Faculty Senate passes AF&T resolution

The resolution requires the University of Minnesota to report term appointments that have continued for more than six years to a task force in an aim to protect academic freedom for term faculty.

by Olivia Hines

The University of Minnesota Faculty Senate passed an Academic Freedom and Tenure (AF&T) resolution on Nov. 3 with 87 “yay”s and two “nay”s earlier this month, which calls for the creation of a task force and requires the University to report term appointments that have continued for more than six years.

Term faculty are in non-tenurable positions with renewable annual or multi-year contracts.

The AF&T is an oversight committee that interprets the University’s Tenure Code and addresses broad issues of academic freedom. Although AF&T can make policy changes that address all faculty, the committee does not address individual cases and has no authority to fire and hire for positions.

Over the past two years, AF&T has worked toward understanding the number of term positions the University employs, which have increased from 28% to 43% since 2010.

Most faculty members working on these contracts have to manage their finances in jobs outside of the University, according to Heather Holcombe, a lecturer in the English department. Their contracts can be non-renewed without any cause, so they do not have the same academic freedom protections as tenured faculty, such as the ability to make changes to the curriculum or discuss politics, Holcombe said.

“I’m always concerned for my job,” Holcombe said. “In the event something controversial comes up in my classroom, I feel vulnerable because I know I have no academic freedom protections.”

In the Faculty Senate meeting, AF&T Chair Eric Van Wyk clarified the long-term use of term faculty includes the continued use of a position even if it is not filled by the same instructor over six years.

The goal of the task force is to gather more information on term appointments, create a report and make recommendations to ensure academic freedom for term faculty, Van Wyk said.

In some cases, there may be legitimate reasons for wanting to use term appointments, but tenure-track appointments are generally preferred because only those positions are guaranteed strong protections of academic freedom under the Tenure Code, said Gopalan Nadathur, the former AF&T chair.

“This resolution represents an important step in advocacy and allyship to recognize and acknowledge those who are working in tenuous conditions on campus,” Holcombe said.

In an email to the Minnesota Daily, Provost Rachel Croson said she continues offering her full support to protect the academic freedom of faculty and faculty-like staff.

The committee met and began the process of setting up the task force on Nov. 18., Van Wyk said. More details will be available in the spring.

“It isn’t for me to do anything about this, rather it is for the AF&T committee to act upon the resolution,“ Nadathur said. “My hope is that AF&T will take the intent of the resolution seriously.”