Sunday, June 07, 2015

Metablogging: A Conversation about Teaching Intensive Tenure Track and Adjunct Job Security

I thought it would be helpful to me, at least, to try to keep track of some of the recent conversations around the Teaching Intensive Tenure Track proposal from Michael Berube and Jennifer Ruth, and other conversations about adjunct job security and pay.  I'd be happy to add other links to parts of the conversations I've missed.  (Please let me know in the comments here.)

Starting with the article by Michael Berube and Jennifer Ruth proposing a teaching intensive tenure track to provide adjunct faculty with real job security, there's been quite an interesting conversation.  (The article refers to their book, The Humanities, Higher Education, and Academic Freedom [Palgrave Macmillon, 2015]), which I admit, I haven't read.  (I feel like I should read it, but I have three big projects this summer that are higher on my priority list.)

Fie Upon This Quiet Life responded here ("Teaching Track Solves Nothing"), arguing that teaching intensive schools already have teaching intensive tenure tracks, and that "research creep" means these schools also require research (and service, of course).

I responded here ("Teaching Track"), and Berube and Ruth commented.  In the comments, Ruth responded to Contingent Cassandra and said that she and Berube envisioned a 3/3/3 load for the teaching intensive TT.  In Contingent Cassandra's comments, though, she referred to a 3/3 load, so I'm not sure if Ruth meant a 3/3 on a semester system, or actually a 3/3/3 on a quarter system, which is more like a 4/5 on a semester system.  Ruth also argued that
We are asking our colleagues ramp up the pressure already on administrators from collective bargaining to refuse the creation of new adjunct appointments (forcing administrators to invest in good jobs if they want to expand) and using the many channels of shared governance to force change.

Fie responded, arguing that faculty in her school don't have power, and citing large cuts to eliminate majors at her school without faculty governance and participation.

Fie further added a blog post ("How do you solve a problem like the bottom line?") thinking about cutting general education to solve budget problems.

The Good Enough Professor also responded to Berube and Ruth's article ("These Deck Chairs Aren't Going to Rearrange Themselves") explaining that
As public support for the liberal arts diminishes, tenure comes under attack, online teaching is valorized as a cost-saving measure, and institutions increasingly replace tenured lines with contingent faculty, the issue of extending tenure seems, well, academic.  In fact, the question is not, "are better conditions for teaching faculty a good thing?" but "how can we ensure that the people tasked with providing instruction in higher education are qualified to do it, afforded the protections they need to do it well (including academic freedom, grievance procedures, and long-term contracts), and compensated appropriately?"  A re-tooled tenure process would be a lovely answer to that question, but it's hard to see how the political will (much less leverage) to bring it about is likely to emerge.

She also explained that her department has been working with administration to develop "the conditions under which contingent faculty could be granted long-term contracts and the creation of a system of annual review where there had been none before." 

The Good Enough Professor noted that the process happened in the context of a unionization, and that while there's better salary and working conditions,
I will only note that although the provost holds out the possibility of a specifically tenured teaching position, it seems increasingly likely that this chimera will only be available to superstars who are otherwise of value to the university.
So, it looks like there's been progress made in giving contingent faculty more long term job security (and living wage salaries), it's not quite what Berube and Ruth are arguing for.  (Go read Good Enough's post!)

Meanwhile, slightly separately, Historiann recently wrote ("Goosey, goosey gander") to point us to the Chancery Hill Books blog post ("Mearcstapa: Boundary Patrollers") where Tom argues that
In short, the normalization, over the last few decades, of using (and increasing the numbers of) adjunct and non-tenure-track instructors, at practically every college and university in the land, has had the effect of suggesting to outside observers—indeed, I’d say it suggests to anyone who thinks clearly about the issues—that collegiate education can be accomplished more cheaply and without tenuring the teachers.

He goes on to argue that
And yet, in my experience, tenure-track faculty often seem to work harder to justify their higher position in a two-tier system of instruction than they do to work for the benefit of those caught in the lower (non-tenure-track) tier. It has sometimes felt as if they are concerned to police and patrol that border that separates tenure-track from non-tenure-track with particular diligence.

His main argument is that
people in tenure-track positions accept the existence or necessity of non-tenure-eligible faculty lines, then they have already accepted that tenure is not really necessary, and they risk reducing the effect of their own arguments to “But tenure is really necessary for me, and for those like me”. Likewise with salary, and with teaching load: “Oh, I’m in a tenure line, I need to teach fewer classes and get paid more because my teaching is linked to my research.” As if some teaching need not be linked to research, as if teaching twice as many courses a term should not be expected to affect the quality of instruction. But if reasonable pay and teaching loads are good for some, why not for all? 
There's been more response to his argument in the comments to Historiann's post where she's taken a look at her own department's practice of not hiring adjuncts to tenure track positions in national searches; she notes that the adjuncts apply, and make it to the finalist stage, but then aren't ranked as highly as someone else who's offered the job.

Edited to add (with apologies for not seeing it earlier): Undine over at Not of General Interest has also posted ("The Economics of Wishful Thinking About Campus Funding") with a scenario about what might happen if faculty in one department at one school decided not to hire contingent faculty to staff sections and taught fewer sections; she posits that the administration would do an end run, covering the sections with MOOC type courses, for example.

As I read over these, I see a lot of complications.

R1s, regionals, SLACs, and community colleges provide very different experiences for faculty, contingent and otherwise): teaching load, research expectations (creep?), support, resources for research and teaching.

