Fewer professors earning tenure

Economic turmoil could contribute to the decline in tenured professors.

The American Association of University Professors released "Tenure and Teaching-Intensive Appointments," a report about the changing nature of employment in higher education.

According to the report, the tenure system was created to regulate payment and guard academic freedom. Since the 1970s, teaching-intensive positions have shifted from largely tenure-track to non-tenure-track faculty members. In 2007, 68.8 percent of U.S. faculty were non-tenure-track.

Jeremy Nienow, Minneapolis Technical and Community School faculty member, said as a non-tenure-track faculty member he sees job security and academic freedom as a large benefit of the tenure system.

Nienow said the shift from tenured to contingent faculty changes the way teachers think about their profession.

"Faculty are really going to be driven to look at very different things," Nienow said. "How can I appease an administration so that I can have a job? Not necessarily, what kind of research should I do?"

Santa Clara University professor Marc Bousquet said the shift from tenured to contingent faculty means many professors are substantially less qualified today than they were 40 years ago.

Bousquet said the appeal of contingent faculty is lower wages. Most non-tenure-track professors have a master's degree, which is a largely underemployed group of people.

The report stated contingent employees in some research-intensive positions work in troubling conditions.

Bousquet said researchers in the science and mathematical fields often spend three to six years completing their Ph.D., then spend four to 10 years in post-doctorate appointments working for $30,000 to $40,000 a year, which is extremely low for someone with a Ph.D. Researchers will work for low wages for years in hopes of becoming tenured.

The AAUP report stated the best way to stabilize the faculty infrastructure is to convert contingent positions to tenure-track positions.

"It's obvious to most people that the expenses of higher education have gone up massively, despite an extremely aggressive program of lowering faculty wages by shifting to a contingent employment system," Bousquet said.

Bousquet said universities have been spending on nonacademic activities such as sports, fiscal plans, landscaping, administration and capital activities. These other activities have taken away from faculty salaries.

The MU Collected Rules and Regulations define tenure as the right to be free from dismissal without cause, and states it is imperative in a higher education system that aims to fulfill its obligations to the common good. The rules also emphasize the connection between academic freedom and the tenure system.

A faculty member must be recommended by a department chairperson and tenure committee and wait a maximum of six years to be considered for tenure at MU.

Faculty Council Chairwoman Leona Rubin said the shift from tenure track to contingent faculty members is happening at MU, and the number of tenured and non-tenured faculty members is about equal. Some of the contingent faculty at MU have been employed for 20 years.

"We need to look at the faculty that we believe are so valuable to the mission of our university that we keep them that long," Rubin said. "If we keep them and we need them, we should reconsider what position we keep them in, and this might be one reason for reevaluating the tenure system as it is currently employed."

Rubin said the committee has been asked several times to reevaluate the tenure system for a variety of reasons, but it is very difficult to evaluate faculty performing interdisciplinary research or those who have a very strong interest in economic development.

"You have to change the foundation of what you believe tenure is for, and tenure is really for academic freedom," Rubin said. "Faculty have decided that academic freedom is focused, at the moment, primarily around their scholarship and less around their teaching, and that needs to probably be reevaluated before you can make any change in the position of the non-tenure track faculty."

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