Contingent faculty in ecology and STEM: an uneven landscape of challenges for higher education
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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The number of contingent or non‐tenure‐track faculty at colleges and universities in the United States has been growing over the past several decades; they now constitute nearly 70% of the non‐student academic workforce. A significant fraction of contingent faculty teaches in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). As an initiative of the Ecological Society of America (ESA), contingent faculty in ecology were surveyed and the results were compared with a survey of STEM faculty conducted by the Coalition for the Academic Workforce (CAW). Most respondents to the ESA survey were employed in research or research and teaching activities at doctorate‐granting institutions, whereas in the CAW sample, most were engaged in teaching at associate's and master's degree‐granting institutions. The ESA sample was almost evenly divided between women and men; women outnumbered men in the younger age classes, whereas men outnumbered women in the older age classes. The respondents to the CAW survey were older than the ESA respondents, with more men in computer sciences, engineering, and physical sciences, more women in the biological and health sciences, and a balanced gender ratio in mathematics. The ESA survey asked respondents to rank possible activities that ESA could undertake to support contingent faculty. The highest ranked activities included reduced fees for membership, page charges, and meeting registrations, followed closely by small grants for travel and research. The lowest ranked was the formation of an ESA section for contingent faculty. The causes and implications of contingency are analyzed in light of other recent surveys. Academic institutions and professional societies such as the ESA can reduce the loss of qualified individuals from the scientific community by recognizing and legitimizing contingency as an academic career stage and by offering professional development to support the careers of contingent faculty.