For 30 years, critics have proclaimed that the tenure-track and adjunct models of faculty are broken. It is 2016, and we still have a crisis when it comes to how higher education should deal with faculty members and the roles faculty members should play.
Tenure-track faculty models overemphasize a very narrow definition of research and do not encourage or provide accountability for quality teaching or improvement of teaching. Studies demonstrate, for instance, that only 25 percent of faculty members excel at both research and teaching. Such models also hamstring institutions to paying wages beyond traditional retirement age to faculty members (who aren’t required to retire at 65) and to supporting fields of study where enrollments may no longer exist.
Of course, the reality is that almost three-quarters of faculty members today are not on a tenure track. And a faculty workforce with a significant number of adjuncts provides no institutional stability for the teaching force, brings in droves of fluctuating employees with limited or no experience teaching for the institution, and leaves students without faculty members available for office hours and mentoring. In addition, adjunct faculty are left out of institutional discussions about learning goals, course assignments or textbook selection and are typically excluded from professional development, evaluation and feedback.
Meanwhile, the adjunct model clearly has human and moral costs. Such faculty members are often living on poverty wages, with no benefits, job security or career trajectory -- and all this after they’ve received a Ph.D. from a university that never told them about the low job prospects.
As part of Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success, we have long highlighted the need to better support faculty off the tenure track as a short-term solution to the larger faculty crisis. But that is indeed only a short-term solution -- one with increasing popularity but limited long-term utility. While it can eradicate some of the most egregious problems that have resulted from higher education’s overreliance on adjunct and contingent faculty, we have to rethink faculty roles for the long run. The academy simply can no longer ignore this essential work.
What should the faculty look like in the future so we can overcome this crisis once and for all? To respond to that question, we recently surveyed key stakeholders across higher education -- including boards, policy makers, administrators at all levels, faculty of all types, disciplinary societies and unions -- to examine their perspectives on what the future for faculty should be.
One current stereotype is that faculty and administrative views of this issue are so diametrically opposed that discussions of future faculty roles are not possible: as faculty members (and unions) cling to tenure-track roles, administrators driven by neoliberalism want to deprofessionalize all faculty into adjuncts.
But the survey findings debunk that stereotype. We found many points of consensus among all those surveyed -- including unionized faculty members -- that seemed to indicate a shared vision and some clear ways forward for academe. Some of their key points of agreement included:
We need more full-time faculty. The academy needs to decrease its dependence on part-timers and have more full-time faculty, although not necessarily tenure-track faculty.
We need to professionalize the faculty. Institutions can do that through ensuring for faculty members academic freedom (potentially outside tenure systems), inclusion in shared governance, professional development, a fair and equitable system of promotion, and decision making related to curriculum and students. (Those surveyed saw these actions as vital for any type of faculty member, whether tenured of adjunct, full time or part time, senior or junior.)
Nontenured faculty members need longer contracts. Semester to semester and year to year is just too short. Those surveyed thought three-, five- or seven-year contracts (with longer ones given over time) were more reasonable.
We need more emphasis on teaching. Institutions must make that happen, whether through tenuring faculty members for teaching-only positions or hiring full-time faculty members on long-term contracts who focus on teaching.
All faculty members should have a scholarly role. Although that role typically would not involve conducting original research, it would include attending conferences and keeping up with developments in one’s field.
Differentiation and customization of faculty roles are crucial. Not all faculty members need to teach, conduct research or perform service. Also, faculty members should not do the same thing their whole career. Perhaps they should focus on teaching for a while and then move more to service and administrative roles or to research.
Faculty members should have greater work flexibility. Such flexibility could include stop-the-clock policies, part-time tenure-track positions and job sharing. That kind of approach is vitally needed to accommodate families and create better working conditions.
Faculty roles should emphasize collaboration. Faculty members should work across departments, units and outside groups to foster student success and cross-disciplinary research and service.
Faculty members should focus on student learning as the most central activity. They should particularly work to support and ensure the success of first-generation and low-income students.
