May 22nd, 2009

Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Contracts: One School’s Approach

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In 2005, Appalachian State University established three-quarter- and full-time non-tenure-track contracts with benefits for non-tenure-track faculty members who had been teaching at least three-quarter time for three years. The move was intended to provide fair compensation and promote loyalty that might pay off in improved quality of instruction.

“Non-tenure-track faculty tend to be people with a variety of skills that don’t fit into the logical slot of a tenure-track faculty position. These people tend to have a broader variety of experience, and we’re trying to take advantage of that,” says Dave Haney, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at Appalachian State University.

In some cases, positions have been created specifically for individuals. “We’re trying to be more flexible. We just hired a guy for a full-time position that’s half-time co-curricular and honors advising, one-quarter-time admissions, and one-quarter-time teaching, so there are three funding sources for this position,” Haney says.

In addition to the changes in the status of non-tenure-track faculty, the university is in the process of revising its curriculum, moving toward an outcomes-based undergraduate experience. “We find ourselves reevaluating what some of these non-tenure positions can do to enhance how we’re trying to change the way undergraduates experience their four years here,” says Cindy Wallace, vice chancellor for student development.
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For example, the university recently hired someone with 30 years of experience in radio as a non-tenure-track faculty member who will teach communication and be able to help students apply what they learn in the classroom to the student-run radio station.

“It’s given us a way to think about this pool of people and give them jobs that straddle divisions—sometimes within academic affairs and sometimes between academic affairs and student affairs. I think a lot of the non-tenure-track faculty, because they tend to be student oriented rather than discipline oriented, are very well suited to these sorts of positions where they’re working with students outside the classroom,” Haney says.

Creating non-tenure-track full-time faculty positions has been somewhat controversial among tenured and tenure-track faculty members. Throughout discussions on the non-tenure-track faculty positions and general education curriculum changes, Haney and Wallace have relied on data to support their views and have tried to hold others accountable for the same. One critical piece of data in the discussion was the teaching assignments of tenured and tenure-track versus non-tenure-track faculty teaching assignments and how these impact departments. Since many non-tenure-track faculty members teach lower-level courses, tenured and tenure-track faculty are able to teach upper-level courses for which they have a real passion, Wallace says.

“There was a real deliberate effort out of our provost’s office on countless occasions where we shared very important information, and I think it’s starting to matter,” Wallace says.

Haney encourages department chairs to hold faculty accountable for supporting their statements with data. “Think about how you run a meeting and at what point you call people on statements that have no basis in fact,” he says.

Excerpted from Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Contracts, Academic Leader, August 2007.