Delphi Project creates new tool for evaluating adjunct faculty working conditions

Adrianna Kezar

Dr. Adrianna Kezar

USC Rossier professor Adrianna Kezar and PhD candidate Elizabeth Holcombe have created a self-assessment tool for evaluating the types of cultures experienced by non-tenure-track faculty (NTTF). The 26-question survey is available for download from the website of the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success.

“This survey is based on case studies of 25 departments that range from supportive to destructive in terms of the working conditions experienced by non-tenure-track faculty,” says Kezar, who serves as co-director of the Delphi Project as well as of the Pullias Center for Higher Education. “We took those findings and created this resource that we hope will improve the working conditions for adjunct faculty.”

Kezar first identified the four types of cultures in a paper published in 2013 in the Journal of Higher Education. “Four Cultures of the New Academy: Support for Non-Tenure Track Faculty” summarizes the types as follows:

  • In the destructive culture, NTTF perceive disrespect and hostility from their tenure-track colleagues.
  • In the neutral/invisible culture, NTTF perceive no respect or inclusion from their departmental colleagues; while there is no active disrespect, NTTF are typically ignored or treated as temporary teachers or mechanisms for content delivery.
  • In the inclusive culture, NTTF perceive that they are respected and included by their departmental colleagues.
  • In the learning culture, NTTF perceive a positive atmosphere of respect and inclusion; they are treated as professional equals by their tenure-track colleagues.
Elizabeth Holcombe

Elizabeth Holcombe

Kezar and Holcombe explain that the assessment can be taken by individual faculty members or administered by department chairs who want to begin taking steps to improve the culture for NTTF in their departments.

“Increasingly academic leaders, such as department chairs, are interested in improving support for NTTFs but are not sure what needs to be done, and they have been asking for a way to know what areas to focus on,” says Holcombe. “This survey provides that guidance by giving them a sense of areas that are working and others that are not as well as an overall sense of their departmental climate.”

The questionnaire provides more details about research on the four cultures around three constructs: willingness to perform, capacity to perform and opportunity to perform:

Willingness to perform includes such issues as employment equity, respect, collegiality and flexibility; capacity to perform relates to professional growth; and opportunity to perform is related to notions of academic freedom, autonomy and equity.”

“This survey is based on case studies of 25 departments that range from supportive to destructive in terms of the working conditions experienced by non-tenure-track faculty.”
—Adrianna Kezar, Professor of Education

Kezar is a nationally recognized expert on issues surrounding adjunct and non-tenure-track faculty. Earlier this month she commented on news that Northwestern University was seeing improvements in its recruitment of quality teachers in the wake of its decision last year to implement new titles for full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members as well as in the introduction of longer contracts and clearer paths to promotion.

“Hopefully more campuses will follow suit,” Kezar told Colleen Flaherty of Inside Higher Education. “There is no real downside to more respect, acknowledgment, longer contracts and the chance for promotion and basically being more professionalized.”

However, she emphasized that there are other ways to improve conditions for NTTF, including writing them into academic freedom policies, offering professional development opportunities and including them in campus awards and mentoring programs.