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May 29, 2014

University Senate Matters: Non-tenure-stream faculty: What does THAT mean?

Pitt’s School of Education has been my professional and academic home for 20 years. I’ve conducted and published research, authored a book, developed and taught more than 10 courses, advised over 60 doctoral students, written and served as a PI or co-PI on over $18 million in grant funding that has supported at least 28 doctoral students. I created and manage the Collaborative for Evaluation and Assessment Capacity (CEAC) that has a portfolio of over 15 funded evaluation projects. I’ve served as a member and as co-chair of the School of Education Council (the planning and budget unit in the school) for a number of years, as well as serving on Faculty Assembly and Senate and committees at the University and school levels. I offer this summary because it may, in fact, sound like any other colleague’s. However, I am a non-tenure-stream faculty member.

I do many of the same tasks as my tenure-stream colleagues and, at times, I take on some different tasks, as well. My career has been marked more by funded projects that support graduate students and publication of evaluative reports and white papers than by published academic research, and I share equally in teaching and advising with my tenure-stream colleagues. Working in a professional school supporting many of our scholar-practitioner students who currently are working in and with educational institutions requires a healthy mix of scholar-practitioner faculty as well — and has afforded me lots of diverse opportunities as a faculty member.

Across the University non-tenure-stream colleagues have widely varying roles and responsibilities, job expectations and experiences.  Their positions offer flexibility for both the University and the individual. Some colleagues direct programs and units and serve administrative roles, others spend considerable time mentoring clinicians in the field, still others serve as librarians and some carry large teaching or advising loads. They are essential contributors to the work of all the schools, but they are not always recognized and supported.

The School of Education took an early lead under Dean Alan Lesgold to develop guidelines for promotion for non-tenure colleagues and has worked to build a supportive and affirmative culture for all faculty to work together, both non-tenure and tenure stream. Unfortunately, it was not always so, here in the School of Education, or across the University campuses, centers or schools.

When I brought my first grant to Pitt in 1994, it had to be “claimed” by a more senior tenure-stream colleague to “ensure continuity” since as a non-tenure-stream faculty member, I was not expected to have any shared commitment with the University. So, my first $2 million in funding was not listed under my name as a PI. When I helped to design and co-teach a set of doctoral core courses in the department, I was not allowed to grade students even though I provided as much written feedback and contribution to the course as my tenure-stream counterparts.  I was relegated to a small office with no windows even though other, more conducive, spaces were available. When I attended my first faculty meeting, I received looks of both shock and disdain — and there was discussion about whether I could even vote. When I asked about promotion, I was told by one of the chairs of the “promotion and tenure” committee that non-tenure-stream promotion didn’t make sense.

Times are different now, for me. But they are not so different for many non-tenure-stream colleagues across the University.  Some units still consider non-tenure-stream colleagues as “less than” others, as itinerant part-timers who come and go, with no real connection to the larger faculty they are part of or the University that employs them.

While I find a welcoming and supportive professional home in the School of Education today, some of my non-tenure-stream colleagues across the University report that many of the same archaic assumptions and expectations I experienced earlier define their working conditions today: not getting credit for work, being underpaid and maltreated as unequal colleagues, living with annual contracts with no clear expectation of continued employment and, in some cases, not even knowing what the expectations of continued employment are or how often they may change depending on which person is determining them.

The Senate ad hoc committee on non-tenure-stream faculty has been reviewing policies across the schools, discovering widely varying practices. The University administration has begun to address these issues, and we applaud Provost Patricia Beeson for these efforts. Of equal importance is how each of us helps to create a culture of collaboration and collegiality with all our colleagues with respect and appreciation for their expertise and their contributions to the university.

Cindy Tananis is an associate professor in the School of Education and a member of the Senate ad hoc committee on non-tenure-stream faculty.