This document was prepared by members of the MLA Executive Council, in consultation with the Committee in Contingent Labor in the Profession.

(Please click “Statement on Contingent Labor” in the “Topic” list to access the document.)

It is intended to serve as a stimulus to both discussion and action, and we encourage you to comment on it with examples, suggestions, successful strategies, and more.

Statement on Contingent Labor

0 replies, 1 voice Last updated by Leigh A. Neithardt 2 years, 4 months ago
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    Leigh A. Neithardt



    Addressing the Broad Impacts of Contingent Labor in the Profession:

    Summary and Recommendations


    The events of the Spring 2020 semester were unprecedented, as a global pandemic emptied campuses and forced students, faculty members, and staff to complete the semester remotely. Pronouncements of “We’re all in this together” echoed across campuses, but many contingent faculty members were left wondering if their institutions were truly supporting them in these extraordinary times. The exploitation of contingent faculty members is nothing new, and the current crisis has simply exacerbated these circumstances, as has been reported in a variety of sources.[1]

    The MLA has been working to make visible the stark realities of contingent faculty members’ labor[2] and to offer some support to part-time faculty members in the form of COVID-19 Emergency Grants for eligible members.[3] But contingent faculty members need much greater support from their own institutions in order to achieve a livable situation. Furthermore, the lack of investment in contingent faculty members negatively impacts student outcomes in general at a time when there is a greater need to support all students, especially in the wake of this crisis. 

    The following document on “Addressing the Broad Impacts of Contingent Labor in the Profession: Summary and Recommendations” was in process before the pandemic hit, and it takes on even greater urgency in our current context as institutions make difficult decisions moving forward. While we did not revise the document to reflect the impact of the current crisis, we emphasize here that the circumstances outlined in the document are and will continue to be exacerbated as a result of the pandemic. Rather than hope for a return to “normalcy,” we propose that this crisis is an opportunity to radically rethink labor conditions on campus, especially for contingent faculty members.


    Current statistics put the percentage of contingent (adjunct) faculty members in academia in the United States at 73%.[4] Contingent faculty members are not a homogenous group. Positions may be full- or part-time, with differing contract lengths and terms. Titles also vary depending on the institution and position, and can include such designations as visiting assistant professors, lecturers, adjunct instructors, and teaching professors. Regardless of title, all contingent faculty members experience varying levels of precarity due to their non-tenure-stream status, and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) states one clear commonality: “they are insecure, unsupported positions with little job security and few protections for academic freedom.”[5] Contingent faculty members have less academic freedom and less access to resources than do their tenured and tenure-stream colleagues.

    Some contingent faculty members may appreciate this part-time work for a variety of reasons, but for many, it can be very stressful. Most contingent faculty members need the stability and benefits of a full-time, consistent position, and many aspire to full-time careers in academia. In fact, the distinction of “part-time” work is often a misnomer, as the AAUP clarifies in its report, Contingent Appointments and the Academic Profession: “Some faculty members are classified by their institutions as ‘part time’ even though they teach four or five courses per term. Whether these faculty members teach one class or five, the common characteristic among them is that their institutions make little or no long-term commitment to them or to their academic work” (171). Furthermore, they are paid less than faculty members designated as “full-time” or tenure-stream, even though they might be teaching more classes.  


    The current situation is not sustainable for faculty members or for students. Faculty members in all types of positions report feelings of burnout. Tenured and tenure-track faculty members have been assigned more administrative tasks that contingent faculty members are not required to cover, while contingent faculty members are teaching more courses in order to make ends meet. Furthermore, minimal commitment to such a large percentage of faculty members results in a general weakening of the profession. The AAUP informs that there are fewer faculty members for “long-term institutional and curricular planning, for mentoring newer faculty members, and for other collegial responsibilities such as peer reviews of scholarship and evaluations for reappointment and tenure” (172). In short, the current model is slowly eroding the profession as a whole.

