Open Letter to Managers Who Expect Contingent Faculty to Prepare for Courses But Won’t Compensate Them When Those Courses Are Yanked

Dear Administrator/Manager:

Around the beginning of every academic term, contingent faculty report the same story. They were scheduled to teach a course, and spent the time any faculty member would preparing for it, but something requires you to cancel or reassign it: a tenured faculty member needs to fill out their workload; or a change in time or day of the course meeting means the section conflicts with the contingent faculty member’s obligations elsewhere, especially if they’re freeway-flying; or…. I understand that sometimes circumstances call for changes in schedules and workload assignments, and that you don’t intend to harm your contingent faculty even though they’re the ones who are, in fact, harmed.

Taking work from faculty who have prepared in good faith to do it is bad enough, even when explicable. Worse, and nearly as common, is how often the faculty who spent time preparing for those courses are refused compensation for the preparation itself. As a labor issue, this practice is unethical on its face. Your employees* are doing work that benefits your organization, and is in fact de facto required (more on this below). You should pay them for doing it. You might cry poverty, but that doesn’t change the logic.

And if that logic doesn’t convince you, I hope this will. Think about the message you send when you won’t pay them for preparation. You’re telling them (and everyone else) that preparation is worthless–literally. Is that really what you want to say? Or worse than worthless, depending on your calculus: preparation is a leisure activity, or valuable only as an exercise in self-fulfillment, or as a donation to the institution. Except we know that none of those is true. If your faculty are unprepared for their teaching assignments, that damages both their future prospects and your institution. The practice of denying compensation for preparations while punishing faculty who don’t donate their preparation time is exploitative at best. And the impact of that multiplies when it happens to the faculty whose positions pay the least and are most tenuous.

There are institutions that have addressed this problem; for your convenience, here’s a very partial list.

Ithaca College, Article 22F

University of Michigan Lecturers Employees Organization, Article 12.D.1

Loyola University-Chicago, Article 30

Wayne State University, Article 16

Western Michigan University, Article 18.3

Connecticut State University System, Article 4.6.1

University of Massachusetts-Boston, Article 21.2

American University, Appendix 2

Community College of Vermont, Article 20.H

Northeastern University, Article 9, Section 16

Lane Community College, Article 34.8

University of San Francisco, Article 11.5

I found those with a Facebook query and about 30 minutes of Googling. Most of the contracts SEIU has negotiated for contingent and/or other non-tenure-track faculty have this kind of provision in them; there are plenty of others as well. You’ll also notice that the level of compensation ranges widely, as do the means of calculating it. I have opinions and preferences among those, but for now, the important points are:

1. Reasonable people do this it’s worth it to the institution not to reinforce the message that time spent preparing is time wasted when contingency rears its head.

2. The work contingent faculty do is valuable just like the work tenure-track and tenured faculty do, and to treat their labor as disposable just because the law says you can is rotten.

As a manager/administrator, you have both financial and academic/professional responsibilities to your institution. Sacrificing the ability of your contingent faculty to succeed by telling them they shouldn’t prepare for courses they may not wind up teaching meets neither of those responsibilities, and neither does extorting their preparations for free by threatening not to employ them if they don’t donate their work to you.


Seth Kahn, PhD
Professor of English, West Chester University of PA

*I can hear some of you saying, “They’re not our employees when they’re in between contracts.” Technically true, perhaps, but how many of you would deploy that same logic if one of those faculty suddenly drew national attention to themselves for an inflammatory social media post and was identified publicly as faculty at your institution? Would you honestly respond, “Well, they posted that over Winter Break, so it’s not our problem?” I didn’t think so.



One Response to Open Letter to Managers Who Expect Contingent Faculty to Prepare for Courses But Won’t Compensate Them When Those Courses Are Yanked

  1. Maria Plochocki says:

    University of Maryland has a provision like that, too (if a course is cancelled/ reassigned within a month of when it’s due to start, the instructor gets paid 10% of what they would have made if it ran). I’ve only taught for their Global Campus (formerly known as University College), but it’s a systemwide policy, as far as I know.

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