MLA Calls for Improvement in Treatment of Adjuncts

Historically, the higher education system in the United States has been based on a tenure-track model. Professors are hired by particular departments, begin teaching on campus, and work toward securing a permanent place within an institution. Now, however, more and more universities are hiring professors on adjunct status (a visiting or outside professor who is contracted to teach term by term). According to an article in Inside Higher Ed, academic groups such as the Modern Language Association (MLA) have long called for better treatment of adjunct professors, especially when it comes to hiring practices.

The changes in higher education brought on by online learning platforms has played a large part in the rising use of adjunct professors by universities across the nation. Although many schools hire their adjuncts in the same manner as they would tenure-track professors, some do not. The MLA is pushing for departments to reevaluate the way they go about hiring adjuncts and to make their job environment more hospitable and inclusive. According to the article, the MLA has recently created a list of questions that schools can use to make sure their "departments … hire adjuncts in professional ways … provide as much job security as possible … involve [them] in departmental life, [and] provide clear information about evaluations and promotion opportunities."

The questions were developed to provide colleges and universities with a tangible process for self-evaluation about the "quality of life of those off the tenure track" so that colleges can determine if they are doing enough during the hiring process of adjuncts and during the adjunct’s employment as well. The list includes questions such as:

  • Do non-tenure-track faculty members receive raises, including merit increases, when tenure-track faculty members receive them?
  • Do non-tenure-track faculty members have health and retirement benefits?
  • Do non-tenure-track faculty members get paid for work they do outside of the classroom?
  • Do career paths exist for those off the tenure track?

A high amount of "affirmative responses," according to the MLA,  will "correspond with a high level of professionalization for [adjuncts]." The MLA’s Committee on Contingent Labor in the Profession will present the questions during the organization’s annual convention, which begins in Seattle on January 5th, 2012.

Adjuncts are becoming increasingly important in the operations of colleges and universities, so the MLA’s guidelines will likely become adopted by top schools to ensure that all faculty — tenure track or no — will want to succeed in their jobs.

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