CS Teaching Faculty are like Tenant Farmers

February 5, 2016 at 7:47 am 21 comments

There are many, many teaching jobs available in computer science right now. Scarcely a day goes by that there isn’t another ad posted in the SIGCSE Members list — sometimes for many positions at the same department. A great many of these are at Universities, with a clear statement that this is a Teaching track position, not a Tenure track position.

Many of these ads, when posted to SIGCSE Members, contain a paragraph like this (edited and hopefully anonymized):

(Highly-ranked University)’s full-time (without tenure) teaching faculty positions are called (pick one of:) Lecturers with Security of Employment, Professors of the Practice, or Teaching Professors, or Lecturers, or Instructors. These positions typically involve a teaching load of two courses each semester, advising responsibilities, and service (committee work) as well. (Highly-ranked University)’s computer science teaching faculty are NOT treated as second class citizens. We vote at faculty meetings, represent the department on university committees, and are generally well respected inside and outside the department. We currently are seeking more (see ad below).

From time to time, I write the person (almost always a teaching track faculty member) who posted the ad, to follow-up on the “NOT second class citizens” part.

  • Do teaching faculty get to serve on the hiring committee for teaching faculty? Usually yes.
  • Do teaching faculty get to serve on the hiring committee for tenure-track faculty? Usually not.  This question often results in a snort of laughter.  Why should teaching professionals be involved in hiring tenure-track faculty? That seemed obvious to me — teaching faculty are hired to be experts in teaching, and tenure-track faculty do teach.
  • Do teaching faculty serve on tenure-track promotion and tenure committees? Almost never, despite the fact that tenure track faculty are expected to teach and are supposed to be evaluated (at least in part) on that teaching. Shouldn’t professionals with expertise in teaching have a voice in evaluating teaching of tenure-track faculty?
  • Do teaching faculty have a voice/position at the Dean/Chair’s Cabinet/Executive Committee? I know of only one in the US.

Maybe I have been watching too much “Downton Abbey.” The treatment of teaching track faculty by tenure track faculty sounds like the relationship between the landed gentry and the tenant farmers. The University teaches as one of its primary roles, just as the estate survived through farming (and the sales and rent that were generated). The tenure track faculty (landed gentry) leave most of that to the teaching track faculty (tenant farmers). It’s a delegated responsibility, like custodial and lawn management services.  The teaching track faculty don’t own the department or programs (land). The tenure track faculty make the decisions about hiring and promoting the teaching track faculty. The teaching track faculty don’t make any of the decisions about tenure track faculty.  Of course, the greatest match with the analogy is that tenured faculty can’t be fired — like the landed gentry, they own their positions.  Teaching track faculty are rarely tenured.  One of the teaching faculty with whom I work has only a six month contract and can be fired with a month’s notice.

It is in our best interests for teaching track to be a profession. Teaching track faculty should be experts in teaching. Members should be expected to join professional organizations like SIGCSE (see previous post about the lack of membership in SIGCSE), to attend and present at organizational meetings, and to improve their practice. They should have a promotion path and evaluation as rigorous as the tenure-track promotion and tenure process.  I’m pleased to see these ads, because they suggest national searches for good teaching track faculty — as opposed to hiring (for example) graduate students and post-docs who don’t want to leave their home institution.

A first step towards professionalization of teaching track faculty is to treat them with the same respect as tenure-track faculty. Tenure track faculty are treated as experts in research.  Teaching track faculty should be treated as experts in teaching. If both teaching and research are important, then treat the teaching track faculty like the research faculty. There should be a comparable sense of responsibility, power, and ownership.


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21 Comments Add your own

  • 1. gregoryvwilson  |  February 5, 2016 at 7:52 am

    Curious: has a Lecturer/Teaching Professor/etc. ever been chair of a top-20 (or top-50) department in the US?

  • 3. Jim Huggins  |  February 5, 2016 at 8:49 am

    Are there examples of departments doing what you’re calling for, that can be held up as good examples for others to follow?

