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Recently, the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) held a regional event in Durham, NC, at which the university publishing, university library, and partner communities were each well-represented. After that meeting one if the attendees posed the following question to the Scholarly Kitchen:

How does the increased use of adjunct faculty affect scholarly publishing?

This month we’ve asked the Chefs to tell us what they think.

Robert Harington: I would say that that the increased use of adjunct faculty has no bearing on scholarly publishing. Having been asked the question though, I wanted to understand better the role of adjunct faculty in academic life. One of the first things I realized is that while the term adjunct faculty is common in the US, it really is not so common beyond our shores. An adjunct faculty member in the US is someone who is, in some sense, a part timer at an institution, often paid by the class, often without access to benefits that their institution provides to full-time employees. There are other categories of non-tenured faculty of course, such as lecturers, and yet are lecturers adjuncts? Well I don’t think so. Although in the UK (to take one example) tenure has all been eradicated, lecturers are hardly the same as American adjuncts in terms of how they fit into academic life. How so?

  • Security — The position of an adjunct is a tenuous one. If you are paid primarily to teach, and you are reliant on student evaluations as your only means of proving to your bosses how effective you are, what does that mean for the independence of grading? Of course, different fields behave in different ways. If you are in a professional academic field, then you may be a highly ranked expert in a professional setting who is appointed as adjunct to help bolster the teaching of professional practice in an academic setting.
  • Status — However, in many fields, being an adjunct professor means that you are not able to break into the tenure track of that institution. In some fields, such as mathematics, where many of the best mathematicians are not in high profile institutions, rather in positions at community colleges, then you may well be an adjunct in contract status, but at the top of your profession academically.
  • Job satisfaction — An interesting Trends and Issues report from the TIAA-CREF Institute published in May 2015, The Career Experience of Academics in Adjunct Faculty Positions, unsurprisingly reinforces our understanding that adjunct faculty are not as satisfied in their academic life as those who are in tenure track positions, to a large extent due to the structural concerns of low pay, lack of job security, and a lack of access to professional advancement opportunities for their career.

In short, adjuncts are basically not in a position to publish, be it journal articles, or books – there is no time, and little in the way of available resources, and little or no loyalty to a body of students through teaching a course and refining it over time. Perhaps this is an opportunity for publishers to consider the role of the textbook more carefully, but this is a broader question of which the adjunct faculty question is possibly a trigger, but not more.

Phill Jones: The increasing use of adjunct professors as cheap teaching labor in the social sciences and humanities, particularly in the United States, has many similarities to the increased use of postdocs in the sciences. I think that both phenomena are at least partly related to the way that academia is structured like a sort of a winner-takes-all competition that fails to provide job security or fair compensation to the majority of people working in the sector. When the plight of junior academics is raised, some publishers wonder what it has to do with them, or what they can do about it. Learned societies in particular could look to postdoc associations for ideas and advocate for a fairer deal for younger academics. Even university presses and commercial publishers could benefit from the community building that would come with this sort of advocacy. From a product and service point of view, it’s important to listen to the problems that our customers have and come up with creative solutions. For instance, junior academics need help getting noticed, and so tools to help them build their reputation and impact are very helpful.

Joe Esposito: The growth in the use of adjuncts, which is controversial at best, may not affect the production of scholarly materials, which is tied mostly to research faculty, and even there, disproportionately in the largest institutions. What it does affect is the evolving structure of the market for instructional materials. Adjuncts, who are pressed for time, are less likely to experiment with Open Educational Resources (OER) and they often find that their departments dictate the texts they must teach from. Publishers in the higher ed marketplace are thus increasingly likely to look to target their sales efforts at departments (as opposed to individual instructors) and even at the institutional level. Lurking in the background is a gradual erosion of academic freedom, not from prejudice or fiat but by the emerging economy. How free to choose course materials is someone who is teaching 5 courses at 3 different institutions?

