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Contingent Faculty Task Force


March 2020

Over the 2018-2019 academic year, the Contingent Faculty Task Force has been exploring ways that the AJS could be more supportive of AJS members in precarious contingent faculty roles. Co-chaired by Dr. Steven Weitzman and myself, the 11-member task force includes Alanna Cooper, Neil Manuel Frau-Cortes, Mark Kaplowitz, Laura Lieber, Bruce Phillips, Jacqueline Satlow, Jeffrey Shoulson, Ayelet Weiss, Sarah Wolf, and Polly Zavadivker. We’ve continued to use the language of “contingent faculty” while recognizing its shortcomings. Our main focus is on scholars in precarious positions broadly construed – including but not limited to scholars without stable or predictable employment, benefits, institutional support for research, or academic freedom protections.

While the forces that shape the experience of contingent faculty go well beyond what any single organization can address on its own, we remain committed to the idea that it is possible for the AJS to help change the culture of the field, and to support those who find themselves in vulnerable positions. To that end, we have laid out a set of proposals in a Task Force Report delivered to the AJS board in March 2020. Among the most central recommendations are for greater involvement of contingent faculty in AJS governance; to enhance the visibility and status of contingent faculty within the AJS and the profession; to establish an AJS program that can help scholars sustain a consistent professional identity; to advocate for best practices in hiring and employment; and to offer guidance to programs and departments in these best practices.

Report and Recommendations: A Path Toward a More Inclusive Field

Steven Weitzman and Kate Rosenblatt

January 2020


Over the 2018–2019 academic year, the AJS board of directors and executive director Warren Hoffman undertook to explore what the AJS could do to be more supportive of AJS members in precarious contingent faculty roles. As a first step, the board approved a statement, now on its website, acknowledging that contingent faculty frequently face distinct professional challenges. Beyond expressing support for individual members, the AJS recognized through this statement that increasing reliance on contingent faculty has harmful effects on the field as a whole, undermining academic freedom, eroding faculty self-governance, and contributing to continued gender inequity (given evidence from other fields that the majority of contingent faculty are women and the majority of tenured faculty are men). In addition to adopting the statement, the AJS board also commissioned a task force charged with formulating recommendations for the AJS to consider as next steps.

The co-chairs of the task force, Kate Rosenblatt and Steve Weitzman, put out an open call for volunteers to join the task force, and the resulting eleven-member group represented a cross-section of professional roles and experiences, with some members in short-term adjunct positions or in between positions; others in longer-term, non-tenure-track positions; and still others in tenured positions and/or administrative roles. The members included Alanna Cooper, Neil Manel Frau-Cortes, Mark Kaplowitz, Laura Lieber, Bruce Phillips, Jacqueline Satlow, Jeffrey Shoulson, Ayelet Weiss, Sarah Wolf, and Polly Zavadivker, in addition to the two co-chairs.

The task force met for the first time online in September, 2019 and decided to move forward by forming subcommittees focused in different ways. One was charged with developing recommendations for the AJS itself to consider implementing, another on recommendations for Jewish Studies programs and departments, and a third on developing ways to support contingent faculty beyond what the AJS or individual programs could do on their own. The task force brought together the different recommendations and collectively deliberated over them during the 2019 conference. During the same conference, it also drew on input from an open meeting where some AJS members came to share concerns, questions, and suggestions. That meeting—also attended by Warren Hoffman, AJS executive director, and Noam Pianko, the president of AJS— brought to the surface issues and experiences beyond what the task force had been able to discuss. The task force subsequently distributed a draft of this document to those at that meeting who joined an online list, receiving additional input. The document presented here is a result of all that input, offered to AJS leadership as a guide for how to proceed.

Throughout its deliberations, the task force recognized that the label “contingent faculty” lumps together scholars in very different circumstances, encompassing professionals described as adjunct, part-time, contractual, affiliate, special, irregular, full-time untenured or non-tenure track, lecturers and visiting assistant professors, etc. For the purposes of this document, we use the term “contingent faculty” (CF), but we remain open to other terminology, and it should be kept in mind that our focus is on scholars in precarious positions. That broad category includes scholars without stable or predictable employment from term to term, or without benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans; scholars with little or no institutional support for their research; scholars with little or no protection for academic freedom, and with little or no role within faculty governance at their institution; and scholars without a way to advance professionally or to have their professional contributions recognized and valued.

