Our report on GMU contingent faculty (non-tenure line faculty) working conditions is similar to reports coming from colleges and universities across the country. The findings are not all negative, though we find strong evidence that GMU contingent faculty are overworked, underpaid, and undersupported. These negative consequences ripple across the university amongst the faculty, within departments, and in the student body.
These are among the key findings of a survey of 241 contingent faculty and their working conditions at George Mason University, the most detailed study to date of a single college or university’s contingent faculty population. Each of these findings and others are discussed in depth within the body of our report.
GMU contingent faculty are dedicated educators.
Eighty-five percent of our respondents noted that they are motivated to be educators by their passions for teaching and their subject area. They devote extra time and effort because they care about students and want to do the best possible job. Despite this, only 26 percent believe that these extra efforts will prompt the university to recognize their value.
GMU contingent faculty are suffering financial hardship.
Although some contingent faculty are well off, we found that 23 percent have an annual household income under $30,000, while an additional 23 percent are dependent upon teaching to prevent their income from falling to poverty or near-poverty levels. At only one or two courses per semester, these highly educated workers are making less than minimum wage (and significantly less than a living wage) in a metropolitan area with one of the highest costs of living in the country.
GMU contingent faculty are career-oriented.
Nearly 40 percent of our respondents cited their ambition to work in a tenure-track position or to gain teaching experience. However, contingent faculty express concern that they are rarely considered for tenure-track positions in their departments once they have accepted a contingent position.
GMU contingent faculty are supporting their own graduate studies.
Thirty-three percent of our respondents were also graduate students. Although some receive funding for their education, and valuable experience in the classroom, 51 percent assert that their teaching responsibilities force them to take longer to complete their degree. This may be because of some departments heavily rely upon their graduate student faculty. Additionally, this means that their salaries are essentially paid back to the university to fund additional semesters that otherwise would not have been necessary.
GMU contingent faculty report lax hiring requirements, being hired with little preparation time, and a lack of orientations.
GMU contingent faculty report that they encountered lax hiring requirements, with only 59 percent asked to submit references, and 50 percent participating in an interview. A significant minority of these hires occurred shortly before the semester started, leaving contingent faculty with little time to prepare for their courses. (Thirty-three percent had less than 2 weeks to prepare, and 25 percent had one week or less to prepare.) In addition, less than half report that they received trainings and orientations to important resources and departments—such as copying and printing services, library resources, human resources, and University Life—when they started working at GMU.
GMU contingent faculty report having limited access to resources for their courses.
Significant minorities of GMU contingent faculty did not receive important course resources such as curriculum guidelines (29 percent), textbooks (18 percent), and sample syllabi (19 percent). Others report that they did not have access to a phone (67 percent), computer (40 percent), printer (36 percent), copying services (21 percent), library resources (21 percent), or classroom technologies (10 percent). These percentages are even higher for part-time faculty.
A majority of GMU contingent faculty do not have access to private spaces to meet with students, and provide their own out-of class resources such as computers, phones, and printers to conduct their office work.
Most GMU contingent faculty report that they are using their own out-of-class resources, such as their own computer (77 percent), phone (73 percent), printer (64 percent), and office space (56 percent). Additionally, they must absorb the provisional and repair costs for these resources themselves. Three-fourths (75 percent) of respondents indicated that they had taken on the burden in time or out-of-pocket expenses so that their students would not be negatively affected by the lack of resources from the university. Of the lack of resources reported, our respondents stated that the most detrimental deficiencies were the lack of office space and the lack of private space with which to meet students.
Most GMU contingent faculty reported not receiving training to know how to accommodate students with special needs.
A majority (79 percent) of GMU contingent faculty have not received training to accommodate students with unique or special needs, even though large majorities reported that they had previously taught non-traditionally aged students, students with disabilities, first generation immigrant students, ESL students, first-generation college students, and veterans. To make sure that the unique needs of these students were met, 34 percent of respondents reported that they had sought out training at their own time and expense.
A substantial majority of GMU contingent faculty do not feel prepared to know how to respond to an emergency situation.
GMU contingent faculty feel largely unprepared to confront an emergency situation that could arise on campus, and even fewer report that they have been trained by GMU to know how to respond. For example, only 42 percent felt prepared, and 28 percent had been trained by GMU, to know what to do if they felt that a student was a threat to themselves or others. Similarly, only 42 percent felt prepared, and 27 percent had been trained by GMU, to know what to do if a student came to them who had been a target of prejudice or discrimination.
Part-time faculty wages are inadequate and rarely increase.
GMU only requires departments to pay a part-time faculty member between $2,511 and $3,948 for a three-credit hour lecture-based course, depending on their experience and the level of the course. For part-time faculty, these rates do not increase for larger class sizes or the amount of work in preparation, grading, etc. that different courses require. This wage is substantially less than the per course earnings of their tenure-track colleagues, and is less than contingent faculty earn at GMU’s competitors in the same metropolitan area. Pay increases are rare. The pay matrix for part-time faculty, released by the provost, is the same for the Fall 2014 semester as it was in Spring 2013. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of our respondents were dissatisfied with their wages.
Opportunities for advancement, representation, recognition, and other benefits are limited for GMU contingent faculty.
Part-time respondents stated that they are largely excluded from many of basic opportunities, including priority consideration for tenure track openings in their department (95 percent), priority consideration for full-time term positions in their department (86 percent), representation on their department or college website (53 percent), and participation in departmental meetings (54 percent).
GMU contingent faculty invest a large amount of uncompensated time into their classes, both before and during the semester.
The average amount of uncompensated preparation time for GMU contingent faculty, before the beginning of a semester, is between 16 and 25 hours—although 54 percent spent over 20 hours preparing. Most shockingly, 32 percent stated that they spend 50 or more hours preparing a class they had not taught before. At the university’s rate of 9 hours per week for each 3 credit hour course, this equates to 6 weeks’ worth of work for which they are not paid.
Once the semester starts, 84 percent of faculty exceed the nine hours of compensated work time each week, by an average of five hours. For one semester, this equates to about 80 hours of uncompensated work—nearly nine weeks’ worth of wages—per class.
GMU contingent faculty invest a significant amount of uncompensated time in outside of class activities.
Over half of our respondents (55 percent) stated that they advised students outside of their compensated time on a monthly basis. Twenty-nine percent do this weekly. Additionally, 47 percent of respondents say that they participated in uncompensated course development, and 31 percent participated in uncompensated curriculum design for their departments at least monthly.
Students heavily rely on GMU contingent faculty for non-academic advice, counseling, and support.
A majority of our respondents (62 percent) stated that they had been approached by students for non-academic advice, counseling, or support. Nearly half (45 percent) had been approached by a student manifesting mental health difficulties. A large majority of this care work falls upon the shoulders of female contingent faculty and is uncompensated.