Jill O’Neill: A 2014 white paper by Dr. Adrianna Kezar (University of Southern California) for the TIAA-CREF Institute identified four models of contingency faculty: (1) the adjunct faculty model (part-timers hired to teach one or two courses); (2) the non-tenure-track faculty model (those hired to teach multiple courses on a contract basis, year-to-year); (3) the medical/clinical model; and (4) an online/for profit faculty model. Of those four, Kezar suggested that the medical/clinical model was perhaps the most advanced in its adoption and in ensuring the best outcomes for both faculty and the paying student. In that model, medical schools had moved to define three primary tracks for faculty hired — research, education and clinical. On page 6 of that white paper, Changing Faculty Workforce Models, Kezar writes “medical schools have reconfigured the entire notion of tenure, making it a marginal part of their overall workforce model with very specified purposes relating to research.”  

While no single model will work for all institutions of higher education (IHE), such differentiation of roles could make sense for a broad range of academic institutions. But the implications for scholarly publishing are varied. If the publish-or-perish model no longer carries the same weight in ensuring predictable, long-term academic employment, then a certain percentage of the research output supply stream will dry up, simply because faculty energies will be applied more appropriately elsewhere. The productivity metrics for assessing those in education roles shouldn’t mirror productivity metrics required for assessing those in research roles. This could constitute a happier version of “right-sizing” than that normally encountered when restructuring an organization’s workforce.    

Such a small (but not insignificant) check on the volume of output could prove useful to content providers charged with re-engineering processes for peer review and dissemination. On the flip side, however, that same shift could have an impact on the volunteer labor pool upon which content providers rely for other types of participation. Those not tasked with publishing in a given field may not be particularly motivated to support the publication processes of others. Nor may IHEs feel such service to the broader community is key to the role those in an “education” track are paid to fill. Driven both by the shifting nature of the workforce as well as the influence of the open access movement, it’s possible content providers would see shrinkage in the available labor pool, at the same time those providers are tasked with making the peer review process better, faster and cheaper. While highly sophisticated systems for peer review are currently under development, not all aspects of review processes can be automated. Those same content providers may need to become increasingly competitive in soliciting the services of editors or reviewers as well as in their support of those services.

Twenty years ago, at a joint SSP-NASIG event, I heard the provost of a statewide university system say that the key to reforming scholarly communication was firmly tied to a shift in the academic reward system, a shift he did not then see as being imminent. But disruption has come to IHEs, and a differentiation between faculty on separate tracks for research or educational roles will certainly drive change in the reward system. (That is, after all, the objective in terms of reducing labor costs.) Publish-or-Perish becomes Perform-or-Perish. Just how critical publication is to performance has yet to be determined by IHEs, but it is doubtful that it will take them another twenty years to find out.

Karin Wulf: To begin with the perfectly obvious point, and the impetus behind this edition of “Ask the Chefs,” scholarly publishing is firmly entwined with higher education, and changes in the latter are having profound effects on the former. One example discussed often on the Scholarly Kitchen is the requirements for open access publishing, particularly emanating from the UK. But there are plenty of other examples of ways that shifts in higher education policies and practices have an important effect on publishing; the increasing reliance on contingent faculty, suggested by some to account now for almost 70% of higher education instruction, is one.

The rising numbers of contingent faculty has happened concurrently with an increase in scholarly publishing driven by increasing requirements for tenure (along with some policies to support it, such as the pre-tenure leave). In my discipline, history, these developments create even greater inequities among scholars. Publishing is not just an outcome, it is a process. It is a process that depends on the skill and talent of press teams that include acquisitions and manuscript editors as well as financial and marketing professionals. I have recently discussed here the potential inequalities inherent in a system of subventions dependent on the author in question having already acquired a position within a university that is willing to invest in their career.

But before any work of scholarly writing arrives at a journal or a press, it has been vetted and discussed in any number of venues. Formal conferences, smaller workshops and seminars, and informal exchanges among colleagues are all a critical aspect of developing quality work. And every one of those is immeasurably more difficult to access for contingent faculty. Yes, the financial resources are more limited or non-existent for contingent faculty, but so too are the socio-cultural resources of academic community. Contingent history faculty consistently report being excluded from the major financial benefits of a full time, tenure track position. But they also have much less time to devote to their research, and many fewer opportunities for the collegial, critical exchange so essential to developing quality scholarship.

The impact for scholarly publishing? Yes, there are non-academic positions well-suited to (and in fact in great need of) expertise and there are hints of a developing market for more popular publications drawn from deep research and a scholarly background. But the central fact remains: greater inequities among faculty and an ever closer association of scholarly publishing with full time, tenured or tenure eligible faculty reduces opportunity for scholars and thus and impoverishes scholarship.

