Open Forum: Non-Tenure-Track Faculty – Life Without Security

Robert Dickow

Note: The College Music Society held open forums during its 2004 National Conference in San Francisco to discuss the Professional Life Initiative reports. This is a brief synopsis of the Forum on Non-Tenure-Track Faculty held at the Conference.

Barbara Bennett (University of California, Riverside) provided an overview of the Society’s progress to date in its work studying non-tenure track and part-time faculty issues. Participants discussed their concerns and suggestions. The subjects fell into two broad categories: personal and professional concerns, and suggestions for continued broad CMS involvement as well as particular services the Society should offer.

Most of those present at the session are currently in nontenure track positions. Several people noted that faculty who serve in these roles are often highly qualified, excellent and dedicated teachers, performers and researchers. Yet many observed that they felt ignored by their full-time colleagues or were outsiders amongst those tenured or tenure track in their departments. People suggested some need for ‘building bridges’ between non-tenure track faculty and regular faculty. One possibility might be the development of systems for tenured or tenure-track faculty to mentor non-tenure track faculty. To foster this, mentoring activities should be officially recognized and valued in tenure and promotion reviews. Mainstream faculty should be educated and encouraged to help and support part-time and non-tenure track faculty.

Many participants encouraged the CMS to continue support policies and programs, including reduced fees for meetings and services. To help those seeking tenured positions, the CMS could develop its Website to include dedicated BBS-type discussion areas, sample résumés and help on professional dossier-building, and ‘how-tos’ about ways to find and get more secure positions.

In addition to helping individuals with their professional concerns, the CMS could work toward helping the profession in a broad way. The trend of higher education institutions over about the last 30 years to use proportionately more nontenure track and part-time faculty has many negative aspects for faculty and for the quality of education in general. The American Federation of Teachers 1998 reports on this alarming development suggest that it is in the Society’s interest to become more pro-active, if not politically, at least in terms of influence. The Society could, for example, help gradually get more faculty into tenured positions by encouraging accrediting agencies to watch-dog the colleges and universities and pressure them to establish higher proportions of tenured positions. CMS should continue to work against the pressures to weaken and eliminate the tenure process. CMS could increase its role in educating the public, faculties, administrators and public policy-makers about this issue which is in the best interests of everyone.