URBANA — Nontenure track. Contingent faculty. Other academics. Specialized faculty.
Whatever you want to call them, the ranks of nontenure-track faculty such as lecturers and instructors have grown over the last decade while the numbers of tenure-track faculty at the University of Illinois have shrunk.
Oftentimes these employees are defined by what they are not or what they do not have — tenure, job protection and other privileges granted to professors after they prove themselves during a probationary period.
In response to concerns raised by "other academics" and growing national attention in the media and by Congress, which held a hearing last year on the plight of adjuncts in the U.S., the UI's Urbana campus has released a draft report that attempts to address concerns raised over the years, including how these employees are hired and evaluated, their access to campus grievance policies and professional development opportunities and more.
The question now is how colleges and individual departments across campus will respond. Much of the implementation and timeline will be left up to them.
New terms, titles
Earlier this month, the UI's Office of the Provost, which handles academic matters on campus, shared the draft report with the Academic Senate, a quasi-legislative body of faculty, students and a handful of academic professionals.
Upon its first public airing at the senate, faculty generally described the report as a "good first step." But some cautioned against formally endorsing it without knowing whether it was a final set of enforceable rules or guidelines for departments.
Campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the intent of the communication is "to provide guidance as well as to articulate campus expectations, some of which are mandatory." Some sections of the document state firm expectations, such as the requirement that individuals receive offer letters, annual performance evaluations, and have access to grievance processes.
Some faculty have called for more input from instructors, lecturers and other non-tenured faculty. And some took issue with the new term — specialized faculty — being applied to these "other academics."
"What strike me, of course, is people like myself, nontenure track, are more generalists than specialists," said Dorothee Schneider, a full-time lecturer in the history department. She took an nonpaid leave from teaching this spring to work on a book about how immigrants have been educated in the U.S.
"We were hired because we can cover many bases, so I think the (specialized faculty term) doesn't sit too well with me," Schneider said. Tenured faculty are the specialists, she added.
The UI's Kaler said the term "specialized faculty" was chosen because "we believe it is more celebratory and inclusive than alternatives commonly used such as non-tenure track, contingent, or adjunct faculty."
No term is perfect, she said, "but we would like Illinois to be a leader in finding terminology that is affirmative in nature and that changes how we conceptualize our diverse faculty positions across campus."
Given the confusion and proliferation of titles on campus about people not on the tenure track (there are some 40 different types of titles for people in this category), national concerns and a campus task force from a few years ago, the aim of the report or communication was "the desire to do something more, to recognize the contributions of these faculty," said Katherine Galvin, the UI's associate provost for administrative affairs.
Last year, these "other academics" taught almost 34 percent of instructional units (or credit hours), compared with almost 46 percent by tenure system faculty on campus. (The remaining 20 percent are taught by graduate students who work as teaching assistants.)
There are 363 full-time non-tenure-track faculty on campus: 240 mostly focused on teaching with a mean salary of $58,711; 65 on the research track with a mean salary of $64,793; and 58 on the clinical track with a mean salary of $76,697. (Those numbers exclude visiting professors.) Nontenure track research professors focus mostly on conducting research rather than teaching, and clinical professors can be found in veterinary medicine and similar units where the focus is on applied rather than theoretical work. In addition, there are about 300 part-time nontenure track "other academics."
At the same time, there are approximately 1,691 full-time professors in the tenure system. Their mean salaries are higher: $87,532 for assistant professors, $88,790 for associate professor and $136,719 for full professors.
Galvin said a campus task force from a couple years ago found a lot of units already do what's outlined in the report, but there was a need for "better uniformity" and "greater clarification" regarding what specialized faculty do on campus.
For example, the adjuncts title should be used for those who teach part-time. The instructor title should be used for an employee who does not hold what's called the "terminal degree," or the highest degree available in a subject area. The lecturer title should be used when the person holds the relevant terminal degree.
The document also outlines how instructors and lecturers can be promoted to senior lecturers and senior instructors.
It also proposes the creation of a new position called a teaching professor, a person who would be focused on teaching, who would be above a lecturer, senior lecturer and senior instructor, but not quite at the ranks of a tenure-track professor.
The teaching professor track would be reserved for someone with an "extraordinary record of accomplishment" in teaching, contributing to publications, working with students and other activities in their discipline, according to the report.
Kaler described this new track as for "very accomplished teachers who are also making significant contributions to pedagogy instructional research at the campus and national level." There is no presumption that a senior lecturer will automatically advance to the teaching professor track, according to the report.
The document also encourages, but does not require, departments to offer multi-year contracts with senior nontenure track faculty.
Currently there are few nontenure track faculty with multiyear contracts. The campus has about eight to 12 multi-year contracts at any given time, according to Kaler.
That security of having a longer-term appointment, of knowing when it will begin and end, has been a critical issue to lecturers and instructors, Schneider said.
Sara Benson, a lecturer at the College of Law, said she appreciates that administrators want to recognize this group of faculty "and give us methods to be a greater part of the community at the university."
Because not many nontenure track faculty are part of the senate, which has a formal role in advising campus administration, she suggested administrators hold a forum to give nontenure track faculty "an opportunity to also voice their praise or criticism of the document."
Benson, who teaches a course in legal writing and is a faculty advisor to the moot court program, also suggested some wording changes to the document, such as replacing "should" with "shall" in some areas. For example, nontenure faculty shall have access to grievance procedures that are available to tenure system faculty. Using such language would carry more weight, she said.
Over the year and a half that administrators have been looking into issues related to specialized faculty, over 400 people on campus have provided feedback through surveys, interviews and focus group sessions, Kaler said.
However, an additional survey is now being organized and it will be released soon, she said. It will ask for input on the proposed terminology and general feedback about the draft document, she said.
The final "provost communication" is expected to be issued this semester, according to Kaler.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
The university hires a wide variety of people to teach students. A breakdown of how they're identified:
NON-TENURE TRACK FACULTY
— Instructor: Someone who does not hold a terminal degree in his or her field of study
— Senior Instructor
— Senior lecturer: Someone who holds the terminal or highest degree available in his or her field
— Adjunct: Generally someone who teaches, but on a part-time basis
— Visiting professor: Typically someone who is on campus to teach for a limited amount of time, who has a position at another academic institution
— Teaching professor: This is a new track proposed by administration and would include the following: assistant teaching professor, associate teaching professor and full teaching professor in order of seniority.
— Clinical professor: Such as someone at the veterinary school, focuses on applied rather than theoretical work
— Research professor: Someone who focuses mostly on conducting research rather than teaching
— Assistant professor: Someone who is hired to work toward achieving tenure, but is considered probationary
— Associate professor: Achieved tenure
— Full professor: Highest level
By the numbers
There are 1,691 full-time tenure-track professors at the UI. Their mean salaries:
$87,532 for assistant professors
$88,790 for associate professors
$136,719 for full professors
There are 363 full-time nontenure-track faculty at the UI. Their mean salaries:
$58,711 for the 240 on the teaching track
$64,793 for the 65 on the research track
$76,697 for the 58 on the clinical track