December 2nd, 2010

Changing Roles, Improved Conditions for Non-Tenure-Track Faculty


As institutions increase their reliance on part-time and non-tenure-track faculty, the issues of equity and instructional quality take on more importance. One way to address these issues is to integrate non-tenure-track faculty into the culture of the department and institution. In this article, we highlight how the composition program in the English department at Appalachian State University is making this cultural change.

Like composition programs housed in other English departments, Appalachian State’s program has come to rely more heavily on non-tenure-track faculty to teach composition, as tenure-track faculty members’ teaching loads have gone from four-four to three-three. As recently as 10 years ago, the majority of composition courses at the university were taught by tenure-track faculty. Generally only two tenure track faculty members from outside the rhetoric and composition program choose to teach composition today.

Although there were long-term non-tenure-track instructors in the department, they were not permitted to teach more than five courses per year. So there was still a need to recruit and prepare more instructors each year.

“In 1998, no non-tenure-track instructors who taught composition for us were fully employed, and only two, who taught at three-quarter time, had benefits,” says Georgia Rhoades, director of the Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) program. “Because these faculty often taught at other institutions and had no role in service or scholarship, they weren’t fully invested in the program and had little voice in their workplace.”

Earlier this decade the department voted to convert a tenure-track faculty line into a full-time non-tenure-track position, and the 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.

In addition to these changes, the composition program worked with publishers to provide professional development for this growing contingent of non-tenure-track faculty, bringing in authors who were experts in teaching English composition. The department had relied on an evaluation system in which non-tenure-track faculty were visited by two tenure-track faculty members. Instead, the composition program created a mentoring structure in which non-tenure-track faculty worked with other non-tenure-track colleagues all year, visiting each other’s classes, discussing classroom practice, and writing evaluations.

“All those experiences made the non-tenure-track faculty feel more professional and more involved, and they began to volunteer for service on committees. That worked fairly well, except they weren’t allowed to vote. We had a population that was politicized [and] professional and had a stake in the department. They were getting to do the work of the department but were not really able to participate fully, because they weren’t able to vote on the issues, so obviously that led to difficulties,” Rhoades says.

Changes to general education further widened the difference in workplace identity between most tenure-track faculty, who were not teaching composition, and the non-tenure-track faculty, who taught most of the composition courses. In 2007, Rhoades and Beth Carroll, director of the University Writing Center, began faculty development for the composition teachers to prepare for a new sophomore course, Writing Across the Curriculum. The new general education program, which began this fall, uses a vertical writing model in which students the following writing courses: an introductory composition course in the English department in the first year, an introduction to WAC after taking 30 hours, a third-year writing course, two writing courses in the major, and a capstone course that has a writing component.

In addition to their teaching duties, five composition faculty serve as consultants for the Writing Across the Curriculum program (for which they receive course release time). This is bringing non-tenure-track English faculty members in contact with a broader constituency. Also, the University Writing Center (housed in the recently created University College) also employs some non-tenure-track composition faculty.

“The WAC program blends non-tenure-track and tenure-track faculty from all disciplines with different expertise, based on principles of Freirean dialogue. WAC consultants and faculty from all disciplines are learning from each other in a structure in which rank is not a factor. The tenure-track faculty in the disciplines recognize that the non-tenure-track faculty have an expertise in teaching writing that they can learn from, and those of us in the WAC program can rely on faculty in the disciplines to teach us about their writing and what they hope to see in their students’ writing,” Rhoades says.

Excerpted from “Changing Roles, Improved Conditions for Non-Tenure-Track Faculty.” Academic Leader, 25.11 (2009): 8.