Voting Rights for Adjuncts
Non-tenure-track faculty at the University of Missouri at Columbia are one step closer to shared governance.
The university’s Faculty Council voted this month to consider redefining "faculty" to include non-tenure-track professors. The move would extend voting rights to the council’s four non-voting, non-tenure-track representatives, who are elected by their non-tenure-track peers. The proposal would also enfranchise non-tenure-track faculty with a "professorial" designation in campuswide elections that impact them, such as those pertaining to the academic calendar, the grievance process and some curriculum requirements. They would still be ineligible to vote on tenure process changes.
"There’s over 700 of us [non-tenure-track faculty] and we have absolutely no representation anywhere," said Nicole Monnier, an associate teaching professor of Russian who is one of the four non-voting, non-tenure-track faculty members on the council and an advocate of contingent faculty voting rights. "There’s been a lot of conversation that giving (non-tenure-track) faculty the vote will dilute faculty authority over the past few weeks, but that’s a matter of perception.”
The proposal will go to a campus-wide vote among tenured and tenure-track faculty later this year. If it passes, it will appear before the University of Missouri System’s Board of Curators for final approval in April.
Instead of diluting the faculty vote, Monnier said, the university's more than 1,200 tenured and tenure-track faculty should view general faculty enfranchisement as a way of "augmenting" their numbers and
strengthening their voice.
Harry Tyrer, a tenured electric and computer engineering professor who chairs the council, said the 15-3 vote in favor of the proposal on Nov. 8 followed "spirited debate."
While some council members expressed concern that non-tenure-track faculty’s status could make them more vulnerable to influence in voting, or that extending voting rights to them is an attack on tenure – already a sensitive issue nationwide – Tyrer said he and others viewed the issue as one of fairness.
"I don’t see this as being a competition for tenured faculty privileges,” he said. “I see this as an inclusiveness requirement. These are individuals who are not tenured but bring an important perspective and point of view."
Monnier rejected the idea that non-tenure-track faculty votes could be more subject to influence. Votes can be cast by secret ballot, she said, and not all faculty aspire to the tenure track. Monnier said she’s taught at Missouri for 13 years, and was formerly on the tenure track. Her current status is more suited to her lifestyle, she said.
A recent editorial in the university student newspaper, The Maneater, endorsed the move, calling non-voting, non-tenure-track faculty representation on the council inadequate.
The council is now capped at 30 members. If the measure passes, Tyrer said it will likely lead to a messy rebalancing of the council to better-reflect the proportion of non-tenure-track to tenured and tenure-track faculty across campus (740 of Missouri's 1,985 full-time, ranked faculty members – some 37 percent – are non-tenure-track, according to information from the university). But gory details are no reason to put off a vote, he said.
During discussions prior to the vote, an associate economics professor and council member, Vitor Trindade, said non-tenure-track faculty work in specialized areas and questioned whether they understood the university’s broader mission, according to local media reports. He also questioned whether they should vote on curricular matters.
Trindade was not immediately available for comment last week.
Missouri’s university system leaves matters of shared governance up to individual institutions, but the issue is one that goes beyond state lines. Universities across the country have a mix of policies on representation for contingent faculty.
At the University of Texas at Austin, for example, non-tenure-track lecturers and instructors who have served four or more semesters there can vote on the faculty council, but not in campuswide elections of any kind. A movement is under way to change that.
Hillary Hart, president of the UT Faculty Council and a non-tenure-track distinguished senior lecturer of civil, architectural and environmental engineering, said part of the reason the vote hasn’t been extended previously is that it’s hard to distinguish full- or close to full-time contingent faculty who spend years "investing" in campus life from those who hold other, primary jobs and teach on the side, or come and go for any number of reasons.
But enfranchising non-tenure-track faculty with roots in the campus matters, Hart said. "It's more democratic. And you get better decisions and discussions when you include more of the faculty that contribute and teach there."
In a yet-to-be-released report, "The Inclusion in Governance of Faculty Members Holding Contingent Appointments," the American Association of University Professors recommends shared governance for all faculty; those institutions concerned with depth of non-tenure-track faculty investment may establish minimum length of university service requirements for participation.
The report also describes the changing demographics of faculty at campuses nationwide. According to 2009 data, the most recent available, 24 percent of instructional staff appointments were on the tenure track, compared to 45 percent in 1975.
Still, Monnier said she’s not sure how the campuswide vote will go. Apathy on the part of faculty who would vote in favor of non-tenure-track faculty enfranchisement is a concern, she said, as those strongly opposed could be more likely to vote. Missouri's non-tenure-track faculty haven’t started to campaign yet, but Monnier said mobilizing support will be crucial to the measure’s success.
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