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Job Security Challenges

Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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Many options exist between a full tenure system and a completely insecure contingent employment system. In terms of job security, this has to do with features such as rehire rights, priority of reassignment, seniority systems, multiyear contracts, a grievance process to redress violations, and so forth.



The posting below looks at some important faculty employment issues, particularly those that relate to “contingent faculty”. It is from Chapter 4 Material Equity: Pay Parity, Job Security, and Benefits in the book Contingent Academic Labor – Evaluating Conditions to Improve Student Outcomes, by Daniel Davis.  Published by Stylus Publishing, LLC 22883 Quicksilver Drive Sterling, Virginia 20166-2102. Copyright © 2017 by Stylus Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.




Rick Reis

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Tomorrow’s Academic Careers


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Job Security Challenges


As contract workers, contingent faculty do not have to be officially fired or laid off to find themselves without a job; they can simply not be reinvited to teach the following term. A measure of job security is an essential element for most workers in any profession. Unfortunately for contingent faculty, job security is often nonexistent. 


As discussed in chapter 1, most contingent faculty do not view their teaching roles as a side job supplementing their primary income. Rather, most view their teaching as an essential component of their daily labor and a core component of their living wages (Coalition on the Academic Workforce, 2012). For this reason, a fair measure of job security is crucial. However, in academia, job security has historically been the gold standard form of tenure, which generally has had two purposes: to protect academic freedom in research and teaching and to create financial security that will attract talented individuals. These two basic principles established in 1925 were reaffirmed in 1940 by the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges & Universities (Association of American University Professors, n.d.). They have been continually reaffirmed and subsequently endorsed by more than 200 academic institutions, including leading education associations (e.g., the NEA and the Association for the Study of Higher Education) and discipline-specific national associations (e.g., American Sociological Association, American Psychological Association, American Political Science Association, Modern Language Association). 


Tenure has long been held as the ideal compensation plan in academia; however, it is not the only method of protecting academic freedom (discussed in chapter 5) or providing sufficient financial security to attract talent. In terms of job security, some higher education administrators have been reluctant to seek middle-path options. For example, the University of California system has what it calls a lecturer with potential security of employment. A person in this position, after a designated number of years of positive service can move to a lecturer, also with security of employment, and even eventually get another promotion to senior lecturer with security of employment. Although the positions pay less than tenured faculty, they are usually full-time and considerably better than working on a term-to-term contract basis. Yet, positions like these are rare (even within the University of California system just mentioned). Fiscally, using contingent faculty without job security or protections is a much cheaper alternative to tenure-line hiring. Middle routes would not provide savings as large as those gained from using contingent faculty. Politically, faculty members have largely resisted new forms of reimagining the professoriate. Thus, rather than create a graduated set of variously compensated faculty types, a two-tiered hierarchy began to emerge in which the tenure and contingent lines have grown increasingly farther apart. 


A statement must be made here on what the goal of tenure is not. The purpose of an academic institution is not to provide faculty with guaranteed lifetime employment without accountability or work-quality expectations. Fair evaluations agreed on by faculty representatives and administrators are commendable. Tenure has its limits, and a tenured employee can be fired for several reasons depending on the contracts at each institution. Tenure-track positions have always been more difficult for faculty to land than contingent appointments and have typically required a competitive national job search. Further, the duration of time before an assistant professor is up for tenure review is historically six or seven years, and a successful tenure bid is dependent on a significant number of refereed publications, the number and quality of grants won, and often other teaching or service responsibilities. In fact, one report looking at 10 leading research universities noted that only 53% of assistant professors achieved tenure (Dooris & Guidos, 2006). 


Many options exist between a full tenure system and a completely insecure contingent employment system. In terms of job security, this has to do with features such as rehire rights, priority of reassignment, seniority systems, multiyear contracts, a grievance process to redress violations, and so forth. 


Again, the following comments in the House Committee (2014) report are illuminating. 


Job stability: None. As adjuncts, we never know if we will be rehired from semester to semester. The process for hire or rehire has no transparency. Classes for adjuncts are assigned or cancelled less than a week before the semester begins, every semester. (p. 21)


No insurance, no unemployment insurance, [and no] assurance that I will have a job next semester …. It’s December 7th. I still don’t know if they will have classes for me at the beginning of January. (p. 21)


In all cases I was not told I would not be working for them the next quarter. I simply had to wait and see, and in all cases I was not offered another class. I taught four course(s) in the fall, but was not told until the day before spring semester started that I wouldn’t have any classes for the spring. I was unemployed with no notice. (p. 21-22)


Working conditions like these make planning for the future nearly impossible. Contingent faculty members do not know how many courses they will teach the next term, if they will be teaching at all – let alone with no say in the courses selected, their times, or locations. Parallel to a kind of Maslovian hierarchy of needs, focusing on high-level functions like pedagogical excellence is more difficult when lower-level needs like basic job and wage stability go unmet. The good news is that basic policies, such as rehire rights, are relatively straightforward to implement and can significantly improve job security for contingent faculty. 


Rehire Rights 


Rehire rights are by far the most important component of job security. Some campuses provide rehire rights for contingent faculty, although they differ widely and tend to be on the weaker side at most community colleges. According to the CAW (2012) survey, when asked if any form of job security exists based on seniority or time of service, 19.4% of faculty with a union said yes; where no union existed, a paltry 3.9% said yes. Most unions have worked to create contractual language around this, although in many places the written policies are regularly challenged and often go unenforced. At a minimum level, partial job security is in order. This may take the form of an explicitly written understanding that course assignments will go to current contingent faculty before new faculty are hired. Without such an agreement, many contingent faculty members are unable to psychologically invest in an institution. Rehire rights may fairly be tied to performance or evaluations before they are granted to a contingent faculty member. 


