The emotional wellbeing of non-tenure track faculty



A recently released research article in the July issue of Frontiers in Psychology, authored by Gretchen M. Reevy and Grace Deason, finds that the very stigma of non-tenure track employment—now a reality for some 70% of higher education faculty members in the U.S.—brings with it an increase in stress, depression, and anxiety.

Appropriately titled “Predictors of depression, stress, and anxiety among non-tenure track faculty,” the article derides the widespread faculty “caste system” that separates contingent faculty from their tenure-track colleagues for leading to an increase in the emotional and psychological stressors experienced by non-tenure track faculty.

“Results indicate that NTT faculty perceive unique stressors at work that are related to their contingent positions,” the article stated. “Specific demographic characteristics and coping strategies, inability to find a permanent faculty position, and commitment to one’s organization predispose NTT faculty to perceive greater harm and more sources of stress in their workplaces. Demographic characteristics, lower income, inability to find a permanent faculty position, disengagement coping mechanisms (e.g., giving up, denial), and organizational commitment were associated with the potential for negative outcomes, particularly depression, anxiety, and stress.”

This report, the first of its kind to look at the psychological impact of contingent appointments, indicates that the growing prevalence of non-tenure track faculty across higher education has an overwhelmingly detrimental effect upon how faculty view themselves, as well as upon the academic environment in which they work. Lower pay, little to no additional benefits, a perceived lack of value or worth, and the general volatility of contingency all conspire to undermine the psyches of those whom are employed in academia on a non-tenure track.

Hopefully the new ground broken by this report will unleash a cavalcade of corresponding studies that will better highlight the emotional impact of non-tenure appointments upon faculty. And, perhaps, it will give some pause to higher education administrators who seem particularly obsessed with coopting the academic freedoms of their faculty in order to maximize their collegiate profits and prestige.

“Overall,” the report said, “we argue that universities would be well-served by attending to the needs of NTT faculty on campus in order to mitigate negative outcomes for institutions, students, and faculty.”