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Who is a Faculty Member?

April 30, 2009

Last year the faculty senate authorized the establishment of a new kind of non-tenure-eligible position, the research professor.  Specifically, it established the ranks of assistant, associate and full research professor.  The credentials of research professors were to be equivalent to those of tenure-track faculty of comparable rank.  What is most unusual about this new position is that research professors are not faculty members.  Research professors may not represent the faculty on college or university committees, and they are not represented by the faculty senate.   Most people outside the university would reasonably assume that someone with the title of professor would be a member of the faculty, and you would have a hard time justifying to them why this is not the case.

Why would our faculty senate not want research professors to be members of the faculty?   Why does the senate not want to have them as members?  The answers to these questions are complex but they boil down to not wanting to repeat the mistakes made when non-tenure-legible teaching faculty positions were created.  There has been a proliferation of non-tenure-eligible teaching (NTE) faculty (lecturers/senior lecturers).  These NTE faculty are “real” faculty:  they are represented by the senate.  When the senate agreed to the establishment of NTE faculty, it was with the stipulation that the university adhere to the AAUP guidelines about the maximum percentage of NTE faculty allowed.  The AAUP recommends that  “no more than 15 percent of the total instruction within an institution, and no more than 25 percent of the total instruction within any department, should be provided by faculty with non-tenure-track appointments.”  The university has never come close to meeting these guidelines for NTE faculty.  Although the faculty senate has pushed the university to reduce the number of NTE faculty and to increase the number of tenure-track faculty, neither has happened.  The lack of compliance with the AAUP guidelines prompted the establishment of an NTE task force to look into this situation.  (More about its recommendations in a future installment.)

Although the number of NTE faculty varies from department to department, today more than 40% of the faculty in some departments are NTE faculty.  Because they command lower salaries, in some cases much lower salaries, NTE faculty are increasingly used to teach undergraduate courses.  NTE faculty typically teach two or three times the number of courses taught by tenure-track faculty; they don’t require any start-up funds; and they can be hired and fired on short notice.  NTE faculty are a serious threat to tenure-track faculty, and we have lost hundreds of tenure-track faculty lines, in part, because their courses could be more cheaply taught by NTE faculty.  When a university task force recommended the establishment of research professors, the tenure-track faculty who control the faculty-senate leadership did not want yet another class of non-tenure-eligible faculty diluting their authority and power within departments, colleges and the university. Hence, they voted to make research professors non-faculty.

The establishment of non-faculty research professors exacerbated an already serious  problem:  it is increasingly difficult tell faculty from non-faculty. According to the Wikipedia, the ultimate source of all information for my students,  the term “faculty” in North America is used to describe the academic staff of a university.  The academic staff or faculty includes professors of all ranks, lecturers/instructors, and researchers.   It also states that the faculty normally hold tenure-track positions.   In other words, the faculty carry out the work of the university, teaching and research, and the staff provide the support  needed by the faculty to carry out their teaching and research.  Also according to the Wikipedia, faculty is a “distinct category” from staff at a university.   Whoever wrote this Wikipedia entry clearly is not employed by the university where I work.   Around here it is increasingly difficult to tell faculty from professional staff based on what they do for a living.

Not only do we have research professors who are not faculty, but we have staff who teach and do research full time.  It is expressly forbidden for the university to allow staff members to teach more than 30% of the time.  Nevertheless, we have staff teaching full time in some limited areas.   Likewise, we have staff doing research full time.  This blurring of faculty and staff lines is creating conflicts between the faculty senate and the staff council.   Although it has no legislative authority, the staff council increasingly wants to get involved in discussions of research and other academic policies.  As noted in an earlier blog on shared governance, this blurring of  lines between faculty and staff makes shared governance more difficult and needlessly prolongs the process of making policy decisions.  Reestablishing  clear boundaries between faculty and professional staff needs to be done quickly to avoid future territorial disputes.  A committee is needed to identify all staff positions that have been created, for whatever reason, that involve duties that are the prerogatives of the faculty, teaching and research.   Professional staff holding such positions need to be reclassified into a suitable non-tenure-track faculty position.   To facilitate reestablishing clear boundaries between faculty and staff, the faculty senate needs to correct its own mistake.  It needs to make research professors members of the faculty.

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