The forces that shape the experience of CF go well beyond what any single organization can address on its own, but the recent work of the AJS task force on sexual misconduct offers an inspiring example of how it is possible for the AJS to help change the culture of the field and to support those who find themselves in vulnerable positions. As an organization with limited resources and a small staff, the AJS is limited in what it can do to address the challenges of contingency at the individual and collective level. The task force nonetheless believes that there are significant ways in which the field can more fully support colleagues without adequate institutional support, focusing on changes we believe to be achievable. In fact, Executive Director Warren Hoffman and others in AJS leadership have already been at work on the issue, making specific and positive changes. But there is more work to be done, by the AJS, by affiliated programs and departments, and by AJS members.

The AJS has an important voice as a respected learned society, and has members throughout North America and beyond, including a good number in leadership positions, that can exert their own influence. It—and they—can thus play a powerful role in helping to change thinking, discourse, and policies that relate to CF, and can offer a model others may choose to follow. While AJS staff have embraced the need to address the challenges, we recognize that AJS leadership, directors and chairs, and the membership in general are also crucial allies, and in an effort to more fully involve them in this challenge, we urge the AJS Board to adopt the following recommendations, along with other ideas it may envision, and work to implement them.

A Path Forward: Recommendations for the AJS and the field of Jewish Studies

Step 1: Involve CF more fully in AJS governance

As a first step—and perhaps the most important one recommended here—the task force recommends the formation of an AJS Academic Labor and Contingent Faculty Working Group on the model of what exists in the American Academy of Religion to help the AJS continue to move forward on this issue, and as a place where CF can have input and help shape the organization’s future direction. The current AJS board already involves members in CF roles. The task force also recommends that such practice be regularized and formalized as an ongoing way to ensure that CF perspectives are incorporated onto the organization’s decision-making.

Step 2. Enhance CF visibility and status within the AJS and the profession

CF make all manner of contributions to the field in the professional categories of research, teaching, and service, but those contributions are not always recognized, and in fact, contingent employment can in some contexts be marginalizing and stigmatizing. The task force recommends that the AJS do more to support the dignity, equity, and standing of CF. More specifically, the task force recommends the following:

a) Review the AJS website for what it communicates and does not communicate to CF about the role and contributions to the profession. There is pertinent material in the website as it exists now, but the task force found that most of it is buried. Even a document like the aforementioned “Facing the Challenges of Contingency” drafted by this task Force is not easy to find, nor is this task force included on the list of task forces noted on the site. A scholar new to the AJS would not know from looking at the home page that the organization has been seeking to address CF-related issues.

Beyond what the website does not communicate, there are also issues with what it does communicate, which can be subtle. When a member of the task force new to the AJS used the website, that person found that when registering to join and prompted for information about rank and work status, the site distinguished the different ranks within the tenure track (assistant, associate, full) but not the different ranks and roles beyond the tenure track (lecture, senior lecturer, professor of practice, etc.). Why is it important to know whether a person is an assistant professor but not important to know that a person is a senior lecturer with 15 years of experience? To someone with a tenure track position, this may seem like a small point. To that member, it communicated that they are of less value than TT faculty, that their accomplishments, years of service, and contributions do not count.

There are other similar implicit biases built into other vehicles of communication like the AJS Review (for example, it may not be necessary for article bylines to identify authors of articles by their home institutions, a step that raises issues for those without, or in between, institutional affiliations)

In its communications, the AJS can do more to acknowledge the reality of academic life today—that increasing numbers of people are now employed outside the TT, and that such positions need not be temporary or secondary to those of members in TT positions. For this reason, the task force recommends clearer and more inclusive messaging on the website and in other communication that conveys in more visible ways the organization’s resolve to support, include, and honor CF for their contributions to the field.

b) The annual conference offers another critical opportunity to influence the culture of the field through enhanced programming and modified messaging. Although no one year captures the whole story, a search of the 2019 conference program book suggests the marginal status of CF: only 2 out of 190 sessions explicitly signal that they are intended for CF (and one is an open meeting organized by this task force). The task force believes that more can be done during conferences to support CF as valued colleagues, ranging from small symbolic steps (e.g. a change of language printed on badges to be more inclusive of scholars who have no institutional home) to creating more CF-related programs, to enlisting member volunteers to serve as informal consultants during the conference to help connect people to resources or other opportunities.

c) As the AJS has already recognized, the cost of conference attendance works to exclude CF who often do not have research funds, or the personal income, to be able to attend. It has made an effort to address this challenge, offering travel grants and child care grants. Whether it is realistic to increase such funding we are not in a position to judge, but it would be helpful to review how much funding is offered to CF, in comparison with the amounts requested, and in relation to funding offered to other member categories. Our guess is that such funding is not available to all who need it, or is not adequate to cover the costs of participation, which can equal or exceed what some adjuncts are paid to teach an entire course, and it would be helpful to know the data. Apart from direct funding, another option is to allow for more frequent remote participation for scholars who cannot afford to attend the conference in person. This step is in line with efforts to mitigate the environmental impact of conference attendance.

