The Experiences of Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Members of Color with Racism in the Classroom
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Using critical race theory, this qualitative study examined the ways non-tenure-track faculty members of Color (NTFOCs) experienced racism in their classroom environments. The sample consisted of 24 NTFOCs who worked at 4-year historically White colleges and universities. Findings revealed that NTFOCs experienced racism in their classrooms in three ways: negative evaluations, different treatment than White colleagues, and feeling unsafe in the classroom. While these findings are consistent with the experiences of tenure-track and tenured faculty members of Color, the implications for NTFOCs, particularly in terms of their employment, are stark. The article concludes with recommendations for how educational developers can work to foster equitable working conditions for NTFOCs.
Keywords: faculty of Color, non-tenure-track faculty, racism, critical race theory
Research about non-tenure-track faculty members (NTFMs) has illuminated the financial inequities associated with contingent faculty positions (Allison et al., 2014; Coalition on the Academic Workforce, 2012; Shulman et al., 2016) as well as the troubling conditions in which some NTFMs work (Kezar, 2012; Kezar & Maxey, 2014). Little is known, however, about the experiences of non-tenure-track faculty members of Color (NTFOCs) and how race and racism factor into their experiences (Rideau, 2019).
Faculty members of Color make up 19% of the non-tenure-track workforce (Curtis, 2014). Black, Latinx, and Native American faculty members are overrepresented in these positions (Finkelstein et al., 2016), with women of Color occupying the majority (Curtis, 2014). But these numbers do not tell the entire story about racism and NTFOCs’ experiences.
Race is a principal organizing characteristic in society “that signifies and symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies” (Omi & Winant, 2014, p. 110). Rooted in historical and social processes (Omi & Winant, 2014), race must also be understood in relation to racism, defined as:
individual actions (both intentional and unconscious) that engender marginalization and inflict varying degrees of harm on minoritized persons; structures that determine, and cyclically remanufacture racial inequity; and institutional norms that sustain White privilege and permit the ongoing subordination of minoritized persons. (Harper, 2012, p. 10)
This definition recognizes the impact of racism on individuals while noting how colleges and universities perpetuate racism (Patton, 2015).
This qualitative study centered the experiences of NTFOCs and addressed the following research question: What are the ways NTFOCs experience racism in their classroom environments? We focus on NTFOCs’ classroom experiences given that teaching represents a significant (and often the only) responsibility for NTFMs. When using the term NTFMs, we refer to both part-time and full-time contingent positions.
We begin by describing critical race theory, our conceptual framework. We then synthesize the literature about NTFMs’ working conditions and the experiences of faculty members of Color, noting an absence of research about the racialized experiences of NTFOCs. Next, we describe the research design and present findings. We conclude by discussing the findings and their implications for educational developers.
Theoretical Framework: Critical Race Theory
Critical race theory (CRT) reflects a social justice orientation that seeks to eradicate systems of oppression (Dixson & Rousseau, 2005; Lawrence et al., 1993; McCoy & Rodricks, 2015). Rooted in legal studies (Taylor, 2009), CRT includes seven key tenets: (a) racism is ordinary, or the idea that racism is ingrained in structures and is a part of everyday occurrences (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012); (b) interest convergence, or the idea that racial progress is only made when challenges to racism overlap with the interests of Whites (Bell, 1980); (c) intersectionality, or the way interlocking systems of oppression shape individuals’ experiences (Crenshaw, 1991); (d) whiteness as property, or whiteness as a form of property that Whites seek to protect (Harris, 1993); (e) counterstorytelling, or challenging dominant narratives through stories generated by individuals and communities of Color (Solórzano & Yosso, 2001); (f) challenge to liberalism, or challenging the legal concepts of colorblindness, neutrality, objectivity, and meritocracy (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012; Lawrence et al., 1993; McCoy & Rodricks, 2015); and (g) action-orientation, or the idea that CRT research must support active efforts to eradicate racism and other forms of oppression (DeCuir & Dixson, 2004).
Ladson-Billings and Tate (1995) advocated for using CRT in educational research, envisioning an education system that attends to racial inequities. Since then, researchers have used CRT as a framework for highlighting the impact of racism on higher education, including the careers and working conditions of faculty members of Color (Boss et al., 2019; Delgado Bernal & Villalpando, 2002; Diggs et al., 2009; Turner et al., 2011).
In this study, we drew upon racism is ordinary to illustrate that racism is central to understanding the everyday experiences of being a NTFOC. However, given the overrepresentation of women among NTFOCs, our study also demonstrates how racism intersects with sexism to shape the experiences of women NTFOCs.
