Contingent Labor

My good friend Pete England and I took a look at who was teaching the service course (*.pdf) in technical and professional communication (TPC). It did some pretty important things for the field. It gave us our first research in the field on contingent labor issues, and one of the findings of that research was that over 80% of service courses (those courses usually taught for other colleges and populated by a multitude of majors) are taught by contingent faculty. We’re using the  the AAUP definition of contingent as those faculty that are full-time non-tenure track or part-time (usually referred to as adjuncts). That project started us thinking more broadly about contingent labor in TPC.

So we did a pilot study  to find out some basic facts about the working lives of contingent faculty. Again, some of the first in-depth research in writing studies and the first of its kind in TPC. The pilot project then lead us to wanting to expand the pilot into a full-fledged study. In particular because a preliminary finding from the pilot study seemed to indicate that contingent faculty in TPC have longer, more stable employment than those in general writing studies (that is those faculty who primarily teach first-year composition). It also seems that contingent faculty in TPC have working conditions that are more “professional” and satisfactory than other segments of contingent faculty as seen in large studies where there are no distinctions made between fields. For a field of our size, this is important, since full-time non-tenure track faculty are key members of programs and are essential to many undergraduate programs. For us, it’s vital to have a better understanding of truly what role these faculty play in our programs.

An additional component has been added to the study to survey and interview contingent faculty in composition so comparisons can be potentially made. More so however, if successful, we will have gathered valuable information about the work lives of contingent faculty in TPC and composition. What both fields lack is data that provides information about material working conditions. Our project helps to give us a start. In addition, it provides extended definitions of two new concepts to help those who work with labor conditions have terminology and language to theorize and to discuss working conditions: affective investment and politics of service. The final piece also provides ways to start to change the system. One of the things that we did was to try to determine some of the hidden costs of contingency by looking at “cost-effectiveness,” which is not something many folks in higher ed feel comfortable in talking about. We used this term because it incorporates the costs of labor in ways that neither composition or TPC have done previously.

We’ve finished the nation wide study and it is now out in review. (6/2019)

Thank you, thank you to all of the contingent faculty that participated in our project!


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