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Creating a High-Quality Place to Teach, Learn, and Work
Research has demonstrated that many campuses do not provide basic supports for non-tenure-track faculty (NTTF), including mentoring, multiyear contracts, professional development, orientation, materials and resources to teach, and administrative support (Baldwin and Chronister 2001; Gappa and Leslie 1993; Hollenshead et. al 2007). NTTF now account for more than 50 percent of the faculty at four-year institutions and two-thirds of the faculty nationally. Many teach full-time or have teaching loads close to full-time and aspire to tenure-track positions. Yet, we have little understanding why the majority of the faculty that are now employed at colleges and universities receive such minimal basic supports that are commonplace for tenure-track faculty. In many cases, they are doing the exact same work as tenure-track faculty in terms of instruction and service. And increasingly NTTF are also being placed on research lines where they are also conducting research similar to tenure-track faculty, particularly in science and medical fields. It is important to try to understand why the policies and practices in place for NTTF are so different from those adopted for tenured or tenure-track faculty. What drives such decisions or lack of action?
Recent research (Kezar 2013) demonstrates that the lack of supports that are basic to effective working conditions, as well as poor institutional policies such as last-minute hiring, is affecting NTTF’s opportunity to perform at a high-quality level. Last-minute scheduling of courses prevents NTTF from being prepared. Having to drive between multiple institutions affects faculty members’ ability to be available to students and leads to psychological fatigue that affects their teaching energy and quality. Lack of communication about institutional and departmental learning goals as well as absence from curriculum discussions prevents NTTF from linking their teaching to larger institutional learning goals. Rigidly pre-prepared syllabi on the one hand do not allow faculty to draw their own strengths in the classroom, and the lack of any sample syllabi on the other hand provides limited understanding of high-quality teaching expectations. The lack of basic infrastructure support such as access to Blackboard, clerical support, and training for online courses and other challenging teaching situations affects how NTFF prepare for and execute courses. While these are just a few examples, they illustrate the challenges presented by current policies and practices. And we also know that these working conditions are affecting student outcomes, such as graduation, transfer between two-year and four-year colleges, and retention (Eagan and Jaeger 2009; Ehrenberg and Zhang 2005; Jacoby 2006). For a detailed discussion of the impact on students, please see http://www.thechangingfaculty.org/.
In order to understand and address this challenge of limited support, we conducted a national survey of academic leaders (deans) to better understand how they think about support for NTTF. The research question we asked is: To what degree do deans provide supportive policies for NTTF? For example, do administrators feel that NTTF should be supported, and how? What might be hindering them from supporting NTTF? We have ample research that demonstrates we need to change practices; therefore it is important to understand why needed policies and practices have not emerged after twenty years of calls for reform. Some have suggested that policies and practices to better support NTTF are not provided because of limited funds.
This paper emerged out of a larger project called the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success. The Delphi Project is a national effort involving all major higher education stakeholders including policy makers, accreditation agencies, academic leaders at all levels, unions, faculty groups, and disciplinary societies to address contingency and examine the changing composition of faculty and its impact on institutional and student outcomes. The project is working in partnership with the Association of American Colleges and Universities. The project website has more details about the broader efforts and regularly has new information about new work evolving out of the project.
This study utilized data collected from a survey titled Values, Practices, and Faculty Hiring Decisions of Academic Leaders, which was designed to examine college deans’ views on the professoriate and values and beliefs pertaining to the use of NTTF. The survey also examined pressures influencing deans’ decision making around hiring and policies affecting NTTF. It contained forty-seven items, grouped into the following sections: faculty composition, faculty hiring practices, data related to faculty hiring, policies regarding full and part-time NTTF, and institutional and individual demographic questions. The survey items were developed to examine organizational processes, values of decision makers, and pressures that affect decision making noted in the decision-making literature.
In spring 2012, the survey was sent to the membership of American Conference of Academic Deans and the Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences, two membership organizations comprised of deans of colleges of arts and sciences and liberal arts colleges. These organizations were chosen for their national representation of academic deans at four-year institutions, the administrators often most responsible for hiring and setting policy for NTTF. A total of 278 participants completed the survey, resulting in a 30 percent response rate after accounting for members from institutions that do not have tenure and multiple members from the same institution. Fifty percent of respondents were from private institutions; 22 percent were from doctoral institutions, 48 percent from master’s institutions, 25 percent from baccalaureate institutions, and 5 percent from associates, or other institutions. The results presented here largely focus on trend data from the study.
The survey examined both attitudes toward and the prevalence of offering the following policies for NTTF: orientation, medical benefits, family leave, office space, office supplies, administrative support, structured mentoring, professional development for teaching, professional development for research, paid sabbatical, multiyear contracts, opportunity to serve on committees, opportunity to advise students, and participation in institutional governance. For more detailed descriptions of methods, analyses, and findings, see Gehrke and Kezar (2013).