To inform the study, we synthesized literature about the experiences of NTFMs and about the experiences of faculty members of Color with racism and sexism in the classroom. Examining these two areas revealed a dearth of research about the ways racism and sexism shape the racialized, gendered experiences of NTFOCs.
Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Members
NTFMs, including part-time and full-time appointments, account for over 70% of all faculty positions at institutions of higher education (U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2017), up from nearly 44% in 1975 (Curtis, 2014). NTFMs are cheaper to hire than tenured and tenure-track faculty members (Hollenshead et al., 2007; Kezar & Maxey, 2014). This helps institutional leaders reduce costs, which is important during budget shortfalls and consistent with higher education’s movement toward corporatization (Baldwin & Chronister, 2001; Kezar & Sam, 2010; Slaughter & Rhoades, 2004). In addition, NTFMs provide increased flexibility since they can be hired quickly based on fluctuating demand for certain classes and majors. NTFMs, particularly when full-time, often have heavier teaching loads than tenured/tenure-track faculty members (Brennan & Magness, 2018; Ehrenberg & Zhang, 2005).
Working conditions of non-tenure-track faculty members. Although hiring NTFMs reduces institutional costs, it also contributes to the negative impact of changing employment patterns in the professoriate (Maxey & Kezar, 2015). NTFMs are underpaid relative to their tenured and tenure-track colleagues (GAO, 2017). In 2016 to 2017, part-time compensation averaged $20,508. This average did not include benefits, such as health care, retirement, and professional development funds, for which part-time faculty members are usually ineligible. Tellingly, approximately 25% of NTFMs apply for at least one government subsidy program (American Federation of Teachers, 2020). Compensation is better for instructors and lecturers, two designations that are usually not eligible for tenure. Assuming full-time status, their average salaries were $63,931 and $59,919, respectively (American Association of University Professors, 2019), still significantly lower than tenured and tenure-track faculty members.
Beyond financial inequities, NTFMs are often placed in porous working conditions. Departments provide inadequate resources for NTFMs to perform their jobs, including necessities such as office space and copy machine access (Kezar & Maxey, 2014; Navarro, 2017). Few are awarded professional development funds that can be used to improve their teaching (Boss et al., 2019; Kezar & Maxey, 2014). Many describe feelings of invisibility, isolation, and/or marginalization in their departments (Allison et al., 2014; Boss et al., 2019; Drake et al., 2019; Kezar, 2012; Kezar & Maxey, 2014). For some, the lack of job security threatens their psychological and emotional well-being (Navarro, 2017).
Faculty Members of Color: Experiences in the Classroom
Racism can impinge on faculty members of Color by influencing their ability to perform their work and overall satisfaction in their workplaces (Jayakumar et al., 2009; Stanley, 2006; Turner et al., 2008). Faculty members of Color are underrepresented on college and university campuses. Among all faculty members at 4-year institutions, approximately 19% are people of Color, and fewer than 8% are women faculty members of Color (Myers, 2016). Consequently, students rarely (if ever) have classes taught by faculty members of Color, which may contribute to faculty members of Color being frequent targets of racism in the classroom.
Faculty members of Color are more likely than their White counterparts to be challenged by students in the classroom (Pittman, 2018; Stanley, 2006; Tuitt et al., 2009). White students often question or devalue faculty members of Color regarding their authority in the classroom and their general knowledge of subject matter (Boss et al., 2019; Stanley, 2006; Tuitt et al., 2009). As a result, faculty members of Color are more likely to receive lower teaching evaluations than their White colleagues (Huston, 2005; Reid, 2010).
But these conditions are worse for women faculty members of Color, as they face oppression at the intersection of racism and sexism (Boss et al., 2019; Gutiérrez y Muhs et al., 2012; Wing, 1997). For many women faculty members of Color, the classroom can be a hostile workspace where students often use threats and intimidation tactics against them (Pittman, 2010, 2018). Similarly, women faculty members of Color are presumed ineffectual and must prove that they are experts in their field (Harris & González, 2012; Lugo-Lugo, 2012; Pittman, 2010; Turner et al., 2011). Consequently, women faculty members of Color spend more time preparing for class than their White counterparts (Boss et al., 2019; Lazos, 2012; Pittman, 2010). Still, they are more likely to receive lower teaching evaluations than men writ large (Boring et al., 2016; Huston, 2005) and White women (Smith & Johnson-Bailey, 2011), reflecting the gendered racism that women faculty members of Color experience in the classroom (Boss et al., 2019).