    • 4. Mark Guzdial  |  February 5, 2016 at 8:50 am

      Not in the US that I’m aware of

  • 5. Peter Bui  |  February 5, 2016 at 9:35 am

    I actually left a tenure track position for a teaching (non-tenure) track position last year. During the interview process, I was very concerned about being a second-class citizen and asked questions about role I would play in the life and operation of the department. It was a tough decision to give up a shot at tenure, but I believe it was the right one.

    From my experience thus far, most of my concerns have been unfounded. Yes, I was a part of the teaching faculty hiring committee this year. No, I am not active in the tenure-track hiring committee, but that is more because I don’t really have the time and energy for it (I’ve been invited to meet the candidates and have spoken to a few informally).

    More importantly to me, however, is that I have been given the responsibility to develop and grow a new computing minor geared towards liberal arts and business majors (I’ve taken inspiration from some of your Media Computation work!). Likewise, I’ve had a significant say in our current redesign of the core CS curriculum to address changing student needs and our surge in enrollment.

    In addition to this, I have been given autonomy to develop and administer my courses and have been given an immense amount of support in terms of encouragement and resources. For instance, for my non-CS majors computing course I mentioned above, I asked the department if we could get Raspberry Pi’s for class projects and sure enough I was able to get them. Moreover, I will be attending SIGCSE and presenting a workshop with my colleagues from my former institution because of the generous startup package I received when accepting this position.

    Finally, in terms of position of leadership within the university, I would point out that the director of undergraduate studies in our department is SPF (our term for teaching faculty) and that is common throughout the university. Additionally, one colleague who is in the Dean’s office for our Engineering college gave up tenure (and is now SPF) to focus on teaching and outreach (he is the director of community outreach with the Dean’s office).

    To be completely honest, I do believe there is a divide between the research-oriented tenured and tenure-track faculty vs the teaching faculty. Unlike at my previous department (which was at a smaller teaching-oriented university), I rarely talk to my colleagues; they are often busy doing research, writing grants, advising graduate students, traveling, etc.. I see them talking to each other because they have collaborations and joint projects. Since I am not currently researching, I don’t participate in that activity and at times do feel like an outsider in that regard.

    Having said that, though, I myself am always busy because I am constantly interacting with students. Part of that is due to a greater course load than my colleagues and a surge in enrollment in our program. This is not a problem to me, however, because I enjoy working with students in small groups and helping them learn. Moreover, I am firm believer in community and creating an inclusive and welcoming community, so I spend a lot of time outside of class talking to students and getting to know them.

    In summary, I think your assessment that teaching faculty is fairly accurate. Personally, I am happy to focus solely on teaching and matters related to teaching, curriculum, and community. A teaching faculty position allows me to focus on the things that matter the most to me, and I appreciate that. Rather than limiting me, I have found it liberating as I can focus my energy on my passion.

    • 6. Mark Guzdial  |  February 5, 2016 at 9:44 am

      Thanks for the reflection, Peter! I’m glad that you like your position, and I appreciate you sharing your story with us.

      I’m going to disagree with one point: Director of Undergraduate Studies and Director of Outreach are certainly leadership positions, but they’re exactly the kind of leadership positions that teaching track faculty are expected to take. Let’s contrast that with Head of School, Department Chair, Center Director, or Dean. I can name CS Ed people and Teaching Track people in those kinds of positions outside of the US, but not in the US.

      • 7. Peter Bui  |  February 5, 2016 at 10:20 am

        I guess my counter is that while you may be right that there aren’t teaching faculty in those positions, my suggestion is that perhaps it is because most teaching faculty don’t want to be. The spirit of my post is that teaching faculty don’t necessarily want to have the same responsibilities and positions as tenured or tenure-track faculty.

        The Director of Undergraduate studies in my department is a SPF and actually has the longest tenure here (that is he has been here the longest out of everyone in the department). He is the heart and soul of the department and while he does not have formal authority in terms of being the chair, he is constantly involved in decision making not only in the department but in the college as well. I don’t think he would ever want to be chair (and I certainly don’t want to).

