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Below is a letter from Dr. John Kutsko, Executive Director of the Society for Biblical Literature (SBL), the organization that oversees international, national, and regional academic meetings for scholars in Biblical Studies and related fields. All members of SBL received this letter, and I applaud Kutsko for his transparency and commitment to being a resource. (FYI, Kutsko is one of the editors of the The SBL Handbook of Style ).

As you can see, the news is horrible. Here is the relevant portion of the letter (emphasis is mine). “Contingent” faculty are non tenure-track, part time, adjunct faculty.

Dear Colleague:

The Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW) has released the results of its Fall 2010 Survey of Contingent Faculty Members, Instructors, and Researchers. The survey inquired about course assignments, salaries, benefits, and general working conditions as members of the contingent academic workforce experience them at the institutional level. Such data are critical to our work in SBL, the future of our Society, and the Society’s context within higher education. This report provides critical data to the higher education field, disciplinary associations, advocacy groups, contingent faculty members, instructors, and researchers. It is available on both the CAW and SBL websites.

CAW is a group of higher education associations, disciplinary associations, and faculty organizations committed to addressing issues associated with deteriorating faculty working conditions and their effect on college and university students in the United States. When faculty members are not sufficiently supported, they are not able to provide students with the highest quality learning experience. The survey finds that faculty employed in contingent positions are not provided with the support resources necessary to excel and consistently provide such a learning experience for their students. Faculty employed part-time and paid the low wages documented in this report would likely need to find some other means for supporting themselves, which takes time and energy away from their teaching and interaction with students. Moreover, while the survey primarily addressed material working conditions, comments received at the end of the survey confirm the common belief that such faculty operate under inordinate stress and uncertainty, often self-censor in various ways out of a fear of repercussions or losing their jobs, and are left out of governance discussions that affect them.

These problems pervade higher education. According to data from the United States Department of Education’s 2009 Fall Staff Survey, of the nearly 1.8 million faculty members and instructors who made up the 2009 instructional workforce in degree-granting two- and four-year institutions of higher education in the United States, more than 1.3 million (75.5%) were employed in contingent positions off the tenure track, either as part-time or adjunct faculty members, full-time non-tenure-track faculty members, or graduate student teaching assistants.

To summarize, 3/4 of all faculty members–1.3 million out of 1.8 million–are “contingent” faculty. And that stinks majorly.

Note, this survey does not include seminaries, but I will bet you dollars to donuts (never knew what that meant but it sounds good) the situation there is as bad as anywhere. I can list you seminary after seminary that has chosen to fill vacated positions with adjunct faculty.

Note too, that this survey covers all academic fields, not just Biblical Studies, Theology, etc., so the specific statistics for the fields that might interest you could be better or worse. My money is on worse…way worse…since seminaries tend to have pressing financial concerns even in good times.

And keep in mind from my previous post that even full-time tenure track positions, which are so hard to get, pay lower than most people get who have 10 years or so of post-college schooling behind them.

This is how it is, folks, and it ain’t getting any better.

Be sure you click the CAW report on the SBL website to get the full picture.


Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.