Committee begins investigation of contingency at UAlbany
By Madeline St. Amour
March 10, 2015
The University at Albany formed a committee this semester dedicated to investigating and studying contingency. James Stellar, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, leads the committee of 13 people.
The committee was created by former interim Provost Timothy Mulcahy and President Robert J. Jones, Stellar said.
Bret Benjamin, president of UAlbany’s United University Professors Chapter (UUP), said that UUP was central in the committee’s formation. UUP was able to recommend committee members, as well as assist in the construction of its mission. Benjamin said that they also plan to send a list of “policy proposals.”
“We consider it laudable that the university is taking the issue so seriously and appears to be looking to identify substantive, structural reforms rather than merely cosmetic quick-fixes,” Benjamin said of the committee.
According to Stellar, the committee has been charged with looking into the issue of contingency and how it affects teachers, and then figuring out ways to “optimize what we’re doing for them.”
To do this properly, the committee is made up of a variety of university faculty and staff.
“It’s designed to be representative of the university community itself,” Stellar said.
Within the committee there is a dean, two tenure track faculty, a full-time contingent professor, two full-time lecturers, two part-time lecturers, and a graduate teaching assistant, among others.
One member, James Collins, is a tenured professor who said in an email that while contingency does not affect him directly, it does affect “the future of everyone in higher education.”
The committee is in its infancy and has met twice so far, but members are hopeful that it will accomplish its goals.
“I am optimistic that we can accomplish our stated objectives… to enhance the professional experience of the contingent faculty,” Rocco Ferraro, a part-time lecturer, said in an email.
While no official decisions have been made this early on, Stellar said that they did talk about using focus groups and talking to people “other than [those] just around the table.” Two groups he mentioned were graduate students who teach as adjuncts and contingent professors who have been locked in to contingency for a long period of time.
Stellar has looked into issues concerning contingency before at his previous institution, Queens College of the City University of New York (CUNY), which was similar in size to UAlbany, he said.
“[One group] said that their biggest complaint was that they felt isolated, from each other and from us,” he said. The committee at UAlbany will have to conduct focus groups to see if this is the case, he said, but a similar feeling is likely.
The largest issue is probably the school’s budget, Stellar said, because of a decrease in state aid and the school’s desire to keep tuition affordable. At the same time, the school wants its professors “to be able to live.”
At Queens College Stellar also found that “there was not an issue of quality.” On the evaluation forms that students filled out, contingent faculty generally scored just as high as non-contingent faculty. He found this sentiment to be true in face-to-face conversations with students about their contingent professors, as well.
Stellar said that the committee plans to start working diligently in the next few weeks.
“It is an important problem and a tough nut to crack. Fortunately, there is a good cohort of contingents currently organizing on this issue at UAlbany,” Collins said.