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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Tomorrow's Professor: UPDATE 2012: Recent Changes in Higher Education That Can Impact Your Preparation for an Academic Career

UPDATE 2012: Recent Changes in Higher Education That Can Impact Your Preparation for an Academic Career
Section topics

(1) Severe and Persistent Budget Constraints
(2) Significant Growth of Non-Tenure Track Positions
(3) Growth of Interdisciplinary Research Programs
(4) University-industry Partnerships
(5) The Presence of Social Media and Information Technology in Everyday Life
(6) Growth of Online Education
(7) New Developments with Respect to Teaching and Learning
(8) Continuing Increases in Foreign-born Ph.D. Students and Postdocs Studying in the United States Who Aspire to Become
Professors at American Universities
(9) Career Opportunities for Ph.D.s and Postdocs at Community Colleges
(10) Non-Academic Careers for Ph.D.s and Postdocs

(2) Significant Growth of Non-Tenure Track Positions
The sine qua non of academic careers for over a hundred years has been the tenure track position leading in about six years to tenure and promotion from assistant to associate professor and then to life-time employment at a particular institution. Tenured faculty serve on academic councils and other governing committees and are the pool from which department chairs, deans, provosts, and presidents are drawn.

By having a system that encourages longevity, which tenure clearly does, the institution benefits from the reduced costs associated with not having formal annual reviews (as found in industry) and in having senior people available for administrative, governance, and mentoring responsibilities. Additional financial advantages of tenure for the institution become clear when we remember that tenure is a benefit just like health care and vacation time. Tenure, or more accurately the promise of it, is part of the total compensation package that candidates negotiate at the time of employment, and if the university did not provide its faculty with the security of tenure, it would probably have to compensate them with a higher salary.

It is also the case that in these difficult budgetary times employees everywhere become more risk averse and show a greater willingness to accept excessive or inappropriate demands from management. This is true in higher education as well, making tenure protection all the more important.

For these and other reasons, tenure is not going away. However, the number of new tenure track positions at all higher education institutions across the United States is decreasing significantly. In 1975, almost 57 percent of faculty were tenured or on the tenure track, yet today that percentage has been almost cut in half, and the percentage of new non-tenure track faculty has gone from 43.2 percent to 68.8 percent. [10, 11] Note that phrases such as fixed-term, limited-term, contract, and contingent, are often used in place of "non-tenure track," but they all mean essentially the same thing.

The main reason for the increase in non-tenure track positions is the budget constraints referred to above. In spite of the financial advantages to the institutions of having at least some tenured faculty, when it comes to adding new faculty, having a significant number enter off the tenure track can result in significant savings to the college or university. Paid sabbaticals, research and travel budgets, housing assistance and so on are rarely offered to non-tenure track faculty. Thus, new non-tenure track faculty, as opposed to those already in the system, are often significantly less expensive, some averaging about half as much per credit hour of teaching as their tenure track counterparts. [10]

Hiring non-tenure track faculty also gives the institution more flexibility in meeting supply and demand shifts in student interests. Other motives, as noted by Gross, might include "temporarily replacing tenure track faculty on leave, the use of 'adjuncts' who bring special knowledge and experience into the academy, the expanding need for 'remedial' education, and the employment of a partner in a dual career recruitment." [10] Of course there are also negative impacts on the academic culture from having such a large number of non-permanent faculty. These include such things as a loss of community, lack of shared sacrifice, and the difficulty of creating a long term vision. However, in these financial times many institutions are willing to pay this price.

No matter the reasons, the reality is that today there are simply far more graduate students and postdocs seeking tenure track positions than there are such positions and there is every reason to believe that the same situation will continue throughout the coming decade. Some graduate students and postdocs will certainly want to pursue tenure track positions and they should be encouraged to do so, hopefully using some of the techniques and approaches outlined in this book. Yet, while the benefits of becoming a tenured professor are obvious, they do come at a price, and one that may not be worth the cost for some segments of the graduate student and postdoc population seeking academic positions. Furthermore, there are, believe it or not, some real benefits to not seeking a tenure track position.

What might you gain by not being on the tenure track? One way to answer this question is to consider the other things you could do if you were not worrying about getting tenure, such as spending more time teaching, doing research at your own pace, whether faster or slower, exploring options at other academic institutions, taking advantages of long-term opportunities in other countries, considering possibilities outside academia concurrent with your faculty position such as other part-time employment, consulting for you and your partner, and doing more things with your family and friends. With the strong emphasis today on research, even at many master's and liberal-arts colleges, being free from such pressures to concentrate on teaching might be a real plus.

In particular, non-tenure track options have advantages for graduate students and postdocs who aren't sure if they want an academic career and would like to try it out without the full-time, intense probationary period that the tenure track requires, although going from a non-tenure track position to a tenure track position later on may be difficult. It also offers those individuals, especially in science and engineering fields, the opportunity to work part-time while continuing with full-time employment in industry or government with the eventual possibility of full-time academic positions.

Stanford University, for example, has a non-tenured faculty category called "teaching professor." One such professor teaches a number of classes ranging from small sophomore seminars to large introductory lectures of up to 500 students in his specialty, environmental sciences. With a reappointment every five years, he has been doing so full-time for the last 20 years.

In another case, also at Stanford, a professor teaches two specialized courses in a field called "smart product design" while also being employed half-time locally at one of the best product design firms in the country. His wife is a full-time tenured professor at Stanford. They would both have liked tenured positions, but finding them at the same institution is difficult for any academic couple. Their willingness not to insist on this path led to an excellent academic and industrial combination for him, and it gave her a full-time career at a prestigious university.

