National expert Adrianna Kezar shares insights on NTTF changing landscape

Adrianna Kezar speaking at CSU
Adrianna Kezar, a faculty member at the University of Southern California, recently visited CSU to discuss the changing national landscape for non-tenure-track faculty or faculty off the tenure track.

Colorado State University recently hosted Adrianna Kezar to talk about the changing national landscape for non-tenure-track faculty (NTTF) or faculty off the tenure track, assess CSU’s own journey and provide ideas for the University’s future work. Kezar, co-author of The Gig Academy and a national expert on changing faculty trends, met with CSU leadership, faculty and staff over two days in November.

Kezar is the Dean’s Professor of Leadership and the Wilbur-Kieffer Endowed Professor of Higher Education at the University of Southern California, and director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education within the Rossier School of Education. Her visit was co-sponsored by the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President, CSU Faculty Council and the Center for the Study of Academic Labor.

“Creating culture happens in conversation,” said Kezar during a Nov. 8 plenary session held in CSU’s Lory Student Center. “I am committed to helping the academy in moving forward on these issues. One of the ways we are going to institutionalize this is campuses going through these difficult discussions on how we move forward to support all faculty.”

At the Pullias Center, Kezar directs the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success which is dedicated to enhancing awareness about the changing faculty trends using ​research and data to encourage culture change and help ​create new faculty models to support higher education institutions in the future.

“Kezar’s trajectory of culture change — from activation to implementation to institutionalization — has moved the most progressive campuses forward in their support of non-tenure-track faculty,” said Sue Doe, Faculty Council chair, professor of English and director of the Center for the Study of Academic Labor. “Here at CSU, we have a long history of advocacy and activism regarding non-tenure-track faculty issues, and Kezar’s invited visit suggests that our institution is ready to move forward with necessary next steps.”

Honoring the work of many

Kezar praised the recommendations made by the 2020 NTTF Task Force and the 2021 CCAF Task Force and discussed CSU’s efforts over the past 15 years aimed to improve the overall work environment for NTT faculty. She noted the University’s advances in hiring and employee contracts, orientation and support, professional development, advancement, shared governance, and compensation and benefits.

“I want to honor that while you are still on the journey, some really important work has happened here,” said Kezar. “And it’s happened because of many of you in the room today. I want to honor this history. I want to press you forward to start energizing the campus for the next phase … and I think you have the support of the leadership to do it.”

Provost and Executive Vice President Mary Pedersen said the decision to bring Kezar to CSU is indicative of that support.

“Inviting a national expert here who works with universities across the country gives us an opportunity to learn from her tremendous experience and research,” said Pedersen. “We will take what we have learned from Dr. Kezar, her insights and recommendations for our future direction to reset our priorities and strengthen our practices. This is important, valuable work around a complicated topic, and President McConnell and I are committed to ongoing progress.”

Assessing culture and moving forward

Kezar encouraged the audience to reflect on the current culture surrounding NTTF faculty at CSU and how to create a more robust learning culture. She defined a learning culture as one where NTTF are provided with whole systematic support where the faculty member is not just included, but able to be the strongest professional in either teaching, research or their clinical role to help them create a positive and effective learning environment for students.

“We are increasingly moving (from destructive or neutral cultures regarding NTTF) to inclusive cultures where campuses are doing things that help non-tenure-track faculty participate in the life of the campus: be invited to departmental meetings, participate in shared governance, be invited to professional development,” said Kezar. “And I see that here” at CSU.

Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Sue James said Kezar made it clear that as goes the future of the changing faculty in U.S. academe, so goes the future of higher ed.

“We are at a really crucial time both at CSU and nationally where institutions of higher education must deeply examine how we hire and treat all faculty, and respond with processes and interim strategies that are more equitable and sustainable,” said James. “Dr. Kezar has long been sounding the alarm that institutions need to move away from the gig academy, a gig economy-style solution to academic labor costs.”

Kezar recommended the next phase for CSU include creating partnerships across the University to carry forward work to improve employment stability, advancement standards, and faculty development (beyond professional development), and expand shared governance, clarify service expectations utilizing equity dashboards, conduct on-going salary surveys and continue to increase salaries.

James said that CSU is well-positioned to hear and accept that guidance.

“With our Courageous Strategic Transformation work underway at CSU, this was the perfect time to bring Dr. Kezar to campus,” James said. “In addition to her plenary session, she met with multiple groups of administrators and executive leadership, and with faculty off the tenure track. We have more work to do to make CSU a premier place for all faculty to professionally thrive, but Dr. Kezar’s visit helped us map out some of the most important and urgent work we need to do, and she helped us cast our work and progress in a national context as well.”

CCAF Task Force recommendations: supporting faculty off the tenure track

By Sue James and Alex Bernasek

Like other institutions of higher education across the nation, Colorado State University has been on an evolving journey to improve the professional status of faculty off the tenure track. As we share the recommendations of the CCAF Task Force 2020-21, we acknowledge efforts to support CCAF/NTTF are not new to CSU, and many leaders, faculty and staff have worked passionately over several years to assess issues and bring change. read more

Avery Gleason and Pam Jackson