Our survey asked not only about potential faculty models or faculty roles in the future but also the feasibility of those features becoming part of the enterprise. Here those surveyed expressed pessimism: they doubted there would be adequate funding to support this vision for the faculty and believed bureaucratic complexities would hamper such approaches. While difficulties in altering policies and contracts can certainly arise, I was surprised by these comments -- especially given the reality that some campuses are already doing this work.
In fact, for those institutions that have implemented new models, it is has been fairly easy. I have spoken to senior administrators and faculty members at dozens of campuses and departments that are quietly revising their approach to faculty work to look much more like the emerging shared vision of those we surveyed.
But those same administrators have voiced a fear about being too far out in front of what those at other institutions are doing. Campuses do not embrace this work with a sense of pride -- as being leaders.
The time has come for institutions to stop being quiet and start seeing this work as one of the primary drivers for advancing the broad mission of student and institutional success. Ample evidence suggests that the future faculty model outlined above would be much better to support student success. There are national calls (see the Aspen Institute Initiative-New College Leadership Project) for campus leaders to make student success a primary focus, and championing these new faculty models would be clearly aligned with these efforts.
I hope that institutions will proudly promote their work to implement new faculty models that support student learning and outcomes and institutional goals. And I hope that foundations and policy groups will find ways to support this work by bringing it out of the shadows and demonstrating not only that it can be done but that it represents a high priority for the future of academe.
Adrianna Kezar is a professor for higher education at the University of Southern California and co-director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education. She directs the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success.
The University of Missouri Board of Curators announced Tuesday that it has rejected an appeal from Melissa Click, an assistant professor at the university's Columbia campus, of the board's February decision to fire her. Click was given the right to file an appeal, which she did. She was fired based on two incidents, both videotaped. In one, she blocked the access of a student journalist to campus protesters even though they were in an open area on a public campus. In the other, the board determined that she interfered with a police officer trying to maintain order amid a protest during a parade.
Pamela Henrickson, chair of the University of Missouri Board of Curators, said that “in the board’s view, her appeal brought no new relevant information to the curators.” The board’s full rejection of the appeal may be found here.
In her appeal, Click wrote in part, “In my participation and in my actions on both days I firmly believe I was exercising my protected rights as a United States citizen and a citizen of the state of Missouri. I steadfastly believe it would be a violation of my First Amendment rights and my rights to academic freedom to suggest that my interactions on either day provide grounds for the termination of my employment. Additionally, I believe that your decision to terminate my employment without due process in the form of a fair hearing by a faculty body violates my contract of employment with the University of Missouri.”
The American Association of University Professors has questioned the decision to fire Click, and many observers expect the case to end up in court.
The 23 majors, which represent a quarter of the university’s programs, were chosen based on their low enrollment numbers. The university hopes the change will save $900,000 by 2020, and the savings will be invested in higher-growth programs.
The university has promised that faculty members won’t face layoffs or reductions in hours as a result of the cuts. While students will no longer be able to major in certain programs, lower-level classes will still exist in some cases. And in the meantime, all current students enrolled in one of the 23 majors will be able to finish their studies.
The university’s board voted on the change in January, going against the recommendation of a faculty and staff committee. The News Journal noted that the cuts were made “quietly,” a characterization that the university disputes. “There was a lot of discussion,” university spokesman Carlos Holmes told NewsWorks. “It was quiet to the News Journal because they didn’t attend the board meeting.”
Liberal arts majors, like foreign language and education programs, suffered most of the cuts. The savings will go toward programs like criminal justice, agriculture and applied chemistry.
Since the decision was finalized, some faculty members praised the changes, arguing that the scrapped programs were barely in use, while others argued that the programs were vitally important despite their low enrollment numbers. "The university used a hatchet instead of a scalpel to make cuts," Samuel Hoff, a professor of history and political science, said in an email. "The cuts are hurting students in the areas eliminated. The university is measuring efficiency entirely by numbers and profit rather than by learning, performance and consistency with DSU’s mission."
