Monthly Archives: September 2015

Did you think we’d be fine? / Still got scars on my back from your knife.

How can tenure-track/tenured faculty best help their non-tenure-track colleagues?

This is a tough question to answer, and one I can’t answer fully.  There are several websites that provide advice regarding how to be atenured ally,” and I suggest reading up on them.  (You can go read them now.  I’ll wait.)

One common means of providing advice is to focus on how the tenured set should treat, talk to, work with, etc. those not on the tenure track.  And while this is certainly important, we should also not take our attention away from the systemic and institutional biases that emphasize the two-tier faculty system.  And until we eliminate that system, no amount of good will and water cooler talk will effect any significant change.

In one of the above links, Anna Peak writes about the inequities regarding how non-tenure-track teaching is valued (or not) at the institutional level.  And of course, she’s right.  My own university, for instance, has two different President’s Awards for Teaching, one for “Teaching” and one for “Adjunct Teaching.” The “Adjunct Teaching” award is new, and while well-intentioned, highlights rather than corrects the idea that adjunct teaching is not valued to the same degree as teaching done by tenure-track faculty.  Adding further insult to injury is the stipulation that , in order to qualify for the award, “Nominees must have taught, over the proceeding five years, a total of courses equivalent to one-half of a three-year full-time teaching load in the appropriate department.”  There is no similar requirement (that I can find) that stipulates that nominees for the (Regular? Normal?) President’s Award for Teaching must have taught any particular number of courses over a period of time.  As far as I can tell, there is no issue with nominees for the non-adjunct award taking time away from the classroom to perform administrative duties, go on research leave, etc.

This is, of course, not uncommon.  It’s in fact pretty damn common for institutions to demand some sort of proof of loyalty before recognizing that adjunct faculty should be treated like the tenured set.  I discovered this a couple years ago when I pushed to give non-tenure-track faculty full voting rights in my department.  Several of my colleagues noted that non-tenure-track faculty are, by virtue of their contract, not as “committed” to their jobs as the tenured set, and some openly suggested that, because they were adjuncts, they should not expect to be treated equally.  The measure that we passed (thanks to the help of several colleagues, with all kinds of contract statuses) included a caveat that non-tenure-track faculty must have taught a minimum number of courses over a minimum number of semesters in order to vote on Personnel issues.  Presumably, this is because faculty need time to learn the department and their colleagues.  However, no such caveat exists for the tenured set.  When a new tenure-track member is hired, that colleague can vote on Personnel issues before they learn who everyone in the department is.  I did so in my first year, when I voted on the tenure application of a colleague whom I didn’t know.  The point, of course, is that nobody questioned either my commitment to the department or my qualifications to provide a thoughtful vote, and this was because of the nature of my contract.

One of the most important things the tenured set can do to become allies to their non-tenure-track colleagues is to reevaluate the institutional practices that we often take for granted.  One such practice is scheduling.

It’s common – at all kinds of institutions – for the tenured set to teach the lion’s share of upper-division courses, while non-tenure-track faculty teach the lion’s share of introductory-level courses.  This sends the message that tenure-track faculty are more qualified, more capable, and better prepared to teach such courses.  Some of you will note that, sometimes, this is true.  A great many adjuncts do not possess PhDs on their respective fields.  Every university I have either attended or taught at has employed adjuncts with MAs in English to teach Freshman Composition (or its equivalent).  However, that should not define a widespread institutional practice of employing non-tenure-track faculty to teach the bulk of lower-division courses.*

In my own department, we have done a…decent job of giving upper-division teaching to non-tenure-track faculty.  However, even so, a quick review of the scheduling disparity clearly shows that there is a similar two-tier system in place.  A quick count of sections being taught in my own department shows quite a sharp disparity.  And before we get at the numbers, I’d like you to keep in mind that many of my colleagues and I specifically ask for freshman-level classes.**  Also, I am one of two tenure-track faculty members on research leave this semester.  If I were teaching this semester, I would be teaching 3 sections of Introduction to Literature and an upper-division course on Historical Fiction.

OK, so the numbers:

Freshman-level classes:
Tenure-track faculty: 29
Non-tenure-track faculty: 44

Upper-level classes (junior/senior/graduate program):
Tenure-track faculty: 37
Non-tenure-track faculty: 7

Tenure-track faculty are teaching roughly 40% of all freshman-level sections in my department this semester.  Honestly, I am impressed by this number.  I didn’t expect it to be that high.  However, when we look at the next set, we see that tenure-track faculty are teaching 84% of the upper-division courses.***

This is not common.  “Adjuncts” are hired to teach courses at the last minute, such as when an English department suddenly needs to run more sections of Freshman Composition because enrollment was higher than anticipated.  Or to fill in the gaps when a faculty member goes on leave for a semester (such as my sabbatical, or when my colleague last semester was out on medical leave).  Part-time needs, so the saying goes – should be filled with part-time labor.  That said, most of the adjuncts in my department are teaching permanent curricular needs.  But not upper-division needs.  Those needs are still largely served by the tenure-track faculty.  This despite the fact that three of my non-tenure-track colleagues hold PhDs in their respective fields, and two of them have published in their fields.****

If tenure-track faculty really want to be proper allies to their non-tenure-track colleagues, one thing they can do is to take a hard look at scheduling.  Are faculty being scheduled to best maximize their skills and to best serve the needs of the students?  Instead of trickle-down scheduling – where tenure-track faculty are given their schedules and then non-tenure-track faculty are used to fill in the cracks – faculty could instead be scheduled based on their qualifications (and contract status is not one of those qualifications).  Additionally, we could reconsider how we weigh the value of courses.  That is, what if we decided that freshman-level teaching was the most important, most significant teaching, and the most “qualified” teachers – however we define that – teach freshmen first.  What if, instead of using adjuncts to fill in the freshman-level cracks, they were used to fill in the upper-division cracks?  What if we scheduled Freshman Composition first, and then later on worried about how we are filling the special topics course in 20th century American literature?

I will leave you with one last fact about scheduling in my department.  This year, we have a 1-year VAP to replace a faculty member in Composition who left for another job.  That faculty member would have taught one section of Freshman Composition, one sophomore-level course, and one upper-division course.  The VAP who was hired to replace that colleague is teaching three sections of Freshman Composition.

*Courses which, as anyone in the profession can tell you, require a great deal of time and training to teach correctly.  Whoever decided that teaching freshman is easier than teaching seniors hasn’t spent much time teaching freshmen.  Whoever decided that teaching freshmen isn’t as valuable as teaching seniors hasn’t either.

**I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Introduction to Literature is the most fun, most rewarding class I teach.

***I have not counted sophomore-level courses, largely because I don’t want to do all that math.  But if people demand it, I’ll look those stats up, too.  But it doesn’t diminish the point I’m making here, whatever the numbers.

****It increasingly drives me nuts that tenure-track faculty seem able to teach whatever the hell they want, regardless of their qualifications, while non-tenure-track faculty must apply for special permission to teach upper-division courses in their demonstrated areas of expertise.  I was once asked to teach a course on 20th century British literature.  Sure, I can do it, but I have not taken any graduate courses in that area, nor have I published in that area.  But because I’m tenure track, I can do it.  (I’ve also been asked to develop a course in Professional Writing, despite having absolutely no qualifications to do so.)  Adjuncts – regardless of their qualifications – are not afforded the same level of professional respect and assumed competence.


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