I’ve been a teaching professor in the school of communication at Florida State University since the fall of 1993. As a graduate student, I found the teaching invigorating and the research alienating, and I knew in order to be in the academy, I would need to carve out a distinct niche. FSU provided the opportunity, and I’ve done my best to serve, teach and support.
A couple of years ago, I was asked to chair the teaching evaluation committee for the Faculty Senate. I was eager to serve, yet I found it problematic that I had no representation on the senate even though I was being asked to take such a leadership position. The senate president at the time was very receptive to my concerns and became a proponent for nontenured faculty representation on the senate.
The quiet debate has circled informally for the last couple of years, coming to head during the current term. The senate president contacted me, asking that I speak in favor of the bylaw change at two open forums and at the formal debate when the proposal would be considered. I carefully wrote and delivered the following statement.
“I’ve been at FSU full-time for 23 years, six as an assistant dean and the remainder as a specialized faculty member. I teach three courses per term and have taught four for the last 10 years on overload. I also advise students, both undergraduate and graduate, supervise graduate student teaching assistants, and serve on departmental and university committees. I do everything that people ask of me at FSU.
“It’s always been interesting that I have no representation on the Faculty Senate. In fact, over the years, numerous senators have asked me my views on issues pertaining to FSU faculty. I’ve served three terms on the Faculty Senate committee on teaching evaluation and was asked to serve as chair, but I found it hard to chair a Faculty Senate committee when I had no representation in the senate. You wanted me to serve and work but have no vote.
“I want you to know that:
- I am not against tenure. I celebrate when a colleague is awarded tenure, am always proud of their accomplishments. I often advise junior faculty on political issues and strategies when it comes to earning tenure.
- In fact, I like to think I play an important part in allowing faculty to have the time to attain tenure. I teach over 500 students per semester and routinely recruit subjects for graduate student and faculty research projects.
- I often discuss and celebrate faculty research and creative accomplishments in my classes, so students know all that is being done on the campus.
- Sometimes it is hard to be treated as a second-class citizen. I read the names at commencement, and before one ceremony, I was asked to step forward to lead the national anthem because the student who was going to do so hadn’t shown up. To my face, a faculty member said, ‘Why don’t we get a real faculty member to do that?’ I was also once referred to by a colleague in a meeting as ‘people like him.’
“The irony, of course, is that faculty members at universities largely see themselves as egalitarian and inclusive -- a celebratory crew for diversity and multiculturalism. Yet they often work to ensure a multiclass system in their own work setting, something they would decry if they saw it occurring in another arena.
“An inclusive Faculty Senate where there are two at-large senators from the specialized faculty ranks will not hurt tenure. We do not seek to diminish tenure. We simply want a voice in policies that affect our students and our work environment. FSU has a great history of inclusiveness and making sure everyone has a place at the table. However, the refusal to be inclusive on the Faculty Senate weakens the faculty voice as a whole and certainly makes it hard to maintain one’s morale, especially if operating from the specialized ranks.
“We may not have tenure, but we teach, research, serve, discuss, inspire, contribute and belong. Seems like a couple of votes should at least be considered.”
As I finished making the statement, I received a rousing ovation. I was proud I had spoken up.
What followed, however, were numerous disheartening statements from tenured faculty, many of whom I considered close friends and colleagues.
“When is the last time you saw a faculty member wanting to be on a nontenured track?”
“If we let nontenured faculty members on the senate, it will weaken tenure, and the state will think it’s OK to do away with it.”
“This is very scary territory for our university. This could start a tide of change, which would change the university as we know it.”
“We are only here for one reason: research. This is a very scary precedent.”
As this point in the history of higher education in America, we need more than ever to support one another and have one another’s backs. I know of no nontenured faculty members who want to do away with tenure. It is very important at FSU and other institutions, and I will continue to support my colleagues as they work toward it. All I ask is for the support to be reciprocated.
It’s time we work together. In fact, it may be more important now than ever before.