The future of non-tenure track faculty

Karen Gebhardt, Assistant Professor in the Economics department in the College of Liberal Arts at Colorado State University teaching, March 09, 2015.

The future of higher education depends on continued engagement of non-tenure track faculty, who deliver  a substantial component of the teaching duties at colleges and universities across the nation. And the future of these teachers, according to Doug Hesse, depends on institutions creating pathways to job security and promotion for them.

Hesse, professor of English and founding director of the Writing Program at the University of Denver, was instrumental in transforming the career path of contingent faculty – called lecturers at DU.

“When the lecturer line became the teaching professor series, the first thing that happened was that the one-year renewable contract for lecturers became a three-year contract for a teaching assistant professor,” Hesse explained. “After six years, they can be promoted to a teaching associate professor, with a five-year contract. The next step is to teaching professor, with a seven-year contract.”

Teachers on this pathway commit not only to teaching but to service to the entire campus, though serving in the all-university Writing Center, teaching advanced general education seminars and being available to provide other professional development for other faculty members.

The process of getting this program adopted at DU took about three years, according to Hesse, with strong support from the university provost and an endorsement vote of nearly 80 percent from the faculty. Of the first cohort of 20 teaching assistant professors hired in 2006, he said that 14 are still at the university.

Revitalized by career ladder

“They are clearly energized and revitalized by the idea of a career ladder,” he said. “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.”

Dan Bush, CSU’s Vice Provost of Faculty Affairs, and Jen Aberle, Chair of the Faculty Council Committee on Non-Tenure Track Faculty, look to examples such as DU’s for providing a career path for non-tenure track faculty at CSU.

“Non-tenure track faculty are vital contributors to the teaching, research and service mission of CSU and like every other employment group, deserve a well articulated career path that gives them the same sense of job stability and advancement that others have,” Bush said.

Hesse will be speaking about “Models and Pathways to Job Security and Promotion for Contingent Faculty” at DU and other universities on Oct. 29, 4:30-6:30 p.m., in the Cherokee Park Ballroom in the Lory Student Center. He will be presenting with Megan Fulwiler, associate professor of English at the College of St. Rose in Albany, N.Y., co-director of the 2014 documentary, ConJob: Stories of Adjunct and Contingent Labor, which will be shown at 9 a.m. on Oct. 29 in the Morgan Library Event Hall.

Other State of the Faculty events taking place during Campus Equity Week.