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CLA efforts to improve term faculty working conditions, concerns continue

More than a year ago, a report was submitted to CLA Dean John Coleman seeking improvements for University of Minnesota instructors.
Image by Shalom Berhane
The first candidate to be announced is Celia Marshik, who will meet with students on Tuesday at Coffman Memorial Union.

The University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts (CLA) Academic Professionals and Administrators Professionalization Committee submitted a recommendations report in March 2021 to CLA Dean John Coleman. The report suggested changes CLA could make to improve the working conditions of contingent faculty.

In 2020, more than 40 % of faculty positions were held by contingent faculty, who are contracted, non-tenurable faculty who are professionals and administrators at the University. Contingent faculty have titles such as lecturer and senior lecturer.

Tenured faculty are protected by the Board of Regents Policy, last amended July 2020, against removal or censoring of faculty based upon political and religious beliefs or expressions.

Ascan Koerner, CLA associate dean for undergraduate education, said the requests for the report have been put under consideration and some significant changes have been made such as orientation, teaching awards and rebudgeting.

A subcommittee of CLA, headed by Jennie Robbinson Kloos, CLA senior director of operations, is working toward giving departments initiative and financial means to provide long-term contracts for contingent faculty, Koerner said. The goal will be to provide those long-term contracts in the next year or so.

CLA gave an orientation to new employees in September and is funding a teaching excellence award for non-tenure faculty, Koerner said.

Courtney Gildersleeve is a lecturer at the University in cultural studies and comparative literature. She’s worked as a lecturer since 2019 but has been at the University since 2007.

Gildersleeve said it has been more than a year since the report was submitted and despite the effort made by CLA, she has not seen many improvements to contract negotiations, benefits or promotions.

According to Gildersleeve, there was an effort to adjust the hiring process in her department where instructors were guaranteed one class per semester with some insight into the topic they would be assigned, however, it did not work seamlessly.

Some contingent faculty had to apply for additional classes, and some did not get the classes they applied for, she said.

“There’s still a lot that needs to be fixed in those processes,” Gildersleeve said.

Contingent faculty have contracts with the University that are sometimes signed a month before the academic year starts, and contracts usually begin a week before the semester starts, Gildersleeve said. The length of the contracts varies depending on the department and the position.

“Essentially, we are paid to prepare for a class one week before it starts and that causes a lot of problems,” Gildersleeve said.

Depending on the department, there is not always an opportunity for contingent instructors to teach over the summer, which means instructors can go three and a half months without a salary, according to Gildersleeve.

“As an instructor, I get paid about the same amount as teaching assistants per class,” Gildersleeve said. “I only make more because I have multiple courses I teach.”

To make ends meet, many contingent instructors work second jobs. Gildersleeve worked a temp job this summer at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, which she said impacted her ability to fully prepare for the upcoming fall semester.

According to Gildersleeve, other instructors will work at multiple universities during the school year to cobble together a living. There was a pay raise this semester, Gildersleeve said, however, the raise did not match inflation or current living standards.

“Teacher work conditions are student learning conditions,” Gildersleeve said, meaning that if instructors are not given the opportunity to appropriately prepare to teach courses, then students’ education is negatively impacted.

According to Gildersleeve, contingent faculty do not receive health insurance unless they teach three or more courses per semester, which is often not the case. Comparatively, teaching assistants have health insurance through the University because they are students.

“It feels like there’s always this emphasis on financial scarcity and cutting budgets wherever possible,” Gildersleeve said. “In doing so, contingent faculty don’t get as much support as they should.”

Gildersleeve said she would like to see instructors given contracts that start a month before the academic year so they can adequately prepare, and they should be given opportunities for promotion.

“Teaching at the University is a meaningful position, but it’s not compensated well,” Gildersleeve said. “It’s not treated with respect.”

The Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee (AF&T) is open to discussion with contingent faculty on issues they want to raise to the committee, AF&T Chair Eric Van Wyk said.

The task force that will be created if an AF&T resolution passes on Thursday will be “the big effort to ensure our contingent positions have some semblance of academic freedom and protections to maintain those freedoms,” Van Wyk said.

There have been instructors in contingent positions for many years, and positions that have lasted for many years but different instructors cycle through.

“The Tenure code outlines where it’s appropriate to hire people into contingent positions,” Van Wyk said. “But we’ve gone beyond that.”

Unfortunately, many people in contingent positions do have less power, Van Wyk said.

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