Supports Provided: Glass Both Half-full, and Half-empty
The study identified that deans are increasingly providing supports for NTTF in the areas of orientation, office supplies, and administrative support, particularly for full-time NTTF members. However, the largest group of NTTF members on the campuses surveyed was part-time faculty. Part-time faculty are much less likely to receive support than full-time faculty. Nine of the policies providing support for part-time faculty exist on less than 23 percent of campuses in the study. Part-time faculty are most likely to receive orientation, office supplies, and office space. However, they rarely serve on committees, receive multiyear contracts or medical benefits, participate in institutional governance, or have the opportunity to advise students or be involved in professional development.
An examination of the policies provided for full-time NTTF is encouraging on the surface, as nine of the fourteen policies were in place on over 70 percent of the campuses in the study. However, some of the policies that have been found to be most important in supporting NTTF in teaching performance—specifically mentoring, professional development, and multiyear contracts (Kezar and Sam 2010)—are still lacking on close to half of the campuses in the sample.
The findings demonstrate that we have advanced since the days of Gappa and Leslie’s (1993) research where NTTF were completely invisible on campus and virtually no policies or practices existed to support them in their work. Increasingly, campuses are seeing that they need to provide policies and practices, particularly for full-time NTTF, whose numbers have grown in recent years. In the early 1990s, full-time NTTF were mostly an anomaly and now they are becoming increasingly common. Given their physical presence day-to-day on campuses (compared to part-time faculty), it is perhaps not surprising to see that changes are being made to support their work. This is encouraging and suggests that we are moving toward policies that can support a high-quality teaching, learning, and work environment. But the findings also suggest that there is much work to be done particularly related to part-time faculty support.
Figure 1. Prevalence of Policies for Full-Time and Part-Time Non-Tenure-Track Faculty for Campuses in Study
Figure 2. Deans’ Values toward Providing Supportive Policies for Full-Time and Part-Time Non-Tenure-Track Faculty
NOTE: Mean values measured on a 5-point Likert-like scale (1 = Strongly Disagree and 5 = Strongly Agree) assessing the extent to which deans feel NTTF should be provided with each policy
Why is Support Provided or Not? Deans' Values Trump All
This study examined not only trends in offering support, but tried to understand how and why support is provided or not. The study specifically explored the relative importance of two different factors on decisions to provide support: deans’ values and external pressures such as limited funds or enrollment surges. Our study also examined organizational processes (e.g., data collection, consultation, planning) as they relate to hiring NTTF, which allows us to extrapolate their importance in making decisions to support NTTF. Through both statistical analyses and coding of open-ended responses, we found that the largest factor associated with whether the institution provided supportive policies for NTTF was deans’ values. If deans place value on supporting NTTF, then the policies are much more likely to be in place. Not only is this evident through surface comparisons of deans’ values and organizational offerings of support (in general, policies are less prevalent on campuses where deans value these policies less), but results of logistic regressions (controlling for institutional characteristics) provide further support for this assertion. In order for NTTF to be more supported, deans need to develop more supportive attitudes.
Also, one issue that arises in the literature is that conflict between individual and organizational values leads to change (Agle and Coldwell 1999; Deal and Kennedy 1982; Posner, Kouzes, and Schmidt 1985; Schein 1985). Deans report that members of their organization (other leaders) do not encourage policies to support NTTF. Thus, if there is not a broader valuing within the organization for the need for NTTF to be supported in their jobs, there is little pressure for change. The current overall value system of higher education (at least among administrative leaders) does not identify support for NTTF as important. These findings suggest a need to create awareness and raise consciousness among deans and other key leaders who might influence deans (such as department chairs, provosts, and presidents) about the importance of support for NTTF to better achieve student learning outcomes. There is a growing research base about the negative impact of poor working conditions on students and campuses (see http://www.thechangingfaculty.org/) that can be used to raise consciousness among campus leaders. But who exactly is responsible for shifting values is unclear. Should accreditation agencies look more closely at the support that is provided for faculty, creating pressure for institutions? We know that accreditors are currently examining this issue. Should boards of trustees be informed of the issue and raise it on campus? The Association for Governing Boards is currently creating a guide for boards about what they should know about faculty and key policy issues related to NTTF. Should boards hold presidents accountable, which might provide more support within the senior ranks of the institution? Deans felt little encouragement from the senior administration for supporting NTTF. What seems clear from these data is that some form of influence or accountability is needed to shape the views of campus leaders—such as deans, provosts, and presidents—about the changing faculty.
The Role of External Pressures
While deans’ values were the strongest predictor of supportive polices and practices being in place, external pressures were also cited by deans and need attention if campuses are to better support NTTF. We asked why deans were unable to provide support for NTTF and the three most significant pressures described include declining budgets, lack of value from others in the institution (already noted), and contractual/unionization issues. Declining budgets made deans question the ability to provide supports, particularly ones that might incur costs. However, it should be noted that they often invoked declining budgets even on items that may have no cost to the institution, such as inclusion in governance, or that have very marginal costs, such as administrative support or office supplies. Deans may decline supportive policies before exploring how much they actually cost, if anything. While declining budgets played a role in their thinking and framing around whether to offer supports, the actual costs of some supports (beyond benefits or paid sabbatical) are quite marginal.
