At present the most successful changes have occurred due to non-tenure-track faculty (NTTF) unionizing and bargaining for better working conditions. Maybe this is the inevitable, slow way change that will occur. NTT faculty leaders themselves are largely responsible for changes I have documented nationally. But what about big solutions rather than incremental change? There are some proposals that have been put forward, mostly by the academic unions, but other individuals and groups, as well. One overarching comment needs to be made before reviewing existing proposals for change: Some scholars suggest that there can be no “large-scale” progress or improvement to faculty and working conditions until the overall corporatization of the academy is addressed. Slaughter and Rhoades suggest that unless this neoliberal logic is thoroughly questioned and the practices changed—such as outsourcing, reliance on contingent labor, reduction in instructional cost, rise in administrative costs—then smaller changes to professionalize the NTT faculty will not work, as the system is established to maximize profits rather than focus on creating the best learning environment. Thus, all the suggested directions below may not work as intended, as they may not aim at underlying causes to create the type of change needed to uproot corporatization. Slaughter and Rhoades would suggest that the plan of action most needed is to dismantle the corporate ideology that has taken hold on many campuses.
Conversion back to tenure track over time
A recent report from the AAUP recommends conversion of non-tenure-track faculty to tenure-eligible lines over time as it becomes financially feasible. The AAUP authors focus on the issue of conversion for full-time non-tenure-track faculty, but also suggest that part-time faculty who are interested in full-time work should be given the opportunity for tenure-eligible positions. They also recommend that part-time positions be made tenure eligible. They suggest that long-term contracts for non-tenure-track faculty are not sufficient to protect academic freedom and ensure quality, and conversion to tenure-track appointments is preferred.
Tenure or faculty appointment quotas
Another suggested pathway forward that has been promoted largely by unions is to develop quotas or ratios for tenure-track to non-tenure-track faculty members. The AFT has recommended that states adopt a policy that requires institutions to utilize tenured and tenure-track faculty for 75% of courses offered and no more than 25% of courses to be taught by non-tenure-track faculty in order to preserve the traditional academic value system and the institution of tenure. Some states—for example, California—have created policies related to the percentage of tenure-track faculty members or the ratio of tenure-track to non-tenure-track faculty.
Over the past 20 years, there have been calls to re-examine tenure and to replace the single profile or standard, which focuses mostly on research, to a broader profile or set of profiles that focus more on teaching or a balanced case of teaching, research, and service. The book Scholarship Reconsidered is often used to center discussions about changing tenure standards. This recommendation is tied to the concern that the move to non-tenure-track faculty is connected with the desire to have faculty teach and not be so focused on research.
Create hybrid institutions
While we have institutions where some faculty are tenure-track and others are not, this choice is typically made by the administration but could also be developed to allow faculty to make the choice. Regardless of one’s choice, both tenure- and non-tenure-track faculty are held to the same standards and criteria and all faculty would be given benefits and equitable treatment. Some might wonder why anyone would choose a non-tenure-track path, but research demonstrates there are faculty who want to focus on teaching and would choose this track if the working conditions were more aligned.
In tomorrow’s post we continue the review of proposals for alleviating the contingency issue in higher education. Today’s focused mostly on reverting back to tenure; tomorrow’s will explore other recommendations that have been offered.
About the author
Adrianna Kezar is an Associate Professor of Higher Education in the Rossier School of Education and Associate Director of the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis (CHEPA). Her work focuses on higher education leadership, governance, and equity.