Consistency of Assignment


This is particularly important for the freeway flyers, contingent faculty teaching at multiple institutions or who have other day jobs that are not on a flexible schedule. If contingent faculty members are suddenly assigned courses on different days or times for an upcoming semester, it can conflict with their other responsibilities. Further, some campuses do not allow an instructor to turn down offered courses and still keep his or her seniority. This is especially problematic when an instructor is asked to take on multiple new courses he or she has not previously taught. When this happens, the work and time spent in preparation for a new course are considerably greater. Although many teachers enjoy new courses from time to time for the challenge and change, some form of basic security is laudable so that contingent faculty members are not forced to teach outside their areas of expertise just to avoid forfeiting rehire rights. 


In an interview with Elaine, a community college adjunct professor in San Diego, she tells a story about how her seniority disappeared when she had to decline a last-minute request for courses the following term that conflicted with courses she was already scheduled to teach at another campus. 


There was no alert or warning. I only found out later when I asked if I had achieved priority of assignment. It turns out I had lost it because I had turned down the offer. But it wasn’t even a fair offer, or at a time I had previously taught. 


A final point to mention regarding consistency of assignment is the practice at many institutions of giving tenure-track faculty preference on assignments over long-term contingent faculty. The practice may be understandable in general, but it can become exploitative when it is still allowed after contingent faculty contracts have already been offered or when it is done for the purpose of giving tenure-track faculty overtime assignments to supplement their income. If tenure-track faculty get first selection of courses before long-term contingent faculty, then they should at least wait to select overtime courses until long-term contingent faculty have been given contracts. 


Breaks in Service 


Most workers, especially contingent workers with multiple part-time jobs, may have competing priorities or life challenges that require them to decline an assignment for a term here or there. Perhaps it is the birth of a child, a severe illness, a schedule change at another institution, or any number of other personal or professional reasons that leads to the break. When institutions show very little commitment to their contingent faculty members, the practice of replacing those same contingent faculty the moment they show less than a full commitment to the institution is particularly cruel. Many institutions have some form of policy or contract language concerning this, such as allowing a semester off every two or three years without surrendering seniority or contract status. In institutions where rehire rights require multiple years of service, accrual of time should not be wiped out after simply declining an assignment for one term on a rare occasion. 


Cancellation Compensation


For employees cobbling a piecemeal wage together from multiple teaching contracts, the sudden loss of a contract can be a devastating blow to their financial security. Consider the hardship placed on contingent faculty members when they decline a course at another institution or rearrange their family or work obligations to teach a course offered to them only to find that because of low enrollment, they are suddenly without the class and it is too late to find another assignment. The institution should offer some compensation for the hardship. The CAW (2012) survey found that at unionized campuses, 17.9% said there was compensation for cancellations, contrasted with 9.9% at nonunionized campuses. 


There is always the chance that the department will find itself with suddenly fewer classes to offer as a result of reduced enrollments. Full-time faculty members are typically protected from this because contingent faculty members are hired to be the flexible workforce. As one contingent faculty member said: 


I am an excellent and well-credentialed teacher in good standing in the department, but I was told that next quarter instead of the twenty credits I thought I was going to teach, I will only get ten – a $6,000 pay cut. (House Committee, 2014, p.22)


Rodney, a tenured community college professor in Northern California who participates in scheduling, was interviewed about his feelings on the situation and displayed a kind of reluctantly accepting attitude. 


I understand it’s not ideal for a lot of people. But, we don’t do it for no reason. We can’t predict enrollments. Every market and every industry has fluctuations, and we have a fiscal obligation to avoid overstaffing with permanent faculty. Most of us (full-timers) have been in their (contingent) shoes; I was a part-timer for five years. I remember waiting to see what would be given to me. Luckily for part-time instructors here, the longer-term ones have rights over newer ones, as well as before full-time faculty can take overload assignments. 


Rodney is referring to the policy at some campuses in which full-time faculty are not allowed to ask for additional courses for overtime pay beyond their standard full-time assignment until certain longer-serving groups of adjuncts have been given their offerings. This policy prevents some of the most capricious instances of contingent faculty losing a course at the last minute. 


Grievance Process


Despite the best of intentions and even the most explicitly written contracts on agreements, violations will inevitably occur. When an employee’s rights are violated or the employee perceives that a violation has occurred, a process to address the matter should exist. The worst campuses have few channels for redress, leave the process vague, and require individual contingent faculty to approach administrators directly about their concerns. A much better work environment is when contingent faculty have clearly written agreements and a point of contact selected by the faculty or the faculty union serving as a consultant and advocate to help individual faculty members address their concerns. If this point of contact is the department chair, dean, someone in human resources, or another administrator, the fear of retaliation can create a chilling effect. Thus, the point of contact should be a faculty or union representative who facilitates interaction with human resources and the administration. 






Dooris, M.J., & Guidos, M. (2006, May). Tenure achievement rates at research universities. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Institutional Research, Chicago, Ill. Retrieved from


Coalition on the Academic Workforce, (2012). A portrait of part-time faculty members: A summary of findings on part-time faculty respondents to the Coalition on the Academic Workforce Survey of Contingent Faculty Members and Instructors. Retrieved from


House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democratic Staff. 2014. The just-in-time professor: A staff report summarizing eforum responses on the working conditions of contingent faculty in higher education. Washington, DC: Author.