Do we need to improve tenure?

October 27, 2009 at 8:02 am 4 comments

In opposition to this trend, a new consensus is emerging that it is time to stabilize the crumbling faculty infrastructure. Concerned legislators and some academic administrators have joined faculty associations in calling for dramatic reductions in the reliance on contingent appointments, commonly urging a maximum of 25 percent. Across the country, various forms of stabilization have been attempted by administrators and legislators, proposed by faculty associations, or negotiated at the bargaining table.

via AAUP: Conversion of Appointments to the Tenure Track (2009).

I suspect that IS/IT/CS departments are particularly heavy with “contingent” appointments.  Is it a problem?  I understand that these adjunct faculty are not paid well and do not have many benefits, and many departments are relying on them more heavily.  Do we need to heed AAUP’s call for an improvement in tenure?

 

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Darrin Thompson  |  October 27, 2009 at 10:46 am

    “A broad and growing front of research shows that the system of permanently temporary faculty appointments has negative consequences for student learning.”

    So what?

    Reply
  • 2. Alfred Thompson  |  October 27, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    For many universities faculty are seen as a cost item pure and simple. They are not seen as a “feature” that attracts students or a differentiator that makes one school better (by some definition or other) but as easily replicable parts in a system that is expensive to run. With that mind set contingent faculty makes a lot of sense. Keep costs down, offer more courses, attract more students at a lower price per student. Tenure track research faculty may teach as few as two courses (in some cases just supervise grad students) but seldom more than three. Contingent faculty will teach four or more at a lower cost. Wow! Instant productivity! How could any MBA turn that down?

    The losers though are both contingent faculty and students. Now to be fair there are sometimes advantages to contingent faculty. Many of the courses I took for my masters in CS were taught by contingent faculty who were outstanding both as teachers and as experts in their fields. Taking a compiler course from someone whose professional career was as a compiler developer was a wonderful experience. There is value in these people. Ironically the value in well-selected contingent faculty is more likely to be in upper level courses preferred by tenure faculty than in lower level courses where “just anyone” is seen as able to be plugged in.

    My personal opinion is that it is these first two years of courses where faculty and students benefit most when faculty members are active participants in the full community of the university. This is how both feel most comfortable, are most mutually supportive, and help to create an active life-long learning community. An instructor who hopes from university to university often in the same day has no membership stake anywhere they go. Using contingent faculty in those years has the potential to miss out on creating a lifelong relationship between school, faculty and students. It may create the sort of environment where alumni associate their college years only with sports, parties and social engagement and leave out the educational aspects as important reasons to value the university. One would think development offices would worry about this even if administration doesn’t.

    Reply
  • 3. Garth  |  October 27, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    I was a math adjunct for 10 years. I have a degree and lots of experience in Math Ed which means I sort of know how to teach ( I like to think). Most of the tenure profs could not teach a 100/200 level math course to save their life. They had no idea how to talk to a struggling student at that level. Most of the adjuncts were Ed majors who specialized in teaching, not math. Big difference in approach. If college profs are required to teach they really ought to learn how to teach, and not by trial and error.

    Reply
  • 4. Jim Huggins  |  October 27, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    This may be very much a “your mileage may vary” sort of question.

    Our experience here with adjuncts has been very hit-and-miss … mostly “miss”. Frankly, for the amount of money our institution is willing to pay to an adjunct (to save money, after all), most CS professionals can do far better getting a “real job”. So that leaves you with two small categories of people; those whose passion for teaching overrides their need for salary, and those whose skills are so poor that an adjunct teaching job is the best they can get. By the luck of the draw, we’ve had far more in the latter category than the former.

    Reply

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