d) If it has not happened already, the AJS mentoring program might be expanded to included professionals from beyond academia who can offer professional advice about careers beyond the university, promoting a range of models of scholarly success. A related idea suggested during the task force meeting was the creation of mentoring circles, small groups of people brought together around a shared professional interest that can provide mentoring to each other. Whatever the format, involving CF more fully and explicitly as part of the mentoring culture of AJS—whether as mentees, mentors, or part of a mentoring circle—sends an important message about the value of careers beyond tenure track position.

e) We also encourage the creation of a speaker’s program on the model of the Distinguished Lectureship Program that gives early career/CF scholars a chance to showcase their work. To steal an idea from one respondent to this document, it might be thought of as a “New Voices in Jewish Studies” program, though it might be organized differently than the Distinguished Lectureship program, organized geographically so that interested institutions can tap into the expertise of nearby scholars in their locales without the expense of bringing in a scholar from a distance.

f) AJS surveys offer an opportunity to learn more about CF and to send a message about who counts. Recent AJS surveys, which show that between a fourth and a third of the membership are in non-tenure track positions, are not fine-tuned or reliable enough to glean much information; they do not include CF who cannot afford to join the AJS, nor do they make visible the connections between contingency and other areas of concern such as gender-based inequalities. The committee recommends that future surveying dive more deeply into the situation for continent faculty, and not just to glean more data but to help communicate that CF count as an important part of the field. A challenge worth acknowledging is how to reach CF who cannot afford to join the AJS or see its relevance to their situation.

Step 3: Establish an AJS program that helps scholars sustain a consistent professional Identity

One challenge facing many CF is continuity of professional identity as one moves between positions or finds oneself without a position. The AJS can help with this issue by creating an “AJS Affiliated Scholar” status, or some such title that carries with it the right to use AJS letterhead in correspondence, remission from membership and conference registration costs, and remote library access to help support continued research—not borrowing privileges necessarily but minimally, access to online journals, electronic books and other material that can be accessed digitally, along with the on-line tools needed to locate materials. It is not known whether the AJS can purchase such access itself, but in the interim, a certain number of programs or departments may be in a position to provide the necessary sponsorships within their own institutions, and/or the Association of Jewish Libraries may prove a helpful ally.

Step 4: Advocate for Best Practices in Hiring and Employment

a) The task force recommends that the AJS review and modify its current hiring practices statement (last revised in 2010) to sensitize employers to best practices in the treatment of CF and to urge transparency in ads about working conditions. Information about best practices can be found on the websites of the AAR, MLA, AHA, and other academic societies.

b) We also recommend that the AJS be open to declining job postings that do not appear to comply with those updated standards. For example, we urge the AJS to discourage or decline postings for positions that limit eligibility to those within a certain number of years of completing the PhD. This restriction does not adequately acknowledge the impact of the current employment landscape or the varied trajectories a career path can follow in the current environment.

Step 5: Support CF Self-Advocacy.

During the open meeting in the 2019 conference, a number of participants underscored the value of organizing/unions as an effective way to improve conditions for CF. As a learned society, the AJS cannot function as a labor union or intervene in employee-employer relations beyond the AJS itself, but like other leaned societies such as the American Historical Association, it can be explicit in recognizing the right of all Jewish Studies scholars, including graduate students, to organize for the purposes of collective self-advocacy and bargaining. AJS annual meetings also offer a venue where members can learn about how to organize or advocate for themselves, and we encourage the development of programming along such lines.

Step 6: Offer guidance to programs and departments in best practices

It became clear during deliberations that much of the responsibility for improving working conditions for CF rests with individual programs and departments. It is the strong view of the task force that Jewish Studies Programs, Departments, Centers, and other institutional units should strive to enhance and support Jewish Studies professionals (those who engage in teaching, research, and/or service, full-time and part-time) within the profession regardless of whether they happen to be in tenure track positions or not, and to affirm the place of all Jewish Studies professionals as stakeholders in the field. The task force recognizes that not all academic units and institutions will be in a position to implement all of the following recommendations, or may not agree with all of them, and they are offered as guidance or suggestions. While not all these recommendations may be feasible in particular circumstances, however, the AJS urges members to consider how they or their institutions might be more supportive of CF and to exercise their influence within those institutions accordingly.