Research on faculty members of Color reveals that they experience racism in their classroom experiences. However, with few exceptions (i.e., Boss et al., 2019; Navarro, 2017; Rideau, 2019), most studies have centered tenured and tenure-track appointments. Since classroom environments are where NTFMs spend a significant portion of their time, it is critical to examine the ways NTFOCs experience racism in their classrooms.
This study was informed by critical race methodology. Critical race methodology “foregrounds race and racism in all aspects of the research process” (Solórzano & Yosso, 2002, p. 24) while noting how race, class, and gender intersect to shape the experiences of people of Color. In centering the experiences of people of Color and sharing their stories, critical race methodology challenges dominant narratives and epistemologies (Solórzano & Yosso, 2001, 2002). Finally, critical race methodology must lead to action that challenges racism and oppression in society (Solórzano & Yosso, 2002).
To participate in the study, participants had to meet six criteria.
- Participants had to identify as a person of Color.
- Participants could not be eligible for tenure in their current positions.
- Participants had to work at a 4-year, historically White institution (HWI), meaning an institution created to serve White students (Brunsma et al., 2013).
- Participants had to teach as a part of their contract.
- Participants had to be in at least their second academic term (semester or quarter) at an institution. This ensured they had been at an institution long enough to have experiences to discuss.
- Participants had to be “aspiring academics” (Gappa & Leslie, 1993) or individuals who were seeking more permanent academic positions, including but not limited to a tenure-track position.
Participants were identified by contacting organizations supporting NTFMs as well as organizations and programs supporting faculty members of Color. These groups posted the first author’s call for participants on their website lists, blogs, and social media spaces. The first author also reached out to colleagues and individuals working at HWIs who could distribute the call on their campuses and to their various networks, including social media spaces. To demonstrate willingness to participate, individuals completed an online screening survey to describe themselves, their institutions, and their working conditions.
The final sample consisted of 24 NTFOCs (see Table 1). Nine participants (37.5%) identified as African American or Black; six (25%) identified as Asian, Asian American, or South Asian; and six (25%) identified as Hispanic, Latino, Latina, or Latinx. Three (12.5%) participants identified as multiracial: one identified as Native American/White/Latina, another as South Asian and White, and a final participant identified as unspecified multiracial. Regarding gender, 18 participants (75%) self-identified using the terms female or woman, while six (25%) self-identified as male. Women were overrepresented in this sample; however, women of Color hold non-tenure-track positions at higher rates than men of Color, at 56% and 44%, respectively (Curtis, 2014).
Participants also had contracts ranging in length from one semester to 3 years. Most participants (58.3%) had 1-year contracts. Three participants (12.5%) were on semester contracts. Those employed by semester were underrepresented in the sample because few volunteered.
|Two or more races||3|
|Length of current contract||Semester||3|
|Department discipline||Applied science||1|
|Institution type||Highest research||7|
The first author collected the data by conducting semi-structured interviews. He pilot tested the protocol to strengthen questions for the formal interviews. Using critical race methodology (Solórzano & Yosso, 2002), the final interview protocol focused on NTFOCs’ experiences with racism in their workplaces, including the classroom. Twenty-two interviews were conducted using video chat services such as Skype, Google Hangouts, or FaceTime, and two participants preferred to conduct interviews by telephone.
Interviews ranged in length from 43 to 107 minutes. After each interview, the first author recorded his initial impressions. In the following days, he wrote notes about each interview in a “contact summary form” (Miles et al., 2014, p. 124) that included preset questions related to the study’s guiding research questions, including the one informing this analysis about racism in the classroom. Throughout data collection and analysis, the first author wrote analytic memos to make connections across interviews (Marshall & Rossman, 2011; Miles et al., 2014).
All interviews were transcribed by a professional transcription service. To preserve participants’ confidentiality, each participant received a copy of their transcript and was asked to identify discrepancies and note any items that they wished to be removed from the transcript due to fear of retribution from colleagues or potential employers. Participants also received a summary of the study’s preliminary findings before they were finalized.
Data Analysis Procedure
Data analysis was conducted by the first author and was an inductive process designed to produce themes related to the research question. The process began with the first author reviewing all interview transcripts, analytic memos, and summary contact forms. Next, descriptive coding was used to summarize the major point of each line, sentence, or paragraph (Miles et al., 2014). Then, descriptive codes were used to create category codes, which involved merging descriptive codes with similar meanings into broader categories (Miles et al., 2014). After completing descriptive and category coding for the first five transcripts, the first author created a list containing all category codes from these transcripts (Hernandez, 2012). The first five transcripts and the remaining transcripts were recoded based on this list. Next, the first author identified the category codes that were assigned to three or more separate instances in the data. Category codes meeting this criterion were designated emergent themes. Each emergent theme was then evaluated to ensure it could be used to answer the research question. Finally, the first author compared emergent themes to the central tenets of CRT, focusing on racism is ordinary. In total, data analysis generated three interrelated themes related to NTFOCs’ experiences with racism in the classroom: negative evaluations, different treatment than White colleagues, and feeling unsafe in the classroom.
