Contingent Faculty in a Time of Coronavirus: Views from the Front Lines

Solicited by the OAH Committee on Part-time, Adjunct, and Contingent Faculty Employment (CPACE)

Saturday, April 17, 2021, 2:00 PM - 3:30 PM

Type: Workshop

Tags: Teaching and Pedagogy


Pre-registration required

Limited to 40 people

The outbreak of Covid-19 has rewritten life on a global scale, particularly in the world of academe. Although the entire academy has encountered the economic and emotional shockwaves of the crisis, the burden has fallen particularly hard on adjuncts and contingent labor. Long accustomed to living on the margins of academe, contingent faculty are now acutely at risk from losses of classes, research funds, health insurance, and even yearly contracts. Scholars who spend their careers examining past crises and disasters have now ironically become reluctant witnesses to their own era of crisis. However, this also reminds us of the power of narratives—that behind every traumatizing job statistic reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education or H-Net—lies individual scholars with individual stories. Seeing the current job crisis through the eyes of those on the front lines cultivates more than sympathy for our colleagues; it also provides us with hard-won lessons about how to plot our future careers and the future of our profession. As such, this panel includes contingent faculty, labor activists, and scholars who have published on teaching during the coronavirus pandemic. Molly Ball’s “Everyday Life for Contingent Faculty in the Pandemic-Era University” examines the professional and personal challenges currently faced by women and other marginalized groups working as adjuncts in large universities across the nation. Trevor Griffey’s “Lecturers and Faculty Labor Unions during the COVID-19 Crisis: The View From California” provides an overview of the work experiences faced by non–tenure track faculty in California higher education and the ways that adjuncts have fought for job security in an increasingly chaotic academic job market. By sharing experiences, we can better prepare faculty from all ranks for an uncertain future.

Papers Presented

Everyday Life for Contingent Faculty in the Pandemic-Era University

Contingent faculty face a range of challenges, uncertainties, and inequities in a typical academic-year cycle. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic only served to heighten those professional anxieties, which were further compounded by personal anxieties. As women disproportionately occupy these positions, navigating everyday life for many contingent faculty meant the added burden of homeschooling, daycare work, food preparation and a considerable increase in emotional labor. This paper will explore the juncture of those responsibilities and the different strategies contingent faculty who are mothers used to adapt.

Presented By
Molly C. Ball

Lecturers and Faculty Labor Unions during the COVID-19 Crisis: The View from California

This paper will provide an overview of the various forms of contingency experienced by over 60,000 non-tenure track faculty working in California’s public higher education system. It will also describe some of the ways that lecturers have sought to resist layoffs and fight for job security in the midst of a global pandemic, with a focus on the experience of 4,000 lecturers in the University of California system.

Presented By
Trevor Griffey, University of California, Irvine

Session Participants

Chair: Thomas H. Cox, Sam Houston State University
Thomas H. Cox is associate professor of history at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. He received his Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo. His first book Gibbons v. Ogden, Law, and Society in the Early Republic (Ohio University Press, 2009). He is currently working on a biography of the Delano family entitled “The Mandarins of Algonac: The Delano Family and the Making of U.S.-Chinese Relations.”

Presenter: Molly C. Ball
Molly Ball is an adjunct history lecturer at the University of Rochester. Her expertise is the intersection of gender, immigration, race, and class. She has published Navigating Life and Work in Old Republic São Paulo (University of Florida Press, 2020). She and her spouse, UR Associate Professor of History Sierra Silva, were recently featured in an article entitled “Faculty couple reflects on the challenges—and surprises—of pandemic life.”

Presenter: Trevor Griffey, University of California, Irvine
Trevor Griffey, PhD, is a lecturer in Labor Studies at UCLA and U.S. History at UC Irvine, and serves as Vice President of UC-AFT Local 2226 at UC Irvine.

Commentator: Naomi R Williams
Naomi R Williams, Assistant Professor of Labor History at Rutgers University, researches working-class politics, contingent faculty advocacy, and social justice unionism. Her current book project examines the transformation of class identity and politics in the second half of the twentieth century.