Judy Luther: The number of adjunct or contingent faculty has tripled in the last thirty years to 70% of faculty positions while the number of tenure track positions has shrunk to 30%. Large research-based public universities in the US have swapped tenured positions for adjuncts and rapid growth in for-profit universities has been met with adjunct faculty. These contingent positions typically offer no benefits, no opportunity for advancement and provide no support for research. Ironically when adjunct faculty have time between semesters to work on their research and/or publications with the intent of obtaining a tenure track position, they often do not have access to the library resources they need to so do. 

We might expect that these constraints would limit the volume of submissions. If that is the case, it most likely has been masked by a growing number of papers submitted by scholars internationally. The growth in research funding outside of North America has created strong demand for publication in established journals that have an Impact Factor.  However, the shrinking number of research faculty positions also reduces the number of available reviewers. While this problem has not yet reached critical mass in all disciplines, it will likely be evident at some point.

Meanwhile the concerns of college graduates to secure a job to pay their student loans puts a spotlight on the nature and quality of their preparation for the workforce. This is especially true in the UK where students who had been accustomed to free tuition may be required to pay £9,000 per year. Students are thinking twice about advanced degrees when the job prospects are daunting, which may limit the number of future scholars depending on the discipline. 

Ann Michael: Since I am by no means an expert, or even marginally knowledgeable about this issue, I selfishly hope that we’ll also get the perspectives and contributions of the Scholarly Kitchen community in considering this question. 

  • Is this only an issue in the US? 
  • Can a system effectively employ and reward different types of faculty? How?
  • In the absence of publication, how are faculty rated? Is student feedback alone enough?

I’m looking forward to hearing more!


Ann Michael

Ann Michael

Ann Michael is Chief Transformation Officer at AIP Publishing, leading the Data & Analytics, Product Innovation, Strategic Alignment Office, and Product Development and Operations teams. She also serves as Board Chair of Delta Think, a consultancy focused on strategy and innovation in scholarly communications. Throughout her career she has gained broad exposure to society and commercial scholarly publishers, librarians and library consortia, funders, and researchers. As an ardent believer in data informed decision-making, Ann was instrumental in the 2017 launch of the Delta Think Open Access Data & Analytics Tool, which tracks and assesses the impact of open access uptake and policies on the scholarly communications ecosystem. Additionally, Ann has served as Chief Digital Officer at PLOS, charged with driving execution and operations as well as their overall digital and supporting data strategy.


14 Thoughts on "Ask The Chefs: How Does The Increased Use of Adjunct Faculty Affect Scholarly Publishing?"

In Australia we have “sessional instructors” who teach whole courses who are the equivalent of adjuncts in the US and “tutors” who teach discussion/problem/lab sections known here as “tutorials”. They are mostly PhD students. So, the equivalent of TA’s in the US. Adjunct in Australia means more like “honorary professor”. Usually someone senior in industry who wants a university affiliation. Lecturers, here and in the UK, are assistant professors in US terms.

Many of my Australian colleagues in industry are desperately looking for the kind “adjunct” appointment you describe, primarily for access to academic libraries. Interestingly, some are employed in public health services which do provide access to research libraries – but find those library services vastly inferior (and more costly) to those at the universities.

It’s a bit off-topic, but I was really taken aback by Robert’s assertion that “many of the best mathematicians are not in high profile institutions, rather in positions at community colleges”. I have a Master’s in math and am currently a math liaison librarian, and that is not the impression that I have gotten. I’d be very interested in hearing where he is getting that information.

Clayton, thanks for your comment, which is a good one. I do somewhat overstate things in this paragraph. It is true that most mathematicians who publish are in 4-year institutions. Having said that, the point I am attempting to make is that a mathematician’s work does not require the infrastructure needed for many fields of research, and is indeed a contemplative endeavor that may be practised at a high level from a range of type of institution, and in fact is. I hope this correction addresses your well made point .

Thanks for the response, Robert. I do have a better understanding of the point you were trying to make (and again, I know it was kind of incidental to the main thrust of the article).

