Promotion a point of contention for term faculty

Scott Plate wants to make sure that his faculty aren’t working for nothing.
After two longtime tenured faculty members left last academic year, the term faculty in the Department of Theatre and Dance took on extra responsibilities outside of their contracts, said Plate, department chair. But these full-time faculty members earn a lower salary than their tenured coworkers — and currently, there is no way that they can be promoted.
“We need to give the people who are working their asses off dignity,” he said.
The Department of Theatre and Dance is not alone. BW employs over 20 term faculty members across campus, and the lack of a promotion mechanism is feeding increasing tensions between two classes of academic employment.
Full-time faculty members fall into two basic lines: tenure-track and term, said Dr. Jaimy Dyer, Faculty Senate president. Tenure-track faculty are hired with a national search and undergo a “stringent evaluation” of all areas of their position in order to qualify for tenure, which makes their position permanent. Tenured and tenure-track faculty are subject to several requirements outside of the classroom, including scholarship and service to their department.
While tenure-track faculty lines are a longtime staple of academia, term faculty members are a relatively new addition to BW, said Provost Steve Stahl. Term faculty are full-time and receive benefits, but unlike tenured or tenure-track faculty, they have a renewable contract rather than a permanent position. Their starting salary is lower, but they are also not subject to the same additional requirements of tenured or tenure-track faculty.
Though BW has always had term faculty members to serve while the university conducts searches to fill tenure-track positions, many more “long-term” term positions were created starting in the 2014-2015 academic year, said Stahl. Several of these new term positions were filled by longstanding adjunct faculty.
“The reason we wanted to go that way was in part because we feel more full-time faculty would increase the quality of education,” said Stahl. “People are committed to this institution, faculty are committed to this institution, and if they’re here full-time instead of having to leave to get to another teaching gig, they can spend more time helping students outside of class. So that was the intent, and that seems to have worked.”
But the faculty who filled these term positions faced an “unintended consequence,” said Stahl. While promotion and evaluation mechanisms exist for adjunct and tenure-track faculty, no such mechanisms were created for the term positions.
The Faculty Senate held a forum for faculty in late January to hear concerns about this issue, said Dyer. Faculty were also given the opportunity to share their opinions about whether and how term faculty should be promoted in a Faculty Senate survey earlier this month.
The options for term faculty promotion are to create a promotion mechanism similar to that of adjunct faculty, create one similar to that of tenure-track faculty, or to not create a mechanism for term faculty promotion at all, said Dyer.
Dyer said that some faculty might be opposed to term faculty promotion because it could “blur the lines” between what term and tenure lines are designed to do. Because term faculty are less expensive than tenure-track, Stahl said that some have raised concerns that the university might try to “increase the number of term faculty at the expense of tenure-track faculty.” To avoid this, Stahl said that his office worked out a “gentleperson’s agreement” with the Senate Executive Committee that the use of term faculty should be as teaching faculty of lower-division, developmental, or technical classes.
Scott Plate said that this is not the case in his department. A former term faculty member himself, Plate said that the term contracts are “indefinite and vague” in describing what is expected of the faculty. He said the four term faculty members in the Department of Theatre and Dance are “behaving very much like tenured or tenure-track faculty members” in that they have taken on additional responsibilities, like advising and service to the department, without any opportunity for promotion or evaluation.
“They kind of get stuck in limbo forever, and it’s frustrating for them: they’re out their serving at their ultimate capacity without an opportunity to be recognized or rewarded for their service,” said Plate. “So it’s been on the table for many years to develop evaluation and promotion guidelines for term faculty, and it isn’t moving anywhere.”
Plate is not the only tenured faculty member who started out with a term contract: previously, some people hired for term positions were told that their contract could be converted to tenure-track. Though Stahl says BW has been “honoring those commitments,” he said that his office no longer makes those promises when hiring term faculty members and has not done so since he’s been in his position.
“When we do tenure-track, it’s a forty year decision,” said Stahl. “And we want to have the chance to get the best possible candidate and the most diverse pool, and you will get a larger and more diverse pool if the initial application is for tenure-track rather than if it’s for term.”
Part of the reason why a mechanism for term faculty promotion hasn’t been created yet is that it falls under multiple jurisdictions, said Stahl. Because it has to do with salaries, Finance must be involved, but because it has to do with faculty governance and quality of life, the Faculty Senate and the Provost’s office are also included in the conversation.
For his part, Plate said that he thinks the issue is taking so long to resolve because it is complicated by the fact that term faculty members end up serving very different roles across campus.
“Term faculty do not behave similarly in every school — and certainly not in every department — so it’s been difficult to establish a university-wide standard for how they should be evaluated, whereas tenured and tenure-track faculty observe the same standards across the university,” said Plate.
Because of these discrepancies, Plate would like departments to be able to “establish their own evaluative and promotion criteria” for term faculty members — or at least have the term contracts defined so that those faculty are not expected to take on more work than they are paid to do.
“What would be better is if everyone had a tenured or a tenure-track option, that those were the only contracts offered here other than adjunct professors. Term either needs definition or should become tenured or tenure-track,” he said. “So the hope right now is to give definition, but it seems to taking a long time, and in our department, the need for these criteria is urgent, so I’m trying to voice my strong advocacy for resolution of this ongoing uncertainty.”
Plate said the need for definition of term faculty roles is urgent so that a culture does not develop where it is expected of term faculty to take on responsibilities outside of their contracts.
“I want our term faculty to be able to say no — that they don’t want to do this, that it isn’t expected of them, it’s not in their contract — and for them not to be treated adversely as a result,” he said. “If the conditions of employment are not made clear, they have the right to say no to what they may view as workload creep.”
Though it is not yet clear when a decision will be made about term faculty promotion, Stahl that from conversations he’s had with the faculty senate, he think’s they are “close to being on the same page.” He said that a likely option for term faculty promotion is a modified version of the adjunct promotion system.
Plate said he hopes for a swift resolution of this issue so that the people working in term conditions get the “dignity” and recognition they deserve.
“Sometimes it feels like we’re spinning our wheels in making this happen, and part of that, I think, is because the issue is so complex,” he said. “I just don’t want it to be a can that gets kicked down the road indefinitely so that the term faculty members suffer as a result.”