Qualitative Data Trustworthiness
Several procedures advanced the trustworthiness of the study (Shenton, 2004). The first author pilot tested the interview protocol to ensure it would generate information relevant to the research questions. The first author also performed member checks (Marshall & Rossman, 2011) to verify participants were comfortable with their representation in the findings. We employed expert review by working with a third expert in qualitative research to review initial transcripts and ensure emergent themes were grounded in the data (Creswell & Miller, 2000). Additionally, the first author compared all emergent themes with analytical memos and summary contact forms to verify each theme.
Finally, we contributed to trustworthiness by integrating the tenets and commitments of CRT throughout the research process (Solórzano & Yosso, 2002). We centered the experiences of people of Color by amplifying the stories of NTFOCs. The interview protocol was designed to highlight the ordinary nature of racism and its inextricability from other interlocking systems of oppression. By sharing findings with advocacy organizations, the findings may be used to further advocate for improving the workplace conditions of NTFOCs, the type of action that is pivotal to CRT (DeCuir & Dixson, 2004).
First author. As a person of Color who has worked as a higher education administrator, I believe that racism is ingrained in the structures of colleges and universities and has an impact on the success of students, staff, and faculty members of Color. While acknowledging this throughout the research process, I never assumed that participants would feel they had experienced racism in their environment. As someone who has not been an instructional faculty member (although I have taught many classes), I recognized the differences in my experiences versus those of the participants. As someone who identifies as a cisgender man, I did not share the experiences that most participants did with racialized sexism. Not having this experiential knowledge or background may have led some participants to question my motivations for pursuing such a study. However, as a person of Color who hopes to continue to challenge various systems of oppression in institutions of higher education, I was able to build rapport with participants.
Second author. I am a faculty member in the first author’s graduate program and was co-chair of his dissertation committee. Although I did not contribute to collecting or analyzing the data, I co-advised him in designing and conducting the study and writing this article. I am a tenured associate professor and former NTFM and student affairs professional, all at HWIs. I study inequity, use critical perspectives on race and gender in my work, and share the first author’s commitment to challenging racism and oppression in higher education. Because of my social identities, I have benefited from white supremacy and colonialism and been targeted by ableism, sexism, heterosexism, and Christian hegemony. Through reflexivity and dialogue with the first author as he designed and conducted this study, I sought to join him in amplifying participants’ experiences and an urgent call for action.
This study produced three themes related to the ways NTFOCs experienced racism in classroom environments: negative evaluations, different treatment than White men colleagues, and feeling unsafe in the classroom. For many women, these themes could not be attributed solely to their race. Thus, in describing the themes, we discuss these participants’ racialized gendered experiences rather than homogenizing the experiences of NTFOCs (Harris, 1990).
One of the most pronounced forms of racism that NTFOCs experienced was through anonymous student evaluations of teaching. One prominent critique they received was that they focused on people of Color and other marginalized groups and minimized the perspectives of other identities. Michael, an Asian American faculty member at a large research institution, described an example of such a criticism in one of his student evaluations:
I remember when I taught [a course focused on Asian Americans].…And I remember someone [writing in an evaluation], “I thought this was a good class but after week x, he basically only made it about Asian-Americans and directed it toward the Asian-American students.” Which is funny, because I make a conscious effort to emphasize that this is a part of American history, there are all sorts of connections between different groups. I’m not trying to guilt anyone [be]cause that’s not productive. And it’s just one of those things, like when I was sitting in my Western civilization class as an undergrad, it never crossed my mind to say, “I hated this professor because he only made it about Greek people.”
Rebecca, a Latinx faculty member at a private research institution, described a similar situation in a class that she taught on reproductive justice. She depicted a situation in which she had fairly positive interactions with the students throughout the semester. However, in her evaluations, she received a tremendous amount of blowback from students regarding her teaching:
In the end of my semester, I get these evaluations where they’re saying things like, “Rebecca likes Black and Hispanic mothers, but denigrates White mothers.” I’m like, “Oh, that’s interesting,” because this is probably one of the only classes many of them have ever taken where women of Color issues are in the front and center of the class.
Michael and Rebecca both noted that they believed such criticisms were based on the fact that they were people of Color and that their course content made students uncomfortable when confronted with epistemologies that decentered whiteness.
