CS Teaching Faculty are like Tenant Farmers
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.