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Contingencies for Contingency: A Non Tenure-track Perspective within the Classics

Debra Freas

            The overwhelming trend to hire contingent faculty in lieu of tenured or tenure-track faculty is drastically changing the composition and nature of academia.  It is incumbent for all academic disciplines to consider what this trend means, and it is particularly important for disciplines like Classics to address how this shift will affect the future of the discipline.  This paper will reflect on what is at stake if contingent faculty members are not actively and effectively incorporated into Classics departments on a large scale and will offer suggestions for how this can be accomplished based on efforts to do so at my own institution.  The number of tenure-track lines for classicists is unlikely to increase significantly which means that contingent faculty will continue to be employed in large numbers.  As such, it seems prudent for all parties concerned, including the American Philological Association as the professional organization for classicists, to generate and implement policies that are in the best interests of protecting the discipline that we so value.  

            Predominant reliance on contingent faculty labor threatens the well-being of three groups in particular: contingent faculty members, students, and all classicists.  Contingent faculty teach between one class per institution to a full load.  In some instances, a faculty member is hired to fulfill a specific, one-time need and is content with this arrangement.  This is not the type of contingent labor at issue here.  The limited number of tenure-track jobs that forces many to teach in a non-tenure track capacity when tenure is desired is the brand of contingent labor at issue.  Non-tenure track positions often present the following challenges to those in them: financial hardship, lapse of health insurance and other benefits, lack of institutional support, heavy teaching loads or the need to teach at several institutions, reduced opportunities to conduct research, and participation in a system where finding a tenure-track job often entails significant cost and personal sacrifice. These difficulties have an impact on the educational experiences of our students as their professors are often unable to provide the type of instruction and mentoring that they want to offer and that the students desire.  A professor who is supported by his or her institution is better positioned to hold office hours, work on his or her research, contribute to curricular decisions, offer formal and informal advisement, and write meaningful letters of recommendation. These activities are critical for the competent instruction of all our students and are particularly meaningful for the instruction of the next generation of classicists.  Future generations of classicists may face an even bleaker reality for job opportunities.  Classics programs that are not able to secure tenure-track lines run the risk of shrinking and potentially disappearing as senior, tenured faculty retire and are not replaced.  Developing a system where non-tenure track faculty gain more secure positions within institutions can serve to combat this inevitability and also perhaps provide an environment where a generation of scholarship will not be lost to the vagaries of the job market.

     At the institution where I am currently employed, a policy concerning the regularization of non tenure-track (NTT) faculty employment is in the process of being drafted.   As an advocate for contingent faculty rights, I have assisted in the drafting of this policy, gathering data and composing other documents pertaining to this issue.   From these experiences, I will offer suggestions for redressing the difficulties we all face as contingent faculty employment remains the preferable alternative from a financial and administrative perspective.  This is a large and complex problem that will not simply disappear -  - we need to be aware of the repercussions and make efforts to shape the core of our discipline.

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Contingent Labor in Classics: The New Faculty Majority?

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