The use of contingent faculty in higher education in the United States has grown tremendously over the past three decades. In 1975, only 30.2 percent of faculty were employed part time; by 2005, according to data compiled by the AAUP from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), part-time faculty represented approximately 48 percent of all faculty members in the United States.

Despite the widespread perception that part-time faculty are exploited, underpaid, and afforded miserable working terms and conditions, efforts to organize and unionize contingent faculty have had only limited success. According to the 2004 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty, 17 percent of part-time faculty report being a member of a "union or other bargaining association that is legally recognized to represent the faculty" at their institution, compared with more than 24 percent of full-time faculty. Given the low pay and poor working conditions thought to be prevalent in the contingent academic labor market, how is it that so many individuals are willing to work under such conditions, and why do they seem resistant to organizing to improve their lot?

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Copyright © 2009 American Association of University Professors. This article first appeared in Academe 95, no. 4 (July/August 2009): 33-37.

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