    MLA Documents and Statements

    The MLA has long been engaged in these important discussions surrounding contingent labor in the profession and was involved in the founding of the Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW)[6] in 1997. Established in 2009, the MLA Committee on Contingent Labor in the Profession (CCLIP) specifically focuses on issues affecting teachers of modern languages and literatures in institutions of higher education who hold non-tenure-track appointments. CCLIP gathers data in order to put forth publications and convention sessions regarding labor conditions and academic freedom of contingent faculty members, and to identify effective policies and practices. MLA Academic Program Services (MAPS) offers training and certification for external reviewers that features the practice of reviewers  gathering information about use of contingent faculty members and interviewing such faculty members as part of every campus visit.

    The MLA has also issued several statements and documents in support of faculty members employed in contingent positions, which we acknowledge and build upon in this updated document.

    • MLA’s Profession: Contingent Labor (Fall 2018): 

    • Committee on Contingent Labor in the Profession (CCLIP): Professional Employment Practices for Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Members: Recommendations and Evaluative Questions (June 2011):

    • MLA Recommendation on a Minimum Salary for Full-Time Entry-Level Faculty Members (updated May 2019):

    • MLA Recommendation on Minimum Per-Course Compensation for Part-Time Faculty Members (updated May 2019):

    • MLA Statement on Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Members (2003):

    • Ensuring the Quality of Undergraduate Programs in English and Foreign Languages: MLA Recommendations on Staffing (2002):

    • MLA Statement on the Use of Part-Time and Full-Time Adjunct Faculty Members (February 1994):

      Impact on Contingent Faculty Members, Students, Institutions, and the Profession

      The ever-increasing reliance on contingent faculty members has far-reaching impacts on individual faculty members, on students, on programs and departments, on institutions, and on the profession at large. This shift in academic hiring will continue to transform the landscape of academic life if interventions do not take place soon.

      Impact on Contingent Faculty Members

      Contracts and Compensation

      • Contingent[7] faculty members generally have short-term contracts, whether for one semester, one year, or sometimes multiple years, though always up for renewal or with a clear end date. Contracts include stipulations that they may be canceled at any point due to low enrollment, permanent faculty reassignment due to cancelation of their courses, budgetary constraints, etc. A course may be canceled up to the start of the semester (or even up to one or two weeks into the semester) with no obligation to compensate the instructor for time spent on course preparation.

      • Given these conditions, it is very difficult to budget without knowing what one’s income will be from semester to semester. This makes it nearly impossible to provide accurate income information when applying for loans for cars, houses/condos, etc. Compensation for adjunct positions is generally quite low,[8] especially when considering the costs of commuting to work, sometimes at multiple campuses, securing childcare if necessary, paying for health insurance not provided by the employer, etc. Finally, there tend to be limits on how many classes part-time faculty members are allowed to teach at one institution or in a district (for community colleges). This forces people to seek work at multiple institutions in order to piece together a living wage.


      Living Situation

      • Contingent positions may mean moving / relocating often, but moving may not be possible for many people who will instead deal with long commutes, maybe even paying for an Airbnb-type situation a night or two a week. Long commutes cause more wear-and-tear on one’s vehicle and take up time that could be used for research, lesson planning, etc. This also leads to uncertainty for determining a housing budget from semester to semester.

      • Some contingent faculty members have a partner with stable employment who can contribute with financial support and possibly health insurance. However, for those contingent faculty members who do not have a partner with whom they share a household, the stress of managing consistent employment, a stable salary, and possible health challenges makes their situation all the more dire.


      Immigration Status

      • Foreign language and culture departments often hire native speakers of languages to transmit their linguistic and cultural expertise. However, without stable employment, they face the constant stress of possibly having to return to their home countries. Institutions may not be willing to fund/support a contingent faculty member’s work visa. As a result, we see less diversity in faculty members at the same time we want a diverse student population.


      Mental Health

      • This is a concern much broader (academia and beyond) than contingent faculty members, of course, though the precarity does take a toll on one’s mental, physical, and financial health. Adjuncts often experience feelings of “failure” and that one does not “deserve” full-time employment or a TT position.[9] These problems compound over time for being treated as expendable. If adjuncts do not have health benefits, they may not have access to care nor support.


