Why tenure line faculty should support non tenure track faculty and the Committee on Non Tenure Track Faculty at Colorado State University’s proposed Action Plan: Re-envisioning Faculty Appointments

Tenure line faculty have more in common with non-tenure track faculty than you might think, particularly when thinking about tenure line faculty before they actually earn tenure, when their situation is precarious and there is a lot of pressure on them to produce in terms of research and publication, to dedicate themselves to teaching, to say yes to every committee, advising, and service opportunity. Not doing so could potentially lead to losing their position. But for tenure line faculty the end reward of this state of affairs is, often, tenure, at which point the faculty member no longer faces such extraordinary pressure and has more control over their own time and investment in the university.

However, for non-tenure track faculty, that pressure to produce, that precarious situation, has no end. Some non-tenure track faculty are reappointed annually, which means even after years of service to the university, they are still waiting until late August every year to find out if they will be employed once again. Unlike tenure-track faculty, non-tenure track faculty may not be evaluated, which means their work may not be recognized by the department, they may not have evidence and materials compiled that would lead to promotion or enable them to apply for another job, they may be excluded from the day to day operations in their department, even if they have been a member of that department for years. And the reason for this precarious situation for non-tenure track faculty? Ostensibly, it is the inability of department chairs and administration to predict budget costs and enrollment adequately, and so these administrators require an extraordinary amount of flexibility in hiring teachers and researchers who can be brought on or let go at a moment’s notice.

But the reality is that budgets and enrollments are relatively steady, which is why 41% of non-tenure track faculty at Colorado State University have been in their positions for more than 10 years and 77% have been in their positions for more than 3 years. So why aren’t these long-term employees being rewarded with long-term, committed employment, employment that recognizes their contributions, that rewards their efforts, and that ultimately offers more job security than annually renewing (or not) appointment?

Tenure line faculty have expressed a fear that tenure is being eroded. And it is. The number of tenure line faculty at CSU has remained relatively constant over the last 10 years, while the number of non-tenure track faculty is constantly increasing. Institutional Research data for 2015-2016 shows 1061 tenure track faculty and 728 non tenure track faculty. Data for 2016-2017 shows 1081 tenure track faculty and 765 non tenure track faculty. So in the last year, 20 new tenure track faculty have been added, while 37 new non tenure track faculty have been added. The hiring of new non tenure track faculty is almost double the rate of hiring new tenure track faculty.

The reason for this untenable hiring practice is that there are very few rules standardizing the practices of hiring, promoting, evaluating, and reappointing non tenure track faculty. Essentially, administrators have benefited from a practice of hiring faculty outside of the systems outlined in the Academic Faculty and Administrative Professional Manual, systems that should regulate the hiring, promotion, evaluation, and reappointment of all faculty. Since the system is seen to not apply to non-tenure track faculty, this sideline of faculty hiring allows administrators to do what they want with these faculty and those positions, as they are outside of the system. Clearly this practice is undermining all faculty at CSU.

However, we cannot blame the employees who accept the jobs offered to them. It is not the fault of non-tenure track faculty that they end up in these positions. Instead, it is the failure of our Faculty Manual to guide the hiring, promotion, evaluation, and reappointment of all faculty, and of the systems that should make sure policies in the Faculty Manual are enforced throughout the university. It is the failure of administration which has allowed this hiring outside of centralized and overseen practices to continue.

If tenure track faculty want to stem the oncoming tide of non-tenure track faculty, then it is incumbent on them to join with non-tenure track faculty in creating new appointment types that more effectively work within the system. The appointments suggested by CSU’s Committee on Non Tenure Track Faculty make it more difficult for administrators to hire outside of the regulations provided within the Faculty Manual. These new appointments specify hiring practices, promotion practices, evaluation practices and reappointment practices that require a significant investment on the part of administration. Not only does this make the actual non tenure track faculty jobs better, it also provides less of an incentive for administrators to hire non tenure track faculty if they have to put in almost the same amount of work to hire them. In the long-term, limiting the ways in which administrators can hire and eliminate non tenure track faculty could lead to the creation of more tenure track positions as administrators see the curtailing of the unofficial, off the tenure track faculty labor system through increased systemic measures.

Faculty Council will not have the power to stop administrators from hiring non tenure track faculty over tenure line faculty until Faculty Council commits to bringing non tenure track faculty appointments under the umbrella of the Faculty Manual, improving the working conditions of these employees, and thereby making the hiring of non-tenure track faculty less appealing, less flexible, and less cost-effective.

The only way to stop the erosion of tenure is to stifle the administration’s ability to hire outside the control of Faculty Council and the Faculty Manual. Changing the appointment types for non-tenure track faculty, and specifying how each one should be used and incorporated into the CSU community, is a first step in doing that.

Photo of the Author Jenny Morse

Jenny is a NTTF at Colorado State University. In addition to being chair of the university Committee for Non Tenure Track Faculty she teaches practical writing skills for business communication. She draws on her experience in publishing, her ongoing work as a freelance writer and editor, and her 10 years teaching creative writing and composition. She earned her PhD in English from University of Illinois-Chicago in 2013. Currently, Jenny ghostwrites for a prominent CEO with articles published in Forbes, Inc, The NY Report, Geek, and others. Her literary criticism has appeared in the Journal of Contemporary Thought, the Montreal Review, The Ofi Press, and Seismopolite. Her poetry has been published in Borderlands, Terrain, Quiddity, Wilderness House and the Notre Dame Review among others.