Perceived financial pressures can lead deans to not act on their value systems, resulting in policies not being put in place despite deans’ support for them. For example, deans generally agree that professional development for teaching should be provided for full-time faculty, but budgetary constraints are frequently cited as a reason that this support is not offered.
A second area cited as preventing deans from offering a policy or practice is upper administration’s views and values. Deans note that they report to individuals that do not believe support for NTTF is needed. For example, deans generally feel that structured mentoring should be provided to full-time faculty, yet more than a third of deans who report the lack of policy cite lack of priority from senior leadership. It is important to note that deans also indicate they do not confer regularly with presidents or provosts on decisions related to NTTF. Without much discussion and open dialogue on campuses, leaders may operate off perceived views rather than actual views related to support for NTTF. Is it possible that deans construe calls for being careful financially from senior leaders as lack of support for policies for NTTF?
Deans also cite contract and union issues as reasons for not offering certain policies specifically related to participatory policies, such as governance and advising students. However, the benefits of unionization were made clear by the regression models in the study. Belonging to a union increases the likelihood of NTTF receiving medical and family leave benefits and multiyear contracts. While unionization seems to limit the institutional involvement of NTTF, it does increase the likelihood of receiving personal benefits and job security. Therefore, unions have a mixed role in providing support for NTTF. Unions are trying to protect their members from participation in activities that they are not being paid for and to manage their workloads. However, there are union leaders who have bargained for compensation for student advising and involvement in governance. It may be that deans can speak to union leaders about the benefits of NTTF being involved in governance to improve curriculum and teaching environments and become aware of learning goals and objectives key to student learning. Union leaders may not be familiar with research and data about the impact of faculty being excluded from key institutional processes on the teaching and learning environment. Sharing data with union leaders might help build a bridge to allow for more supportive policies and practices.
Implications and Conclusions
The implication of these competing pressures is that we need strategies and resources for deans who do want to make changes to support NTTF but feel that forces are preventing them from meeting this challenge. How can institutional budgets be re-examined to support all faculty? How might dialogues among different campus leaders be used to shift perspectives? In order to enhance such investigations and conversations, we have developed resources and posted them on the Delphi Project for the Changing Faculty and Student Success website: http://www.thechangingfaculty.org/. One key resource is a guide to help people create a vision for the needed policies and practices that is based on examining data and inquiry: Non-Tenure-Track Faculty on Our Campus: A Guide for Campus Task Forces to Better Understand Faculty Working Conditions and the Necessity for Change. This guide helps deans create task forces and conversations about the nature of and support for the professoriate. The guide asks questions about all the areas that we know are important for supporting faculty but allows campuses to examine the issues within their context. The guide also asks campus teams to collect and examine data so that they better understand the issue and make evidence-based decisions. The website also includes process guides (called Pathways to Change) that provide two-page overviews of campuses that have made changes for NTTF faculty (based on research) and help people see different pathways for creating change.
We also asked deans about strategy, dialogues, staffing plans, governance, and other key organizational tools for shaping core institutional decisions such as the makeup of the faculty and support for all faculty members. While literature on sound decision making in times of external threat and challenge suggests these processes are key to good decision making (Priem, Rasheed, and Kotlic 1995; Rajagolopalan, Rasheed, and Datat 1993), they are used much less than desirable on campuses for decisions related to NTTF faculty.
We highly encourage deans to talk more to senior leaders about decisions around support and to provide data about the implications and negative outcomes that can result if institutions do not provide support. However, it may be that the individuals that deans report to do not believe NTTF need or deserve supportive policies. If that is the case, one implication of this study may be the importance of raising the consciousness of presidents and provosts about the problems of inadequate support for NTTF. While our questions focused mostly on strategy, dialogue, or planning as it relates to hiring (see Kezar and Gehrke 2013), one can extrapolate that these processes are also underused for guiding policies and practices.
Our research shows that despite deans citing economic pressures as reasons for not providing supports, their values still play the major role. Perhaps the conversation has focused on financial constraints for too long and it is time to address how deans come to develop their values pertaining to supporting employees. The influence of deans’ values on support for NTTF suggests that deans could play a larger role in advocating for supports in institutional discussions. Also, if deans were to develop more supportive attitudes toward NTTF, contract negotiations with unions could lead to better agreements with universities to provide more of these supports that enhance the teaching and learning environment.
Our conclusion from the survey is that deans can and should provide more support for NTTF. What we need is for them to truly believe in the value of supporting NTTF and then to use the guides provided by the Delphi project and the professional guidance offered by organizations like CCAS and ACAD to help them in brainstorming solutions. Then, we will have a high-quality place to teach, learn, and work.
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Adrianna Kezar is a professor of higher education, and Sean Gehrke is a researcher at the Pullias Center for Higher Education, both of the University of Southern California.