September 08, 2003

AAUP Issues Policy Statement on Contingent Appintments and the Academic Profession

Ten years ago, the Association reported that non-tenure-track appointments accounted for about 58 percent of all faculty positions in American higher education. As of 1998, such appointments still accounted for nearly three out of five faculty positions, in all types of institutions. In community colleges, more than three out of five positions are part-time non-tenure-track positions, and 35 percent of all full-time positions are off the tenure track. Non-tenure-track appointments make up an even larger proportion of new appointments. Through the 1990s, in all types of institutions, three out of four new faculty members were appointed to non-tenure-track positions.

-- American Association of University Professors, Contingent Appointments and the Academic Profession

I'm on toddler patrol at the moment, so I only have time to post a brief notice.

The AAUP has issued the above-linked draft policy statement, which diagnoses the problems of the nontenured majority, and offers a number of "recommendations for systems, institutions, departments, or programs preparing to make a transition from an unstable academic environment characterized by overreliance on contingent faculty appointments to a stable academic environment characterized by a predominantly tenure-line faculty." Not surprisingly, then, the proposals aim at converting nontenurable into tenurable positions. No question that this would be preferable to the current state of affairs, but I have to wonder whether this kind of change is even possible anymore (especially given the growing concern over rising tuition costs: at the very least, the kind of reform outlined in this policy paper would require convincing taxpayers, students, parents and legislators that a full-time tenured faculty is more important than new residence halls or a refurbished library or what have you -- I happen to believe that a full-time faculty* is more important, but I'm not convinced that others would be easily persuaded on this point...).

More on this later --

*I don't say a full-time tenured faculty because I'm not convinced of the merits of tenure (or at least not convinced that the disadvantages of the system outweigh the advanatages), and I'd like to separate the issue of tenurable versus nontenurable from the issue of part-time teaching at proletarian wages versus full-time teaching at a half-decent salary level.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at September 8, 2003 05:48 PM

I agree entirely with your endnote. I, a faculty child, Ph.D. holder, longtime adjunct, and entrant into a tenure track job am not convinced of the merits of tenure.

I understand many of the arguments, but I don't believe they hold up particularly well in practice.

I strongly believe that the practice tenure has only survived without reform because of the availability of an academic proletariat.

Something's going to give.

So do I spend the next 5 years scrambling to make sure that I get up the ladder before the citadel is stormed?

Posted by: Michael Tinkler at September 9, 2003 12:37 PM

"So do I spend the next 5 years scrambling to make sure that I get up the ladder before the citadel is stormed?"

Yes. What other (viable) option do you have? You can't opt out of tenure and remain gainfully employed in a full-time salaried position.

What I'd like to see from the AAUP is a push for more options: eg, the conversion of adjunct positions to full-time renewable contract positions at decent salary rates. They're so fixed on tenure as the gold standard that it commits them to an all-or-nothing strategy: we have to win back all the tenure lines that we lost over the past decade. I don't think it will happen. And meanwhile, adjuncts continue to work at substandard pay rates with no job security whatsoever. Pragmatically, I think the AAUP should be thinking about how to gain something in between tenured and adjunct status.

The public hates tenure and would be happy to see it abolished. And there is also growing concern about the rising costs of education. I think it would be possible (not necessarily easy, but do-able) to make a case to the relevant constituencies that high quality education requires a predominantly full-time faculty. But I don't think it would be possible to convince taxpayers, legislators, tution-payers, and etc. to increase tenurable lines.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at September 9, 2003 01:13 PM

HI. I'm not sure "the public hates tenure." I don't think most of the public actually understands tenure, since it is so far from most people's experience of the job world. And I'm not sure if people immediately respond with hate to the idea of tenure when they have it explained, rather they may be awed and mystified that such an arrangement exists (and may hope that their children can grab such a plum!).
It seems to me that what the public doesn't like is their perception that the professoriate doesn't work very hard. Even teachers in grade and high schools have to battle the perception that they have a short work day and "summers off." I think that the hardest thing to explain to the outside world is that what faculty members are doing all day (and during all those weeks that classes are not in session) is work, since it doesn't resemble the work conditions or outputs of most US workers.

But on the other topic, of why the AAUP keeps pushing tenure over other sorts of employment options, I wonder if there's some worry that if the jobs were no longer tenured with all the mystical connections that entails, that people wouldn't do the auxiliary functions of "being a department," designing curriculum, serving on various lecture and other committees, and so on.
I have observed that it is growing more difficult to enculturate faculty into departmental or collegiate "citizenship" as it is (a by-product, I believe of the protected status of the untenured, who are constantly told to devote themselves to their research to meet the tenure process goals, and not to [over]extend themselves in "service."
Which brings us to the "why are tuitions rising so fast" question. The growth in administrative and service positions in higher academic institutions reflects the decrease in the faculty responsibility for many functions. Committees that once staffed themselves now need someone to act as staff (just as Congressional staffs have grown, by the way).

Posted by: sappho at September 9, 2003 02:16 PM

Faculty governance.

Under the current tenure/adjunct regime without tenure there is no faculty governance (all that 'service' stuff) because at most schools only the tenured or t-track are ELIGIBLE for governance positions and at all the other ones only the T or T-T receive significant credit for participating.

What's the point (other than a nice paragraph in a recommendation letter for a T-T job elsewhere or towards conversion) of participating? I do it here because I'd be bored otherwise (and the conversion did take place, after 4 full years). Also, this is a place where faculty governance still has considerable meaning, so participation actually has some result.

Posted by: Michael Tinkler at September 10, 2003 08:42 AM