The same situation can also apply to research. In this case, however, it is important that you make sure that your non-tenure track position gives you the authority to serve as a Principal Investigator (PI) which allows you to author proposals, receive external funding, and supervise graduate students and postdocs. Often such appointments come with titles like Research Professor, or Senior Research Scientist. An inorganic chemist I know, after a very successful career in government, went to the University of California, Los Angeles as a senior research scientist. In such a role she was able to direct research and supervise graduate students without the service and teaching responsibilities associated with tenured faculty members.

It also turns out that tenure can actually limit your freedom of personal choices, particularly if both you and your partner are academics -- something far more common today than just a few years ago. As an associate professor of psychology at the University of Chicago put it to me a few years ago: "My wife and I both just got tenure in our respective departments. We're glad, but now we are really trapped. Now we can't go anywhere!"

Yes, you can always walk away from a tenured position. Yet, after the investment you and your partner put into getting it, that would be very difficult to do and more often than not you would stay where you are. This is particularly true when you realize that even for successfully tenured faculty members the likelihood that as a couple you can leave one institution and both find tenured positions at another one is quite low.

There is also the notion that if you have tenure you are more likely not to do things that will make you more attractive to other academic institutions or to industry. After all, if you can't be fired, why put in the effort to stay at the cutting edge in your field? Most tenured faculty do in fact keep up with their teaching and research, and in fact excel in later stages, but we all know of several situations where that is not the case. [11]

According to Tower, there are three kinds of Ph.D. and postdoc candidates who prefer non-tenure track jobs. They are: (1) The strategists, those who are willing to trade tenure track for a better location, more prestigious institution, opportunities for spouses and quality of life, (2) The pragmatists, those who need a job now and can't wait for the unlikely possibility of a tenure track job later, and (3) The nonconformists, those who just like the freedom to work at their own pace, to switch employers as needed, and who are simply not impressed with the idea of tenure. Tower goes on to point out that in some cases you can actually negotiate a higher salary - as a trade-off against benefits - than if you were on the tenure track. For still others, a non-tenure track position is a way to prove to themselves - without the clock running ? that their qualifications will improve for a tenure track position that may open up at a later date although as noted above this is not a sur
e thing at all.[12]

The strategies for applying for non-tenure track positions are essentially the same as those outlined in this book for tenure track jobs. The differences are that: (1) if you take such applications seriously the likelihood of being successful goes up considerably over those many others who will treat the effort as a throw-away afterthought or a ?backup plan?, (2) your chances of success increase simply because there are so many more such positions than tenure track positions and, (3) your bargaining position goes up if you have an accompanying spouse being considered for a tenure track position since such couples are greatly sought after by institutions and thus you can be more assertive in raising questions and issues that will be important to you.

What specific factors should you pay attention to in non-tenure track negotiations?

According to Porac there are several considerations to at least raise in your negotiations. [13] Since you are likely to have a large, often undergraduate, teaching commitment, you should see if you can reduce the number of different classes you teach and thereby reduce your class preparation time. This will be particularly important in your first year when you will be doing all you can to be successful. In addition, be sure to check on possible teaching assistant help. Also, see if you can arrange to not teach classes on certain days, T/Th or MWF for example, since this will free you up for other activities.

Find out as much as you can about how your teaching will be evaluated and use this information in your course planning. You also want to find out about other aspects of the support you will need to be a successful tenure candidate. Are there resources to guide junior faculty along the path to tenure, what are they and are they effective: does the institution have faculty support programs or services to provide resources and training in teaching (eg., pedagogy, instructional technology, curriculum development), does the department or school have a mechanism for young faculty to be mentored by more senior ones in similar disciplines, whether in academic or non-academic aspects of faculty life? This may be particularly important for women faculty in disciplines where they are a minority, or at institutions where there is a premium placed on acceptance by the department faculty. If your tenure decision will entail a review of your research productivity, as it usually does, you wo
uld want to know if you will have a research budget and what the customary practice is as far as allocating research dollars at the institution. For example, particularly in science and engineering, are you expected to generate all of your research dollars through external funding or are means within the institution to support your research program financially, at least in the early years of your position? The former means that you will be making significant effort writing and submitting grant proposals in order to generate the necessary resources for you to kick-off a research program, while the latter can jump-start that process with internal competition to worry about. The same applies to research assistants; who pays for them?

You will certainly want to know the length of your contract and how you will be evaluated for possible renewal. You need to find out who will make the decision regarding the renegotiation of your contract. As Porac notes, "at some universities contract renewal decisions regarding limited term faculty are made solely by the department chair while at others it is the decision of a committee. You should know whether you must please only one colleague or a committee of colleagues." [13]

Naturally, you will want to know if there is a possibility that your non-tenure track position could be converted to a tenure track appointment. You are not likely to get a firm answer to this question, certainly not one that is binding, and in any case you can be sure that a public search will take place for the position. Your familiarity to your colleagues will have both pluses and minuses in this regard so it is best not to count on such a conversion in your planning.

Finally, remember, a poor, for whatever the reasons, tenure track offer may not be as good as a better non-tenure track offer, at least at the beginning of your academic career. For many potential academics this is an option well worth considering.


* Is the Tenure Path the Best Route for You?

* Negotiating the Non-Tenure Track

* Overexposed? The Questionable Life of a Science Professor

* Variations on the Theme of Academic Careers: The Non-tenure Track Position

* Why Hire Non-Tenure-Track Faculty?