1999 AHA Department Survey Shows Increased Hiring of Low-Wage Part-Time Faculty

Robert B. Townsend, September 1999

The latest AHA survey of history departments found notable growth in the hiring of temporary and part-time appointments, and showed marked wage disparities for part-time faculty.

For the first time, last year's annual department survey (which requested data for the 1997–98 academic year) included questions about the employment of part-time faculty. Of the 674 U.S. departments listed in the Directory of History Departments and Organizations, just under half (332) responded to the survey. The data should be read with care, however, since the Directory consists of a disproportionate number of large and PhD-granting institutions.1

Status of Part-time History Faculty

Fully 85 percent of the departments that responded to the survey reported that they use one or more part-time faculty, and 20 percent of the departments reported that they employed 10 or more part-time faculty in the 1997–98 academic year. Respondents reported an average of 4.8 part-time faculty per department.

As noted in more general surveys, two-year colleges reported the largest use of part-time faculty, averaging 10 part-time faculty per department.2 MA-granting departments averaged 6.26 part-time faculty per department, while PhD-granting departments were close behind at an average of 6.08 per department.

Of the 283 departments that reported having part-time faculty, only 210 departments indicated they have a standard range of payment per course. Respondents to the survey reported an average salary of $2,806 per three-credit-hour course. Extrapolated to a typical full-time teaching load (six courses per year), that would provide an average gross salary of $16,836 with few, if any, benefits. This starkly contrasts with the average salary of just over $53,000 for full-time history faculty (see article on page 3).

Not surprisingly, PhD-granting departments reported the highest average payment at $3,709 per course. In keeping with the survey of full-time faculty salaries by the American Association of University Professors, the lowest payments for part-time faculty were at two-year colleges, which paid, on average, a meager $1,750. Comprehensive MA programs averaged $2,349 per course, while four-year programs that grant only BA degrees averaged $2,672 per course.

The survey also indicated significant regional disparities in part-time salaries. Part-time faculty in the west averaged $3,135 followed closely by institutions in the northeast, which averaged $2,971. Departments in the southeast averaged the lowest range of payments at $2,483.

Similarly, there was a glaring difference of more than $500 between the remunerations offered to part-time teachers by public and private institutions. Faculty at private institutions averaged $3,094 per course, while faculty at public institutions received much less at $2,576.

Shifts in Employment

The survey questions about changes in faculty employed at the department over the previous year uncovered a somewhat fuzzy picture. Just over 5 percent of the faculty at the responding departments had left their departments over the previous year—most departures were due either to retirements or to faculty taking appointments elsewhere.

The survey showed a net increase in both full-time and part-time faculty. Unfortunately, however, a significant number of the full-time faculty hired were only temporary appointments. While 263 full-time faculty were reported as leaving their departments, only 206 historians were hired to full-time permanent or tenure-track appointments—148 were hired to full-time temporary appointments.

More faculty were hired to part-time appointments (446) than full-time positions. Given the nature of part-time employment, with multiple appointments at different institutions, the actual number of historians hired was certainly less than 446. However, this was a significant increase from the 313 part-time faculty reported lost over the same period. Most of the part-time faculty hired (419) received short-term/temporary appointments, but 27 of the newly hired part-time faculty were given "permanent" appointments.

The survey also suggests that the image of part-timers as itinerant instructors may require some refinement. Of the 1,594 part-timers reported in the survey, 156 held tenured or tenure-track appointments, and 691 had been employed at the same institution for three or more years. Only 436 had been employed by their institution for a year or less.

Nevertheless, the tenuous nature of part-time employment is highlighted by the contrast with the number of full-time faculty in tenured/tenure-track posts. Respondents to the survey reported 93 percent of their full-time faculty were tenured or had the opportunity to receive tenure.

Since this is the first time the AHA department survey asked these questions, there is no way of analyzing the responses to the questions to track changes over time. However we will include these questions again in this year's survey to develop a better data stream.

In light of concerns expressed by part-time faculty about the accuracy of information supplied by departments, the Association is planning to conduct an electronic survey of part-time faculty later this fall, which should provide data that will enable us to make useful comparative analyses.


1. While respondents to the survey formed a representative sample of departments in the Directory (variance of <0.014 between the two data sets when compared by degree, region, and control), the Directory itself is not a representative sample of the many different types of history departments and history faculties in higher education. Two-year colleges, and programs where the history faculty is mixed into a multidisciplinary department (such as history, politics, and geography) are significantly underrepresented because they are less likely to list themselves. The Directory includes only three AA-granting programs, even though the U.S. Department of Education reports 227 programs that confer AA degrees in the social sciences and history. Similarly, the Directory includes less than half of the reported number of programs conferring BA degrees in social sciences and history. By contrast, the Directory includes over 75 percent of the MA-granting, and nearly 100 percent of PhD-granting programs. Comparative data from National Center for Education Statistics, 1998 Digest of Education Statistics (Washington D.C.: 1999), Table 257 (data for the 1995–96 school year).

2. See for comparison National Center for Education Statistics, Fall Staff in Postsecondary Institutions, 1995 (Washington, D.C., 1998).