Off-Track Profs

Off-Track Profs: Nontenured Teachers in Higher Education

John G. Cross
Edie N. Goldenberg
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Off-Track Profs
    Book Description:

    Much attention has been paid to the increasing proportion of non-tenure-track faculty--adjuncts, lecturers, and others--in American higher education. Critics charge that universities exploit "contingent faculty" and graduate students, engaging in a type of bait and switch to attract applicants (advertising institutional standing based on distinguished faculty who seldom teach undergraduates), and as a result provide undergraduates with an inadequate educational experience. This book, by two experienced academic administrators, investigates the expanding role of part-time and non-tenure-track instructors in ten elite research universities and the consequences of this trend for the quality of the educational experience, the functioning of the university, and the excellence of the academic environment. The authors discover, to their surprise, that the existing data on the workforce in higher education is ambiguous (different institutions use different terms for non-tenure track instructors; some even omit them from faculty data reports), making comparisons suspect. Many academic administrators are unaware of the tenured/nontenured breakdown of their own faculties and the hiring practices of their own universities. The authors look closely at the teaching workforce at Berkeley, Illinois, Michigan, Virginia, Washington, Cornell, Duke, MIT, Northwestern, and Washington University, believing that these outstanding universities provide a strong test case of resistance to pressures on the traditional tenure system. They describe hiring trends and what drives them, explain why they matter if we want to improve undergraduate education, support collegiality on campus, trust in academic governance, prevent the erosion of tenure, and preserve America's global leadership in higher education.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-25541-7
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
    J.G.C. and E.N.G.
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 Do We Know Who Teaches Our Students?
    (pp. 1-12)

    Elite research universities in the United States are revered around the world. International students come to the United States to study; academics overseas send their students here; outstanding faculty from across the globe choose to spend their careers as professors in the United States; universities in Asia, Europe, South America, and Africa seek partnerships and exchanges with U.S. institutions; and leaders in higher education from other countries visit to learn how our universities function as they strive to emulate the successes of world-class institutions in this country. We have achieved a position of global leadership in higher education, an important...

  6. 2 Setting the Stage: The Changing Complexion of Postsecondary Instruction
    (pp. 13-34)

    Consider the romance of higher education—the university as a collection of brick and white-painted buildings in an idyllic setting (preferably in New England) populated by well-meaning if slightly absent-minded instructors wearing rumpled clothing who are committed to the intellectual growth of their students, to the insights and intricacies of their disciplinary specialties, and to the health of their own institutions. That such a nostalgic image may never have reflected reality does not diminish the fact that it has been more or less accepted (even by many faculty members themselves) as an apt description of life in higher education.


  7. 3 How Are Academic Hiring Decisions Made?
    (pp. 35-52)

    We are certainly not the first to puzzle over how academic policies evolve or struggle to identify the individuals who ultimately decide on resource allocations in the modern university. Kafka had an important insight. It is not that the decisions are necessarily wrong. Universities, after all, are populated by intelligent and well-meaning people. It is that many outcomes seem to be generated more from amalgams of individual decisions made deep within the infrastructure than from reasoned direction from above.

    Far from being intentional strategic behavior driven by university boards, presidents, provosts, or deans, decisions to hire non-tenure-track (NTT) instructors are...

  8. 4 From Monastery to Market
    (pp. 53-66)

    In spite of resistance from many quarters, the termcompetitionis arising more and more frequently in the discourse of higher education. Not only has there been an enormous expansion in the demand for higher education over the last fifty years, but awareness has grown that in a large and fluid market, every participant will face a heightened competition for place and resources. Students compete for places in their preferred colleges, colleges compete for the most attractive student applicants and the most prestigious faculty, and faculty compete for attractive posts. All of these participants are aware that the market has...

  9. 5 The Market for Non-Tenure-Track Instruction
    (pp. 67-84)

    Three broad categories of instructor meet the teaching needs of a modern research university—tenure-track (TT) faculty, various designations of non-tenure-track (NTT) (including part-time) instructors, and graduate student teaching assistants (TAs). Understanding the market for non-tenure-track instruction requires considering how these three types of instructors fit together. Are they interchangeable? If they are, then cost changes in one may lead to offsetting employment changes in another. To give a direct example, if non-tenure-track instructors receive a significant boost in salary (perhaps as a consequence of unionization), can we expect a university to shift its employment emphasis toward other suppliers of...

  10. 6 The Invasion of the Business Models
    (pp. 85-102)

    The decline in legislative support for public higher education became apparent as early as the 1970s. University administrators routinely attributed this decline to the increased demands from competing publicly supported enterprises (such as public K–12 education, Medicaid payments, and corrections) rather than to a loss of prestige or respect for their own institutions. By the late 1980s, however, evidence was accumulating that the public was increasingly unhappy with the performance of higher education.¹ Much of this unhappiness had economic roots: over the last three decades, tuition costs have grown much faster than family incomes, consumer prices in general, or...

  11. 7 Faculty Unionization: The Limits of an Industrial Model
    (pp. 103-118)

    Collective bargaining in higher education is relatively common in certain sectors, especially among full-time faculty in two-year colleges. It is more common in the public sector than the private sector and in certain sections of the country that have traditionally been sympathetic to union movements—the West Coast, the industrial Midwest, and New Jersey and north on the East Coast. The union movement has extended to graduate students as well: the first two graduate student unions were recognized at the University of Wisconsin (1969) and the University of Michigan (1970). In contrast, tenure-track faculty members at the nation’s elite research...

  12. 8 Do Hiring Practices Matter?
    (pp. 119-138)

    We began our study of faculty hiring practices on research-oriented campuses because we believed that hiring practices have led to substantial changes in the overall composition of the teaching staff at those schools. These changes have not gone unnoticed. The expansion in the numbers of instructors who are not on the tenure track is widely condemned even though there is very little solid evidence that it warrants condemnation. It turns out that asking questions about the effects of these changes has proven to be much easier than answering them. Does increasing the number of non-tenure-track faculty lead to lower-quality undergraduate...

  13. 9 From Dilemmas to Action
    (pp. 139-152)

    We started with a deceptively simple question: are the nation’s most elite research universities hiring non-tenure-track faculty to teach undergraduates? Having learned that the answer is yes, we then asked three additional questions: how and why are they doing this, and what are the consequences of these hiring practices for higher education? To answer these questions requires understanding how and why things happen the way that they do in research universities. Accepted wisdom—that the numbers of non-tenure-track faculty have increased because university leaders decided to hire cheap, temporary labor to save money—is an oversimplification of reality that misidentifies...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 153-174)
  15. References
    (pp. 175-186)
  16. Index
    (pp. 187-196)