President Kurt Landgraf has told the Washington College community that he wants to focus on the needs of the student population, and work on changes that we would like to see on campus. Although there are many issues and causes that students can and should get behind, it is important to remember why we are here and who are our best resources. For students to succeed, faculty and staff must also be set up for success. Therefore, the needs of the students are also the faculty’s needs. At Washington College, and at colleges and universities across the United States, fewer and fewer professors are tenured or are on tenure-track. WC students need a school that prioritizes tenure for its professors.
Tenure is an important element of any academic organization. It provides several safety nets to professors, who work hard to get these coveted positions at colleges like WC. Not only do tenured positions have more benefits and pay associated with them, but they also allow for some job security that enables academic freedom in their teaching and research. Tenure does not mean that a professor can say whatever they want and not get fired.
The National Education Association said, “How many professors would feel free to talk about controversial ideas if they knew their jobs were on the line? Tenure gives faculty the independence to speak out about troubling matters and to challenge the administration on issues of new curriculum and quality…Remember: There are limits to tenure. Tenure does not mean that a science teacher can hold students to his or her belief that the sun revolves around the earth, and it doesn’t mean professors can act unprofessionally.”
Tenure is how we get quality professors to stay at our institution, and enable them to devote their full time and energy here. Without tenure, many professors have to work other jobs in addition to teaching, and the time they can devote to students diminishes.
The NEA also said, “Part-time faculty are not unqualified, but they are exploited. Most part-time faculty earn very low ‘per course’ salaries and few, if any, benefit. The nature of their employment (many have a full-time job off-campus) often does not enable them to advise students adequately, conduct research, or contribute to the academic direction of the institution. A recent national survey indicates one half of part- time faculty do not hold office hours or meet with students outside the classroom.” At a small institution like WC, where individual student-professor relationships are so valued, this becomes even more problematic.
The amount of tenured positions or tenure track positions available is rapidly decreasing across the nation, and faculty are feeling the strain. In 2014, faculty at the University of Illinois in Chicago went on strike to protest the disparity.
Peter Schmidt, a senior writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education, spoke with with NPR about the event and said, “Both tenure track or non-tenure track or contingent faculty are standing together. They’re pushing for contingent faculty members who are full-timers to have their pay increased from $30,000 a year to $45,000 a year… Often at colleges, we’ve seen tenure track and non-tenure track populations pitted against each other. There’s been a belief or an assertion that one population can’t gain without the other losing. So, here we have the tenure track people standing up and recognizing that it’s putting pressure on them to have more and more faculty members in a non-tenure track workforce where they’re not compensated to help with committee work, service work, administrative tasks, all the others things that are done outside of teaching. More of that work is falling on full-timers.”
More tenure positions and more support for the part-time, assistant, or adjunct professors benefits those individuals, the tenured professors, and the entire university community. Why are these positions disappearing in the first place? The NEA said, “No more than one-third of all college and university faculty members are tenured… More and more colleges are relying on part-time or temporary nontenure-track faculty to teach undergraduates — part-timers constituted about 38 percent of the professoriate in 1987 and grew to 43 percent in 1992. When a tenured professor retires or a new position is created, too often the new position is not put on the tenure track. Colleges say this gives them greater flexibility to meet student needs. But the real reason is to save money, and the real effect is to lower standards.”
A college is a business, and costs will always need to be cut somewhere, especially if, as has been the case in previous years, there is an effort to freeze tuition rising for students. The last place those cuts should come from, however, is the faculty and staff that make our institution worth the cost of tuition in the first place.
WC’s Human Resources said, “Washington College is committed to attracting and retaining outstanding and di- verse faculty and staff who will support the College’s mission to challenge and inspire students to discover lives of purpose and passion.”
If this is really true, let’s focus our funds and efforts on getting more existing professors on to a tenure track, and hiring more of our future professors with tenure in mind. As a liberal arts institution, we owe it to our community to prioritize academic freedom, as well as the wellbeing and security of the academic minds that make it all happen.