The Problem and Solution to Contingency at CU

Following is the Introduction to a proposal titled “The Problem and Solution to Contingency at the University of Colorado,” written by Don Eron and Suzanne Hudson, officers of both the AAUP chapter of the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Colorado Conference of the AAUP. The proposal, that the University of Colorado implement the AAUP’s “Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure,” resulted in a referendum approved by contingent faculty at CU-Boulder, 279 in favor, 29 against. The Boulder faculty government, however, could not be persuaded to recommend a tenure system for instructors, and instructors continue working in as “temps” no matter how long or how well they have served the University. The Instructor Tenure Project is an ongoing initiative.

Read the report in its entirety here: The Problem and Solution to Contingency


Reliable information regarding the numbers and professional circumstances of contingent faculty at the University of Colorado has, over the past thirty years, been obscured by a proliferation of titles—lecturers, adjuncts, instructors, senior instructors, and visiting assistant professors—with varying lengths of contracted employment, and varying responsibilities. One thing they have in common is that all of them serve as at-will employees whose contracts can be terminated at any time without cause. The purposes and strategies of hiring contingent faculty, while well intended to meet evolving challenges to the University administration, have resulted in a shell game that has often kept the public, prospective students and their parents, administrators, and contingent faculty themselves in the dark about the quality of the ultimate product our university claims to offer—an education that provides our students with the skills and knowledge to become viable actors in our civic discourse.

Recent reports from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) identify the predicament of contingent faculty as one of the most significant problems facing higher education today. This proposal describes the impact of this predicament on the quality of education offered at the University of Colorado. It also offers a solution, accompanied by justifications for the necessity of implementing this solution.

In essence, this solution mandates that the University create a new tenure track that specializes in teaching and service, called “Instructor Tenure,” that is distinct from “Professor Tenure” with its obligations in teaching, service, and research. Our remedy to the problems that contingency has created is for the University to adopt the AAUP’s “Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure” with the following stipulations:

(1) That “Instructor Tenure” shall be regarded as entirely distinct from “Professor Tenure,” with the same differences in workload expectations, job titles, and pay scales that currently exist;

(2) That the probationary period for instructor tenure shall be no more than seven years, as determined by the academic unit;

(3) That the probationary period for instructor tenure shall include non-consecutive periods, under all faculty titles including, but not limited to, “lecturer” and “adjunct”;

(4) That the probationary period may include teaching experience at other institutions of higher education, such cases to be decided at the unit level;

(5) That after the probationary period and a final review, similar to previous reviews, the faculty member shall be declared tenured—no longer an at-will, contractual employee;

(6) That faculty members who have already exceeded the probationary period, and have therefore proven themselves meritorious by virtue of their repeated reappointment, shall be immediately tenured;

(7) That the tenure clock shall be set retroactively to the time of hire for faculty who have yet to fulfill the probationary requirement;

(8) That part-time contingent faculty are also tenurable according to the above conditions, at a commensurate part-time level (For example, a faculty member who has taught an average of 50%-time for the duration of the probationary period is eligible for a 50%-time tenured position.);

(9) That academic units have a responsibility to train and mentor their probationary teaching faculty to prepare them for tenure;

(10) That tenured instructors shall undergo post-tenure reviews every five years, in accordance with university policy. Such reviews must reflect the standards and expectations set by previous, pre-tenure reviews.

We recognize a seemingly inherent contradiction throughout this proposal: on one hand, we claim that instructors at CU are excellent and therefore deserve tenure; on the other hand, we claim that instructors at CU are prevented from achieving excellence because of their contingent status. We submit here that both assertions are true. Instructors have both the desire and potential for excellence but lack the institutional support needed to deliver it consistently in the classroom and at faculty meetings.

While this proposal leans heavily on recent AAUP findings, these findings are validated by the experiences and observations of the authors over a combined thirty-five years of teaching as contingent faculty at CU, discussions with colleagues confronting the same obstacles and prohibitions, and the weight of common sense.

Read the report in its entirety here: The Problem and Solution to Contingency