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“Multiple Ways to Salvation”: Tenure and Teaching-Intensive Appointments

September 6, 2010

Mayra Besosa (Spanish), California State University, San Marcos, co-chair, AAUP Committee on Contingency and the Profession

Marc Bousquet (English), Santa Clara University, co-chair, AAUP Committee on Contingency and the Profession

On this Labor Day, the AAUP released a new report on academic labor. Tenure and Teaching-Intensive Appointments argues that institutions that employ teaching-intensive faculty should hire them and evaluate their teaching through the rigorous system of peer review known as the tenure system.  As the report notes, tenure was designed as a “big tent” to unite faculty of diverse interests and professional responsibilities. It was not designed as a merit badge for research-intensive faculty or as a fence to exclude those with teaching-intensive commitments. 

As E. Gordon Gee, the highest-paid university president in the United States, puts it, campus employers must preserve “multiple ways to salvation” inside the tenure system—even at research-intensive institutions.

Before 1970, as today, most full-time faculty appointments were teaching-intensive. Nearly all full-time teaching-intensive positions were on the tenure track. Most faculty who spent most of their time teaching were also campus and professional citizens—with clear roles in shared governance and access to support for research or professional activity.

Today, campus employers have shunted the majority of teaching-intensive positions outside of the tenure system. This has in most cases meant a dramatic shift from “teaching-intensive” appointments to “teaching-only” appointments. As a result, many faculty are now barred from participation in scholarly and institutional governance activities, and have only tenuous relationships to campus and disciplinary peers.

The seismic shift from “teaching-intensive” faculty within the big tent of tenure to “teaching-only” faculty outside of it has a direct impact on student retention and achievement, as a growing body of evidence clearly demonstrates.

“American students deserve the same professionalism in their classrooms that they expect from physicians and police officers,” says Marc Bousquet, co-chair of the AAUP’s Committee on Contingency and the Profession, which produced the new report. “In 1970, most undergraduates took nearly all of their classes from tenure-eligible faculty, most with terminal degrees in their fields. This fall, however, at many institutions, a first-year student is more likely to drop out than ever to meet a tenure-track professor.”

The boom in non-tenure-track—and often “part-time”—faculty jobs puts faculty, like many other American workers, in an increasingly insecure and precarious position. “The public should be outraged by the deplorable working conditions imposed on many college teachers,” says Mayra Besosa, co-chair of the AAUP committee. “These working conditions are in violation of basic human rights articulated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—for example, the rights to equal pay for equal work, to just and favorable conditions of work, and to protection against unemployment.”

The central question we have to face in connection with this historic change is clear: Should more classroom teaching be done by faculty supported by the rigorous peer scrutiny of the tenure system? Most of the evidence says yes, and a host of diverse voices agree. This view brings together students, faculty, and legislators; the AAUP; and even many administrators. Campuses across the country have taken bold steps to stabilize the crumbling faculty infrastructure. Concerned legislators and some academic administrators have joined faculty associations in calling for dramatic reductions in the reliance on contingent appointments, commonly urging a maximum of 25 percent. 

Read the report, which was approved by the Committee on Contingency and the Profession. Or visit the AAUP website to learn more about our work on contingent faculty appointments.

The American Association of University Professors is a nonprofit charitable and educational organization that promotes academic freedom by supporting tenure, academic due process, shared governance and standards of quality in higher education. The AAUP has over 48,000 members at colleges and universities throughout the United States.

Media Contact: 
Mayra Besosa
Publication Date: 
Monday, September 6, 2010