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Open Letter to Part-Time Faculty

    I am writing as national president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) to invite you to join us in our continuing struggle to strengthen the voices and improve the lives of contingent faculty.

    Although part-time faculty pay reduced AAUP dues of $38 per year, they have the same status and voting rights as full-time faculty. Our part-timer activists have regularly been elected to our main governing body, the National Council, and have served as chair of our Assembly of State Conferences. They are key players not only on our permanent Contingency Committee and our historic Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure but also throughout the association. But we continue to be eager to increase part-timer voices in all our deliberations. Local chapters can follow our lead by integrating part-timers into all chapter activities while also creating a part-timer committee or caucus to ensure them a focused platform.

    Our record of recognizing the dangers inherent in the slow and inexorably increasing reliance on contingent faculty in the academy has been exemplary. It now dates back more than two decades. But we have also struggled with how to address the problem. For many years we simply said many part-time positions should be replaced with full-time tenure-track jobs. We still believe that, especially since fully two thirds of undergraduate teaching nationwide is now done with contingent labor, though I would add that the replacement rate must not exceed the rate of part-timer attrition. Yet we eventually realized the lives of part-timers had to be improved even if they couldn’t achieve full-time tenured status. For the postsecondary teaching profession is now largely a contingent labor force. Part-timers are the profession.

    A 2006 addition (Regulation no. 13) to our fundamental guidelines for faculty hiring and due process–what we call our RIR, or “Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure”–breaks dramatic new ground in guaranteeing job security and due process rights for part-time faculty. We ask for a formal peer review of part-time faculty after teaching twelve courses or six terms within seven years, followed by an expectation of continuing employment. Prior to that we require advance notice of reappointment and due process in case of dismissal for cause. Further details and recommendations are on our web site. These 2006 regulations follow upon our 2003 statement “Contingent Appointments and the Academic Profession” and our 1993 report “Status of Non-Tenure-Track Faculty.”

    We’ve thus been in the business of establishing job security and fair professional working conditions for part-timers for nearly a generation. But our work is not done. Having demanded these rights, we now have to win them for our part-time colleagues. And we face new threats, among them the new conservative attacks on classroom academic freedom, which present special risks for contingent faculty.

    AAUP policies can be implemented only by faculty action. Tenured faculty must defend part-timers’ academic freedom. They must argue for better salaries and working conditions for all their contingent colleagues. They must help contingent faculty organize for collective bargaining. Contingent faculty themselves need to build a sense of community. They should not mourn, but organize.

    In asking you to join the AAUP, therefore, we do not seek your passive membership. We seek your activism on both the local and national level.

    Cary Nelson
    AAUP President 2007