      Job Market

      • These conditions can cause contingent faculty members to be perpetually on the job market, looking for more courses or full-time positions for the next semester or academic year, which is exhausting. Applying to jobs is time-consuming while also juggling teaching / research. Institutions may be reluctant to consider their adjuncts in good standing when hiring for full-time (possibly TT) positions. In general, the longer that one has been an adjunct, the less likely one is to be considered for TT positions. (This may not be as true for community colleges.)


      Adjusting to a New Institution

      • Contingent faculty members may be at a new institution every semester / year / couple of years, causing a constant need to learn new policies, procedures, campus culture, acronyms, expectations, a new LMS, etc. It may be difficult for contingent faculty members to assist students and direct them through the proper channels when they are unfamiliar with these themselves.


      Office Space and Technology

      • Contingent faculty members often have shared office spaces and desks / computers and no guaranteed access to a computer and printer when working on campus. There is a lack of privacy in shared offices, which can be a real obstacle for having sensitive conversations with students. Often, there is no tech budget for adjuncts and it is difficult to afford a new laptop or computer and all necessary software on limited pay.


      Travel and Research

      • Contingent faculty members are often not afforded funding for travel and research and it is difficult to plan ahead for conference attendance when one is unsure of access to funding, especially when it may cost more than a month’s paycheck to attend one conference.

      • There is no continuous access to research materials at an institution’s library when a faculty member is not at an institution consistently. Community colleges do not have access to the same amount of databases that a research institution would have. Libraries might not purchase materials contingent faculty members request (for teaching or research) unless they can guarantee that other faculty members will use them in future semesters. There is no course release for research and little time for research overall when teaching multiple courses at multiple institutions, commuting between campuses, applying for jobs, etc.


      Professional Development

      • There is often a lack of access to funding for professional development opportunities. It may also be difficult to secure funding (if available), if one does not know where one will be from one semester to the next. Grants / funding for campus initiatives may not be open to part-time faculty members. Events / workshops / meetings may be difficult to attend due to conflicting schedules when working at multiple institutions / positions. In general, there is a lack of opportunities for advancement that are open to full-time faculty members. There may not even be opportunities to advance as faculty members with longer contracts or some type of security of employment.


      Impact on Students

      Departmental and Campus Programs

      • Contingent faculty members may be the student’s first contact in the department or program if teaching a beginner-level / intro course and may not be able to advise them adequately regarding expectations of the program or major / minor requirements. Contingent faculty members may also lack familiarity with campus resources to assist students adequately.[10] 

      • Adjuncts may be excluded from programs / initiatives on campus if they cannot plan ahead / commit / schedule in advance and therefore do not have the same opportunities to connect with students through these initiatives, outside of the classroom. They may also simply not have the time available to take part, since such activities might not be compensated, and they may have other employment commitments.

      • If they do not receive professional development funds, contingent faculty members may not be able to afford attendance at workshops and conferences that support their pedagogical growth. Such opportunities provide them with tools and strategies to adapt their courses to the latest methods and trends in their fields, which could facilitate improved student learning outcomes.


      Availability on Campus

      • Contingent faculty members may only be on campus for short periods of time, as they may have to go to another campus / job; if students cannot come to scheduled office hour(s) it can be difficult to find another time to meet. It also makes it challenging to schedule make-up quizzes / tests. This can lead to instructors receiving low scores on student evaluations since they expect availability, and student evaluations often play a key role in decisions regarding rehiring of contingent faculty members.


      Letters of Recommendation

      • Adjuncts are not necessarily compensated for time writing letters of recommendation for students or advising them regarding applications for scholarships, internships, etc. Contingent faculty members may not be there in future semesters when former students seek them out for advising or writing letters of support.


      Impact on Institutions

      Program Curriculum

      • Adjuncts are often not involved in decisions regarding curriculum / materials / assessment.

