1 June 2023
Amanda Christie and Ann C. Dean’s “Working Conditions for Contingent Faculty in First-Year Composition Courses at Two-Year Colleges” complements the work produced in the TYCA Workload Issues Committee’s “White Paper on Two-Year College English Faculty Workload.” My review of the TYCA white paper can also be found in this blog (Brown). It is worthwhile to read the TYCA white paper first for the broader issues of faculty workload in two-year colleges and then follow it up with a review of Christie and Dean’s report for further details on the “Working Conditions” of two-year college faculty.
Although Christie and Dean’s report came out in September 2022 in Teaching English in the Two-Year College, I first became aware of their research at the 2023 Modern Language Association (MLA) Convention in San Francisco, California. Christie reported on their published findings during the MLA Higher Education as a Profession (HEP) Committee on Community Colleges’ panel on The Ecology of the Community College Classroom (presider: Grisel Y. Acosta) (“458 – The Ecology of the Community College Classroom”). The presentation was compelling, and it was useful to follow up with the published article after the conference.
Survey and Findings
Christie and Dean assert that their article adds to previous discussions of working conditions of first-year composition (FYC) faculty in community colleges because they emphasize “the knowledge and experience of contingent writing faculty in two-year colleges” (47). In particular, they strive to make the “voices” (47 and 49) of the contingent faculty heard through a survey with 80 questions (51). Between August 2019 and March 2020 (53), they surveyed 100 contingent faculty from each time zone in the United States: “Hawaii-Aleutian, Pacific, Mountain, Central, and Eastern regions” (52). Their questions focused on the following nine categories:
- Health Care
- Office space and technology
- Evaluation measures within departments
- Institutional support for voicing concerns
- Professional development opportunities
- Control over curriculum choices
- Professional future (51-52)
The authors do not follow these categories precisely in structuring the essay, though they are close. The headings below reflect the headings that Christie and Dean use to organize the discussion of their findings.
Compensation. Like most reports on contingent faculty, Christie and Dean find that most contingent faculty have to work at multiple institutions in order to survive as instructors (53-54). Respondents note that “freeway flying” from one part-time teaching job to another “reduces grading and lesson preparation time” (54). Some respondents felt anxious at filling out the survey because they fear the report would paint them as “‘less than professional,'” though the authors emphasize that they respect the work of contingent faculty and want to help improve working conditions through this report (69).
Benefits. Lack of benefits for their contingent academic labor contributes to the high number of courses taught across multiple institutions (55). The authors note that lack of benefits pushes some contingent faculty out of teaching altogether because they need full-time employment in order to have access to necessary health care (56-57). One of the authors, Christie, has left academia because working as an adjunct was not sustainable for the long-term (57).
Last minute changes to employment. Like other reports on contingent academic labor, Christie and Dean concur that adjuncts are often hire very close to the first day of class, which limits preparation time (57-59).
Evaluation. Contingent academic laborers report that they receive minimal feedback on their teaching (59-61). Christie and Dean note that part of the problem of over-reliance on adjuncts means that full-time faculty have heavy service loads on top of “high teaching load[s],” which limits mentoring, feedback, and support of contingent faculty (60-61).
Curriculum and academic freedom. Christie and Dean report that “47 percent [of survey respondents] use a required syllabus, and 46 percent use a required text,” which “can limit flexibility and responsiveness to local student needs” (61). Community colleges aspire to meet students where they are; however, limiting the ability of contingent faculty to respond to their students’ needs through inflexible control over the curriculum inhibits the teaching effectiveness of contingent faculty (62).
Office spaces. Survey respondents believe that office space for contingent faculty is important but not always provided (63-64). The inability to have reliable office space for office hours impedes connecting with students outside of the classroom (64).
Departmental climate. Contingent faculty have some resources for challenges related to teaching. Christie and Dean report that adjuncts often “go to other contingent faculty … or tenure-track faculty” for problems related to teaching; however, competition with other contingent faculty for limited numbers of courses to teach can limit the connections made with their part-time peers (64-65). Interactions with full-time faculty are generally positive, though informed sometimes uncomfortably by “power dynamics” (65). Respondents are ambivalent about “interactions with department chairs,” who can “be unreliable and inconsistent in terms of pedagogical support” (66).
Professional advancement. Some respondents are optimistic that “professional advancement” will happen at some point, while others feel “hopeless” (66). Christie and Dean allude to the “scarlet letter” A-for-Adjunct as a reason for the lack of professional advancement for contingent faculty (see Maisto). For Christie and Dean, the “scarlet letter” of being an adjunct is often a “stigma”: “working as a contingent faculty member is not coupled with positive support and recognition by one’s institution” (67).
Christie and Dean’s conclusions. Christie and Dean recognize that department chairs have little input in determining compensation but hope that they positively impact the “communication and climate” of their departments (70). The authors make an impassioned plea for the importance of contingent faculty in the life of the college:
We argue that listening to the voices of those who teach FYC is crucial for the health of our institutions and the success of students. In sharing the words of our survey respondents, we suggest that colleges can learn from creating a platform or forum for such voices. (49)
Contingent faculty teach an inordinate number of classes in community colleges. To omit them from “departmental emails and meeting agendas about department policies” diminishes the positive impact that they could have on policies related to their students (70).
Above, I allude to the TYCA Workload Issues Committee’s “White Paper on Two-Year College English Faculty Workload” as a useful companion piece to Christie and Dean’s article. Still another useful source published by Teaching English in the Two-Year College is “The Profession of Teaching English in the Two-Year College: Findings from the 2019 TYCA Workload Survey” by the Two-Year College English Association Workload Task Force (Suh et al.). Christie and Dean explicitly contextualize their work in relation to this piece (49).
Teaching English in the Two-Year College has shown its commitment to issues of contingent academic labor in higher education by publishing yearly one of the two issues of FORUM: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty (“FORUM–Individual Issues”). Comprehensive reports like the one by Christie and Dean, as well as the TYCA reports on workload help show the impact of contingent faculty on FYC in two-year colleges and the challenges they face serving students who seek better lives for themselves through higher education.
“458 – The Ecology of the Community College Classroom.” MLA 2023 Convention, 2022, https://mla.confex.com/mla/2023/meetingapp.cgi/Session/15137.
Brown, William Christopher. “Recent Scholarship on Community Colleges: TYCA Workload Issues Committee’s ‘White Paper on Two-Year College English Faculty Workload.” MLA Committee on Community Colleges, 01 May 2023, https://ccc.mla.hcommons.org/2023/05/01/recent-scholarship-on-community-colleges-tyca-workload-issues-committees-white-paper-on-two-year-college-english-faculty-workload/.
Christie, Amanda C., and Ann C. Dean. “Working Conditions for Contingent Faculty in First-Year Composition Courses at Two-Year Colleges.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College, vol. 50, no. 1, September 2022, pp. 47-75.
“FORUM–Individual Issues.” FORUM: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty, n.d., https://cccc.ncte.org/cccc/forum.
Maisto, Maria. “Addressing the Scarlet A: Adjuncts and the Academy.” MLA Profession, October 2013, https://profession.mla.org/addressing-the-scarlet-a-adjuncts-and-the-academy/.
Suh, Emily et al. (The Two-Year College English Association Workload Task Force). “The Profession of Teaching English in the Two-Year College: Findings from the 2019 TYCA Workload Survey.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College, vol. 48, no. 3, September 2021, pp. 332-349.