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Contingent Historians Profiled in new OAH Report

The following article appeared in the August 2013 issue of OAH Outlook, the quarterly membership newsletter of the Organization of American Historians.

August 1, 2013. The employment situation for contingent historians remains inadequate despite those scholars’ strong professional credentials and deep commitment to teaching, prepared by the New York University adjunct professor of continuing and professional studies Edward Reiner and the market researcher Catherine Walton on behalf of the OAH.

Using data collected for the 2012 Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW) Survey, “A Portrait of Part-time Faculty Members,” Reiner and Walton retrieved 731 responses from contingent historians in the CAW’s survey data set of 19,850 submissions and compared those responses to the CAW report’s analysis of 9,238 part-time faculty from all disciplines. Although unable to filter out part-time historians from the subset of 731 responses, Reiner and Walton concluded that contingent historians are mostly, if not entirely, like their counterparts in other disciplines.

Those 731 historians, they noted, faced the same terms of employment as the 9,238 part-time faculty across all disciplines. Of the 92 percent of historians working in higher education: 80 percent considered teaching as their primary occupation; 76 percent held master’s or doctoral degrees; 99 percent reported teaching at least two classes per semester; 55 percent taught three to ten classes per term; 52 percent earned annual incomes under $35,000; and a first course paid an average of $3,616.

According to the Reiner-Walton report, while these trends mirror the overall adjunct faculty profile in the CAW survey, historians were slightly better educated, more likely to see contingent teaching as their primary job, and more hopeful for full-time teaching and tenured positions. Nonetheless, Reiner and Walton stress, contingent historians remain as mired in financial hardship as most adjuncts nationwide. They carry “heavy teaching loads to generate sufficient income” and try to “build experience that will (hopefully) lead to full-time employment.”

The Reiner-Walton report found one big difference among historians who answered the CAW survey: respondents were younger and newer to teaching. The CAW’s report indicates that 58.2 percent of part-time faculty were at least forty-six years of age, and 56.5 percent had six or more years of teaching experience; Reiner and Walton’s analysis shows that 54 percent of historians were thirty-five years of age at most, and 52 percent had taught for five or fewer years. Not surprisingly, Reiner and Walton ascertained that 24.8 percent of historians in the CAW data set were graduate students anticipating full-time jobs. Whether this difference reflects an exceptionally large survey response by younger historians or a distinctive trend toward youth among contingent historians is unclear.

Regarding working conditions, Reiner and Walton found that contingent historians experienced spotty institutional support as did respondents across all disciplines, although historians’ experiences were somewhat better. Eighty-seven percent of historians responding had office space. That is better than the 73 percent of all adjuncts claiming office space in the CAW report but still leaves 13 percent of historians with no office accommodations whatsoever. Meanwhile, 76 percent of contingent historians held office hours, but only 4 percent received pay for them. Additionally, 85 percent enjoyed a campus e-mail account; 81 percent received photocopying privileges; only 34 percent received clerical assistance; just 28 percent received support for professional-development activities; and a mere 25 percent received research-grant assistance. Support for benefits was even more rare. Half of the contingent historian respondents received either fully funded or shared health insurance. While that is a much higher number than the 22 percent reported by all adjuncts in the CAW report, it is still a perilously low proportion given recent cuts in adjunct hours to avoid the coverage requirement under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Finally, just 28 percent participated in pension plans; a minuscule 1.5 percent received child care assistance; and only 10 percent expected unemployment compensation. Unionization helped contingent historians receive access to improved benefits, according to Reiner and Walton, but only 11 percent of them belonged to unions, as compared to 39.4 percent of faculty across all disciplines in the CAW report.

Historian responses in the Reiner-Walton report match the CAW’s grim portrait of part-time teaching. “Part-time faculty demonstrate a level of commitment to teaching and the institutions that employ them,” they argue, “but this commitment is not reciprocated by those institutions in terms of compensation or other types of professional support.” Pay is especially low. The disparity, they conclude, exposes a significant contradiction. “The low compensation levels and absence of professional support” for part-time faculty stand in stark contrast to “higher education’s claims about the value—including the economic value—accruing to both individuals and the wider society from more advanced educational attainment.” Addressing this dilemma remains at the top of historians’ agendas.

Donald W. Rogers is the chairperson of the OAH Committee on Part-Time, Adjunct, and Contingent Employment.

Read the report written by Edward Reiner and Catherine Walton.