Our Faculty Union Created an Award for Contingent Faculty (and you can too)


My community college has a faculty body of around 40% contingent faculty based on full-time equivalent. Before last year, these contingent faculty weren't eligible for certain awards, including one given by my the state colleges board of trustees, which called their award Educator of the Year. If it sounds odd that you could win and an award for being educator of the year that only tenured faculty are eligible for, well, you're right. But we call the winner of the Super Bowl the world champion.

Contingent faculty are the most hard-working and innovative professors in any higher education system, and they deserve greater recognition.


My local chapter of our faculty union -the Minnesota College Faculty Association - created an award which we called the MSCF Faculty of the Year Award. We didn't call it the Contingent Faculty of the Year Award.

The proposal for the award first went through the executive council of our Union, and then was passed at a full chapter meeting. A committee of five tenured faculty was appointed by the executive committee to adjudicate the award.

First, we called for nominations from the campus. Then we asked nominees if they wished to be candidates. Candidates needed to submit a teaching statement, syllabus, and a favorite assignment. 95% of nominees chose to become candidates. The portfolio the candidates submitted focused on teaching and was intentionally easy to compile, in contrast with many awards portfolios. We encouraged faculty to put "Nominee (or Candidate] for Faculty of the Year" on their CVs.

We asked the campus community to submit statements of support for the candidates.

Our committee reviewed the submitted portfolios based on excellence in teaching, supporting students, and service to Normandale and the wider community. I found that review process to be rewarding as I read innovative and inspiring pedagogy.

The winner was announced at our opening convocation for spring semester 2021 by our Union president and all the candidates received the statements of support made by the community. The winner will receive some academic regalia, likely a medal, to wear at commencement indicating the award.

Lessons Learned

Should you wish to do this for your campus (and you should because contingent faculty members deserve far more recognition than they are given), please consider a few of our lessons learned.

  • Everything will take more time than you think it will, from creating the award process to collecting nominations and supporting statements, to meeting as a committee.
  • The award reflects the values of the campus. Our campus is pedagogy and service oriented; your campus may have a research focus. We included categories to judge the award based on what our contingent faculty contributed to our campus. Note that we didn't ask for a CV, and thus avoided questions of degrees or publications.
  • Getting broad input will improve the award, including from contingent faculty. Our award improved as it went through our executive committee and then chapter meeting for approval, and then again as the awards committee met.
  • Having clear guidelines for how the award will be judged from before you seek nominations will make the award committee's job easier. We had those guidelines, which reduce the potential for the award to be a popularity contest.
  • Someone on the awards committee needs to be competent organizing digital information. We used google forms to solicit nominations and support statements and Office 365 notebooks to solicit candidate portfolios. Meetings were held over zoom after March 2020. This went well for us, but there are many digital bumps that could've derailed the process.
  • Done well, the award process emerges out of an ethics of care and highlights the contributions of contingent faculty and gives those faculty paragraphs of praise for their work.