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Journal of College Student Development 45.2 (2004) 255-257

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Exploring the Role of Contingent Instructional Staff in Undergraduate Learning. Ernst Benjamin (Editor). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003, New Directions for Higher Education no. 123, 119 pages, $29 (softcover).

Contingent instructional staff is defined as those who have a "tenuous connection [with] . . . the institution . . . because of the brief term of each appointment" (p. 2). The central question this monograph poses is "does the increased reliance on contingent faculty for core undergraduate instruction have negative consequences for undergraduate student learning that require consideration of ways to either reduce that reliance or to improve the conditions of contingent appointments?" (p. 9). Benjamin and the authors of the eight chapters argue convincingly that there has been an increase in prevalence and reliance on part-time, temporary, and graduate instructors across all institutional types and that they have less desirable working conditions than their "permanent" instructor counterparts. However, the impacts of contingent instructors on student learning are unclear. A definition of "student learning" is not presented explicitly, but rather inferred, and a comparatively small portion of the text addresses "student learning."

The chapters presented in this monograph stem from projects sponsored by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, presentations at the American Association of Colleges and Universities, and studies commissioned by Modern Language Association (with support from National Endowment for the Humanities). In chapter one there is an assertion that student learning and the assessment of such should be "central to higher education" (p. 16), particularly in the midst of rapid change in the composition of instructor types. Little, however, is known and therefore presented regarding the relationship between instructor type and student learning outcomes. As in chapter one, chapter two describes the characteristics, working conditions, prevalence and increase of contingent instructors. Specifically, data are presented on the type of instructional staff by program type (e.g. doctoral, masters, etc.), percentage of introductory courses taught by contingent instructors, employment benefits, and departmental support in the form of office space and professional development. While the data are useful to understand the magnitude of contingent instructors, the study reported in chapter two only includes humanities departments.

The monograph continues with additional descriptions of the ways in which the working conditions for contingent faculty, such as pay, office space and time, job security, and academic freedom have been improved over time and through collective [End Page 255] bargaining. A dominant theme in these chapters is that the working conditions of contingent instructors, compared to their tenure track/permanent counterparts, are less desirable, and therefore, contingent instructors are less effective at facilitating student learning. It is important to note that student learning in this context is equated with (1) instructors' time involved in learning activities, (2) instructors' inclusion in departmental decision making, and (3) instructors' credentials (content knowledge). In other words, contingent instructors were perceived to be less effective in facilitating student learning because they spend fewer hours on campus to be accessible to students, have fewer years of experience within a specialization and teaching courses, may have less time to prepare lesson plans for a course, and/or fewer professional development opportunities to enhance pedagogy. Evidence that contradicts this assertion is presented in chapter five. John Cross and Edie Goldenberg present multi-institutional data that do not support this claim. They suggest that course evaluation data for non-tenure-track faculty members are "consistently higher than for tenure-track faculty members and higher still when compared with graduate student teaching assistants" (p. 57).

Regional accreditation policies, as described in the chapter by Sandra Elman, use quality of instruction as criteria rather than ratio of part-time, full-time, graduate and tenure-track instructors. To this end, "there is no assumption of a simple relationship between quality of student learning and the proportionate reliance on contingent appointments" (p. 71). Regarding student learning, Elman suggests that institutional focus should be quality controls and enhancements for instruction, rather than the employment categories of instructors. This focus on learning, however, should not minimize the need to...


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