In a congressional briefing panel on Jan. 24 in Washington, D.C., Marisa Allison, a PhD student in sociology, spoke to House Democrats about issues affecting contingent — part- and full-time nontenure-track — faculty in colleges and universities. Her testimony was part of the research and advocacy work she does for the New Faculty Majority Foundation (NFMF) as their assistant director of research.

For the past three years, Allison has volunteered with NFMF working with their research team on several different projects including looking at how colleges and universities have responded to the Affordable Care Act with their part-time faculty.

Specifically, Allison’s doctoral research addresses the lack of equity in labor conditions in higher education. She notes that this is the first time Congress has addressed the “elephant in the room” of higher education.

“Speaking before Congress was simultaneously an exciting and terrifying experience, but a opportunity that I was honored to be given,” says Alison. “The working conditions of contingent faculty have needed national attention for a while and this is a step toward recognizing that change needs to happen. Advocates for contingent faculty often say, ‘Our working conditions are student learning conditions.’ If we want to give students truly equitable, world-renowned educational opportunities, we have to ensure that our institutions of higher education are treating their employees equitably.”

In spring 2013, the Public Sociology Association, a sociology graduate student organization at Mason, decided to focus on the issue of contingent faculty at Mason. Working with three of her colleagues in the sociology doctoral program, Randy Lynn, Vicki Hoverman and Sara Moore, Allison surveyed the part-time and contingent faculty at Mason to assess their working conditions.

According to Allison, scholars in the field have called the students’ work the most comprehensive survey of contingent faculty working conditions to date. The group will present the findings of their research, along with recommendations, later this semester.

The briefing on “Higher Education Adjunct Faculty Working Conditions and the Legislative Agenda,” included panelists Maria Maisto, president and executive director of the New Faculty Majority Foundation; Esther Merves, director of research at the New Faculty Majority Foundation; Adrianna Kezar, professor at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California; Dan Maxey, Dean’s Fellow at the Rossier School of Higher Education at the University of Southern California; Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association; and John Curtis, director of research of the American Association of University Professors.

This post originally appeared on the George Mason University News Desk, February 4, 2014

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