AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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Academic Staffing Crisis

No trend has changed the face of higher education more than the shift away from a corps of full-time, tenure-track faculty to an underpaid and undersupported contingent instructional workforce. This workforce includes part-time/adjunct faculty; full-time, nontenure-track faculty; and graduate employees. Together these employees now make up an amazing 73 percent of the nearly 1.6 million-employee instructional workforce in higher education and teach over half of all undergraduate classes at public institutions of higher education.

Total postsecondary instructional workforce, by employment type

Category Number Percent of Total
Full-time, tenured/ tenure-track faculty 429,668 27
Full-time, nontenure-track faculty 234,309 15
Part-time/adjunct faculty 581,185 37
Graduate employees 329,523 21
Total 1,574,685 100

U.S. Department of Education, NCES, 2007 Fall Staff Survey

The growth of the contingent instructional workforce over the last four decades began after severe cutbacks in the proportion of state funding provided to public colleges and universities. As a result, it became very attractive for college administrators to hire instructors without job security who could be paid lower wages and be given few, if any, benefits. But money isn’t the whole story.

The growth of contingent labor also mirrors the movement to run higher education institutions “more like a business.” The traditions of tenure and shared governance—which guarantee due process and academic freedom, and give faculty a major role in academic decision-making—run counter to a command-and-control business model. The fact that large numbers of academic workers are hired without effective job security, without decent salaries and benefits, and without a guaranteed role in academic decision-making is of great concern to those of us who value a free and independent academy.

Addressing this “academic staffing crisis” is AFT Higher Education’s highest priority. In an effort to reverse these trends, the AFT launched the Faculty and College Excellence (FACE) campaign. Through legislative advocacy, collective bargaining, research and public education, the FACE campaign aims to improve the working conditions of contingent faculty and to create more full-time, tenure-track faculty positions. Specifically, the FACE campaign aims to:

  • Achieve full equity in compensation and benefits for contingent faculty members;
  • Ensure that three-quarters of undergraduate courses are taught by full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty members; and
  • Offer preference to contingent faculty members in filling new tenure-track positions and protect the job security of current contingent faculty members as this process plays out.

The campaign goals are designed to be phased in over time to ensure that there is no job loss for contingent faculty currently working at a college or university.

The FACE campaign is a long-term effort that uses different approaches depending on the conditions in a state or at an institution, and the most effective strategy for improving those conditions. Some state and local affiliates have already made significant gains on academic staffing issues, and others have just begun the process.

To learn more about the FACE campaign, visit the campaign Web site at