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Focus on Non-Tenure-Track Faculty

Growing in numbers, “a critical component of BU’s educational mission”


A task force has released a report examining issues relating to non-tenure-track faculty members.

Two years after its formation, a task force that examined issues relating to non-tenure-track faculty on Boston University’s Charles River Campus has released its findings.

According to University Provost David Campbell, who created and charged the task force, “the intent was to examine all aspects of non-tenure-track faculty appointments, to understand how we compared with our peers in this area, and in particular to develop recommendations for enhancing the stature and productivity of these important colleagues, defining clear career paths and helping them receive appropriate recognition, support, and compensation.”

Academic appointments outside the tenure track have grown substantially in the past 30 years, both nationally and at BU, says Tanya Zlateva, an associate professor and associate dean for academic programs at Metropolitan College.

“On the Charles River Campus, 38.7 percent of all full-time faculty held non-tenure-track appointments in 2009,” she says. “This reflects a change in the nature of academic employment as well as in the academic enterprise as a whole.”

The reasons for that change, and the consequences, are subject to fierce debate. “On one hand,” Zlateva says, “the trend appears to hold out the prospect of lower costs and greater flexibility. On the other, it raises concerns about job insecurity, academic freedom, and a lack of commitment and institutional support.”

The 13-member task force reviewed non-tenure-track faculty roles, procedures, and practices at various colleges and analyzed data on faculty composition and work satisfaction. Members also met with faculty and administrators.

“We found that non-tenure-track faculty are dedicated teachers, advisors, and scholars who value their affiliation with Boston University,” says Zlateva, who led the task force. “They are highly qualified professionals. We also learned that there are no clearly defined and well-understood criteria and processes for professional advancement.”

While the salary difference between tenured and non-tenure-track faculty members is marginal, non-tenure-track professors generally have higher teaching loads. “Non-tenure-track faculty members are a critical component of BU’s educational mission,” she says. “They may not all be performing extensive research, but they nonetheless have to be at the top of their profession.”

According to the report, some non-tenure-track faculty members are concerned about unequal treatment, under-recognition, and lack of opportunities. They worry that they are considered second-class citizens by colleagues within the tenure system.

Non-tenure-track faculty members are among the longest serving at BU, staying an average of 10.5 years. The School of Hospitality Administration and Metropolitan College have the largest percentages of non-tenure-track professors (100 percent), with the College of Fine Arts (85.9 percent) and the College of Communication (82.4 percent) following closely behind. The School of Theology (none) and the College of Engineering (11.7 percent) have the smallest percentages.

The report recommends that promotion of non-tenure-track faculty be based on expectations defined by each college and approved by the provost. “The expectations should take into account the specific needs of the college,” Zlateva says, “as well as differences in the job descriptions of non-tenure-track and tenured and tenure-track faculty, such as differences in teaching loads, advisory duties, and program or curriculum coordination responsibilities.”

That may lead to different expectations for promotion for non-tenure-track and tenured and tenure-track faculty in different colleges, but tenure status should not be the sole basis for differing promotion tracks within the same college.

Additionally, the report suggests that the associate provost for faculty development, a recently created position held by Julie Sandell, a School of Medicine professor, work with schools and colleges to establish a faculty development program to ensure that non-tenure-track faculty members can produce research and scholarship.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @vickywaltz.


9 Comments on Focus on Non-Tenure-Track Faculty

  • Anonymous on 03.31.2010 at 6:43 am

    Grateful to Non Tenure Track Faculty

    During my undergraduate and graduate education at Boston University, I had the pleasure of being taught by impressive faculty members in a variety of disciplines. When I was entering my junior and senior year in COM, several of my professors were working in the field of journalism, and brought relevance and practical experiences to the classroom. While study for my graduate degree at SED, the vast majority of my professors were educators, but not full-time professors.

