Hit the Road, Jack: Compromise and Contracts

December 24, 2007

I know that many of our readers recently finished up their semesters and were rewarded by being summarily fired. Of all the drawbacks associated with part-time teaching, being fired between semesters is one that department chairs, deans and provosts could easily remedy. Yes, this would mean offering year-long contracts to part-time faculty. I am not suggesting that it be done simply to make part-time faculty happier. Why not?

Because management research shows little correlation between job satisfaction and job performance. However, according to a paper published in The Academy of Management Journal:
“Organizational psychologists generally endorse the view that any covariance between job satisfaction and job performance emerges only when satisfaction [derives] from performance contingent rewards.”

It is true that there is student attrition between semesters, and in many departments there are fewer sections to offer to the part-time faculty. Be that as it may, refusing to use year-long contracts because some part-time faculty course loads may have to be reduced is simply a knee-jerk response by managers relying on outmoded and outdated employment practices. The truth is that even though higher education is a perceived bastion of empirical research, the reality is that managerial backwardness lives on in the shape of part-time faculty employment practices.

Just as I know many college administrators simply cannot understand why they should offer year-long contracts, I also know many part-time faculty simply cannot understand why everyone who teaches part-time shouldn’t be offered year-long contracts. I believe the answer rests somewhere between the two ends of the spectrum. To get the ball rolling, administrators could offer year-long contracts based on part-time faculty evaluation and performance.

This kind of talk about compromise frequently gets me into big trouble. However, I don’t mind getting into trouble for supporting a strategy that relies on employee performance. I know that part-time faculty are, as a rule, superb teachers, can and do measure up to thoughtful evaluation of their work time and again. Universities all over the country take advantage of work-for-hire rules, and this has resulted in a problem that has plagued hundreds of thousands of college faculty for more than thirty years.

The education unions are simply never going to organize the nation’s 600,000 non-tenure track faculty. Colleges and universities are never going to stop hiring temporary faculty. University administrators, I believe, want to treat their faculty equitably. Administrators, then, need strategies, reasons, and to be shown research that supports the use of year-long contracts.

I just finished interviewing Dr. Dan Jacoby. The piece will be published in the next issue of the magazine. If there were ever clearly documented reasons to use year-long contracts, and better integrate part-time faculty into the departments in which they teach, it is Dr. Jacoby’s study, titled: “Effects of part-time faculty employment on community college graduation rates.”

In the meantime, I’ll be hoping for more compromise that could, perhaps, lead to fewer part-time faculty being forced to hit the road between semesters.

Listen to my blog entry here.

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