Nontenure-track faculty seek voice on UI campus
URBANA — When Dorothee Schneider talks to people outside of academia about her job as a full-time, nontenure-track professor, this is how she often describes it.
“We teach 50 percent more classes than regular faculty, but we make only 50 percent of the annual salary of tenured colleagues in our field.”
The Ph.D.-bearing historian, former Fulbright recipient and author of two published books in her field of labor and immigration has been teaching on and off at the University of Illinois since 1991, some years part time, some years full time.
Since 2007, Schneider has been a full-time lecturer in the Department of History. In August, she celebrated when her salary inched above $50,000 for the first time.
Schneider is one of a growing number of “other academics” on campus, a group that includes adjunct faculty, instructors, lecturers, senior lecturers, and clinical and research professors. What they have in common is what they don’t have or are not on track to receive: tenure and the protections tenure affords.
Aside from wanting more job stability — most of them are on annual appointments — opportunities for career advancement and professional development, nontenure-track faculty desire “a voice on campus,” said Kay Emmert, a full-time lecturer in the UI’s English department. This is her second year on campus as an “NTT” — nontenure track — or member of the “contingent faculty,” as some call this class of faculty in precarious employment situations.
“We don’t have visibility,” Emmert said. “We want to feel as though we’re seen and the efforts we make are seen” on campus, she said.
Administrators in the campus provost’s office, which oversees faculty and academic affairs, have been reviewing a range of adjunct-specific issues and are expected to issue new communications and strategies. Details are still being worked out; a university spokeswoman said the goal is to have some policies announced during the current school year.
Meanwhile, earlier this fall the plight of adjuncts gained widespread media attention following the publication of an essay on the death of poverty-stricken Margaret Mary Vojtko, who had been an adjunct French professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. The widely circulated essay prompted a social media campaign that involved people tweeting #iammargaretmary to show support for adjuncts.
And on the Urbana campus, members of this class of instructors have been meeting regularly to share concerns as well as to discuss teaching strategies and to network.
Several, like Emmert and Schneider, also have been involved in the Campus Faculty Association, a group that has been assessing the need for a faculty union in Urbana.
“They are teachers just like we are. Many have the same degrees we do. They teach the same students we do,” said Susan Davis, communication professor and member of the Campus Faculty Association. “They’re doing much the same work we are, but with a lot less security.”
The association has not launched a card campaign yet; however, when it does, the union is expected to follow a model adopted by the UI Chicago campus. The faculty union would have two bargaining units: one for tenured and tenure-track and one for nontenure-track faculty. The idea is that both types of academics would be represented in leadership positions and at the bargaining tables, but there would be two different contracts, Davis said.
In the last decade, the ranks of the tenured faculty and those who are on the tenure track have shrunk at the UI. At the same time, enrollment has steadily climbed to a record high of 43,400 students, up from 36,936 in 2000. More students means more demand for required classes in subjects such as English or foreign languages, and writing-intensive classes’ sizes are kept small. Many units have turned to nontenure-track faculty, whose appointments are short-term, to meet this increase in demand.
Since the 2004-2005 academic year, the number of tenure-track professors in Urbana has declined by about 7.5 percent, while “other academics,” which includes lecturers, adjuncts and other instructors (not graduate students teaching courses) has grown by 27.6 percent during that same time period, according to campus statistics.
In 2004-2005, “other academics” totaled 712, about 26.2 percent of those teaching on campus. In 2012-13, their numbers increased to 909, almost 33 percent of those teaching. Tenured and tenure-track faculty (those hired as assistant professors who earn tenure over several years) once numbered about 2,100 in 2007-2008; last academic year there were 1,856. Numbers for this fall are not yet available, according to the UI.
“No department is intentionally hiring nontenure-track staff over tenure-track faculty. However, we experienced very constrained hiring during the recent recession and we even had an incentivized retirement program, so many units experienced a drop in tenure-system faculty during those years. Departments have had to look at multiple ways of managing their curricular needs,” said campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler.
Earlier this year, Chancellor Phyllis Wise announced a concerted effort to boost numbers of tenure-track faculty. The campus strategic plan calls for hiring 500 faculty over the next five to seven years. Some will be new positions, and some will replace those who have retired or accepted jobs elsewhere. But they are specifically tenure-track positions.
There is no current plan to increase the number of “other academics,” according to Kaler.
