Making the Most of the AAUP Contingent Faculty Index

In this second installment of this open research process series I will more closely examine the 2006 data from the AAUP’s Contingent Faculty Index for what it has told us, how the data have been used, and what else the data can show. [Go to the beginning of the series on contingency]

What the AAUP found

John W. Curtis and Monica F. Jacobe’s findings in the Index report showed a workforce that is increasingly contingent and part time. It declared NTT faculty the new faculty majority at 62.2% of the academic workforce.

This report was one of the first to show that contingent faculty had become a majority in US instruction (see also the AAUP’s 2003 Contingent Appointments and the Academic Profession). According to the Curtis, the Contingent Faculty Index is the “first-ever listing of counts of full-time and part-time contingent faculty (and graduate student employees) for individual institutions, by name.”[1]

Contingent Faculty Index [img]
Link to the Original Document [pdf]

The report appendices are a very useful look-up tool as they list schools in alphabetical order by institution type. These tables offer a school-by-school analysis of contingent counts and percentages across full-time instructional, full-time research, part-time and graduate faculty along with totals for each institution.


The aggregate data on institution types raises new questions about institutional decision-making cultures that offer another vantage point for action.


The report also contains findings that generate new questions in the tables on page 17 and 18:

  • Private schools employ full-time NTT faculty at slightly higher proportions than public schools within each institution type.
  • Private schools also employ part-time NTT faculty at higher proportions than public at the Doctoral and Masters granting institutions.
  • Public schools employ part-time NTT faculty at higher proportions than private schools at the Baccalaureate and Associates granting institutions.
  • Associates programs employ NTT at the highest proportion of any institutional category regardless of whether they are public, private, or for profit.
  • For-profit schools employ NTT at 98.2-100%, far higher than public or private institutions.
  • In the totals for all colleges and universities (of any type) public institutions have a 61.4% contingent academic labor force, private institutions 59.5%, and for-profits 100%. These totals contain both full-time and part-time contingent faculty.

What are the data and where do they come from?

The Contingent Faculty Index is based on 2005 data from IPEDS. Specifically it draws data from the IPEDS Data File: 2005 Employees by Assigned Position, which offers counts of faculty by employment status at US institutions.

IPEDS is the unit of the National Center for Education Statistics that focuses on higher education. IPEDS stands for Integrated Post-secondary Education Data System. This data is collected annually by the US Department of Education for all institutions that receive federal student financial aid. [more about IPEDS…]

The Contingent Faculty Index methodology is explained on page 11. The report organized and parsed IPEDs data (no small task, even with much of the data now being openly available here) to generate the index. The index represents…

2,617 US institutions broken down by Carnegie Classification: Research, Baccalaureate, Associates
and by “control”: public, private, for-profit

Counts and percentage totals are offered for: Tenured Faculty, Tenure Track Faculty, Non-Tenure Track Faculty, Instructional Faculty, Research Faculty, Graduate Instructors

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 5.07.24 PM

For example, the first table on p. 17 is a summary of the raw numbers of Tenured, Tenure Track, and Non-Tenure Track by highest degree offered and public/private designation. The chart represents full-time faculty only and also provides information on instructional faculty and research faculty.

What inquiry has the AAUP CFI generated since 2006?

Updated with 2011 data, the AAUP Research Office chart below shows declines in tenured (-12.3%) and tenure track (-8.7%) positions and the most growth (17.3%) in part time positions. Only 24% of instruction is conducted by tenured or tenure track faculty.

Chart of Faculty Trends 2009-2011 AAUP
[view most recent update as pdf]

Soon after its release the Contingent Faculty Index was documented, summarized, and debated in the Chronicle of Higher Education and various learned societies. These discussions focused on threats to academic freedom and the impact on student learning, as did much of the academic literature citing the Index. While I figure out why my Zotero Group is not synching, you can repeat my process via this Google Scholar Search.

The Index also likely informed AAUP policy recommendations on the issue of contingent faculty that advocated for increased tenure lines and for job stability, compensation, and due process for non-tenure track faculty in the interim.

What else can we continue to do with this data?

The report data focuses on the social fact of contingency and is not particularly intended to examine the causes of contingency. Researchers citing the report have used it to define contingency as an independent variable that affects other dimensions of the teaching and learning experience. Examined effects include academic freedom, job satisfaction, student learning outcomes, and student retention. For authors calling for action, the focus has been on how contingency harms core educational values in a meritocratic society.

The causes of contingency have been less finely examined in the literature and journalism that cites the report. The narrative about causes is often logical, broad, and structural: For-profit employment models are permeating both public and elite private institutions due to large-scale structures like capitalism, neo-liberalism, declines in faculty governance, increased assessment culture, and (morally questionable) managerial practices.

The adoption of contingent labor practices may appear to be the only “rational” managerial response in the face of these institutional and economic challenges. As of today, however, we do not have empirical data that shows hiring administrators are rational actors or that demonstrates a causal relationship between increased economic hardships and increased contingency. In fact, the AAUP report allows readers to deduce that some of the wealthiest schools (but certainly not all of them) have the highest proportions of contingent faculty.

The report data can do more than define the scope of the problem. The aggregate data on institution types raises new questions about institutional decision-making cultures that offer another vantage point for action. As a cultural sociologist who works as an alt-ac administrator, I ask…

  • To what extent are administrative policies and decisions driven by rational calculation alone?
  • Does the contingent employment model manifest in similar ways across institutions with different missions and organizational structures?
  • What other value systems and meanings of work and education are at play in decision-making from governing boards, to dean’s offices, to academic departments and student demands?

These questions may help us to act locally to ensure that policies and priorities are in line with labor practices and help us to hold our leaders and ourselves accountable.

[1] Curtis, John. The Answer Fits the Question. Inside Higher Ed. April 22, 2008.