      • Tenured faculty members can take sabbaticals to work on curriculum development and/or research, whereas contingent faculty members are expected to infuse innovative materials in their teaching (and possibly do research) without the benefit of paid time to do so.

      • All of this limits the overall program curriculum from reaching its full potential when only a small number of instructors are available to make an impact through positive improvements.


      Faculty Governance

      • Contingent faculty members are often excluded from service opportunities and campus governance; obviously it is only fair not to expect them to volunteer for uncompensated work, yet it also excludes them from important discussions and professional opportunities. It also omits their perspectives when making important decisions regarding campus governance.

      • As the number of contingent faculty members increases, this often means there are fewer TT/tenured/full-time faculty members able to serve on the various committees and do the work of advising students, etc.

      • The above two continue to impact the increasing workloads that TT and tenured faculty members must take on. If more contingent positions were converted to stable, regular, salaried positions, they could also participate in service and governance (with compensation) and lessen the load for others.

      • Contingent faculty members often are not required or not allowed to attend departmental meetings. Important information is missed and they are subsequently left out of certain decisions.


       Obstacles to Faculty Diversity

      • As precarity in the profession increases and more prospective graduate students are made aware of the difficulty in obtaining a position with some degree of job and financial security, few students who are not from wealthy (or middle/upper-class) backgrounds will bother pursuing graduate degrees. Students from under-represented communities will not join the profession, bringing less diverse perspectives. If this does lead to fewer people pursuing higher degrees in the humanities, departments and degrees could be consolidated with others, or completely dissolved.


      Impact on the Profession as a Whole


      • Since contingent faculty members are not supported nor evaluated in terms of conducting / publishing / presenting research, this affects conference attendance and peer-reviewed scholarship. As the time and costs required for this scholarship become too burdensome on contingent faculty members, these impacts may become very evident at conferences and in journals, with fewer voices contributing.

      • If contingent faculty members are too busy to do research, often due to commuting between institutions, along with other job duties, they may not feel it is worth the cost to maintain memberships in professional organizations, pay for subscriptions to scholarly journals, purchase monographs, etc.

      • Scholarly work by contingent faculty members is often unacknowledged and unpaid, however the institution still benefits from this work. Institutions should acknowledge and incentivize this work to support the research community in general.

      • When contingent faculty members’ research is not supported or included in their evaluation, there is little incentive to devote extra time to research pursuits when teaching and (maybe) service requirements take up most of their time. As faculty members retire and tenure lines are not replaced, it may become difficult for journals to find enough material to publish, and it may also lead to less diversity in perspectives / voices being published if many in academia are unable to find time to publish. This could disproportionately affect contingent faculty members that are members of marginalized groups since they are more likely to find themselves in contingent positions than tenure-stream positions.[11]


      Professional Organizations

      • Increasing reliance on contingent labor presents an existential risk for associations such as the MLA, as more and more faculty members find themselves outside of the narrowly defined notion of this profession. How should organizations respond to this?

      • Many organizations have revised their fee structures to make membership more affordable for un(der)employed members, though if members have no time to engage in the organization’s activities or feel it does not benefit them, membership will fall. Also, as more members find themselves in these categories, paying lower dues, the organizations bring in less money, making it more difficult to operate on a smaller budget.



      While these circumstances are the product of much larger forces in higher education and affect all disciplines, humanities (especially languages and literatures) have been especially affected. Yet there are concrete actions that can be taken.[12] We amplify and expand upon the recommendations made previously by the AAUP and other organizations. We recommend that teaching, research, and service components be fairly compensated for all faculty positions in which they are expected. The AAUP states: “The integrity of higher education rests on the integrity of the faculty profession. To meet the standards and expectations appropriate to higher education, faculty members need to incorporate teaching, scholarship, and service in their work, whether they serve full time or less than full time” (181). This will not only strengthen individual instructors, as they are afforded the means to conduct research to inform their teaching, but also the campus community as a whole, since they will be more engaged with students and colleagues outside of the classroom, gaining a greater sense of the campus culture and their ability to contribute to it.

