Equity Week looks at lack of tenure

Mike Rose

Professors have long fought to acquire tenure rights, but national trends have shown a decline in tenured faculty. Campus Equity Week is an attempt to highlight this struggle.

The American Association of University Professors is coordinating the national event, which runs Monday through Friday. Professors across the country have been invited to raise awareness about the struggle faced by “contingent” faculty members – or those who are off the tenure track.

“Our concern is to protect academic freedom,” AAUP communication director Gwendolyn Bradley said. “Our argument is that tenure is the best way to do that.”

Nationally, the percentage of faculty who are tenured or on tenure-track has decreased by 25 percent in the last 30 years, according to the U.S. Department of Education. As of 2005, 68 percent of professors were either part-time or full-time but not on a tenure track.

“It is a Walmart-ization of higher education,” Bradley said, in reference to an increase of temporary and rotating professors.

Chief among the AAUP’s concerns is the lack of academic freedom experienced by nontenured faculty.

Faculty members who do not have job security are less likely to approach controversial subjects, according to a news release from the AAUP.

Another concern outlined by the AAUP is the lack of proper training and resources to professors who are not tenured.

University alumnus Jeremy Nienow teaches at Minneapolis Community and Technical College on a contingent basis and is a member of the AAUP Contingent Faculty and the Profession committee.

Nienow said the emphasis on contingent faculty is eroding the quality of higher education because professors are scrambling to find positions rather than working on new research and curriculum.

“(Institutions) are moving toward getting more people that basically just teach at lots of different schools,” he said. “We’re viewed less as professors and more as employees – just like someone who works at a McDonald’s.”

Nienow said his job at MCTC pays poorly – about $3,500 per four-month class – and is challenging to maintain.

“You share an office with three other people, you don’t get any benefits and I’m getting paid per credit,” he said.

Nienow said he will teach on a contingent basis at the University next semester.

“I stay at this low level of per-credit time,” he said. “You get stuck in this trap.”

Professors interested in participating in Equity Week have freedom to do so in their own way, Bradley said. She said the AAUP is a national coordinator but will leave state-level decisions up to local professors.

The AAUP news release suggested that local professors conduct surveys, show films, hold gatherings of contingent faculty and coordinating letter-writing campaigns to raise awareness about the issue.

Gary Engstrand, a director of the Minnesota AAUP conference from the University, said he was unaware of what the local AAUP would be doing for equity week.

Nienow said the University AAUP presence has been slight because of solid relationships between faculty members and the administration.

Additionally, the University had over 82 percent of its full-time faculty members either tenured or on a tenured track during 2006, according to the University Office of Institutional Research, which is above the national average.

However, the University has seen a decrease in this percentage. In 1996, 87 percent of full-time faculty members were tenured.