    While I cannot agree more that the professors did wonderful work in the classroom, it was the “outside the classroom” connectivity to the University and to the students that suffered. For the most part (and especially in my experience at SED), the professors arrived for classes, taught and left campus. They had little knowledge about practical realities like registration, nor could they chime in about current campus news and events.

    This came in stark contrast to the Tenure-Track faculty who were engaged in BU at a different level and had become engrained in the face of the campus.

    Non-Tenure-Track faculty serve a purpose, and do good work, but in order to maintain a vibrant campus community, the percentages must remain in check and their role must continue to be studied and assessed.

  • Anonymous on 03.31.2010 at 7:35 am

    While they are at it…look at the “adjunct faculty” – a critical component of many schools, especially over at COM. Extremely substandard pay = 1/6th what the lowest paid full-time faculty gets per class. Less than a TA in the School of Theology gets paid! And if teaching is only half their job, then 1/3 what a full-timer gets.
    Pretty blatant academia discrimination.
    We certainly don’t do this for the money, but we are BU faculty’s dirty little secret.
    The full-time faculty and the administration should be ashamed.

  • Anonymous on 03.31.2010 at 8:24 am

    Quoted from above: “While the salary difference between tenured and non-tenure-track faculty members is marginal….”

    Oh, really? This is news to me, as a full-time non-tenure track faculty member.

  • Clark Rockefeller on 03.31.2010 at 8:30 am

    boo hoo

    Most of the world works on an at-will basis, so I don’t see what the great injustice is. Not every college teacher needs to be involved in research. Let’s face it, 90 percent of the research done in the humanities and social sciences is completely pointless…as opposed to say, 70 percent in the hard sciences.

    It’s common for faculty to whine and complain about anything more than a 2/2 load. They tell you that a 4/4 load will cause you to immolate on the spot…or something. Hey, if they don’t like it they can do one of the many other jobs they are qualified for…food service, house keeping, retail sales, or, if they are really desperate, high school teacher…talk about a teaching load.

    In the end, maybe nobody should have tenure.

  • Anonymous on 03.31.2010 at 11:30 am

    The adjunctification of the university really is a disaster, and I wish that BU would take the lead in reversing this trend. Stop spending so much money on new facilities and give some of it for new TT lines. This could only improve the general level of the education on campus.

  • hoo boo on 04.10.2010 at 2:03 pm

    Dear Boo Hoo

    50% of the world lives on less than $2.50/day.
    80% of the world lives on less than $10/day.

    There is great injustice in the world. The deterioration of the lives of faculty in the U.S. university system is hardly chief among them. This deterioration is still bad.

  • Theology Student on 04.23.2010 at 10:12 pm

    Profs seeking tenure

    In school of theology, where there are 0 non-tenure track, I can say that the ones who haven’t gained tenure yet (at least the ones who have taught me), are very nervous and focused on producing books and articles. One snaps at the students and another doesn’t get enough sleep. They are otherwise, at least potentially, good, but I get the distinct feeling that their focus is not on the student experience. I really don’t know what to advise, that is not my business. It is just something that I’ve noticed.

  • Anonymous on 05.13.2010 at 4:25 pm

    agree with "while they are at it...look"

    I agree with “while they are at it…look”
    Non-Tenure Teachers Need support from Somewhere other then
    concerned Parents or the students themselves. Sorry to say
    this is happening all over the U.S.
    We are fighting to keep our Non-tenure Teachers in our little school. They are highly qualifed, they know the children’s needs at a individual basis. Let alone love to live in our small town.
    So we too are loosing our Non-Tenure Teachers and their spouses who are also teachers.
    This is very troublesome for our small community, to loose such a high volume of Good Qualified Teachers that do not want to leave and wish they can stay and teach at our schools.
    Someone needs to wake up and rephrase “No Child Left Behind”
    And it certianly does not come from our School Board Members!

  • Anonymous on 05.04.2011 at 9:09 pm

    Are non-tenure track faculty (research assistant professors) allowed to advise PhD students at BU ? There is a lot of confusion about this in the US…

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