- Colleges are continuing to increase their reliance on faculty positions that lack pathways to tenure, according to a new report from the American Association of University Professors. Over two-thirds of faculty members, 68%, held contingent positions in fall 2021, compared to about 47% in fall 1987.
- Part-time work is also becoming more common. Almost half of faculty, 48%, taught part time in fall 2021, up from 33% in fall 1987. Less than 1% of all part-time faculty positions are tenured or tenure-track, according to AAUP.
- Both of these factors are cutting into the number of available tenured positions, the report said. Fewer than 1 in 4 faculty members, 24%, held tenured full-time positions in fall 2021. That number fell from 39% in fall 1987.
Colleges' increased dependence on contingent faculty members endangers more than the odds academics won’t gain tenure, according to the report.
"Overreliance on contingent appointments, which lack the protection of tenure for academic freedom and the economic security of continuing appointments, threatens the success of institutions in fulfilling their obligations to students and to society," the report said.
Using data from the National Center for Education Statistics, researchers analyzed faculty and graduate student employment from fall 1987 through fall 2021.
Colleges are also more dependent on graduate student workers now. From fall 2002 to fall 2021, the number of graduate employees rose 44%. Full-time and part-time faculty only rose 19% overall during the same period.
Women faculty members and faculty from underrepresented minorities are disproportionately affected by higher education's shift to part-time and contingent positions, according to the report.
Among faculty who are men, 35% held contingent positions — compared to 46% who are women. Some 42% of underrepresented minority faculty members worked contingent appointments, just slightly higher than the 41% rate for White faculty. Only 33% of Asian faculty members worked on a contingent basis.
And half of underrepresented minority faculty held part-time positions, double the 26% of Asian faculty members and above the 44% of White faculty in part-time roles.
The AAUP echoed its previous recommendations that colleges stop hiring off the tenure track and create tenure-eligible, part-time jobs for faculty who wish to continue teaching in that capacity long term. Colleges should also make full-time faculty positions eligible for tenure, converting current nontenure-track appointments as necessary, according to the AAUP.
Clarification: A previous version of this article mischaracterized the group of minority faculty referred to. The article has been updated.