The University of Minnesota’s top faculty committee voted 7 to 2 last week to provisionally support a statement backing free speech on campus as the institution’s “paramount value,” according to The Washington Post. Dale Carpenter, Distinguished University Teaching Professor and Earl R. Larson Professor of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Law at the University of Minnesota Law School, wrote in a guest blog post that the resolution adopted by the Faculty Consultative Committee (of which he is a part), has requested input on the statement from Minnesota’s president, provost, Student Senate and other groups, but was moved to affirm free speech rights in light of recent on-campus incidents.
In November, pro-Palestinian protesters -- three of whom were arrested -- repeatedly disrupted a speech by Moshe Halbertal, a law professor from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. And last academic year, the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action investigated and questioned the judgment of professors involved in a panel on free speech who promoted it using a Charlie Hebdo cover featuring Muhammad (the inquiry was prompted by student, faculty and external complaints).
The committee’s statement reads, in part, “Ideas are the lifeblood of a free society and universities are its beating heart. If freedom of speech is undermined on a university campus, it is not safe anywhere. The University of Minnesota resolves that the freedom of speech is, and will always be, safe at this institution.” The statement says that protecting free speech means embracing the following principles:
A public university must be absolutely committed to protecting free speech, both for constitutional and academic reasons.
Free speech includes protection for speech that some find offensive, uncivil or even hateful.
Free speech cannot be regulated on the ground that some speakers are thought to have more power or more access to the mediums of speech than others.
Even when protecting free speech conflicts with other important university values, free speech must be paramount.
A university spokesperson noted via email Monday that in a speech earlier this month, President Eric Kaler said that "the University of Minnesota promotes a climate of open, thoughtful and civil debate among our campus community. We encourage all to speak with respect and understanding of others, but we should not forbid speech that shocks, hurts or angers. Professor Carpenter's notion that, 'The best response to offensive ideas is to counter them with better ideas,' is spot on. If there is any space in society for that, it’s the university."
The spokesman also said that the committee's resolution is "the beginning of a dialogue in [the committee] with an objective of reaching a consensus that effects the input of a broad cross section of campus."
Amy Donahue, an assistant professor of philosophy at Kennesaw State University, was arrested Friday in the Georgia Capitol for protesting the state’s proposed concealed campus carry law, similar to the one recently passed -- against faculty and administrative concerns -- in Texas. State troopers handcuffed and arrested Donahue for disruption of the General Assembly and obstruction of an officer for holding a 22-by-28-inch sign opposing the legislation, which later passed the Georgia Senate, the Savannah Morning News reported. (The bill next goes to Governor Nathan Deal, who could sign it into law.)
Donahue was allowed to enter the building with her sign and visited an additional floor before she was arrested, according to the Morning News. The paper reported that groups routinely bring signs into the building, and Donahue’s arrest angered the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, whose executive director, Hollie Manheimer, said in a statement, "It appears this citizen was trying to express herself, but instead was arrested. Law enforcement operated under a criminal statute, even though there seems to have been no evidence that the citizen was obstructing the hallway or any area at all, with the intent to cause disruption.”
But a spokesperson from Kennesaw State suggested otherwise. Tammy DeMel told the Morning News, “We have the utmost respect for the General Assembly, and while we support appropriate expressions of opinion, we do not condone the disruptive activities associated with this incident.” Donahue was charged with two misdemeanors and released on a $2,000 bond. Via email, Donahue declined immediate comment.
The Human Terrain System was controversial throughout its history -- and that history may still be going on. The program set off intense debates among anthropologists and other social scientists when the U.S. Army in 2005-6 introduced the idea of embedding scholars with military units in Iraq and Afghanistan. The theory was that these scholars would help military leaders understand tribal groups and potentially reduce danger to civilians and the military. But many scholars viewed the program as violating their professional ethics and cheered the news last year that the program had been shut down.
But USA Today reported last week that the program remains alive and that the Army has simply kept it quiet. (The Army isn't talking.)
The news prompted the American Anthropological Association to call for the program to be shut down completely once and for all. "The fact is that when social science research is done at gunpoint, with researchers surrounded by armed combatants, it is coercive, professionally irresponsible and highly unlikely to yield reliable and accurate results," said a statement from the association.