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A chance for 10 colleges to address non-tenure STEM faculty Chris Burt

The Transformation Institute from the Association of American Colleges and Universities will offer coaching, guidance to leaders seeking best practices for adjunct instructors.

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As tenured positions at colleges and universities continue to wane, the value of contingent, adjunct and part-time lecturers continues to grow.

Nearly 75% of all instruction roles, according to the American Association of University Professors, belong to non-tenure faculty. Many of the key classes they teach are those that students take early in their postsecondary pursuits. For educators who want to stand out and deliver high-quality instruction, their roles can be daunting, especially if they feel unsupported by their institutions.

One organization hoping to drive home the importance of adjunct faculty is the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). This week, it named 10 institutions to take part in its Institute on Reframing Institutional Transformation to Include Non-Tenure-Track STEM Faculty that will be held virtually from July 27-30.

Thanks to the backing of the National Science Foundation and the work of researchers at the University of Southern California, the gathering will provide guidance that can help colleges and university leaders empower those critical campus community members, even if they don’t have tenure.

“Non-tenure-track faculty, who teach a disproportionate number of introductory core STEM courses, are essential to any national effort to reform undergraduate STEM education,” said AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella. “We look forward to partnering with our colleagues at the University of Southern California and the participating institutions to ensure that non-tenure-track faculty are fully included in institutional transformation efforts.”

The 10 that have earned spots and will send teams to the Institute include two from the state of Virginia – Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Tech – along with three from the South (Clemson University, North Carolina Central University, University of Puerto Rico Humacao), two from the West (California State University-Monterey Bay, Western Washington University), two from the Northeast (Providence College, Syracuse University) and one from the Midwest (University of Minnesota Duluth).

Those groups will be involved in spirited sessions with national scholars that are designed to show how conditions at colleges and universities can marginalize, or in some cases, lift up STEM faculty, adjunct, and contingent professors and instructors.

Adjunct or contingent faculty are often thought of as part-time employees although their roles have taken on great significance through the years, especially in lower-level courses and at community colleges. Yet, their pay, benefits, development and working conditions are not close to what their tenured colleagues enjoy.

“The practices and traditions of disempowering and disenfranchising vulnerable groups of STEM faculty is one that we have historically been wholly committed to confronting and combatting,” said Kelly Mack, AAC&U vice president for undergraduate STEM education and executive director of Project Kaleidoscope, which helps foster diversity and social responsibility in STEM programs. “We are honored to co-labor with the participating institutions and the many others who share in our desire for change.”

Teams will be coached on how to create structures that promote learning and change as well as provide crucial professional development opportunities for those instructors and professors. The AAC&U, which has more than 1,000 member institutions, says those participating will gain “critical self-reflection, mindfulness, and strategic design mapping skills” that can bring positive transformations to campuses.

For college leaders wanting to learn more about non-tenure faculty and their roles at  institutions – as well as guidance on how to best serve those who are in adjunct or contingent positions  – the AAUP offers strong guidance to institutions here.

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