponsored research, and so forth.
D. Service to the Department: Continuing contingent faculty should be invited to participate in departmental meetings and other departmental activities and committees. Voting privileges might be extended for instructors if the institutional regulations allow. Such service opportunities provide a measure of hospitality and mentoring on the part of the department but must be entirely voluntary unless they are part of the compensation calculation. The expectation of departmental service by part-time contingent faculty will vary with the nature of their appointment, the length of their service, and their portfolio of responsibilities. In the case of part-time contingent faculty, expectations for voluntary departmental service should be determined on a case-by-case basis by the Chair.
E. Professional Development: Continuing contingent faculty should have opportunities and financial support to participate in conferences and workshops for their professional development, to apply for grants, and to participate in the institution's tuition support program.
F. Grievance Procedures: Grievance procedures for contingent faculty, to deal with issues such as cases of alleged discrimination, violation of contract, or denial of academic freedom, should be identical to those afforded to tenure track faculty.
III. Institutional Policies Pertaining to Contingent Faculty
A. Standardization of Hiring and Evaluation Practices: Hiring and evaluation practices should be standardized, transparent, and fair, with institutions prioritizing the creation of long-term, regularized positions that create a stable faculty that is committed to the institution.
B. Professional Advancement: Opportunities for professional advancement should be made available to long-term contingent faculty including the possibility for salary increases based on length of service.
C. Faculty Rosters: Contingent faculty should be included in published or posted rosters of departmental, divisional, or institutional faculty members.
D. Recognition for Teaching Excellence: Full-time contingent faculty should be eligible for programs or awards that reward excellence in teaching.
E. Institutional Policies and Codes: The rights and responsibilities of faculty in contingent positions as outlined in this document should be incorporated in relevant department, college, and university governing codes. These should be made part of a Contingent Faculty Handbook that may be made part of the institution’s official Faculty Handbook. (See a proposed outline of such a Handbook in the Addendum to this document.)
F. Communications: Contingent faculty should be included in the collegial relations and communications of the university and the department.
G. Right to Organize: Contingent faculty members have the right to organize to improve their working conditions and pay, and to address other workplace matters with no fear of retaliation or retribution for organizing.
H. Reporting of Contingent Labor: Departments and institutions should be prepared to provide statistical data about their reliance on contingent faculty (and graduate student teaching as well) to learned societies, accrediting organizations, and to their various publics. Such data should include the number and percentage of full-time and part-time contingent faculty at work in an institution, the number and percentage of courses taught by contingent faculty, and the length and character of the contracts under which such contingent faculty members work.
A Proposed Outline for a Contingent Employee Handbook
The following written information, constituting a Contingent Employee Handbook, should be provided by the institution or department at the time of employment:
Statement on the institutional or departmental mission or philosophy
Full description of the contingent position, including a definition of the role and duties (to include course title and description, enrollment caps, contact hours, advising, and any other responsibilities)
Description of teaching facilities, office facilities, and support services
Description of financial support and resources available for professional development
Information on evaluation and promotion procedures
Information of institutional grievance policies
Information on employment security
Information on institutional governance and opportunities to participate in it
Information on any and all institutional expectations
Affirmation of the contingent faculty members' right to self-organize to improve their working conditions and pay, and to address other workplace matters
(Board resolution, September 2015)