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Resources for Contingent Faculty Members in Higher Education

Contingent faculty members compose the majority of the teaching workforce in higher education today. A report produced at the American Institutes for Research shows that at all colleges and universities in the United States, contingent faculty members account for at least half of the instructional staff. At public community colleges, the numbers are considerably higher. With significantly lower salaries than tenure-track faculty members, fewer benefits, and little job security, contingent faculty members often struggle to make ends meet. Moreover, disproportionate workload, lack of administrative support, and little access to professional development or funds for research and writing can compromise their ability to be consistent mentors to students and hinder career advancement. The following resources from the MLA may be useful to contingent faculty members and to their employers.

Funding Opportunities

The MLA recognizes that there are limited funding opportunities available to non-tenure-track instructors and seeks to support professional development of all MLA members.

  • From early September through 1 December, MLA members who are non-tenure-track or unemployed may apply for travel assistance to the MLA Annual Convention. Learn about the application process here.
  • Part-time faculty members are eligible to apply for MLA grants to cover expenses related to professional development. Funds may be used for technology purchases, continuing education, research, or conference travel. Read more about this funding opportunity here.


The following guidelines, published by the MLA, establish fair working and compensation practices for contingent faculty members.

  • The MLA’s Committee on Contingent Labor in the Profession published a list of recommendations and evaluative questions to guide employers in creating best practices for a workplace that values contingent faculty members. View the guidelines.
  • Written as a supplement to the recommendations and evaluative questions guidelines, a list of practical steps to improve integration of non-tenure-track faculty members into departments can be found in this ADE Bulletin.
  • Compensation for contingent faculty members varies widely by location and institution. The MLA provides guidelines for factors that should be considered in the determination of salaries for part-time faculty members. See the recommendations for minimum compensation.
  • Working conditions of non-tenure-track faculty members are addressed in a worst practices document, created by the MLA’s Committee on Contingent Labor in the Profession, which describes exploitative practices that harm faculty members, students, and institutions.
  • The expanding role of the non-tenure-track faculty is the focus of “Non-Tenure-Track Faculty as Administrators: Planning and Evaluation,” which examines considerations for departments in creating and evaluating non-tenure-track administrative positions. See these recommendations on implementing fair employment practices while accomplishing department goals.


MLA publications, including Profession and the ADE and ADFL bulletins, have featured articles exploring the role of contingent faculty members in higher education, from overviews of activism to case studies documenting changes and goals for the responsible employment of contingent faculty members.   

  • Appearing in the Fall 2018 issue of Profession, which was dedicated to the issue of contingent labor, “Common Good, Not Common Despair” outlines the mission and work of Tenure for the Common Good, an organization formed to inspire tenured faculty members to advocate on behalf of their contingent colleagues.
  • Examining the position statements published by professional organizations relating to English studies, “An Evolving Discourse: The Shifting Uses of Position Statements on the Contingent Faculty” offers analysis of the stances of these papers and the effectiveness of their recommendations to improve working conditions for contingent faculty members. The article also promotes new projects to redefine tenure and alternative forms of job security.
  • Dreams of Tenure and the Program for Change” provides an overview of a successful workplace model from British Columbia, Canada, that includes a simplified faculty compensation system and other ways to improve the working conditions and ensure equity for non-tenure-track faculty members. The article identifies over thirty achievable goals, segmented into steps, to address hiring, academic freedom, job security, evaluations, professional development, and more.
  • The English department at Emory University reimagines faculty composition to move beyond the division of tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculties toward a more fair and equitable system of faculty labor. Read about the evolving model, which includes a standing committee for evaluation and promotion of lecture-track faculty members, in the ADE Bulletin.
  • MLA recommendations for salary and contract term length were integrated into the job description for non-tenure-track lecturer positions in Yeshiva College’s English department. Read this case study to learn how Yeshiva also instituted a formal renewal policy, eliminated part-time contingency, and offered professional development programs.
  • In “Expropriation of the Professoriat: View of an Untenured Radical,” a professor explores the benefits and drawbacks of teaching online as an adjunct and reconstructing her identity as an academic.


Photo by Cybrarian77 via flickr

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