New Report Explores Faculty Roles and Composition, Offers Recommendations to Address Discrepancies

Changes in Faculty Composition at Independent Colleges report coverCIC released a new research report, Changes in Faculty Composition at Independent Colleges, in early July. The report describes a changing academic workforce and details how faculty composition and responsibilities vary by institutional type, program type, and academic discipline. Three leading researchers—Christopher Morphew of the University of Iowa, Kelly Ward of Washington State University, and Lisa Wolf-Wendel of the University of Kansas—wrote the report; their analysis draws upon comparative data from the U.S. Department of Education, a survey of CIC institutional research officers, and a survey of CIC chief academic officers about academic roles and composition.

“The report suggests that a flexible academic workforce can help small and mid-sized independent colleges adapt to changing needs without sacrificing high-quality undergraduate instruction or the tradition of shared governance, while recognizing and supporting the contributions of all faculty members to student success,” commented CIC President Richard Ekman.

Contingent faculty, defined in this report as full- or part-time faculty members who are not tenured, on the tenure track, or in multi-term contracts, are the majority of the new faculty in higher education today. Although there was a decrease in full-time appointments at independent colleges between 2000 and 2012 (see Figure 1), most traditional on-campus undergraduate programs remain staffed by tenure-line or long-term contract faculty members. CIC institutions most often use contingent faculty members in adult, professional, and graduate degree programs and to teach in rapidly expanding fields such as the health sciences. Despite common stereotypes, contingent faculty members are not marginalized at most independent colleges and universities.

Graph showing mean percentage of full-time faculty at CIC and non-CIC four-year colleges and universities in 2000 and 2012.  

An important finding of the report is that contingent faculty members​ are hired with significantly different expectations than tenure-track or long-term contract faculty members. When compared with tenure-track and long-term contract faculty members, contingent faculty members are:
  • Often hired with reduced expectations for advising students, supervising student research, or integrating service learning;
  • Far less likely to be hired using a faculty search committee or to receive a formal orientation once hired;​
  • More likely to devote all of their time to teaching with very little time devoted to research, service to the institution, or faculty governance; and
  • Far less likely to have access to office space, support staff, computers, institutional email accounts, or travel funds for professional development.
One result of these differences is that contingent faculty members may be less engaged with their faculty colleagues or less likely to participate in student learning experiences outside the classroom.

The authors offer several recommendations to address the discrepancies between roles and expectations of different types of faculty appointments. The authors recommend that colleges and universities:
  • Clarify the roles all types of faculty members in faculty handbooks;
  • Review the distribution of faculty work periodically;
  • Reexamine faculty hiring and orientation practices;
  • Consider the impact of relying on contingent faculty members on both students and long-term faculty members; and
  • Provide sufficient support for contingent faculty members.
The report is available online at