      We also recommend that all faculty members, including those who have been long-tenured, inform themselves about the current labor conditions, particularly on their own campuses. In particular, faculty members working with graduate students should consider their role in perpetuating this system of labor exploitation by continuing to only prepare graduate students for tenure-track positions, which are increasingly scarce. Organizations such as Tenure for the Common Good[13] and New Faculty Majority[14] work to improve academic freedom and equity and offer opportunities to get involved and advocate for change. The Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success, led by project director Adrianna Kezar, provides comprehensive tools and resources based upon their research to increase awareness of changing faculty trends and to help support contingent faculty members on campuses.[15]


      Commitment to Create a Path to Tenure/Stability of Employment (informed by AAUP report)

      • Faculty members and administrators should work to cease the proliferation of new contingent positions to which the institution makes no long-term commitment, and instead create a path to tenure/stability of employment for these new positions.

      • Conduct a review of the amount of regularly scheduled courses and make a commitment to create as many TT positions as necessary to cover those courses.

      • Involve current contingent faculty members in discussions related to this transition.

      • Establish guidelines for regular peer evaluations for contingent faculty members in the process of granting them stable employment.

      • Make a commitment to cease discrimination against those who have held contingent positions, including for many years, when considering candidates for new TT positions.

      • In line with the AAUP, we also recommend that “For the long-term good of institutions and their students, the use of non-tenure-track appointments should be limited to specialized fields and emergency situations” (178). The AAUP further recommends that “no more than 15 percent of the total instruction within an institution, and no more than 25 percent of the total instruction within any department, should be provided by faculty members with non-tenure-track appointments” (177).


      Greater Participation in Unions

      • Ensure that contingent faculty members are able to unionize. Challenges will still remain, but faculty members that have union representation generally have better working conditions. Union membership could help promote and protect freedom of speech for adjunct faculty members.

      • Include full-time and part-time faculty members in the same union to offer more opportunities to work together when bargaining for better working conditions. Full-time faculty members should use this opportunity to be advocates for their part-time colleagues since their deteriorating working conditions affect the viability of the profession in general.


      Provide Helpful Information and Services

      • The CCLIP document from June 2011 states “NTT faculty members should be fully informed of their terms of employment and fully aware of the possibilities and consequences of departmental review. Each appointment should include a clear contractual statement of expectations and assignments…Each appointment should be made in a timely fashion that allows NTT faculty members adequate time for course preparation” (1-2). We would also add more specifically, it would be helpful for the institution (and department / program) to have a document / handbook / website to assist contingent faculty members specifically regarding expectations, procedures, evaluation and assessment criteria, campus contacts, opportunities open to them, etc.

      • The CCLIP document from June 2011 states “NTT faculty members should be provided with orientation, mentoring, and professional support and development opportunities, including campus grant programs, access to sabbatical opportunities, support for travel for research, and support for participation in professional conferences” (2). We would add that funding opportunities open to contingent faculty members in these categories would be very beneficial. It would also be helpful to keep such information organized and updated so that it is easier for contingent faculty members to take advantage of these resources (since they would not have to track them down). Internal and external grants can be included, and perhaps even lists of previous recipients that can offer advice to those applying.

      • Include adjuncts in departmental activities, opportunities to present research, provide business cards, copy codes, etc. Differences can be made by Chairs and administrators, like organizing partnerships between tenured/TT faculty members and adjuncts and promoting a culture of respect between faculty members of different ranks.

      • Partnerships can include peer to peer support, for example new TT faculty members can be mentored by lecturers or professors of pedagogy that have many years of teaching experience. This could promote more allies among tenured and TT faculty members.

      • Assure participation by all faculty members in governance.

      • Campuses should offer mental health support / services to contingent faculty members. Such faculty members are already at a high risk for anxiety, depression, and stress, which can have negative health impacts, and they may not have health insurance.

