Who should count as University faculty?

Who should count as University faculty?

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The petition for a faculty union election has prompted an important debate about who is faculty and what it means to be faculty at the U of M. The university’s central administration and, now, a group of tenured faculty have argued for an exclusive and narrow definition that either bars many contingent faculty or removes all contingent faculty from our legally defined “instructional” unit.

Dear Colleagues,

The petition for a faculty union election has prompted an important debate about who is faculty and what it means to be faculty at the U of M. The university’s central administration and, now, a group of tenured faculty have argued for an exclusive and narrow definition that either bars many contingent faculty or removes all contingent faculty from our legally defined “instructional” unit. As justification, they assert that there is a “bright line of core differences in function” between contingent and tenure-line faculty. We, as tenure-line faculty, write to challenge this view and argue that our fellow scholars in the contingent faculty share many of our responsibilities and concerns, and belong in our community of interest at the University.

The argument against a shared community of interest highlights a part of the mission statement of the university that is focused on high-quality research. However, the same mission statement also emphasizes teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Undergraduate teaching is a core function of land grant institutions; here in Minnesota, it is a central basis for the University’s funding from the state and, in turn, for the funding colleges and departments receive from the administration. At private institutions, undergraduate education is typically valued as significantly as research. The code of the AAUP clearly indicates that undergraduate teaching responsibilities are meant to be fulfilled largely by tenured or tenure-track faculty. This sentiment is also reflected in the operative code in our university: tenure and promotion decisions in most units must take into account competence in and concern for teaching, and departments are required to justify employing non-tenure line faculty excessively in fulfilling this aspect of the mission. Finally, research, graduate, and undergraduate education are not easy to compartmentalize. Considerations for research funding, for example, are often enhanced by engagement with undergraduate education.

Contingent faculty share significantly in fulfilling the teaching mission with tenure line faculty. Among many other responsibilities, they develop and teach many of the same classes as tenure-line faculty; participate in faculty governance, department meetings, and curriculum design; design new degree programs; and hold key administrative positions in departments, including those of Directors of Undergraduate Studies. Moreover, contingent faculty are not limited to the role of instructors. Many are engaged in scholarly, artistic, and research activities, often under the aegis of UROP. Many also supervise, teach, and advise graduate students.

The differences in the responsibilities of tenure-track and contingent faculty are matters of degree and vary widely among departments. Those differences are important, but they are not categorical. There is no “bright line” between tenure-line and contingent faculty. In fact, there are numerous contingent faculty on whose teaching, research, and service their departments critically depend. Some of these individuals have moved into the tenure stream once tenure lines opened in their departments. Our colleagues have argued that contingent faculty are engaged only on an opportunistic basis and for a short time period. The reality is quite different: many fill what are intended to be long term roles, even if they are hired on a yearly basis.

Tenured and tenure-track faculty have access to impartial periodic reviews of their teaching, teaching development assistance, and an associated reward process. If high standards are to be maintained, contingent faculty should have access to this too. Teaching and research of any kind at the university require the protection of academic freedom, which is not guaranteed for contingent faculty. That such things might be missing for contingent faculty as our colleagues claim seems in fact to be an assault on our shared interests in fostering and delivering high quality research and teaching rather than a verification of our differences.

Our colleagues argue that there is no community of interest due to contingent faculty being hired because “there are simply not enough regular faculty to teach all the required undergraduate courses.” This is a well-documented trend across the nation and rather than being simply due to budgetary constraints, as our colleagues claim, we see this both as an attack on tenure and an exploitation of our contingent colleagues. A joint effort of all faculty could better ameliorate these problems than tenure line faculty working alone. Tenure line and contingent faculty in other universities with combined units have worked closely together to win both increases in tenure lines and academic freedom protections for contingent faculty, as well as better pay and benefits for contingent faculty that disincentivizes the replacement of tenure line positions with contingent positions.

Differences in the terms of employment for different categories of faculty do exist. But so too are there differences between tenured faculty in, for example, different departments and administrative units. No sensible union would have as its mission the submersion of such differences, such as through the imposition of the same contract terms for all members. Rather, our argument is that these differences should not obscure the common core of our interests that must be jointly addressed to ensure an environment that will help all of us fulfill our educational and research missions.

 

Lisa Albrecht, Associate Professor, Social Work

Ron Aminzade, Professor, Sociology

Greg Anderson, Professor, School of Mathematics

Christine Baeumler, Associate Professor, Art

Mark Bjork, Professor emeritus, School of Music

Mark Borrello, Associate Professor, Ecology, Evolution and Behavior; History of Science, Technology and Medicine

Bruce Braun, Professor, Geography, Environment and Society

Timothy Brennan, Professor, Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature

Marilyn Bruin, Professor, Design, Housing & Apparel

Lisa Channer, Associate Professor, Theatre Arts and Dance

Juliette Cherbuliez, Associate Professor, French and Italian

Bernardo Cockburn, McKnight Professor, Mathematics

Jerry Cohen, Professor, Horticultural Science

James Cotner, Professor, Ecology, Evolution and Behavior

Irene Duranczyk, Associate Professor, College of Education and Human Development

Carl Elliott, Professor, Center for Bioethics

Lorenzo Fabbri, Assistant Professor, French and Italian

Ann Fallon, McKnight Professor, Entomology

Daniel Gallaher, Professor, Food Science and Nutrition

Paul Garrett, Professor, School of Mathematics

Michael Goldman, Professor, Sociology and Global Studies

Sumanth Gopinath, Associate Professor, Music

Marcia Hathaway, Professor, Animal Science

Allen Isaacman, Regents Professor, History

Nicholas Jordan, Professor, Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Mindy Kurzer, Professor, Food Science and Nutrition

Georgiana May, Professor, Ecology, Evolution and Behavior

Rick McCormick, Professor, German, Scandinavian and Dutch

Richard McGehee, Professor, Mathematics

Jason McGrath, Associate Professor, Asian Languages and Literatures 

Bill Messing, Professor, School of Mathematics

Rebecca Montgomery, Associate Professor, Forest Resources

Peter Morrell, Associate Professor, Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Gopalan Nadathur, Professor, Computer Science and Engineering

August Nimtz, Professor, Political Science

Karen Oberhauser, Professor, Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology

Neil Olszewski, Professor, Plant and Microbial Biology

Yuichiro Onishi, Associate Professor, African American and African Studies

Rosemarie Park, Associate Professor, Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development

Thomas Pepper, Associate Professor, Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature

Victor Reiner, McKnight Professor, School of Mathematics

Matthias Rothe, Associate Professor, German, Scandinavian, and Dutch

Naomi Scheman, Professor emerita of Philosophy and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies

Jenny Schmid, Associate Professor, Art

Ruth Shaw, Professor, Ecology, Evolution and Behavior

Suvadip Sinha, Assistant Professor, Asian Languages and Literatures

Peter Sorensen, Professor, Fisheries, Wildlife & Conservation Biology

Steven Sperber, Professor, Mathematics

Eric Van Wyk, Associate Professor, Computer Science and Engineering

Frances Vavrus, Professor, Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development

Eva von Dassow, Associate Professor, Classical and Near Eastern Studies

Christophe Wall-Romana, Associate Professor, French and Italian

David Walsh, Associate Professor, Music