In early November, I attended the annual meeting of the Western Historical Association (WHA) – an organization of academics and non-academics drawn together by their love of the history of the American West. It’s by far my favorite conference to attend. Since my own research has focused on the Southwest and Native American history – both parts of the larger history of the American West – I’ve served on panels or presented papers at the conference in the past.
This year, however, I went to the WHA conference as a member of the Contingent Faculty Committee. “Contingent Faculty” are members of university faculty who do not have tenure or tenure-track positions – anyone from part-time adjuncts to full-time instructors. Today, contingent faculty make up more than 50 percent of all university faculty. The WHA and other professional history organizations are trying to figure out how to support this portion of the profession which is only likely to grow in the future. How can contingent faculty – who have little to no institutional support for research or travel at most institutions – maintain an active research agenda, in order to remain competitive for the shrinking number of tenure-track jobs? How do they travel to conferences to learn about new research being done in their fields, present their own research, and simply create and/or maintain professional connections? (Note: I was only able to attend the conference because the CHPA here at MSU does provide travel funds). How can professional organizations like the WHA help remove the stigma that can come from being “contingent faculty,” helping universities and their tenure-track/tenured faculty value and invest in this portion of the university faculty who will continue to bear the brunt of teaching responsibilities into the foreseeable future? These were just some of the things we discussed at the meeting.
Overall, I think it was a productive initial meeting for the committee, and I’m proud to be part of an organization trying to lead the way in addressing these significant issues that will affect the future of higher education in the United States.
Dr. John Gram