Low tenure rate prompts review

The percentage of contracted teachers is higher than recommended as tenure levels dip.

Ashley Aram

Over the past few years, thereâÄôs been a shift in whoâÄôs teaching classes at the University of Minnesota.

The number of tenure-tracked faculty has dropped, while contract faculty and “academic professionals,” or P&A staff, has increased âÄî often beyond recommended levels.

The number of contract faculty has increased by about 13 percent since 2008, likely a result of the hiring pause that year, which kept new tenure-track faculty from coming to the University. Unlike tenure track, a road that leads to job security and higher pay in the department, these individuals work on annual or multiple-year contracts. The University classifies them at “for use only in pre-approved circumstances.”

P&A instructors are appointed as teaching specialists or lecturers and tend to be professionals from the field rather than professors.

If a college in the University wants their staff to be more than 25 percent contract and P&A staff, they must submit an explanation for it. But since 2008, staff has been exceeding that level, and not all colleges have given explanations.

As of April 2010, the Asian languages and literatures department in the College of Liberal Arts had more than 22 P&A faculty positions, compared to their eight regular faculty positions. Similarly, departments like theater arts and dance, and language departments such as Spanish and Portuguese, had twice as many P&A and contract faculty than regular, tenure-track faculty.

These high numbers raised red flags for members of the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee, who discussed making changes to the policy, which is currently under a routine review.

“I think the concern is what the appropriate balance is between tenure and other categories,” Nan Wilhelmson, a director in the Office of Human Resources said. “Using contract and P&A staff is pretty common; weâÄôre not an anomaly.”

Gordon Leighton, a P&A employee in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said differences between him and tenure-track faculty members exist for a reason.

“We have really deep subject matter experience,” Leighton said. “For example, IâÄôve worked for corporate America for over 35 years, so I bring that experience to the classroom.”

Tenure-track faculty in the journalism school tend to teach the context courses where their extensive research makes them the most knowledgeable, such as media ethics and First Amendment rights, Leighton said.

But, according to Faculty and Academic Affairs Vice Provost Arlene Carney, these differences do not put one type of staff higher on the academic totem pole.

“We can afford to hire good staff, so we do,” she said.

Even though they are paid less than tenure track faculty in their department, contract faculty receive the same benefits, including retirement. But when staffing cuts need to be made, they come before tenured faculty. The school would have to be near shutting down to cut tenured people, Carney said.

While contract and P&A staff are critical to the different colleges, the ratio of how many each college needs varies. Changes to the UniversityâÄôs policy may switch the recommended 25 percent levels and tailor it to different collegesâÄô needs.

“I donâÄôt know what the outcome [of the review] will be,” Carney said, “but we may have a different percentage for each college, as it may or may not be as important in certain fields to have a higher number [of contract and P&A staff].”

For University staff, the importance lies in finding the perfect ratio for the students, professor Judith Preckshot said, and “it impoverishes the University if the number of regular faculty is diminished beyond a certain point.”