Private and public also matters.

Unionization seems important, perhaps the most important issue in many ways.

I wonder how important it is to us whether contingent faculty are hired via national searches or local availability.

I think that some folks in this conversation think of contingent faculty as having terminal degrees (PhD or MFA), while others think in terms of MAs.

Are contingent faculty required to do service some places and not others?

Most of the voices I'm seeing are tenured folks.

Tom (of Chancery Hill Books) talks about leaving his tenured position to follow his wife to her tenure track position ("Post Academic: You Must Change Your Life").  While that's admirable, it raises issues of how marriage affects decisions.  Single people may have different considerations, as may partnered people without privilege of marriage.

I also wonder how race works in these conversations, urban vs rural, too.


  1. This is a great round up. Thank you! It's such a complicated issue and there are so many contingencies. There's no silver bullet, but unionizing could help. The problems with that aren't easily solved either, though. How can you convince a tenure-track person to sacrifice time toward their tenure portfolio to organize a union? One of my colleagues said that AAUP won't touch religious institutions either. I don't know if that's true, but if it is, it's another massive wrinkle for those of us at religious SLACs.

    Anyway. I do not mean to sound like I'm against more tenure-track lines being created. Far from it. I just don't think the Berube-Ruth proposal is going to get any traction at a place like HU.

  2. Thanks for this roundup, Bardiac; there is a lot of food for thought here. I fear my own post about the economics of the teaching was a little too flippant to be specific, but there are indeed positive changes afoot even if tenure-track teaching appointments aren't in the offing. Multi-year contracts, credit for service and scholarship, health care benefits, and increased salariesd have, I think, gone a long way at some institutions, including mine, to improve conditions.

    1. Those are, indeed, real improvements. However, coming from an institution where they've been in place for a while (I've had benefits for the full 15 years at my present institution, and multi-year contracts have been available throughout that period as well; salaries have increased substantially, but still not to anywhere near parity with tenure-line faculty, which I'd argue is almost as significant a battle as tenure), I'd warn against seeing them as full solutions. Treating some contingent faculty better (and focusing the fight on increasing the number of full-time contingent positions) can obscure the remaining inequities: lack of participation in governance/curricular decision-making, and the ever-important issue of salary (which compounds the existing class issues/lack of mobility between the two classes, at least for contingent faculty who are their own sole support; neither tenure-line faculty who supposedly do research nor contingents may get much research/writing done during the school year, but if one has to seek out summer teaching, and/or other supplemental paid work, in order to make ends meet, the chances of getting much research & writing done decrease substantially).

  3. Very useful indeed: thanks! For the record, I would *not* be happy to add substantial service or even modest research expectations to my current regular-year load (8 courses in all, spread over two semesters), though I might consider it** if it came with tenure, and especially with enough more salary to drop what has become a de facto necessary (but not guaranteed) part of my course load: 2 additional sections in the summer. I do want to participate in service, because it's the only way to participate meaningfully in governance/shaping the conditions of teaching and learning (to the extent that faculty of any rank are still able to do so), but I'm also very aware of the time demands, and I think it's important than none of us, of any rank, downplay them, especially since a good deal of the recent increase in such demands results from (1) outside demands for more and more frequent assessment (which would not change with a teaching-intensive tenure track, though they might be shared among more people*) and (2) tasks related to hiring, evaluating, and (where relevant) promoting contingent faculty (which would temporarily increase with the implementation of a teaching tenure track, but would presumably then level off, or at least be shared among more people as more senior once-contingent faculty become eligible to participate in hiring, evaluation, etc. of more-junior ones).

    *One concern I'd have is that the implementation of a teaching-intensive tenure track not become an excuse for "research-oriented" faculty to offload a disproportionate share of such tasks on "teaching-oriented" faculty.

    **Of course, I might not have a choice, even if I didn't think the new tenure-eligible job was an improvement on my current one. I'm keenly aware that there are tenure-track jobs out there that are worse, in any of a number of ways, than my current non-tenure-track one. While I'm definitely in favor of a teaching-intensive tenure track on general principles, I can also see it, in the current climate, turning into a bad, but hard-to-refuse, bargain.

    1. And yes,the whole raft of questions about what advantages there are (or aren't) to being single or married (to a fellow-academic or to someone with a position that is more or less geographically flexible, and more or less well-compensated, outside the academy), on the tenure track or off, at particular institutions, is/are incredibly complicated.

  4. I think urban vs. rural matters in this discussion. I am at a very rural university and if I were to lose my job there is literally no other options that wouldn't involve moving my family. I would never have agreed to move here without the job being tenure-track because of this situation.

    I would think that complete loss of the tenure system would result in a dramatic (although maybe slow) decrease in the quality of rural universities vs. larger, urban universities.

    I wouldn't mind seeing the development of teaching intensive positions and might even prefer it to the current teaching/research/service positions but the devil is in the details!

  5. Anonymous2:33 PM

    I am particularly struck by the line that refers to the policing of borders by the tenure-track faculty. I'm in that group, but have nonetheless been amazed by the disregard for contingent folks shown by my fellow TT people. It is a class in-group and out-group dynamic, in which the value and identity of the in-group is defined by reference to the out-group. In a recent university-wide faculty meeting, when I spoke up in favor of 3-year contracts for contingent profs with 6 years of service (rather than the current annual contracts), one of them shot up in his chair, looked back to find my face, and stared at me in a positive kind of shock. He seemed to be unable to process that someone had actually thought of him.