NTFOCs were also accused by White students of making students “hate themselves.” Teresa, a Latina NTFOC at a private master’s institution, offered a prime example. Teresa taught a humanities course. On one occasion, although not the focus of the course, she included a lecture about feminism with a discussion about the role of women of Color. For some students, particularly White men students, this was an eye-opening lecture. However, some White men students wrote in their evaluations statements such as, “You are trying to make me hate myself and now I hate you.” Similar to Michael’s and Rebecca’s students, these students were upset that they were being forced to learn about content that challenged dominant forms of knowledge. They took their frustration out in racialized and negative evaluations of the faculty members.
Different Treatment Than White Colleagues
Participants also described being treated differently than their White men colleagues by students. One of the ways this manifested was in how students responded to classroom expectations and policies. For instance, Emma, a Black woman at a public master’s institution, discussed how students routinely made unsubstantiated complaints about her to her department chair, a tenured White man faculty member. One complaint was regarding her late policy:
I had a student complaining about my late policy. My late policy is you may turn your papers in late for 10 points off as long as I’m still grading the assignment. So, I had a student complaining about that saying, “Well, you know stuff happens and I had to…[turn in the paper late].” I took 10 points off. And the chair was not listening to the complaint because you know what his late policy is? 50 points off! You lose 50 points for one day then the next day you’ve gotten a zero. So why are you complaining about Emma’s policy when it’s one of the easiest late policies in the department?
In short, the student complained about Emma’s late policy even though it was far less stringent than that of the department head. She also noted that the chair had never received complaints about his late policy, despite the fact that his policy was significantly harsher. Fortunately for Emma, she had a supportive chair who recognized such complaints as based in racism and sexism and supported her throughout these situations.
Jackie, a Black woman faculty member at a private master’s institution, had a similar experience. She explained that when she began teaching a new course, she used the same assignments as a previous instructor, a White man. When comparing the evaluations of the course, she noted a discrepancy in their evaluations, particularly in terms of the assignments: “You read his, he’s awesome.…Then I’m doing the exact same assignment and [students said], ‘Oh, [the assignments are] not fair. It isn’t right.…She’s too demanding.’” Emma’s and Jackie’s experiences are consistent with the research about women faculty members of Color. Students held them to different standards than faculty members who were White men, illustrating the students’ comfort in challenging the authority of women faculty members of Color.
NTFOCs also described the ways students treated them differently than White men faculty members in terms of general level of respect. Several NTFOCs witnessed students treat colleagues who were White men with greater levels of deference and respect. Ramón, a Latino faculty member at a liberal arts institution, revealed how students frequently challenged him in the classroom, with some showing explicit disrespect and disengaging in his lectures. He offered an example of this disrespectful treatment when he had a guest lecturer come to his class:
I recently had a colleague, who I really respect and is a White man. He came in my classroom and I asked him to guest lecture on this one topic in which he is an expert.…He just commanded the room and I don’t mean like he set up shop and he dictated. I mean like their attention was caught up with him, and to some degree, he’s silent teaching.…I found that students were just a little bit more willing or happy [to listen to him] or interested in challenging me.
According to Ramón, the students treated the guest lecturer with more respect because he was a White man, hence presumed to be more knowledgeable. This was frustrating for Ramón, as the guest lecturer was not a dynamic speaker.
All participants spoke about being treated differently than White men colleagues. For women NTFOCs, this had a direct impact on their workload. It meant having to offer copious citations in lectures as a way to offset being “presumed incompetent” (Harris & González, 2012). Other women NTFOCs spoke about creating lengthy syllabi in order to make explicit all classroom policies and leave little room to be challenged about class rules. Finally, some even spoke about keeping a paper trail of all interactions with students in order to have documentation in case a student made a complaint about them. Each of these mechanisms was a result of the need to prepare for the different treatment they would receive from students, thus causing them to spend additional time related to teaching that their colleagues did not.
Feeling Unsafe in the Classroom
One of the most discomforting themes from the study was feeling unsafe in the classroom, an experience expressed by several women NTFOCs. These feelings of insecurity typically stemmed from being challenged by students who were White men.
