What Can be Done to Address Contingency?

Other proposals offered look beyond the current tenure-track model:

Eradicate tenure and move to long-term, renewable contracts for all faculty

Some proposals have suggested the eradication of tenure, following existing models of campuses that have either never had tenure, such as Evergreen State, or have moved to eliminate tenure, like Hampshire College. Institutions without tenure tend to have long-term renewable contracts and intentional policies and practices in place for appropriate working conditions for all employees. Critics have noted that concerns about tenure are wide-ranging: from the abdication of undergraduate education and teaching emphasis, the lack of flexibility to hire in new program areas and to reflect changes in fields, the financial strain placed on institutions, and the inability to provide regular feedback on performance.

Regularize the faculty

Vancouver Community College in British Columbia has created significant changes for faculty, who are all employed off the tenure track, but are regularized and have full equity in pay, benefits, and working conditions. This change was achieved through collective bargaining by their union. This could serve as a model to our tiered and unequal system in the United States.

Professionalize the non-tenure-track faculty

The most touted (and perhaps most politically-feasible) recommendation (in the short term) is to professionalize the non-tenure-track faculty by developing systematic multi-year contracts with greater equity in pay and benefits, creating intentional hiring and socialization processes, and including them in the regular policies and programs of the institution ranging from orientation to governance to evaluation. Unions have begun this work through collective bargaining and on non-union campuses, some administrators have worked with NTTF leaders to create changes. However, the concerns raised by those advocating for other proposals (such as quotas for tenure, conversion, or reforming tenure) are that professionalizing the non-tenure-track faculty may fundamentally undermine the prospects of bringing back a tenured academy. Also, this approach may not look at the overall staffing patterns and work to come up with a desired profile of the faculty. Various disciplinary societies have been very active in drafting statements related to improving working conditions and professionalizing non-tenure-track faculty. For example, the Modern Language Association and each union representing faculty also have statements and publications about ways to improve working conditions for non-tenure-track faculty. See the AFT, NEA, and AAUP websites for more information.

There are many ideas, but no consensus on what to do. You can begin to be knowledgeable about these issue by joining a national coalition—The New Faculty Majority, being informed by the discussion among contingent faculty worldwide through the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor, or by joining the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education, which also is aimed at developing solutions to contingency in higher education. Tomorrow’s blog will describe the national effort being taken by CHEPA to address this issue. Thinking back to how we got here—solutions that do not examine the existing context of reduced funding, the political and social distrust of tenure, and rising concerns about faculty accountability are likely to get little traction.

About the author

Adrianna Kezar is an Associate Professor of Higher Education in the Rossier School of Education and Associate Director of the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis (CHEPA). Her work focuses on higher education leadership, governance, and equity.


William G. Tierney is director of the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis, University Professor and Wilbur-Kieffer Professor of Higher Education at the Rossier School of Education.

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