In early 2016, ASA Council appointed a task force “to explore the dynamics and implications of the recent growth of contingent employment among sociologists in the context of the broader structural transformations now underway in U.S. universities and in comparison to other disciplines.” And in March 2019, Council approved the final report from the Task Force on Contingent Faculty The task force was co-chaired by the late Dan Clawson and Louis Edgar Esparza, and included members Marisa Allison, Celeste Atkins, Michael Burawoy, Jay R. Howard, Penny Lewis, Ruth Milkman, Catherine Moran, Gillian Niebrugge-Brantley, Nicholas Pagnucco, and Victor Perez.
The Executive Summary of the report articulately and concisely outlines the richness of the material in the full report:
The American Sociological Association Task Force on Contingent Faculty was appointed to address the ongoing shift in academia toward contingent faculty employment. According to the GAO, between 1995 and 2011, full-time tenure-track positions fell from 42% to 28% of all instructional positions in the United States. And according to 2015 data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, part-time and full-time non-tenure track faculty comprise 61% of instructional positions at four-year institutions, 84% at two-year institutions, and over 99% at for-profit institutions. This has profound implications for faculty working conditions, career prospects for graduate students, undergraduate education, academic freedom, and the governance of institutions of higher education. This report details the changing employment structure and the ways in which it affects faculty members, students, and the character of higher education.
The report espouses a series of fundamental principles to which all parties involved in this ecosystem should commit as well as some tangible, realistic recommendations for implementation. Our fundamental goal is to promote maximum feasible equity for contingent faculty. Operationalizing this goal may be difficult, and what constitutes equality may be subject to discussion, but there should be a consensus that treatment in the academic workplace should not depend on whether a faculty member is full-time or part-time, tenure-track or non-tenure-track.
Among the many proposed approaches for reaching our fundamental goal that are described in detail in this report are: Pay should be proportional to work done; equal pay for equal work. Institutions of higher education should provide benefits to contingent faculty proportionate to their workloads. Employment offers should be provided well in advance of starting dates. Contingent faculty should be provided as much short- and long-term job security as possible. All faculty should be eligible for academic awards and professional development support and should be included in intellectual and social events. All faculty should be included in governance. And academic freedom should be protected for all faculty.
The report also articulates some recommendations for the American Sociological Association that are designed to ensure recognition of the problem of contingency in the discipline and inclusion of contingent faculty in the discipline and the association.
The ASA Council expressed appreciation for the work of the task force, and the association has already started to implement some of the recommendations in the report. For example, a new space on the ASA website has been dedicated to contingent faculty issues. You can read the full task force report on that page: www.asanet.org/teaching-learning/contingent-faculty. Also on that page, you can also find instructions for signing up to participate in a new listserv for contingent faculty and those interested in issues related to contingency.
Task force co-chair Dan Clawson passed away in May. The positive changes inspired by the work of this task force will further his legacy (see obituary below.)