Background: The number of non-tenure-track faculty (NTTF), including both full-time (FT) and part-time (PT) positions, has risen to two-thirds of faculty positions across the academy. To date, most of the studies of NTTF have relied on secondary data or large-scale surveys. Few qualitative studies exist that examine the experience, working conditions, and worklife of NTTF. The study is framed by the theory advanced by Berger and Luckmann that reality is socially constructed and the broader sociological tradition of symbolic interactionism described by Blumer, Denzin, and Stryker.
Purpose: This study fills this gap in our current understanding by using qualitative methods to understand a fundamental issue that has not been examined and is critical to NTTF success and performance—how they perceive and experience support or lack of support within their work environments, particularly their departments.
Participants: I identified three four-year public institutions that are Master 1 according to the Carnegie Classification scheme. In total, I interviewed 107 NTTF, comprised of 58 PT and 49 FT, across the three institutions in 25 departments (14 unsupportive and 11 supportive).
Research Design: The study employed a multicase study approach using typical case sampling. The overall study examined departments that had made changes in policies and practices to support NTTF, compared to those that had not made changes, in order to investigate the impact on faculty performance and perspective. I conducted one-to-one interviews with NTTF as the main source of data collection.
Findings: The main findings of the study are that individual life conditions, such as career stage, and organizational features, such as the history of the department, shape the way NTTF construct support at any given time, and that this process of constructing support is dynamic and changing over a career.
Conclusions: The study suggests the importance of Shaker’s hypothesized set of conditions that shape the perspective of NTTF. The study findings suggest that to understand the complex, multifaceted beliefs around support that are shaped by varying individual and institutional conditions, chairs might meet with the entire NTT faculty once a year in an open forum to discuss support or to anonymously survey all the faculty. NTTF leaders also need to be more aware of these differences in perceptions of support so they might better respond to needs.