An Award to Propel Action: The Delphi Project Offers a $15K Incentive to Inspire and Support Reform of Contingent Faculty Working Conditions

A Q&A with Adrianna Kezar, director of the The Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success, about the newly launched Delphi Award

(Disclosure:  NFM president Maria Maisto served on the Delphi Award Advisory Board)


New Faculty Majority (NFM): You have been working for a long time — at least ten years — informing, persuading, warning, and encouraging higher education leaders to take the contingent faculty crisis seriously. NFM has been gratified to work with you. Like us, you point out that contingent faculty employment practices harm the educational mission of colleges and universities. You’ve taken the lead in exploring what accreditors can do, what administrators should do, and what trustees can do. You’ve highlighted contingent faculty voices and leadership. So: what exactly is this new Delphi Award and what is its purpose?

Adrianna Kezar (AK): Thanks to NFM and its members for their on-going support! This annual award recognizes an exemplary policy, practice, or program that supports student learning by improving working conditions for contingent faculty. It comes with $15,000 to invest in development and sustainability of that policy, practice, or program. The background of this award is that I have been striving to find a way to both accelerate work to better support contingent faculty and garner examples that would help propel more action. Whether I am speaking to unions, faculty, administrators, or staff on campus, they all ask me for examples of good work — changed policies and practices — but it has been hard to get people to submit examples of that work to me to highlight (there is an area on the Delphi website for this).

Through an award, the Delphi Project can promote and inspire work that provides good models for others. These models can be used in union bargaining, for faculty mobilization or administrative action. I also hope the attention that awards receive will help provide visibility for this kind of work and propel more action.

NFM:  Some people might not think an award can do very much, or might only support and recognize administrators. Our members really see that change comes from the bottom up. How would you respond to people who might be cynical or fearful that this award will not actually support contingent faculty?

AK:  I completely understand the fear and cynicism, which is why we have tried to build requirements into the award criteria that we think will mitigate the risk of the award being ineffective or of rewarding the wrong entities. For example, criterion #5 (“Evidence that the program, policy, or practice has been designed in collaboration with the faculty that the program, policy, or practice is aimed at”) would disqualify unions or institutions that do not involve contingent faculty in developing their policies and strategies. Similarly, look at #7: “Evidence that the program, policy, or practice is being institutionalized and will be sustained. Evidence may entail inclusion in strategic plans, stated leadership commitment, fundraising and development aimed at supporting the practice. If it has existed for over a year, how did it survive after the first year of implementation? How has it improved or altered to ensure its sustainability?” This criterion aims to make sure that whatever we recognize is not something that just happens once or that would be totally dependent on a sympathetic administrator or union leader.

And I agree, most of my studies have shown that change comes [from the] bottom up. I have written extensively on grassroots change and social movements. This is really how I see the world.  I also know from this research that grassroots efforts can be fragile and can be supported and institutionalized through awards like this. An award can legitimize and make changes more permanent, especially when it comes with financial support. It is based on my research about sustaining grassroots changes that this award idea came from.

NFM: How does this award support contingent faculty in particular?

AK:  First, as I noted above, the award is aimed at encouraging and providing better working conditions for contingent faculty — salary, benefits, orientation, professional development, promotion and advancement, etc. Second, the award recognizes whoever is conducting the work, whether they are unions, faculty senates, independent faculty groups, staff, administrators, or student groups, and stipulates that the work must have meaningful contingent faculty input. Third, the award can provide monetary support directly to contingent faculty efforts and get visibility on their campus for their good work. We hope the award will lead to long-term improvement and even significant reform of contingent faculty working conditions.

NFM: Who can apply?

AK:  Anyone who is working to improve the policies, practices and programs that support contingent faculty. This is an award to recognize any set of individuals or groups that support change but in particular faculty leaders and champions working on campuses to improve the work of contingent faculty.

NFM:   Where are you promoting this award?

AK:  Throughout higher ed. I have reached out to higher education organizations and to all the unions to send information to their membership to encourage people to apply. I am also reaching out to advocacy groups like NFM to help disseminate information and encourage applications. The National Center for [the Study of] Collective Bargaining in Higher Education put the award in its January newsletter and will announce the award at its April conference. Disciplinary organizations should promote it as well.

NFM: Who will select the winners?

AK:  Delphi project staff, some members of the Association of American Colleges & Universities, which has been our partner organization, and a few members of our advisory board. We are ensuring contingent faculty are on the selection committee.

NFM:  Why the focus on faculty models that “support student learning”?

AK:  A couple of reasons. Everyone agrees faculty should be supported properly, but what that means has been the object of debate. Faculty activists have rightly been declaring for decades that faculty working conditions are student learning conditions, so this award will give applicants an opportunity to show explicitly how this is the case. By requiring applicants to think about and explain how their policies or ideas both support contingent faculty and enhance student learning, common ground can be built to continue developing and supporting these discussions and initiatives. This focus on student learning is an acknowledgement that institutions have failed both faculty and students when they do not provide an adequate environment for faculty to conduct their work. This needs to be exposed and visible and the award can help to do that as well

NFM:  So how do people learn more?

AK:  Our website lists all the details about applying. June 1, 2018 is the deadline for the first award, but it will be given annually. We look forward to receiving applications and nominations from NFM members!

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