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Facing the Challenges of Contingency: Recommendations and Ways Forward

Jul 31, 2019, 08:00 AM

Many AJS members are scholars who serve in “contingent” faculty roles—an employment category that includes adjunct teachers, TAs, post-docs, lecturers in long term but non-tenure track positions, and other kinds of position off the tenure track.

It is difficult to determine how many AJS members—or would-be members—serve in such roles, but as noted by the American Association of University Professors and other academic organizations, off the tenure-track appointments now account for more than 70 percent of all instructional staff appointments in American higher education. The AJS honors the contributions of scholars in these roles and has resolved to be an ally. On June 3, 2019, the AJS board voted to establish a taskforce charged with better understanding the challenges faced by scholars in contingent roles and developing ways to support them.

The category of contingent faculty member, it should be noted, encompasses a wide range of employment situations, including many that are genuinely beneficial to both the scholar and the employer.

However, such positions can also be among the least secure positions in higher education. Scholars in contingent roles can find themselves under-compensated, without job security, health insurance and other benefits, without the protections of academic freedom, and without encouragement to participate in the larger academic community. The instability and vulnerability of their position affects the entire field, potentially threatening the quality of higher education, eroding faculty self-governance, and undercutting the ethos of collegiality that can make academic life so fulfilling.

As a small first step, the AJS urges individual members and member programs to review the detailed description of principles, standards and “best practices” published by other leading learned societies of relevance to the field:

The American Academy of Religion

The American Historical Association

The Modern Language Association

The American Anthropological Society

It is important to acknowledge that not every Jewish Studies program is in a position to implement all these recommendations. Circumstances vary from one institution to the next, or from one kind of position to another. At the same time, it is also important to recognize that this issue affects not just those in contingent roles but the entire field. In keeping with its mission to support the field of Jewish Studies and to make it as inclusive as possible, the AJS urges members to consider the recommendations above as ways to support colleagues in contingent roles and as a guide for self-advocacy. For its part, through its newly established taskforce, the AJS is exploring how to best support members in contingent roles, and will update this statement as its approach evolves.