Contingent Employment:
A Report by the Faculty Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Contingent Employment


The increasing use of non tenure/tenure track faculty (contingent employees) has become a permanent feature not only of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville but a feature of practically all institutions of higher learning. The growth of part time faculty is an understandable result of the fiscal pressures which the systematic and long term under funding of higher education has created. The hiring of contingent employees is not without merit. It must be recognized that there are a number of very legitimate uses of contingent employees. These include: meeting unanticipated increases in enrollment, temporarily filling unexpected faculty vacancies, providing expertise in a specialized field, or helping develop a new academic program. However, as the literature suggests and our findings confirm, the temporary use of contingent employees has now become a habitual use that calls for critical evaluation by this community.

Many institutions, perhaps ours as well, have not realized how the incremental increase in the hiring of contingent faculty over time has profoundly affected the profile of higher education. From 1972 to 1995 there has been an average of a 1% yearly increase in the hiring of contingent employees. In 1975 adjunct faculty constituted 22% of the professoriate. By 1995 contingent employees constituted 46% of the professoriate. The purpose of this report is to bring our community's attention to the issues and implications these trends have on our campus. What is hoped for is a measured response by the faculty and administration which will establish clear policies and guidelines regarding contingent employees and the critical role they can play in the shaping of a first rate institution. These policies need to be strategically directed with a sense of purposefulness that is in the service of our academic enterprise. This contrasts with present practice in which contingent faculty are hired as an administrative convenience and a way of addressing short range cost savings.

The hiring of contingent employees provides for administrative flexibility. This result is the increasingly higher proportion of part-time contingent faculty and a lower proportion of tenure/tenure track faculty residing in the academy. Over time this adversely affects the quality of higher education. Academic programs require high levels of permanent faculty involvement through department and college governance to maintain and renew curricula that offers students high-quality educational opportunities, especially if the institution seeks to be recognized as a national leader in higher education. If a university is truly committed to achieving academic excellence, then a permanent faculty must be present in sufficient numbers to develop courses, research new trends, set requirements, and design general education courses, majors, minors, and graduate programs. Permanent faculty must also be closely involved with decisions regarding hiring, reappointment, promotion, and tenure in order to sustain the quality of the faculty. A heavy reliance on part time faculty appointments deprives departments of the qualified faculty to perform these crucial functions. Furthermore it over burdens permanent faculty members with tasks from which the temporary faculty are often disconnected e.g. committee work, advising, service, mentoring etc.

The overuse of contingent employees not only affects the educational enterprise by eroding the size and consequent influence of the tenured faculty, but it also undermines the tenure system itself, leaving academic freedom vulnerable to manipulation and suppression. Hiring contingent employees staffs academic programs without making long term commitments to these faculty thereby discounting the value full community citizenship has to the academy. This in turn erodes the idea and fact of shared governance which has served higher education well as one of its core values and distinguishing characteristics.

Certainly contingent faculty are not explicitly linked to the governance structure of this University, leaving them isolated and without a secure rights and privileges. Although it goes beyond the charge of the committee, it is apparent that many contingent faculty labor under conditions which hinder the professional quality of their work; a lack of office space to prepare for teaching or a place to meet and mentor/advise students; ineligibility for a large majority of the professional development opportunities including the research and travel funds which the University provides its tenure/tenure track employees; and lack of a consistent and reliable rewards system for these employees. Job security, benefits, and opportunities for advancement divides the tenured faculty from the contingent faculty, creating a structure that seriously undermines the creation of an academic community whose aspiration is to become a top twenty-five research university.

The background and issues outlined above only scratch the surface of this very complicated issue. While brief, their intention is to put the committee's findings into perspective and to provide an outline agenda for next year's Senate to address, should it wish.


This year the Faculty Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Contingent Employment only investigated contingent faculty who were involved with undergraduate teaching. Neither research or service was not addressed regarding contingent employees nor was graduate education.

The findings below are based on two limited data sets:

The Committee placed those teaching at UTK into the following three categories:

Regular Faculty
Contingent Faculty
Graduate Assistants
includes tenure and tenure track only
includes non-tenure track
includes graduate teaching assistants and associates

Student credit hours are defined as the number of students enrolled on the 14th day of the semester times the credit hours for that course. The data yielded the following information:

The gathering of this material by the Senate should be of interest and use to both the faculty and the administration. Surely the marked decline of regular faculty engaged in teaching beginning undergraduate students is another indication that this institution is not being properly funded by our state legislature. The brain drain of the state's most talented students becomes understandable when placed in the context that a freshman at the state's flagship institution only has a 22% chance of being taught by a tenure/tenure track professor. As this institution tries to break into the ranks of the top 25 public research universities, it must remember that most if not all of these institutions have strong commitments to undergraduate education. The creation of a university wide quality undergraduate education requires a long term commitment that is best served by the tenured faculty. This in turn will strengthen our graduate programs which reflect and support excellence in research. As a result of its work this year the Committee can make the following preliminary conclusion:
The long range health of this institution is directly linked to its commitment to reduce its reliance on part-time academic positions and that part time positions should be extended the same benefits and privileges of the academic profession.

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