For instance, Diane, a Black woman faculty member at a public research institution described a situation in which she was made to fear coming to class. She spoke about a student who was repeatedly disrespectful in class. Diane had a policy that she did not allow students to use laptops in class. However, one White man refused to abide by this rule, even when she reminded him several times about the policy. The student said to her, “I just have a lot of stuff to do.” Diane felt disrespected and taken aback by the comment. Yet, the student’s behavior continued. Diane then noted,
He was still doing the laptop thing, and he started to mutter under his breath about the class being bullshit, and me being bullshit. And we were discussing, I can’t remember what textbook, but he made [inappropriate and threatening] comments. And it got to a point where the entire class shut down.…And I said, “I don’t think this guy is a safe guy. I think he has some problems.” And it got to the point where I would feel nauseous about going to class. I had an image about him shooting up the classroom.
For Diane, the fact that the student continued to disrespect her and ultimately made threatening comments made her genuinely feel unsafe in her classroom. For her, the student’s behavior was so inappropriate that she feared that he would inflict violence upon the classroom. Diane later explained that she spoke to her two different department directors yet was dismissed by both. This lack of support only furthered her feelings of insecurity. It was not until two White women students approached her department director and voiced similar concerns about their safety in the classroom that the student was removed from the course.
Carmen, a multiracial faculty member at a large public research university, also described a situation in which a student in her class sent her unsettling emails:
I had a student, he had issues. We had to contact the dean of students because he was sending me very scary emails. And he was very upset that, one he was older than me and that I was Latina and female and that the class and [I] were not respecting him in the way that he deserved.…I had a grad student in my class and I was like, “Just in case you see something, I don’t have to tell you anything just call 911.” He’s like, “Okay.” I had a friend that was taking a class in that same hallway where I was at the same time, so I was like, “If something happens, you just run to my classroom. If you hear anything just run here.” So, I had backup plans if something [happened]. But that was a whole semester.
Diane’s and Carmen’s experiences show how such vulnerabilities are experienced by women faculty members of Color. Like Diane, Carmen also told a campus leader, but he dismissed her claims. The women of Color in this study felt their claims were not taken seriously. As NTFOCs without the support of their directors, they found it difficult to address such situations and on multiple occasions went to class genuinely fearing for their safety.
Findings suggest NTFOCs experienced racism in their interactions with students in three ways: negative evaluations, different treatment than White men faculty members, and feeling unsafe in the classroom. These experiences were similar to those of tenured and tenure-track faculty members of Color (Stanley, 2006; Tuitt et al., 2009; Turner et al., 2008). However, the contingent nature of their contracts created additional obstacles for NTFOCs.
Our findings resonated with prior research documenting that faculty members of Color receive more hostile feedback in their student evaluations of teaching (SETs) than do their White colleagues (Huston, 2005; Reid, 2010). For Michael, Rebecca, and Teresa, students’ comments did not explicitly critique them on the grounds of their race or ethnicity. However, faculty members of Color teaching or discussing issues of race, power, and privilege are likely to receive more criticism than White faculty members who do so (Boatright-Horowitz & Soeung, 2009; Crittle & Maddox, 2017; Grahame, 2004). Given the overrepresentation of faculty members of Color teaching courses on race, identity, and power, their racial and ethnic identities and subject matter cannot be separated since both factors may be at play when accounting for the evaluations from students. For the participants in this study, these evaluations represented a penalty for being a person of Color who challenged White students’ dominant ways of viewing the world.
SET scores can have material consequences for NTFMs since their contracts may not be renewed if their scores are too low (Hou et al., 2017; Kezar & Maxey, 2014). SETs can also play a role in NTFOCs attempting to secure more permanent or tenure-track positions, as were all participants in this study. Only about one-third of NTFMs are able to move to a tenure-track position, and this proportion is even smaller for part-time NTFMs (Schuster & Finkelstein, 2006). Thus, any negative criticisms can make this search even more challenging. When applying for tenure-track positions, candidates may be asked to submit evidence of effective teaching in their applications. This can include teaching evaluations. Candidates are not given a chance to respond to criticisms in their evaluations when applying for a position, as may be the case for tenure-track faculty members submitting documents for promotion and/or tenure. Thus, negative teaching evaluations could adversely impact NTFOCs’ job prospects if hiring committees are not familiar with the ways SETs are racialized and gendered.
Women NTFOCs may be most vulnerable to these consequences. They are often expected to teach courses that discuss race, racism, and other issues of power, while their colleagues are not (Ahluwalia et al., 2019). As a result, they are put in positions in which they are likely to receive lower teaching evaluations on account of their race and gender (Boring et al., 2016; Huston, 2005). White students often perceive women of Color as less scholarly and having a political agenda (Ford, 2011). As such, women NTFOCs may find themselves in more precarious situations because of the ways racial and gender bias infiltrate classroom evaluations (Lazos, 2012).
