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Toward the Non-Tenure Track

Polly Zavadivker

Polly Zavadivker

This brief article shares strategies for contingent faculty who seek salaried and/or more secure employment at their current or another academic institution. My ideas are based on my own experiences having worked in multiple capacities since 2015 at the University of Delaware—first as an adjunct instructor, then a part-time salaried instructor, and since 2019, a full-time faculty member in the History Department and director of the constituent program in Jewish Studies. I do not hold a tenure-track job, but rather a position known at my university as “continuing non-tenure track,” which provides a renewable long-term contract subject to performance reviews.

To be clear, this is not a set of suggestions about how to secure a tenure-track position; rather, I am speaking of the great variety and rapidly growing quantity of non-tenured but full-time, salaried jobs for which academic institutions regularly seek and hire Ph.D.s—including, but not only, as instructors, program and center directors, library specialists, student advisors, teaching and learning experts, and much more. I offer those in contingent positions some different ways to think holistically about academic institutions where they currently work, and namely, to consider ways that they might create potential avenues to full-time salaried employment.

My suggestions are directed toward two groups: first, to people in contingent positions (adjuncts, but not only) who aspire to more secure, full-time employment at their current institutions; and second, to administrators, department and program chairs, or anyone else who may be in a position to support those contingent faculty to achieve their goals.

To those contingent faculty who wish to explore the possibilities of potential avenues to full-time salaried employment at their current institutions, I suggest these three questions as a starting point:

1) Does the university offer any kind of full-time salaried tracks outside of tenure-track professorships? Most universities do, although they go by different names at different institutions. As noted above, University of Delaware’s non-tenured positions are known as “continuing non-tenure track” positions (CNTT). I am one of hundreds of CNTT faculty on campus, with colleagues in English, History, and Women’s Studies. While such positions can be and often are conducted through national searches, it is not uncommon to see adjunct faculty become inside candidates in these searches, or to have deans appoint certain candidates to these positions. But even apart from these formally recognized full-time non-tenured track positions, there may be other less conventional paths toward salaried lines, as I suggest below in #3.

2) Do you have allies at the department or college level to advocate on your behalf? If not, are there any people with whom you can form such relationships? The path toward job security almost certainly requires allies at the program, department and college levels. Departmental politics can be tricky to navigate, of course, but consider anyone to whom you can demonstrate your potential as a colleague, may be supportive of your situation, and is in a position of influence within the department and/or college.

3) Can you identify any needs within the university that you might be able to fill apart from teaching courses? I am amazed at the sheer number and variety of academic and student support units at Delaware: centers for community engagement, instructional support, digital humanities, diversity, any many more; these in addition to libraries, archives, museums, and archives, most of which are staffed by Ph.D.s. This assumes you are willing to work in multiple roles, both scholarly and administrative—for example, to offer to continue to teach courses that fill department needs, while also staffing a center or other academic unit.

This approach takes chutzpah and some faith. It requires you to create a job where none exists. It also requires a lot of preparation and methodical planning: you need to conjure ideas for how your academic training and experience can potentially be an asset to a variety of programs, then seek out the people who have hiring capacity and influence in those programs, and then request an audience with those people to promote yourself and make your pitch. As I said, this is an unconventional approach, and it requires knowledge of and sensitivity to the institutional landscape. But for those who have little to lose (i.e., most adjuncts), it could lead to unexpected opportunities and paths toward full-time employment.

While no two situations are exactly alike, I offer these ideas as a way to consider the academic world more holistically—as a place of possibilities, even where few seem to apparently exist. I welcome your thoughts and queries.

Polly Zavadivker is an Assistant Professor of History and the Director of the Program in Jewish Studies at the University of Delaware.