Toolkit Resources: Campus Models & Case Studies

Carleton College

Redefining Faculty Roles at Carleton College

October
2009

During the 1998-99 academic year, Victoria Morse and her husband, Bill North, experienced the "two-body problem" firsthand. The term, which originally was coined to explain a phenomenon in physics, has come into popular use to describe the problem academic couples face in finding two fulfilling academic positions in the same geographic location. That year, Morse and North each received postdoctoral fellowships in medieval history—Morse's in Wisconsin and North's in Washington, DC. By the end of that year, Morse says, "we were certain that we weren't interested in living in different places." But the couple received conflicting advice from colleagues about whether to reveal their relationship while on the job market. Some told them to make sure to take off their wedding rings before interviews for the best chance at positions, while others told them to be completely up front that they were, in fact, looking for two positions in history.

Ultimately, they decided to be transparent about their situation.  Each of them interviewed at institutions that were uninterested in having the partner on campus. But their fortune changed when each applied to Carleton College, in Northfield, Minnesota. "Carleton came back and said they were interested in interviewing both of us," Morse explains. When Carleton called them after the interviews and proposed two half-time tenure-track positions, "I think we maybe talked about it for ten minutes before we called them back and said absolutely," North remembers. Ten years later, the couple—now both associate professors of history—are part of a small but visible segment of the faculty at Carleton: those in part-time tenured or tenure-track faculty appointments.

Options for Hiring Part-Time Faculty

As institutions across the country struggle in tight economic times to maintain high-quality learning experiences, new attention is being paid to the increasing use of part-time and contingent faculty. Faculty members—and the time they spend with students—are one of the most important factors in student achievement. But not all campuses approach the use of part-time faculty in the same way.

At Carleton, a small liberal arts college of about 2,000 students, the classification of "regular part-time faculty member" stands out from the more familiar full-time tenure-track and adjunct positions described in the faculty handbook.  A regular part-time faculty member carries at least a half-time teaching load and teaches during at least two of Carleton's three terms, explains Beverly Nagel, Carleton dean of the college. Regular part-time faculty also advise students and serve on committees, though their involvement is proportional to their teaching load. And regular part-timers receive all the same benefits as full-time tenure-track faculty—including the same size professional development accounts, the ability to receive internal research-support grants, leaves with pay (sabbaticals), and voting rights in the faculty affairs committee. Regular part-time faculty make up only a small proportion of the faculty at Carleton—about 4 percent—but their positions help demonstrate that there is another option in faculty appointments beyond traditional tenure-track positions and the adjunct positions that have become increasingly common.

One of the factors that helped North and Morse make their decision to come to Carleton with confidence was the fact that the college already had, in its faculty handbook, a clear description of what a half-time tenure-track position would involve.  Morse and North each met with their dean early in their employment to discuss the timeframes for tenure review. Because Carleton's policies stated that split positions, such as the medieval history position the couple shared, were still tenured separately, Morse and North each drew up a tenure plan. Both ended up undergoing tenure review in their eighth years at Carlton, in part because they each taught extra classes along the way, therefore hastening their time to tenure.  "It was extremely important to me that a tenure-track part-time job was an institutionally established position, rather than a place where they were scratching their heads," Morse says. "If we had been treated like we were entering an unexplored wilderness, I would have been much more cautious."

