Faculty Job Security & Academic Freedom


Seventy-three percent of faculty at institutions of higher education in the United States are neither tenured nor on the tenure-track, according to a new report from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

Table from “Data Snapshot: Contingent Faculty in US Higher Ed” from AAUPAs you can see in the table, above (from their report), even at R1 universities, roughly 70% of the faculty are non-tenured or non-tenure-track (approximately 27% full-time non-tenure-track. 15% part-time, and 28% graduate student employees).

The report also notes that, of the full-time non-tenure track faculty, 38 percent are on annual contracts, 20 percent are on multi-year contracts, 38 percent are on  indefinite/at-will contracts (38 percent), and 4 percent work on contracts of less than a year.

The authors of the report remind us that “tenure protects academic freedom by insulating faculty from the whims and biases of administrators, legislators, and donors, and provides the security that enables faculty to speak truth to power and contribute to the common good through teaching, research, and service activities.”

(via Inside Higher Ed)

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harry b
3 years ago

Tenure also makes it extremely difficult for institutions to respond to changes in the environment. And that the teaching loads of tenure-line faculty in R-1s ad R-2s have fallen considerably over the past 40 years. Given that fact, cheaper labor was going to have to be hired to take over those duties. If you want to increase the proportion of tenure-line faculty in R1s and R2s the sensible way to do it is to eliminate graduate teaching (which would all-but eliminate graduate programs in the humanities and most of the social sciences), hiring more tenure-line faculty, and having them teach more. In institutions with reasonably strong faculty governance this is just unfeasible; tenure line faculty have too much power to allow that to happen. In STEM, graduate programs could survive, but you’d have to eliminate non-tenure line staff instructors; but this is also unfeasible, because tenure line faculty are not going to be willing to teach 4-5 courses a year.

The situation in non-R institutions is quite different, and in those there might be real options for changing the situation.

RE: academic freedom. It is worth remembering that the modern tenure system as we know it was invented quite recently, shortly before World War 2, in the wake of the Alan Sweezy affair, and was invented as a way of firing instructors (the whole problem in the Alan Sweezy affair was that because Harvard instructors, despite lacking tenure, de facto had jobs for life, the non-renewal of Sweezy looked (and, I am sure was!) politically motivated).Report

Louis
Louis
Reply to  harry b
3 years ago

I think you mean Paul Sweezy.Report

IH
IH
3 years ago

Here is an additional wrinkle. I was hired on the tenure-track. My contract was for one year, with the stated expectation that it would be renewed throughout the years leading up to tenure review. My college experienced a financial emergency, and I was informed that my contract would not be renewed for my second year, soon after beginning my position. I have spoken to several other junior faculty who have had similar “probationary tenure-track” or “one-year renewable tenure-track” contracts at other colleges. With the financial state of non-elite colleges, these tenure track positions are now, essentially, renewable visiting positions. So this leads me to believe that these numbers overstate the number of secure, tenure-track positions, if people assume that at least tenure-track positions are safe positions for several years.Report

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
3 years ago

I think our obsession with tenure is misplaced. The claim that academics should have a forever job barring the worst sort of gross misconduct or simple failure to even do their jobs is not one that members of the general public, who are rightly expected to do a lot more at their jobs, are ever going to swallow. So I think that trying to defend tenure is a losing battle, and to be honest one that we deserve to lose. Consider too that tenure generally will not protect you in situations of financial emergency. Colleges can and have laid off tenure track and even tenure track jobs. Further, it seems to me that if you really anger the wrong people then tenure likely won’t protect you.
What is more important here is whether one has due process at work. Are you an at will employee? That is, can they fire you or fail to renew your contract for any reason or even without giving a reason? I worked as an adjunct for a couple of years and then as a lecturer on a year by year at will contract, and I can tell you that those conditions really did affect what I said, how I taught, and what I’d write. (Among other things, I sure as heck wouldn’t have wanted to irritate any of the high and mighty on a forum like this back in those days. On that front it surely didn’t help that they were desperately trying to climb the Leiter rankings, but I digress). My current position isn’t tenure track, but it’s not at will either. As with most full-time state employees I do have protections of due process. It’s very clear what I need to do to keep my job and the reasons they could let me go are clear (and they’re all pretty good reasons too). And I don’t have any real fear for my job that affects what I say in class, what I say in public, or what I write. I honestly can’t say the same for most of my friends who are on the tenure track but not yet tenured.
My point is that we are never going to turn all the non-tenure track jobs into tenured jobs, and to be blunt the obsession with tenure strikes me as reflecting the concerns of the very privileged in our profession. What we might be able to do is to give more non-tenure track faculty in our field real protections of the sort that most public employees have. It’s a goal that is much more morally defensible than making sure all academics have tenure and it has some hope of success.Report

Jon
Jon
Reply to  Sam Duncan
3 years ago

Completely agree. Also think we’re way too focused on department closures; all of these are rearguard actions, instead of us proactively developing a vision for philosophy that makes sense and is relevant higher ed. Feels like we just sit around bemoaning how great it used to be, whereas that ship has already sailed.Report

Chris Surprenant
3 years ago

I’m tenured at a non-flagship state school where there is a non-zero chance that the philosophy program will be discontinued in the next, say, 10 years. I think it’s unlikely to happen, but, hey, it’s Louisiana and crazier things have happened when it comes to higher ed funding, program elimination, etc., even though I have a great deal of confidence in our current university administration.

With all of that said, I would happily trade my tenured position for a 5-year, rolling contract position, where one year gets added to the back of the contract every year unless certain explicit conditions are not met. I see myself as reasonably productive and have no concerns about finding another academic job that would be satisfying if given a little bit of time. While I think someone without their head buried in the sand could see program elimination coming, the relative swiftness that some schools in some states have declared exigency or have otherwise moved to eliminate programs and fire tenured faculty is concerning.

Further, I’m now in the position where I’m hiring people to support some of my projects in New Orleans and need to figure out (relatively quickly) what kind of positions I want to hire into, either traditional tenure-track or something that looks more like what I’ve described above. I am strongly leading to the rolling contract model, not just because I think it offers productive faculty members better protections, but also because it offers the university better protections in the event that you hire someone who you think will be productive and that turns out not to be the case.

Generally, I think political concerns are overblown. Sure, there are instances where tenured or tenure-track faculty members have been fired for political reasons, but those cases are so few and far between that it almost makes it not worrying about (and I’m the type of person who should be worried about such things given many of my positions). Beyond that, most of these cases can usually be litigated fairly easily and with positive outcomes for the faculty members if you’re working at a state university.

The bottom line is that you want clear language in your contract that can be enforced in an actual court. Most people think tenure means a job for life, but the language of tenure agreements is often much more wishy-washy in terms of renewal than clearly-articular term contract renewal language. If given the two options, I’d want the latter.Report

Aeon Skoble
Aeon Skoble
3 years ago

Tenure isn’t supposed to be protection against program closings, or for that matter earthquakes. It’s supposed to be protection against being punished for offending someone more powerful than you are in the course of your research or dissemination thereof. “More powerful” there chiefly refers to admins, but indirectly also to mobs or politicians. We’re not entitled to jobs, but we can’t do the jobs we have if we’re worried about being punished for offending the dean or riling up the mob.Report