December 20th, 2021

Rewarding Excellent Support for Non-tenure-track Faculty, Part I


Instructors share advice with one another

For decades, campuses have hired increasing numbers of non-tenure track faculty. The number of adjunct faculty is now more than 52 percent of faculty nationally and full-time non-tenure track make up another 18 percent of the faculty, with all types of non-tenure-track faculty (NTTF) accounting for 70 percent of faculty nationally. (Approximate totals of instructional faculty based on available information from the National Center for Education Statistics 2008 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System National Survey of Postsecondary Faculty surveys.)

A major dilemma is that campuses continue to operate as if all their faculty are tenure track, and policies and practice remain largely unchanged on many campuses. Compared to their tenured or tenure-track counterparts, non-tenure-track faculty are often hired last minute at far lower wages, and thus struggle to balance heavy teaching loads at multiple institutions with limited time to prepare their courses and limited support to improve their curriculum design or pedagogy. These are just a few of their many challenges.

The Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success (part of the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the USC Rossier School of Education), has tracked these changes in faculty composition and adjacent lack of institutional policy changes and has been encouraging campuses to better support faculty off the tenure track. The Project is also motivating campuses to consider the composition of the faculty and whether it is best aligned to support their institutional mission and student success. For example, do we need more full-time time faculty or a teaching-intensive tenure track?

In recent years, the growing awareness about the changing composition in faculty is motivating some important policy changes. In order to capture and reward such changes, we obtained a grant from the Teagle Foundation (see: to recognize one four-year and one two-year institution each year for its work to support NTTF faculty. We were pleased to select winners of our first award cycle—California State University, Dominguez Hills and Harper College—and honor them at the annual conference of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.  Winners received $15,000 cash awards to continue their work to support non-tenure-track faculty. The goal of the award is to champion and bring attention to existing efforts to support non-tenure-track faculty and new faculty models, so that other postsecondary institutions might adopt these successful models on additional campuses. The next applications are due July 15, 2019. We share the good work of our award recipients with academic leaders here in hopes that the work will be replicated at other institutions. We also hope to encourage campuses doing work to support NTTF to submit applications.

California State University, Dominguez Hills

In fall 2017, CSU Dominguez Hills initiated a task force to examine the working conditions of non-tenure-track faculty. At this time, faculty-student ratios were increasing for these faculty, a concern that needed to be acknowledged and addressed. As a result of the task force investigation and recommendations, the university launched an impressive set of reforms to pursue equity for all faculty and to initiate a new culture where non-tenure-track faculty were included and respected. The awards committee found this proposal meritorious in its comprehensive approach to better supporting NTTF, focus on an inclusive culture, and involvement of NTTF in planning.

One major area of work was salary and benefits, which campuses often do not recognize is tied to faculty performance. After analyzing the salaries of all non-tenure-track faculty, CSUDH increased non-tenure-track faculty compensation through equity pay programs and contractual service salary/range elevation pay increases, narrowing the compensation gap between non-tenure-track faculty and tenured/tenure-track faculty. The pay increases allow non-tenure-track faculty to focus more deeply on their teaching and less on establishing additional, alternative income streams to supplement too-low wages and limited benefits. This fundamental support allows non-tenure-track faculty at CSUDH to do what they do best: support students, engage in scholarly work, and create exceptional learning experiences.

CSUDH also reviews non-tenure-track faculty for advancement into multi-year contracts and encourages them to apply for reassigned time and sabbaticals for scholarly projects. Similarly, non-tenure-track faculty are eligible to apply for and have been granted university research funds, scholarships, two creative activity awards, and other research awards, providing them with the time and funds to pursue creative and scholarly work. Non-tenure-track faculty are also included as participants and leaders of the Faculty Learning Communities and Freshman Dream Seminars that are a growing part of the university’s learning culture. Through these opportunities, CSUDH recognizes that all faculty are scholars and deserve opportunities to build and share their scholarly work.

Additionally, CSUDH now actively encourages campus leaders to hire non-tenure-track faculty for tenure-track roles. In the past, while non-tenure-track faculty were permitted apply for tenure-track positions, they often did not end up getting hired due to a culture that discouraged a consideration of non-tenure-track faculty as peers of tenured and tenure-track faculty. Since CSUDH made changes to its faculty culture, several non-tenure-track faculty have successfully entered the ranks of tenure-track faculty, proving that the university’s efforts have started creating a process and pipeline for non-tenure-track faculty to transition into tenure-track roles.

CSUDH also initiated and awarded an annual outstanding lecturer faculty award, dedicated to recognizing and honoring a non-tenure-track faculty member’s contributions to the university. In addition, CSUDH created dedicated positions on the academic senate for non-tenure-track faculty, formally including this population in university governance. Non-tenure-track faculty are compensated for their service in all areas of shared governance and university-wide task forces, effective 2019.

Beyond implementing specific policies to treat non-tenure-track faculty more equitably, CSUDH follows key guiding principles to design and implement its reforms that focus on changing the faculty culture as a whole. For one, these principles emphasize clarifying communication and making procedures around hiring and evaluation more systematic and transparent. In addition, the principles acknowledge vast differences between the working conditions and social standing of non-tenure-track faculty compared to those of tenured and tenure-track faculty on campus and recognize that these differences create problems for campus culture, faculty experiences, and student learning. There’s now a shared recognition that treating non-tenure-track faculty fairly contributes to a broader culture of diversity, equity, inclusion, learning, and respect, contributing to the richness and interconnectedness of the campus community.

Adrianna Kezar, PhD, is a dean’s professor of leadership at USC, co-director of the Pullias Center ( and director of the Delphi Project. She is a member of the editorial board for Academic Leader.