a) Develop a list of professional “best practices” such as those recommended by the AAUP (here) which can function as institutional benchmarks for professionalism and equitable treatment of contingent faculty. This would ideally be pursued by a contingent faculty working group (on which see below).

b) Strive for clarity and fairness in who “counts” as faculty and acknowledge that those of contingent ranks (e.g., lecturers, Senior Lecturers, Professors of Practice, part-time instructors, etc.) who are, in fact, faculty be recognized as such; the nomenclature from AAUP (here) offers a model we encourage departments, programs, and centers to embrace as a matter of equity and consistency. The larger goal should be to include all those who engage in teaching, research, and/or service in a professional capacity in the faculty.

c) Include contingent faculty, with their respective ranks and titles, on center, program, and/or department webpages and other forms of institutional public presence, even in semesters when not actively teaching, ensuring the continuity of listing their email addresses and contact information. Recognize promotion and achievements of such faculty members, in a similar manner to the unit’s practice for the recognition of tenured and tenure track faculty success, achievements, and promotions.

d) Include contingent faculty in workshops, seminars, and other development and research-supportive venues, hosted by departments/centers/programs, both as participants and planners.

e) Provide access to research and professional development funding for all categories of faculty and seek to write grant indentures such that no class of faculty is excluded (see article from AAUP here). Support equal opportunities for contingent faculty to have access to research leave and course releases, similar to opportunities available to tenure track faculty. Units should represent their contingent faculty and advocate with institutional administration in support of resources (time and money) that support professional development and career advancement within the institution and the profession. 

f) Establish procedures for promotions with rank, creating a clear track in parallel to the procedures for other faculty of tenured tracks, to encourage and reward ongoing scholarly production and teaching excellence, as well as granting and guaranteeing academic freedom.

g) Involve contingent faculty as a part of a program’s faculty self-governance.

h) Allow and encourage both full-time and part-time contingent faculty members to partake in service opportunities, within the unit and the institution. But compensate part-time faculty fairly for service assignments that they take on above and beyond their contracted professional duties.

i) Offer financial support/compensation to part-time and adjunct faculty for new course development and for course preparation, especially in those cases where a course may be canceled or reassigned to full-time faculty members for reasons beyond the part-time faculty member’s control.

j) Assist contingent faculty in securing access to research libraries and other scholarly resources, and affiliate contingent faculty so that they may have access to office services and office staff support, including letterhead for use in cover letters and stable email addresses, even in semesters when not teaching, to ensure ongoing access for students and colleagues to the contingent faculty member, and to foster a durable, sustainable, and equitable intellectual community.

While the AJS does not have regulatory or enforcement powers, it can use its influence with the field to offer guidance and articulate updated best practices for programs and departments. One way to do so, beyond issuing statements, is to work with the Chairs and Directors Group on CF-related issues. For example, the group might be charged to work with CF representatives on developing suggestions for programs and departments in terms of how contingent faculty are included as part of department/program life, included in governance, fairly compensated, responsibly evaluated, and productively supported in their work as researchers, teachers and/or administrators. The AJS does not have to develop these norms from scratch; there is much that can be learned from the efforts of other learned societies like the AAR, the MLA, and the AHA. The involvement of the Chairs and Directors group, together with a CF working group, will help to adapt them to Jewish Studies and to internalize them as a part of the culture of individual departments and programs.

These recommendations are intended as a roadmap for the AJS to follow over the next few years, in keeping with a strategic plan that has identified inclusivity as an important goal. We do not suggest they are sufficient to address the large-scale economic and structural forces that have been at work over the past few decades to squeeze the job-market and erode the tenure-track, but we believe they can help to reshape the culture of Jewish Studies in ways that make the field more accessible to and supportive of those in CF roles.

Toward this end, finally, the task force recommends that it remain intact at least until the 2020 annual conference, where it can use another open meeting to report on where things stand. By that point, it is hoped that a contingent faculty working group, officially appointed by the AJS, will be in a position to step in to carry on with this important work.

Contingent Faculty Task Force

  • Kate Rosenblatt (Emory University), chair
  • Steve Weitzman (University of Pennsylvania), chair
  • Alanna Cooper (Case Western Reserve University)
  • Neil Manel Frau-Cortes (University of Maryland)
  • Mark Kaplowitz (The University of Memphis)
  • Laura Lieber (Duke University)
  • Bruce Phillips (HUC-JIR)
  • Jacqueline Satlow (University of Massachusetts–Dartmouth)
  • Jeffrey Shoulson (University of Connecticut)
  • Ayelet Weiss (Indiana University)
  • Sarah Wolf (JTS)
  • Polly Zavadivker (University of Delaware)