07 June 2015

Addendum on the Dream of Teaching-Intensive Tenure

Over at Bardiac, there's a fine round-up of the blogospheric response to Michael Berube and Jennifer Ruth's proposal for a teaching-intensive tenure-track. (http://bardiac.blogspot.com/2015/06/metablogging-conversation-about.html?m=1) Yes, it quotes the Good Enough Professor, which makes this post meta-meta-blogging.

If anecdotal data like mine suggests a general trend towards creating some middle ground between tenure and rank exploitation, that seems like a good thing.  Non-exploitative working conditions are better than exploitative ones.  There's a bigger problem, though.  Without provisions for academic freedom, shared governance, and  grievance procedures these improvements will hasten the decline of higher education.  Instructors who, however well-paid and professionally validated, are beholden to the administrators who hire them and not the faculty peers qualified to evaluate their teaching and research, will not sustain the mission of higher education as many of us understand it.


  1. As the holder of a pretty good full-time contingent job (benefits, multi-year renewable contract, wage that counts as "living" for my area even if it's much less than tenure-track colleagues of similar education and experience receive), I agree wholeheartedly. I'd also point out that part of the problem is that I am beholden to/supervised by not "administrators" who are separate from my faculty colleagues, but by tenure-track faculty in my own department who should simply be colleagues (i.e. equals), but who remain in a supervisory/top-down-evaluative role simply by virtue of the fact that they have tenure and I am not eligible for tenure, even if they're considerably younger/less experienced than I, especially in my field (I'm in an English department, where the majority of the tenure-track faculty are trained in literature and/or creative writing, while the majority of the contingent faculty are experienced if not explicitly trained in, and teaching, composition. One of the consequences of a move to a 2/2 load for most tenure-track faculty a decade or so ago is that most tenure-track faculty teach composition infrequently, if at all, and certainly don't keep up with curricular changes and best practices to the extent that the composition teachers -- even those of us with lit Ph.D.s -- do. When classes in the major don't fill and TT faculty suddenly find themselves teaching comp on short notice, some interesting inversions of the assumed supervisory/mentorship hierarchies -- and some useful conversations -- occur). There are other cross-currents going on, of course (not least the ongoing differentiation of lit and rhet/comp as sub-fields), but one pretty much inevitable effect of a system that employs long-term full-time (or, for that matter, part-time) contingents, and expects that they will be supervised by a stable or diminishing tenure-track faculty (especially one with lighter/different teaching loads) is that you end up with faculty who have less teaching experience supervising and evaluating more-experienced faculty, and often setting curricular standards for courses with which the TT faculty have very little experience (and/or have not taught in average -- i.e. higher-load -- conditions). This, of course, violates common sense as well as principles of good governance.

  2. Don't know if this has been pointed out already, but here at the University of Calgary (equivalent to a large public research university in the US), we've long had a teaching-intensive tenure track. There are two "streams" of tenure-track faculty: professors and instructors. Professor-stream faculty have teaching, research/scholarship, and service expectations typical of a large research university. Instructor-stream faculty have no research/scholarship expectations (save to remain current in the discipline, although some do pedagogical research), and higher teaching loads. All departments can have instructors, and I believe most do--it's not restricted to the humanities.

    In my experience (I'm in the Dept. of Biological Sciences), it works very well. The instructors and profs in Biological Sciences all respect and value one another. There's no sense that anyone's a second-class citizen or anything like that. Indeed, my department (profs and instructors alike) has an unusually strong culture of putting a lot of effort into undergraduate teaching. I think that's in part because of the formal and informal leadership of our instructors.

    -Jeremy Fox (dynamicecology.wordpress.com)