        While being head of school or department chair is great, not everyone aspires or desires those positions. As an analogy, some people love to code and that’s what they want to do. For these people they want to be involved in technical matters and have their hands “dirty” and don’t care about the business aspects. Is it wrong for them to only stay in technical roles? Or do we suggest that because these folks are not CEOs or Division Heads that something is wrong?

        • 8. Mark Guzdial  |  February 5, 2016 at 11:09 am

          Of course it’s not wrong for teaching track faculty to stay teaching, Peter. But you’re arguing from instances. Do you think that no teaching track faculty (or Ed research oriented tenure track faculty) wants to be a department/school/college Chair/Dean? Since I can point to CSEd people who hold those positions of responsibility in other countries, doesn’t that work as an existence argument that such people likely exist in the US, too?

          I can also argue from an instance. The last time that we did a School Chair search, I applied for the position. I was the first candidate rejected. My Dean told the search committee that he would not name a CS Ed researcher as a school chair. The search committee chair told me that my first round interview went well, and the search committee ranked me as competitive. But if the Dean isn’t going to name an Ed person as Chair, they realized that it would only hurt me to drag me further through the process.

          • 9. Peter Bui  |  February 5, 2016 at 12:25 pm

            You are right that is unlikely that no teaching faculty would ever want to be department chair or college dean or some other higher levelj position and I think your experience is unfortunate because I think you are a great educator and I have learned a lot about teaching from reading your blog for the last four or so years.

            The point of my comments was to push back on this notion of inequity regarding teaching faculty (or really I think your point is teaching-focused positions) and that being a “tenant farmer” is necessarily a bad thing. For some (maybe not all, maybe not even most) of us in these positions, we are happy with what these roles entail. Personally, I do not feel limited but rather empowered.

            At the end of your post, you argue for “a comparable sense of responsibility, power, and ownership.” My point is that given my experience thus far, my teaching position already gives me a desirable and agreeable amount of responsbility, power, and ownership. I don’t need or desire the same roles and positions as my tenured colleagues. If I did, I wouldn’t have left a tenure-track positions after three years.

            So while I agree it is unfortunate that dedicated folks such as yourself are limited by your focus on Computer Science education, not everyone feels the same sense of disrespect or experiences limitations in their careers. Some of us are fine with being “tenant farmers” and do not aspire to be the “landed gentry”.

          • 10. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  February 5, 2016 at 6:42 pm

            You actually have faculty wanting to be chair? Around here it is usually more a matter of who is insufficiently reluctant. Of course, our chairs have a ton of responsibilities and very little power. The bureaucracy sucks away time and energy, and the chair often ends up having to give up the course relief and even take on teaching overload in order to make the budget work.

    • 11. Briana Morrison  |  February 8, 2016 at 9:22 am

      What about the salary inequity between teaching-focused faculty and research-focused faculty? As someone who _was_ teaching-focused faculty for 20 years I can easily attest to the *large* imbalance between the two. And I can honestly say I have never heard of a teaching-focused faculty member getting a start-up package. I am all for the dual ladder system as long they are equal – in pay, benefits, start-ups, student support, and respect. I’ve just never seen it happen. (Except maybe at Stanford- which is unique unto itself.)

      • 12. Peter Bui  |  February 8, 2016 at 9:49 am

        While I agree that there is an salary imbalance between teaching-focused and research-focused faculty in general, at my institution (the University of Notre Dame), I feel I am fairly compensated. In going from a tenure-track position at a teaching-oriented regional university in the Midwest to a teaching-focused faculty position at a research-oriented national university in the Midwest, I received about a 25% percent increase in salary. Moreover, my startup package at Notre Dame was the same amount I received at my previous teaching-oriented university.

