February 2, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 22°F


Commentary: More contingent faculty deserve recognition

Whose teaching has touched your life? Whose dedication to their students inspires you? Who on Ithaca College’s campus is making a difference in the world? Now is your opportunity to nominate your instructor or colleague for the Faculty Excellence Awards and let the campus know how much their work means to you.

This is only the second year that this award will be open to contingent faculty members — non-tenured faculty on short-term contracts, who have significantly less pay and job stability than their tenured counterparts. Through hard work and three years of persistence, the Contingent Faculty Union, made up of faculty at IC, won a great contract in 2017 that improves the lives of faculty and students here on campus. This was one of the benefits that we won: The right for contingent faculty to be included in faculty awards. Since then, the union has been working closely with the Center for Faculty Excellence and the Faculty Development Committee to make the awards more inclusive and accessible. As a result, the criteria of the awards have shifted; the Faculty Development Committee is now responsible for making sure that each nominee is judged only on the basis of what they are employed to do at IC, whether that includes teaching, service work, and/or scholarship.

For contingent faculty, teaching is at the core of what we do. While many of us do research and perform unpaid service work — we mentor students, sit on committees, help our departments develop curricula and so on — our main responsibility is day to day, in the classroom. That is the criterion on which contingent faculty nominated for this award are to be judged: our work as educators. Because contingent faculty tends to be ignored or taken for granted by our institution, the work that we do with students usually flies under the radar, and our passion and dedication often goes unremarked upon for years at a time.

But we would argue that a strong, supportive and productive relationship between a student and their teacher is more than deserving of recognition: It is the beating heart at the core of higher education — or at least, it should be. That relationship is also what keeps contingent faculty coming back to these jobs, keeps us bringing our energy to work that is underpaid, unstable and underappreciated: We love teaching, and we love our students. We believe it is only right to celebrate that and to reward those who give so much of themselves every day.

Last year, the first year the awards were open to all IC faculty, there was a flood of contingent faculty nominees; in fact, the Faculty Development Committee saw the highest number of overall nominations in a long time, nearly half of which were contingent faculty. Students and colleagues were finally able to ask for recognition for these teachers, who have been pouring their hearts into their classrooms without recognition for years. Of the six faculty members selected for last year’s awards, one of them was,  for the first time, a contingent faculty member. This year, we hope that the IC community will once again nominate those who have been shut out of these awards for so long and whose contributions to our campus community are richly deserving of recognition. It would be wonderful to see more awards go to contingent faculty this year, but that can only happen if you — yes, you! — nominate someone who’s touched your life.

All materials are due by February 25, but if you want to nominate someone, get started now! You’ll need three letters of recommendation, including your own. If you’re a student and aren’t sure how to get started, you can ask your department chair or another supportive professor for help, or you can contact one of the faculty on the Contingent Faculty Union Committee for guidance. You’re welcome to contact any of the contributors above! See https://www.ithaca.edu/cfe/research/faculty_excellence_award/ for more details.