Subcommittee debates future of NTT faculty

A subcommittee of the Faculty Governance Committee (FGC) is currently discussing the situation of non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty at St. Olaf – an issue that has bounced back and forth between the FGC and the Faculty Life Committee for years.

FGC has been wrestling over two policy proposals, both of which emerged from this NTT subcommittee. These documents, given to the Manitou Messenger, focus on two main issues: a regularized review process for non-tenured faculty, and contractual status of longtime NTT faculty. These two plans offer markedly different solutions to the job security concerns of contigent professors.

The first proposal, drafted by Provost Marci Sortor, suggests a new faculty position called “Professor of Instruction.” This title would be granted to a non-tenure professor who has taught at the college for three years “in an area where there is demonstrated and on-going curricular need for a term, rather than a tenure track, position.” This professor would then be reviewed on a six-year cycle. The proposal offers no possibility for tenure promotion.

The counter proposal goes much further. Drafted by Associate Professor of Religion Mara Benjamin, Associate Professor of Education Elizabeth Leer, Entrepreneur in Residence Sian Muir and Assistant Professor of Theater Jeanne Willcoxon, this proposal presents a faculty-focused policy proposal. It suggests a concrete procedure for review and potential promotion of NTT faculty.

For short-term NTT faculty, often young professors on one-year contracts who go on to seek tenure elsewhere, the proposal would allow them to request a review of scholarship at the end of each academic year. Any NTT who teaches three consecutive years on one year contracts would automatically be promoted to a second category of non-tenure employment.

Herein lies the radical nature of the proposal. After the initial three years, non-tenure faculty would be reviewed for a three year contract. At the end of the three years and another review, the faculty member would submit to review every six-years. This proposal includes an option for contingent faculty in this second category to seek tenure after their first six-year review.

Many faculty members believe that long-term NTT faculty deserve better than repeated one year contracts. They point to Willcoxon, Associate Professor of History Eric Fure-Slocum and Assistant Professor of Dance Sheryl Saterstrom, all of whom have taught at St. Olaf for more than a decade on combinations of one and two year contracts. This second policy proposal would offer longtime NTTs greater stability.

“One of reasons that we’re arguing for a more regularized system of contracts and multi-year contracts is so we don’t have to go through [the renewal process] year after year after year. And, when is our contract going to show up? That’s part of the question, too, that we always face,” Fure-Slocum said. “Yes, people have said we have [teaching positions] for next year, but until I see the contract, I don’t really know that for sure.”

Despite the six-year period specific in the faculty manual, Fure-Slocum has taught as an NTT for 16 years at St. Olaf.

The administration sees the problem differently. From their perspective, contingent faculty with short term contracts are necessary to maintiain institutional flexibility.

“I’m generally against things that restrict institutional flexibility. So things that automatically do this or automatically do that, I tend not to favor,” President David Anderson ’74 said.

Though he declined to comment on the specifics of the policy proposals, Anderson did address what he sees as the pressing issue regarding non-tenure track faculty.

“I think that we need to be more disciplined with extending people beyond six years if that’s going to be creating an expectation of permanent employment, because that’s not the plan,” Anderson said. “And by the way, one of the things you hear people say is ‘Well, if there’s been a need for the last six years for this person, isn’t that enough proof for you that there’s a permanent need here?’ and the answer to that is ‘No.’”

A final issue in both proposals is the review process for tenured faculty. The second proposal includes an automatic review, or “trigger,” that would alert department chairs when one of their faculty required review. This proposed change has also encountered administrative opposition.

Despite the dueling proposals, both faculty and administration recognize that long-term NTT faculty contracts need to be discussed and reevaluated.

“I think that anything the institution can do to improve that, in terms of making longer term contracts possible is really important,” Associate Professor of Religion and FGC member Jamie Schillinger said. “And as part of the faculty leadership and as a chair, I am committed to trying to do whatever I can to make longer term contracts possible.”