The second theme directly reflects how NTFOCs are treated differently than their White men counterparts by students in the classroom. Many NTFOCs in this study were aware they are treated differently than their White men colleagues, and in a testament to the pervasiveness of racism on their campuses, they expected this to occur. For women NTFOCs, this meant having to do more work related to teaching than White men, including preparation for classes (Lazos, 2012; Pittman, 2010). For many full-time women NTFOCs, who in many cases were teaching four or even five courses per semester, this further level of preparation placed an additional demand on their time. It took time away from research and attending professional conferences and performing a job search.
The third theme is regarding women NTFOCs feeling unsafe in their classrooms. White men students frequently challenge and engage in acts of intimidation against women faculty members of Color (Pittman, 2010). Women NTFOCs are questioned and devalued by both students and colleagues (Boss et al., 2019), even while being overburdened with service and caring for marginalized students (Rideau, 2019). Our study supports these findings, but participants also emphasized that because of their contingent status, they felt little could be done to address these matters. They expressed fear that mishandling these situations might result in negative student evaluations, complaints to their directors, or even losing their jobs. Adding to their fears, the participants who felt threatened by White men students all went to their directors or other campus leaders and, in each case, were not believed or were simply dismissed. For many women of Color, complaints about racism or sexism are often not believed or lead to them being viewed as lacking collegiality (Duncan, 2014). As such, the women NTFOCs in this study believed they had no choice but to endure feeling unsafe in their classrooms.
The experiences shared by respondents show a similar pattern of White men attempting to inflict fear upon them in order to gain power over them. Additionally, the stories of women NTFOCs were minimized and silenced by the lack of action from campus leaders. The fact that in Diane’s case, the director only responded when two White women students expressed their discomfort with the threatening student serves as an example of the discrediting and minimization of violence perpetrated by White men against women of Color. This perpetuates a system of domination that silences the voices of women of Color. Thus, this theme speaks to larger concerns for campus leaders to address issues of power, privilege, and oppression through an intersectional lens that takes seriously the violence institutions perpetuate against women of Color (Harris & Linder, 2017).
Several limitations of this study merit mention. First, both part-time and full-time faculty members were part of this study, but there were significantly more full-time faculty participants. Full-time NTFOCs have greater resources than part-time NTFOCs, including higher salaries (Shulman et al., 2017) and access to benefits (Kezar & Maxey, 2014). As such, findings may not reflect the realities of the majority of NTFMs who are part-time.
Second, participants had to identify as a faculty member of Color. This means participants were from a broad range of racial and ethnic groups. Each of these groups is inflected with its own meanings of racism (Omi & Winant, 2014), and aspects of the ways each group experiences racism may not be reflected in this study.
Finally, participants were from 4-year historically White colleges and universities. This category includes different types of institutions with varying goals and structures, particularly with respect to teaching. Findings should be interpreted with these contextual differences in mind.
Recommendations for Educational Developers
The issues facing NTFOCs exist because of larger structural issues but often manifest in both daily interactions and practices. The four recommendations presented here are intended to provide guidance for educational developers to support NTFOCs and to uproot these inequities.
Work with administrators to redesign assessments of teaching effectiveness. Formative SETs are discriminatory against women of all races and faculty of Color (Boring et al., 2016; Huston, 2005; Reid, 2010). They also have a major impact on NTFMs’ ability to maintain or seek new employment (Boss et al., 2019; Hou et al., 2017). Given the harm these evaluations can do, educational developers can take a leading role in creating alternative and holistic ways to assess faculty teaching that centers student learning and does not punish certain groups of faculty members (Boss et al., 2019). Based on these biases inherent in SETs as well as consideration for their impact on non-tenure-track faculty, the Center for Excellence in Teaching at the University of Southern California has worked to create a more comprehensive approach of teaching that is largely based on peer review but seeks input from students as a formative part of the evaluation to measure student engagement (Doerer, 2019; Supiano, 2018). In an attempt to minimize biases, the process is based on strictly observable behaviors (Doerer, 2019). While this cannot minimize all biases, moving to a more holistic process can help to provide more protections for NTFOCs. This can help to not only inform better teaching but also address an area of racialized gender bias as well as create a system that has the potential to promote greater job security for a vulnerable group of faculty members.