        I have no doubt that I make less than the research-focused faculty, but I also don’t have any research expectations or service obligations, manage graduate students, or have to chase after grant funding. I do less (much less) in terms of service and scholarship, and do more in terms of teaching. The pay is not equal, but neither is the amount of work and responsibilities and I am fine with that (as previously noted).

        Perhaps this additional instance suggests that Stanford is not so unique in this way anymore. As Mark points out there are more and more advertisements for teaching-focused positions, particularly at research universities. I would not be surprised if others had similar stories.

        To be fair, I am confident that this level of compensation is not universal or wide-spread, but I do think institutions are waking up to the fact that they need good teachers along with good researchers. Hopefully they too will begin to treat teaching-focused faculty fairly and justly.

  • 13. dennisfrailey  |  February 5, 2016 at 10:04 am

    This reminds me of the relationship between marketing and engineering staff in many companies. The marketing staff are the landed gentry – they bring in money, potentially get the highest salaries, and eventually take over most top management positions. The engineers are the ones who develop the new products and make sure they have top quality. I worked for such a company that for years had a “fellow” program to enable the most outstanding engineering staff members to get promoted to (the lower levels of) higher management – at least in title and salary scale. But then they started to change the criteria for fellows – they had to be responsible for significant marketing accomplishments (winning contracts). And before long the outstanding technical applicants started to lose out in the fellow selection process to people who had more of a marketing and sales resume, at least in the later part of their career.

    Lesson learned (which also applies in universities): the money has to come from somewhere and those who generate revenue get the biggest rewards.

    Given these realities, I’d be happy if the R1 universities would simply accept that there are some faculty who are terrible teachers and pull them from teaching roles.

  • 15. Bill Robinson  |  February 5, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    Those who can, teach. Those who can’t, manage.

  • 16. Valerie S.  |  February 5, 2016 at 9:35 pm

    I’ll point out that over at Emory, the answer to 3/4 questions is yes. We can’t serve on the T&P committee for tenure track faculty. But our promotions go through a separate committee.

    Notably, a LTF (lecturer track faculty) is chair-elect of the University Senate. An LTF also serves on the Executive Council for Emory College of Arts & Sciences.

    But I appreciate your larger point that it’s something we should think carefully about.

  • 17. Mehran Sahami  |  February 6, 2016 at 2:06 am

    Hi Mark. At Stanford, the answer to most/all of your questions is yes. People in our Professor (Teaching) position serve on hiring committees for other teaching faculty. We could also serve on the hiring committee for tenure track faculty if we wanted to (this is a choice — we haven’t done this recently since we’re busy with other service), but in any case we certainly do interview tenure track candidates and provide input in the searches. We also vote in tenure and promotion cases for all faculty in our department. And we do serve in department/school governance. Eric Roberts was formerly Associate Chair for Education (which admittedly is an educationally focused position), but he also served as an Associate Dean in the past. I’m the current Associate Chair and also serve on our department’s Executive Committee. As was mentioned in another post (and is also true for me), many teaching faculty don’t want to be department chairs because that would mean less teaching. Our recent department chairs have usually taught only one course per year due to teaching relief. With that said, I know it would be probably be seen as unusual for a Professor (Teaching) to be our department chair, so I think there is still something to be said for your point. But it is worth noting that there have been other departments at Stanford that have had Professors (Teaching) as chairs in the past, so I suppose it’s not impossible.

    • 18. Mark Guzdial  |  February 6, 2016 at 7:10 am

      Mehran, Stanford was the one CS department I had in mind for the last question. I was pleasantly surprised to see Valerie’s post that Emory treats its teaching faculty so well. Thanks to you both for engaging on the issue.

  • 19. kickrg  |  February 7, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    As always, another thoughtful, important perspective to share for the benefit of computer science education. Thank you Mark!

  • […] Could I become a full-time teaching faculty? I don’t like how they get typically treated (see this blog post), so I don’t think I would want to become teaching […]

  • […] wrote in 2016 that “CS Teaching Faculty are like Tenant Farmers.” This memo addresses some of the issues I raised, though some are buried in the text of the […]


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