Defining and Developing Part-Time Positions

Nancy Wilkie, Carleton's William H. Laird Professor of Classics, Anthropology, and the Liberal Arts, was one of those who did enter "an unexplored wilderness," and helped pave the way at Carleton for people like Morse and North. Wilkie came to Carleton in 1974 to teach classics on a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. She was continually rehired on one-year appointments after the grant ran out. "I was on one-year appointments for a very long time," she remembers. "I was doing a great deal of research, taking students to Greece in the summers for archeological projects. I finally talked to the dean about how this put me in a difficult position when applying for grants and being forced to put 'adjunct' next to my name. I eventually got a letter saying that "adjunct" had been dropped from my title." Still, in the early 1980s, Carleton had no official policy regarding part-time tenure-track appointments.  In the mid-1980s, Wilkie says the college decided to open tenure to part-time faculty members who were teaching at least a half-time load. "They were absolutely one of the first colleges in the country to do this," she says. "I, of course, asked to come up for tenure review right away. I got tenure after eleven years at Carleton." Since then, Wilkie has taught at two-thirds time and continued to take students on archeological research trips, while also taking several sabbaticals. Currently on sabbatical, she is working on research about a Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka, and will travel there this academic year. "This position has given me time to focus on my research and to actively involve my students in it. It's made me a better teacher," she says.

Anne Ulmer, a longtime Carleton professor of German, also helped develop her own regular part-time position. In the late 1970s, Ulmer and a colleague, Julie Klassen, taught and shared an office at St. Olaf College, also located in Northfield, Minnesota. UImer and Klassen both applied for German positions at Carleton, which had two openings—one for a half-time German professor, and one for a full-time position. The two women proposed that they share the positions and worked out a contract with the college that allowed them to trade off every year, with one of them teaching a four-course load and the other teaching a five-course load. Because their schedules varied each year, their salaries varied, too, depending whether each was in her four-course or five-course year. Though the positions were not initially advertised as tenure track, Ulmer received tenure in 1987, after about nine years at Carleton and after the administrative changes that made tenure possible for part-time faculty. Though she acknowledges that her position is unusual, Ulmer says the setup has been perfect for her. "I've been very happy and it's hard to think about retiring," she says. "I like my colleagues and the students at Carleton immensely." Ulmer's colleague Klassen retired recently, and now Ulmer teaches more than half time, with a four-course load this year. "From the college's perspective, they get a good deal out of this," she says. "I've served as department chair, I'm advising students, and I'm doing committee work. But they're also covering my health care and my pension, and I've had time for several sabbaticals, doing programs overseas."

Adapting to Changing Times

Despite its success with its regular part-time faculty members, Carleton still has many more adjunct and continuing-appointment faculty members than regular part-timers.  While these positions are less secure than regular full-time and part-time appointments, Carleton still tries to ensure that adjunct and continuing-appointment faculty feel supported, Dean of the College Nagel says. Lecturers can apply for periodical leave and support funding, and in many cases, a lecturer position becomes a senior lecturer position after six or seven years, which helps provide a greater degree of continuity for the faculty member. A small number of senior lecturers have applied for and received sabbaticals. New lecturers also are assigned mentors from the ranks of the regular faculty, as are new tenure-track positions, though the lecturers tend to share their mentors with a few other people. And Carleton administrators try to maintain open channels of communication with adjuncts about their needs. "In the past few years, we've been meeting once a year with a group of continuing lecturers to talk about their concerns," Nagel says.  One issue she's working on is how lecturers might have a voice in the faculty affairs committee, since they don't currently vote for a representative.

Carleton is also currently in the process of transitioning from a six-course teaching load to a five-course load for full-time faculty members, bringing up questions about how all types of appointments will change.  "The faculty have concerns about the regular part-time positions and the continuing positions and ensuring equity, resources, and fairness. We haven't solved all the issues, but we'll continue to work on it," Nagel says. "I do think these are forward-looking and progressive policies that have helped us maintain people who might have otherwise left."

Wilkie, Ulmer, North, and Morse all agree that holding a regular part-time faculty position works well economically in a small Midwestern town like Northfield, but might not be directly duplicable in other, more expensive areas of the country. "This wouldn't work out if you didn't have a working spouse," Wilkie acknowledges. Still, they encourage other institutions to tweak the idea of regular part-time appointments to fit their own circumstances. North says he knows of at least one other couple who have used his and Morse's positions as a model to develop a similar situation at another school. They advise faculty members hoping to set up a similar position to be straightforward with search committees. "We've realized that if you don't tell people, they have no ability to start thinking about the possibilities," Morse says.

Institution: 
Carleton College