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The rise of contingent faculty: its impact on the professoriate and higher education

Randall Bowden (Educational Administration & Research, Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi, Texas, USA)
Lynn P. Gonzalez (Department of Accounting, Finance and Information Systems, North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota, USA)

Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education

ISSN: 2050-7003

Article publication date: 20 April 2012




The faculty, as higher education's most valuable asset, is being dramatically altered. Changes in appointment status drive this alteration, resulting in the essential work of faculty being transformed. Given this change in faculty composition, this study seeks to examine how faculty appointments relate to the production of faculty work in teaching, research, and service. Faculty appointments affect faculty work and it implies that the function of higher education also is altered. The purpose of this paper is to examine the impact of the rise of contingent faculty on the professoriate and higher education.


The National Study of Postsecondary Faculty of 2004 provided data for analyses. There were faculty and instructional staff participants (26,110) from a sample of 980 institutions in the USA and the District of Columbia. The National Center for Education Statistics provides access to its Data Analysis System (DAS) for public use. Basic calculations can result in straight counts, percentages, means, correlation coefficients, and tables. Complex analytic capabilities include covariance using both weighted least squares regression and logistic regression. The DAS was used to examine how changes in faculty composition were related to teaching, research, and service.


Overall, the results indicate that tenured and tenure‐track faculty out‐perform contingent faculty on all major items of teaching, research, and service. With few exceptions, contingent faculty can be viewed as less productive faculty members within the historical function of higher education to promote inquiry and advance the sum of human knowledge, provide general instruction to the students, and develop experts for various branches of the public. If faculty are the heart and health of colleges and universities, the future of higher education may be bleak if the reliance on contingent faculty continues to soar.

Practical implications

The gap between performance levels of tenure/tenure‐track and contingent faculty in teaching, research, and service indicates the quality of higher education is rapidly eroding. This study indicated that the contributions to promoting inquiry and advancing the sum of human knowledge are diminished with increasing use of contingent faculty. It suggests that not only is the work of faculty threatened by a contingent faculty approach but the well‐being of higher education is threatened also.

Social implications

Overall, tenured and tenure‐track faculty out‐performed other types of faculty appointments according to essential values of faculty – teaching research, and service. Faculty appointments play a significant role in the overall performance of higher education. The function of higher education cannot help but be affected. Society relies on higher education for not only career training but an educated citizenry. If left to contract and part‐time help, it raises concern for the overall well being of society.


Although there is literature discussing concerns about the influx of contingent faculty, there is little, if any, empirical evidence of its impact on the professoriate and its relationship to the overall health and well being of higher education. This study suggests that the traditional framework of faculty work – teaching, research, and service – is being dramatically altered.



Bowden, R. and Gonzalez, L.P. (2012), "The rise of contingent faculty: its impact on the professoriate and higher education", Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 5-22.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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