Our union is part of a broader movement to resist the increasing precarization of the university, restore security, and reclaim a stronger voice for faculty. This week, we write to share more information about the growing role of contract faculty in U.S. higher education, and the attendant growth of contract faculty unions. 

U.S. universities are increasingly dependent on contract faculty. The 2021 AAUP ARES reports “a major shift” over the past 10 years, due to “a proliferation of ranked full-time contingent appointments.” Today, 22.6% of all faculty at doctoral institutions are contract faculty, up from 17.5% in fall 2009.

At NYU, the proliferation of contract faculty appointments may well outpace the national average. NYU has grown substantially over the last two decades, and the corresponding expansion of the faculty has been predominantly in the full-time continuing contract faculty ranks. For instance, in FAS, between 2000-2018, the number of contract faculty grew by roughly 1000% (from 37 to 403); in the same period, the number of tenured or tenure-track faculty also grew, but by a mere 43% (from 513 to 733).

NYU contract faculty hold a range of titles and responsibilities. Like tenured faculty, we are expected to publish or otherwise contribute to our fields, advise students, serve on committees, participate in shared governance, and hold administrative positions according to department need. However, we generally teach more and earn less than our tenured colleagues, and we must undergo frequent, extensive reviews to keep our jobs.  

It’s easy to see why administrators favor contract faculty lines. We are very productive, relatively cheap, and aware of our own disposability. By shifting work onto contract faculty, universities can cut instructional costs while avoiding reputational harm, since many college rankings look at the proportion of part-time to full-time (not tenured) faculty. In 2003, an email uncovered in litigation confirmed one NYU dean’s understanding of contract faculty status: “Re the clinicals getting appointed — are we clear…that this is not forever? I would like to see these as three to five yrs. max. We need people we can abuse exploit and then turn loose.” 

At NYU and across the country, contract faculty have been coming together to push back against exploitation and insecurity. New unions have been emerging at private universities since 2014, when contract faculty won the right to unionize. 

  • Our colleagues at Tufts and Fordham negotiated stronger job protections and expanded benefits, while Boston University’s contract faculty secured an average salary increase of 15% in the first year of the contract, as well as automatic annual 2.5% cost-of-living increases. 
  • Barnard contingent faculty negotiated a 16% salary floor increase over three years. Since 2017, NYU has raised the lowest contract faculty salary minimums several times, lagging roughly a year behind the scheduled raises that Barnard contract faculty won in their first union contract.

NYU’s contract faculty union will be the largest such union at a private university organized to date. Our numbers reveal a fundamental truth: this university could not fulfill its educational mission without us. By forming a union, we are demanding that NYU acknowledge the strength in our numbers, and negotiate with us as equals. 

Building a strong union will take all of us; to get involved, please contact us.