Event highlights proposal to transform roles of CSU non-tenure-track faculty

A proposal to change non-tenure-track faculty appointments at CSU to create career paths took center stage during a panel discussion featuring leaders of the national academic labor movement.

The Center for the Study of Academic Labor in the College of Liberal Arts hosted the April 27 event, which was attended by nearly 100 people, about half of whom identified themselves as non-tenure-track faculty. The guest speakers at “Re-envisioning the CSU Faculty” included:

Maria Maisto, founder and executive director of the New Faculty Majority;

Joe Berry, faculty member in the Chicago Labor Education Program at the University of Illinois and the History Department at Roosevelt University, chair of COCAL (Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor) and author of Reclaiming the Ivory Tower;

John Curtis, research director of the American Sociological Association and former research chair of the American Association of University Professors;

Marisa Allison, founder and lead editor for the Women & Contingency Database and doctoral candidate in public and applied sociology at George Mason University; and

Jenny Morse, a management instructor in the CSU College of Business and chair of the Faculty Council Committee on Non-Tenure-Track Faculty (CoNTTF).

Action plan

Morse began by outlining the components of an action plan to transform NTT faculty appointments at CSU. It involves creating a new system of standards for hiring, evaluating, promoting, retaining and supporting faculty who are not in tenure-track positions.

Among the recommendations, which have received the support of President Tony Frank, is to create three classifications of NTT faculty: professors of practice, adjunct faculty, and temporary faculty.

“Our goal would be to have 80 percent of CSU’s non-tenure-track faculty become professors of practice,” Morse said.

That designation, for appointments of 50 percent time or more, would include equitable participation/representation in shared governance except in decisions on promotion and tenure for tenure-track faculty; an established path for promotion with associated pay increases; and equal access to due process and grievance procedures. A professor of practice’s appointment would begin with a two- or three-year probationary period, and thereafter would be a rolling and renewing multi-year term, typically of three years each.

The adjunct faculty designation would be for NTT faculty with appointments of less than 50 percent that would be reviewed annually. Like the professor of practice, it would have rank promotions of assistant, associate, and full. The temporary faculty category would be for part- or full-time NTT faculty with contracts not renewable for more than three consecutive semesters.

Review process

The proposal is being reviewed by two committees of Faculty Council; the recommendations would require changes to the CSU Faculty Manual. Morse said in an interview that the plan has also been discussed extensively with a wide variety of campus constituents.

“We’ve been working with the administration and Faculty Council to develop this and communicate it to all of the various audiences it concerns,” she said. “It’s been vetted thoroughly.”

She added that in a 2014 survey of NTT faculty, 41 percent of respondents said they’d been working at CSU for at least 10 years, and about 70 percent said they’d been at the university for more than three years. CSU has 1,081 tenure-track faculty and 765 NTT faculty.

At the April 27 event at the Morgan Library Event Hall, panel members lauded CSU’s multi-year effort to create the proposal and said the national goal for change is about ensuring equity in a humane system. Panel members shared national figures about the increased teaching burden that non-tenure-track faculty have taken, as well as stories of other institutions of higher education that haven’t enjoyed the same level of support from their administrations in improving the status of NTT faculty, sometimes resulting in collective bargaining efforts.

Quality of education

Curtis said it comes down to the quality of the education students receive, and that creating a more supportive, equitable environment for NTT faculty naturally makes them better teachers.

“Parents don’t care about tenure,” Maisto added. “Parents care about the quality of the education.”

“I think they’re absolutely right,” CSU Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Dan Bush said in an interview afterwards. “It’s to our advantage to have non-tenure-track faculty who are compensated fairly, completely engaged, and supported with resources like professional development opportunities. All of our educators are faculty, and we want all of them to be excellent at their craft. These things are woven together to help us further excel at student success and student learning.”

Bush added that it has been established practice at CSU for several years to include NTT faculty in the annual salary-setting process conducted for all employees, and he expressed confidence that the new plan will move forward.

“What the committee has proposed is supported 100 percent by the administration,” Bush said. “We feel that this group of non-tenure-track faculty should have the same expectations as other CSU employees have for things like a system with defined metrics for achievement, merit increases, and opportunities for advancement. Our expectation is that this is going to be a long-term solution for the NTT faculty at CSU.”

Guest speaker from DU

In October 2015, the administration co-sponsored a talk by Doug Hesse, professor of English and founding director of the Writing Program at the University of Denver. Hesse was instrumental in transforming the career path of NTT faculty at DU, a process that took about three years with strong support from the university provost and an endorsement vote of nearly 80 percent from the faculty.

Hesse said DU’s non-tenure-track faculty were “clearly energized and revitalized by the idea of a career ladder. The process includes a performance review at the end of every contract period, and good work is rewarded. If they are found wanting, the contract is not renewed. It has changed the expectations and obligations of our non-tenured faculty – and all faculty across campus, who are sometimes surprised to learn that a teaching professor isn’t on the tenure track.”

At CSU, Morse said the next critical discussions will likely center around financing.

“I do think we have the support of the administration, but there are questions around how to pay for changes in compensation,” she said at the panel discussion. “We can’t increase the salaries of contingent faculty without financial support through central administration, and although we have support for our recommendations, we will need even more support for funding.”