Officials at Central Michigan University say non-tenured faculty members are still a minority at CMU, against a national trend that sees fewer tenure-line faculty members on campuses nationwide.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 70 percent of instructors at all colleges and universities in the United States are ineligible for tenure. The study found 60 percent of teachers at four-year schools and 85 percent at community colleges are off the tenure line.
Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Ray Christie said CMU has maintained a higher number of tenure-track instructors to keep in line with the university’s goals of providing quality research and curriculum development.
Tenured instructors, whose contracts are much longer than non-tenured or fixed-term instructors, are required to engage in research developments and services to the college. Fixed-term, he said, are only required to teach.
“We have deliberately invested in more tenure-track lines,” he said. “That is to support a desire to increase research and creative endeavors. You definitely need them to bring up new programs. We’ve done a fine job in maintaining the balance.”
Christie estimated that out of about 1,000 instructors at CMU, 650 are tenured or have been guaranteed tenure in the future. This means they operate under six-year contracts and cannot be terminated without specific cause.
Fixed-term instructors are hired on for one-year contracts, whose positions may be eliminated at any time based on need.
“Fixed-term ranks provide flexibility,” Christie said. “As enrollment ebbs and flows, so do our needs. I’m proud that CMU has done better than the national data. It’s ideal if your goals are research and creative endeavors.”
The Faculty Association at CMU is designed to accommodate collective bargaining and represent tenure-line instructors at the university. FA President Joshua Smith said having more tenured instructors is optimal for higher education.
“Ultimately, it’s about high-quality education,” he said. “Non-tenure are very dedicated instructors, but there’s a high turnover rate. Who knows how long they’re going to be here? The continuity is less likely to be there for the student. We have a good faculty association that has made the case that a good university is one that has that continuity.”
To the Union of Teaching Faculty, which represents fixed-term instructors, the balance is a matter of funding. UTF President and philosophy instructor Mark Shelton sees the university in the middle of that financial struggle. CMU’s success in maintaining tenure-line numbers, he said, is due to continued financial stability.
“CMU has been fairly stable in its ratios between tenure-line and fixed-term faculty for a while, because it has found ways to keep its financial situation reasonably stable over those years,” Shelton said.
In order to be successful in the classroom, Shelton said all instructors must be able to execute research in their fields.
Research can be difficult for fixed-term faculty. According to Shelton, they are required to teach 12 credit hours, whereas tenure-lines are only required to teach nine.
“The quality of higher education depends, in part, on faculty doing research in their fields,” Shelton said. “Because of workload, fixed-term faculty are often pushed to the limits on all fronts, and at some point, trade-offs become likely. But it’s not good for education if a faculty member is choosing between having the opportunity to do research and devoting time to students.”
Shelton hoped that in the future, fixed-term workloads would be better suited to allow the non-tenured instructors to commit to research in their fields, as well.
“The point is that the jobs (instructors) do can be even better if they are afforded a better situation for doing all aspects of their work in the first place,” he said. “So, it would be better overall for education at CMU if more faculty were tenure-line, since tenure-line workloads are designed to afford opportunity for research.”