Work with administrators and student affairs practitioners to support anti-racism and bias training of students. The findings revealed the ways students often demonstrate racist and sexist behaviors toward NTFOCs. Plank (2019) urged educational developers to question and challenge the boundaries of their work. She suggested that there may be opportunities to collaborate with students and campus leaders. One way this can be done is to address bias against faculty with students. In a recent study, researchers found that when completing SETs, if students received a message on the form informing them about the research that showed how they can produce bias against women faculty members, bias against women faculty members was reduced (Peterson et al., 2019). While the study does not address race, the intervention could have implications for the findings of this study. There could be opportunities for educational developers to collaborate with other units to train students about bias against NTFOCs and faculty members of Color writ large. This may prevent hostile interactions of students toward NTFOCs and create a more inclusive environment to support student learning. It also puts NTFOCs in a position in which they are not forced to absorb these inappropriate behaviors out of fear of losing their job. Leading this effort would be beyond the historical role of centers for teaching and learning (CTLs) but could establish a CTL as a significant force for equity on campus.
Design programs that specifically speak to the racialized experiences of faculty members of Color. Findings from this study are consistent with previous research that shows how an instructor’s racialized identity plays a significant role in their instruction, particularly in how they are perceived by students (Crittle & Maddox, 2017; Gutiérrez y Muhs et al., 2012; Stanley, 2006). However, CTLs have not always addressed this reality in their programming. In the 2016 survey of POD Network membership, nearly 86% of members identified as White (Collins-Brown et al., 2016). While POD Network membership is not the same as the demographic makeup of all individuals working in educational development, the survey may signal the overwhelmingly White composition of the field and lack of firsthand experience of how racism impacts teaching. This may lead to a lack of programming that centers the impact of racism in teaching. Programming specifically designed for faculty members of Color teaching at HWIs is important for navigating these challenges and to foster a sense of community for faculty that are historically marginalized. Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching partnered with the university’s Black Cultural Center to offer Teaching While Black, “a learning community for Black faculty members and instructors to discuss and debate important issues related to inclusion, equity, authority, performance, and identity in the classroom” (Vanderbilt University, n.d., para. 8). While it is important to create spaces specifically for faculty members of Color, as evident from the findings of this report, it is essential to include those who are in non-tenure-track positions, as their stories lead to action that challenges racism and other forms of oppression on campus as they intersect in multiple ways to shape instruction. These individuals should not be on the periphery of the group; their concerns should be central in order to address multiple forms of inequities and oppression.
Ensure NTFOCs’ access to and compensation for participating in professional development opportunities. Many NTFMs are not eligible for professional or educational development opportunities (Kezar & Maxey, 2014). Educational developers should ensure that programming and resources are available for NTFMs (Boss et al., 2019). Participants in this study often mentioned feeling isolated and lacking support. CTLs can be a hub to create connections for faculty members (POD Network, 2018). NTFMs need to be a part of this hub and can be integrated through targeted programming. An example of this is the Adjunct Faculty Teaching Institute at the College of DuPage, which offers a 12-week course specifically for adjunct faculty members and addresses topics such as learner-centered teaching, assessment, and diversity, social justice, and inclusion in the classroom (College of DuPage, n.d.). In addition to creating programming for NTFMs, given their low pay, funding for their participation in this work is also paramount. For example, Valencia College holds an Associate Faculty Development Program specifically designed for adjunct faculty members. Adjunct faculty members who complete the program receive a $40 raise for each contact hour taught. As they note, a 3-credit hour course would result in a $120 raise (Valencia College, n.d.). Such compensation sends a message that institutions honor and value NTFMs, recognize their challenges, and acknowledge their commitment and may be particularly important for NTFOCs, given their overrepresentation among NTFMs paired with the underrepresentation of faculty members of Color at most institutions of higher education.
NTFOCs are disadvantaged in terms of their salaries and work conditions. This study revealed that they face additional marginalization in the classroom due to racism. This marginalization took the forms of negative evaluations, different treatment than White colleagues, and feeling unsafe in the classroom. Each of these impacts their ability to secure and maintain employment. Educational developers should recognize the experiences of NTFOCs in the classroom and work to create better systems that uproot the inherent inequities present in their work. These actions could create a culture that empowers NTFOCs and supports student learning in the classroom.
Thank you to Joan Hirt, Menah Pratt-Clarke, and Takumi Sato for your feedback. We are sincerely grateful to all the participants of this study for their important work and sharing their stories.
Ryan Rideau is the Associate Director for Teaching, Learning, and Inclusion at the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching, Tufts University. His research interests include race and racism in higher education and the experiences of faculty members of Color. He has published work in the Journal of Diversity of Higher Education and the Peabody Journal of Education. He is a member of the Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Network.
Claire K. Robbins is Associate Professor of Higher Education in the School of Education, Virginia Tech. Her research foregrounds equity, diversity, and inclusion in graduate education; students’ and educators’ development, socialization, and learning; and critical perspectives on race and gender. Robbins’s most recent work has been published in the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, and New Directions for Student Services.
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