Practice keeps academics off track

by Nichol Nelson

There are two kinds of faculty at the University: those who get it, and those who don’t.
The “it” is tenure, and a new report says that the practice of hiring lower-cost, short-term faculty without tenure is here to stay.
Kyla Wahlstrom, nontenure-track faculty member with a doctorate says she is happy with her job, despite the major drawbacks to working without tenure.
One of these drawbacks is that Wahlstrom gets fired every year.
Although she has been working at the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement for nine years, the University will only contract her work in one-year increments, leaving her and other professional academics like her feeling frustrated.
“It’s not good planning and it’s not good for morale. It affects people’s ability to lead a normal life,” she said, adding that many employees have trouble applying for mortgages due to the short-term nature of the contracts.
A newly released study, based on research from 88 four-year institutions, found almost 90 percent of officials at the schools expected the number of nontenure-track faculty to stay the same or increase by 2000.
Kent Bales, professor of English and chair of the faculty affairs committee, said he talked to the report’s authors extensively about the situation at the University.
“Clearly, there are fewer and fewer tenure-track appointments,” Bales said.
Carole Bland, professor of family practice, said the trend is disturbing.
“A lot of teaching is being done by people who are not connected in any structured way to the University,” she said. “Individually, I have been wonderfully impressed with the people, but they can’t teach at the quality that we know they can under these types of conditions.”
The conditions Bland refers to are outlined in the new study, which found most nontenure-track faculty received little support or status for their work.
In addition, Bland said while tenure-track faculty are reviewed yearly, there is often no set method to review those who are not on the tenure track.
Bales also voiced concerns about the increasing nontenure numbers at the University. He said although the saturated teaching market brings in extremely qualified candidates, heavy teaching loads often keep nontenure-track faculty from personal academic development.
“You teach what you continue to learn,” Bales said. “Somebody teaching a very heavy load can’t do that.”
In order to combat the trend toward hiring nontenure-track faculty, a committee on academic appointments was formed to find a way to track nontenured employees. Currently, it is nearly impossible to count the number of faculty teaching classes without tenure because there is no coherent classification system.
The committee’s new proposal would change all of that. The plan, which will be discussed at the University Senate meeting at the end of the month, requires all faculty teaching classes be clearly classified with uniform job titles.
The labeling will allow administrators to better track who is teaching classes. The proposal also limits the number of nontenured instructors to 15 percent of the total teaching staff.
“This will solve the problem,” Bland said of the new plan. “If you teach a significant amount, then you will have an academic title.”
Some collegiate units might need more nontenure-track staff members than others, but Bland said she believes that even with compromises made for special circumstances, the University-wide limit should be 15 percent.
“You cannot be a stellar land-grant research university without a core of tenure-track faculty,” Bland said.