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Different Flavors of Faculty

11 Feb Posted by in Faculty | 2 comments
Different Flavors of Faculty

For some time, as most of my readers know, many universities have maintained several types of fulltime faculty. The clear installation of predominantly teaching faculty was much discussed when I was at Carnegie Mellon, but we had the example already of places like Stanford (which had teaching, research and tenure track/tenure), and we had clear needs in areas like modern languages for enhanced instructional performance. So, amid some discussion, the division prevailed.

Of course, we have the division at Mason. Purely or predominantly research faculty don’t raise much concern, since they’re grant funded. It might be that they should be more discussed, but they’re largely appreciated/ignored and do their own thing.

This is not the case with predominantly instructional faculty — what we, after a review several years ago, call Term faculty. They are discussable, which is why I venture this comment.

Term faculty have, as indicated, primarily teaching roles, with higher loads than tenured types. They may do some research, sometimes quite good research, and of course they’re normally PhDs like the rest of us, but their assignments are instructional. Many of them, over time, develop real leadership roles, for example in science education or in special areas like forensics. Many ultimately qualify for multi-year appointments and can, in fact, though subject to periodic review, build full careers with us.

We depend on them not only greatly, but increasingly. Over a quarter of our fulltime faculty are currently Term.

Dependence increases as a response to budget pressure plus the push for higher enrollments. Dependence increases as formal teaching loads go down in some units (for tenured faculty, recently, in CHSS and CEHD, as a response to market competition) and in some cases research buyouts increase. Even the expansion of PhD programs, in requiring additional time from tenured faculty for dissertations and therefore a justification of moves like 2-2 teaching loads instead of 2-3, help explain the trend.

Here’s where some debate enters in. Clearly, we are and will remain a research university, intending to hire increasing numbers of research faculty. Clearly, we believe deeply in the interrelationship between research and teaching, and in programs like Students as Scholars that can build on this combination. Clearly also, we want our tenured faculty to be good teachers and indeed pedagogical leaders, rather than turning the instructional mission over to Term faculty alone.

But, for the various reasons stated, we do need a mix, and not tenure/tenure track alone. We should be open about the mix, and of course careful in our hiring, evaluation (but also appropriate retention) of Term faculty. I know that Term faculty make some tenured faculty anxious about dilution of quality and the like, and it’s important to be willing to talk this through. Alternatives might be discussed: a return to higher teaching loads for the tenured folks, or greater reliance on adjuncts; but in the end, I think an understanding of the centrality of the Term faculty option makes most sense.

Ultimately, however, we need to recognize the mutual support and energy which a mix of faculty provides. We certainly need to recognize the vital contributions of Term faculty and their full inclusion in our ranks — hierarchy games must really be played down in favor of shared endeavor. Some of our most appealing and successful colleagues already come in this flavor.