From the stories I hear from adjunct faculty I know, finding that contemplative time may be challenging when the adjunct is teaching at multiple schools in order to cobble together enough income to cover their living expenses and education loans. I can certainly see a tenured or long-term-contract math professor at a community college being able to do great work; ditto an adjunct who’s financially supported by a spouse and is teaching only one course because they want to keep a toe in the teaching world. However, I’m unconvinced that the majority of adjuncts have the security that frees their mind for contemplation.

Not strictly on topic but can we nail the common misinformation that tenure has been ‘abolished’ in the UK. It may no longer exist in the strict legal sense to be found in some US institutions, but universities are still subject to general UK employment law. This gives all workers on ‘permanent’ contracts a great deal of protection from arbitrary dismissal, unlike the ‘hire-at-will’ position in the US. Permanent faculty can only be terminated for legally acceptable cause under standards of due process. Employers who disregard this are subject to quite heavy financial and reputational penalties. Temporary and contingent faculty are in a position more like US workers but the practical differences for permanent faculty are not great. The acceptable causes for termination – normally some kind of egregious misconduct – are much the same as those would apply under a US tenure regime. The main exception is organizational restructuring, but even there, universities typically have to pay quite large sums to buy out the contracts of faculty whose skills are no longer required.

I believe things are similar in Australia regarding permanent academic appointments.

One thing the chefs missed that seems obvious to me (disclosure: I’m the sales and marketing director at PSU Press) is that the market for monographs and even higher-end crossover books will continue to contract due to the increased use of adjuncts. There are several reasons for this, including the fact that adjuncts are paid less and so have less to spend on books and journals (not to mention conference travel, which is a great way to discover publications and buy them at significant discounts); adjuncts are, as many noted, less connected to the profession, and so are less likely to learn about, or feel they need to read, the newest publications; and given the course load adjuncts must carry to earn enough to live, they also have less time to read.

There are long-ranging consequences of this for the business of academic publishing – especially for the American university press model – that I prefer not to consider too deeply at the moment. My own comparison of university press book output when I started in this business eleven years ago with what we as a group are doing now reveals a decrease in foundational texts, stagnant and receding lists in many areas of the humanities and social sciences, and price increases above inflationary effects on overhead, production, and distribution costs.

I would thought it would also have a knock on effect on the number of reviewers available to peer review articles?

To reply to Ann’s question, this is an issue in Japan also.

I’m working at a company for “Scholarly communication” in Japan and I have also had spending many years in graduate school. Until now, I am still surrounded by family and friends who are adjunct lecturers in Japan. The biggest problem is not the increasing of adjuncts itself but it’s the result of the problem which is “There is a tiny number of full-time position in institutions”. Especially, for humanity, even existing positions are tend to be decreased.

What will affect Scholarly Publishing? The answer would be a cycle as follows;
– Adjuncts who have a few classes > They have TIME to do their researches but not enough living expenses to do so.
– They search for more classes to gain more income > They have no more time to do researches.
– They don’t have scholarship to read paid papers outside institutions > Hard to complete their researches.
– No budget for publishing OA > They may decide to publish their contents freely by themselves (hyperlinks or etc.)
– A full time position always requires for “a number of research” but they hardly gain it.
– Since there are many dilemma as above, competent human resources tend to escape to non-academic enterprises.

As a result, a bit of “Lifelessness” may strike the scholarly world.

Thanks Kiku – given the tiny number of full-time positions, how do those positions get filled? Does it tend to go to folks from top schools or those that are better connected with those that can influence the hiring process? Is there a way to break the cycle? It’s quite depressing really = and it seems as though the “market” would adjust and fewer people would then embark on this path at all.

Thank you, Ann.
Fortunately, the situation is not extremely depressing. Those positions get filled with ones with true abilities. Faculty councils judge applicants from quality and quantity of their products and achievements, not just a school name or a connection with someone. So it is fair for researchers who make effort to their good works. The difficulty is that once you get a position, you will keep it until your retirement (or move), so during those 30 years(?) you are at that seat, it will not available for new comers. This may be the same as non-academic enterprises but universities hardly grow up and increase positions unless they grant research fund for new projects.
I am a one who quitted the academic life to office-life and I am now to find out what’s going on in the scholarly world. It’s very nice seeing many points of view being shared on Scholarly Kitchen. Thank you.

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