Need for security, clarity
Kristina Riedel moved to Urbana from Germany two years ago to be a full-time Swahili lecturer. While most people may believe lecturers teach — and only teach — Riedel, who is also director and coordinator of Sub-Saharan African languages, advises students and coordinates various external programming, such as film or conversation meet-ups. Her tenured peers elected her to serve in the Academic Senate. She and Emmert said they have good relationships with their department heads.
“But there are no guarantees,” Riedel said. “There’s no protection” for a lecturer if a unit decides late in the spring or summer if it does not need the instructor for the fall semester.
Lecturers are often faced with situations in the spring, while their employment is in question for the semester that will begin in late August, in which they can either wait and hope they teach again in August or go through the search-and-interview process for a position elsewhere, Riedel said.
It’s not uncommon, Schneider said, for annual notices of appointment, which confirm employment positions, to arrive a week or three before classes start. If they learn in July or August that they won’t be teaching, it’s too late to find a teaching job elsewhere, since colleges and universities have already wrapped up their hiring for the year, she said.
The process for being rehired “isn’t very solid” and varies by department, Emmert said.
Schneider, who teaches undergraduates, said that because of her standing as a nontenure-track faculty member, she, like many others, cannot vote in department decisions including, for example, decisions about the undergraduate curriculum.
Riedel and Emmert also said teaching evaluations conducted by peers can vary by department. And money for professional development also is up to departments. Emmert said she and her colleagues were thrilled this year to receive $300 stipends to attend conferences in their field of writing.
Eroding tenure system
Schneider, Riedel, Emmert and other nontenure-track faculty told The News-Gazette that they want the university to establish a promotion and salary structure for nontenure-track faculty; to offer more opportunities for professional advancement, such as financial support for attending academic conferences; access to grant competitions; a greater voice in some departmental or unit decisions, such as on undergraduate curriculum; and more.
According to a report by the American Association of University Professors, which has tracked the increase in nontenure-track faculty across the country, the growth in nontenured faculty “erodes the size and influence of the tenured faculty and undermines the stability of the tenure system.”
“My own personal view is these are valued and valuable members of our academic team who don’t have protections of tenure,” UI Professor Nicholas Burbules said. As their numbers continue to increase on campus, “it would be an oversight to not acknowledge the role they play not only to teaching but research and clinical activities and fundamental tasks,” he said.
Burbules chaired a senate committee over the summer that came up with several recommendations on addressing general faculty concerns raised in recent years about salaries, pensions, benefits and other issues. Some members of the senate criticized the report for not specifically including nontenure-track faculty in the recommendations.
Burbules said he did not want the perception to be that the senate has been unsympathetic to the concerns of nontenure-track faculty. He said work has been done “behind the scenes” in recent years to address concerns of adjuncts and lecturers. For example, several years ago, multiple-year contracts were approved by the body.
Changes have been slow to come, though.
It’s been just over two years since a committee’s report specifically examining some adjunct employment issues on campus has been delivered to campus administration.
Back in 2011, then-interim Chancellor Robert Easter organized a committee to consider recommendations on the hiring, evaluation, reappointment and termination of adjunct faculty. At the time, some on campus said the UI needed clearer definitions and procedures in the wake of the controversial dismissal of an adjunct.
In 2010, adjunct religion Professor Ken Howell was told he would not teach the following semester following a student complaint about his teachings on homosexuality and natural law.
He was later invited to teach again after there was a public outcry among supporters of academic freedom.
Following the Howell debate, the senate’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure and executive committee recommended Easter look into the questions and issues raised surrounding adjunct employment.
The committee’s report, submitted to the chancellor in the summer of 2011, outlined nine different recommendations, said Emeritus UI Professor Harry Hilton, the committee chairman. The report called for clearer definitions of titles of academic staff; offer letters that detail length of the appointment; regular evaluations; a fair, unbiased and systematic appeal system; and more.
It did not take a specific position on the participation of adjuncts in various departmental decisions, but did recommend that the levels of participation of nontenure-track faculty be defined in a unit’s bylaws.
Kaler, the campus spokeswoman, said work is ongoing and the aim is to create “best practices and policies” for people who are not on the tenure track.
“Because we’re such a complex, diverse place, it’s not a simple process to say we’ll do ‘X.’ There are all these different types of people hired in different ways. ... We’re working through all those scenarios and needs the different colleges have and they’re working on it,” Kaler said.
The point is to do it well, not quickly, she added.
Tenure-track and nontenure-track faculty at the UI's Urbana campus
*Numbers for current academic year (2013-2014) are not yet available. Source: University of Illinois.