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Who is Professor Staff?

by Center for the Future of Higher Education (CFHE) and New Faculty Majority (NFM)

Just in time for fall semester, the second report from the Center for the Future of Higher Education is now out. Entitled, “Who is Professor “Staff” and How Can This Person Teach So Many Classes?” the report critiques the trends in higher education employment that have rapidly moved in the direction of a low wage and high tuition model. Borrowing from just in time models of industrial production and distribution, higher education institutions are too often waiting until the last minute to hire low wage adjuncts and fixed term faculty to teach jammed packed courses with late and limited access to instructional resources, shortchanging students and faculty alike. There are many problems associated with this mismanagement of valuable human resources, not the least of which is the failure to provide adequate conditions for contingent faculty to have access to long accepted professional standards of employment. Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions.

The report was drafted by Steve Street, Maria Maisto, and Esther Merves of the New Faculty Majority and Gary Rhoades, the Center for the Future of Higher Education’s Director. Based on a survey of 500 contingent faculty nationwide and conducted in the Fall of 2011, the report is available to faculty associations and administrators interested in using it to make employment practices more transparent. This will then help identify areas that need improvement.

Four key findings need to be addressed as we continue to reform higher education.

  1. “Just in time” hiring is bad for teachers and for students. Of the faculty surveyed, approximately 2/3 of them were hired for classes with three weeks or less to prepare. This creates a series of significant problems for teachers, ranging from ordering books, to developing meaningful and challenging courses, to being forced to work on these things under enormous pressure and without pay. For students, it causes significant challenges in planning out a semester’s work, often leading to prolonging the time to graduation. At a minimum, colleges and universities need to commit to hiring faculty, in nonemergency cases, at least three months before classes begin.
  2. Contingent faculty, particularly those with part-time status, get late and limited access to key instructional resources. This includes high tech on-line resources, once again creating a profoundly adverse impact on students and their learning conditions. Contingent faculty consistently reported limited access to copying services, library privileges, private office space, sample syllabi, or access to computer and software information systems. These conditions limit the ability of contingent faculty to perform up to their ability and diminish the experience of students who pay for these classes. At a minimum, colleges and universities need to commit to providing the same resources to contingent faculty as they do for permanent faculty.
  3. The current just in time and late/limited access to instructional resources regime is NOT a result of fiscal and flexibility restraints; rather it results from managerial inattention to what is needed for a quality education. While there are diminishing resources going to higher education, the report points out several cost free or low cost ways of solving the above problems. At a minimum, colleges and universities need to adopt best practices to end this situation.
  4. The timing of hiring of contingent faculty needs to become transparent, and administrators need to make clear the instructional resources available to contingent faculty when hired. Ignorance is not bliss. If colleges and universities are going to talk about quality education they need to do so based on the sort of data provided by the study’s survey on back to school employment practices for contingent faculty.

The rush to the low wage and high tuition model of higher education is a disaster for those who teach and those who learn. It is time to stop the slide and to reinvest in public higher education. We need to move away from just in time hiring and we need to create conditions where the professionals who are hired have the conditions needed to excel at their craft.

New Faculty Majority encourages everyone to share this report with anyone who will listen, especially news outlets in your area. This post is basically a ready-made press release. It’s a great opportunity to make sure this coverage hits at the same time all around the country. The report has already received solid coverage at The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed this week. Everyone read it and share it!

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