      • Provide greater transparency regarding the different levels of positions. Students should be made aware of the employment system used at their institution. Encourage wider participation in Campus Equity Week (usually near the end of October).


      Increase Access and Inclusion

      • Many adjuncts teach intro-level courses which may be the gateway to students pursuing further courses in department as either major/minor. It is important that these instructors have proper training and engagement in their programs in order to be effective instructors and ambassadors for the department / program. Since they may teach these courses consistently, their insight and experiences should be considered in curriculum design.

      • Allow contingent faculty members as much freedom as possible in syllabus and curriculum development. The syllabus is part of an instructor’s professional development and identity as a teacher and scholar, yet it is often restricted when an instructor is provided with a form / departmental syllabus.

      • Provide multi-year contracts as much as possible. This has many benefits in that it promotes adjuncts’ job stability and more fully integrates them into campus life, enhances academic continuity for students, and lessens the administrative burdens associated with frequent one- or two-semester appointments.

      • Many contingent faculty members report feelings of “invisibility” in their programs. Often, a few small changes can make contingent faculty members feel welcomed and included, thereby increasing morale – for instance, addressing contingent faculty members by their correct names or appropriate titles, learning about their personal lives as well as professional pursuits, and acknowledging their contributions and successes.

      • Include contingent faculty members in shared governance.[16]


      Works Cited

      Contingent Appointments and the Academic Profession. American Association of University Professors, 2014, pp. 170-185, Accessed 31 Mar. 2020.

      “Data Snapshot: contingent faculty in US Higher Ed.” American Association of University Professors, 11 Oct. 2018, Accessed 31 Mar. 2020.

      Harris, Adam. “The Death of an Adjunct.” The Atlantic, 8 Apr. 2019. Accessed 21 Oct. 2019.

      “Professional Employment Practices for Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Members: Recommendations and Evaluative Questions.” MLA Committee on Contingent Labor in the Profession, 2011, Accessed 31 Mar. 2020.

      Supiano, Beckie. “It Matters a Lot Who Teaches Introductory Courses. Here’s Why.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 15 Apr. 2018, Accessed 31 Mar. 2020.

      [1] See, for instance, “The Covid-19 Crisis is Widening the Gap Between Secure and Insecure Instructors” by Megan Zahneis:; “Next Level Precarity” by Colleen Flaherty:; and “A Very Stable and Secure Position?” by the Executive Committee of Tenure for the Common Good:

      [2] See “COVID-19: How Adjuncts Are Impacted” by Paula Krebs, Executive Director of the MLA:

      [4] See “Data Snapshot: contingent faculty members in US Higher Ed”:

      [5] See contingent faculty members Positions: See also the AAUP’s report referenced above, Contingent Appointments and the Academic Profession, for a more detailed discussion of the definitions and conditions of contingent faculty members positions:

      [7] Please note that the term “contingent” can include a variety of job titles (adjunct, lecturer, etc.) as well as full-time and part-time assignments.

      [8] In a recent survey of adjuncts, just over half reported earning less than $3,500 per course, and almost one third reported earning less than $25,000 per year. See:

      [9] For more, see Herb Childress’s “This Is How You Kill a Profession”:

      [10] For more on this, see Beckie Supiano’s “It Matters a Lot Who Teaches Introductory Courses. Here’s Why”:

      [11] “‘Just as the doors of academe have been opened more widely than heretofore to marginalized groups, the opportunity structure for academic careers has been turned on its head,’ a 2016 report on faculty diversity from the TIAA Institute, a nonprofit research center focused in part on higher education, reads. From 1993 to 2013, the percentage of underrepresented minorities in non-tenure-track part-time faculty positions in higher education grew by 230 percent. By contrast, the percentage of underrepresented minorities in full-time tenure-track positions grew by just 30 percent” (Harris).

      [12] See, for instance, the American Sociological Association Task Force on contingent faculty members Report (January 2019):, which lists Recommended Practices in Appendix C:

      [16] See The Inclusion in Governance of Faculty Members Holding Contingent Appointments:


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