U-C Senate discusses proposal for non-tenure track faculty employment guidelines

By MaryCate Most

Through the newly developed Provost’s Communication for Specialized Faculty, the University hopes to create more stability and employment predictability in the lives of non-tenure-track faculty members.

“Part of what we are trying to accomplish with this effort is to create career paths,” campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said.

At the Urbana-Champaign Senate meeting Monday, Associate Provost Katherine Galvin presented the Provost Communication, which redefines the guidelines for hiring, promoting and evaluating nontenured, specialized faculty.

“The reason for this initiative was a convergence of several things going on,” Galvin said. “But more fundamentally, (there was) the desire to do something more — recognizing the contributions of these employees and taking steps so we can maintain the very best non-tenure-system faculty.”

Nontenured faculty members may teach classes, hold office hours, help plan curricula, grade essays, conduct research and perform any duties that tenured faculty do. The distinguishing feature between tenured and specialized faculty is that tenured faculty members were hired to support all three of the University missions: teaching, discovery and public engagement; while specialized faculty were hired to fulfill only one of those three missions, Kaler said.

These specialized faculty members are hired on a semester-to-semester or year-to-year basis, which may cause them feelings of insecurity, Galvin said. Now, departments may extend contracts to up to three years and may promote lecturers and instructors to senior lecturers and senior instructors when that department determines that the faculty member deserves a promotion.

The drafting of the Provost Communication follows two years of discussion with faculty across the University, Kaler said. 

“All of the initiatives in this document are the result of a lot of communications with people across campus,” she said. “It is a direct response to what they have said is important to them.”

However, the communication, which is a year and a half in the making, has not yet been enacted. At Monday’s meeting, the academic senate discussed the communication and voted largely in favor of the draft. The vote was discounted though, after Mary Mallory, head of the Documents Library, pointed out that the senate had not reached quorum and was therefore unable to vote on the matter at that time.

The Urbana-Champaign Senate’s consideration of the Provost Communication led to much discussion regarding the diction used in the document.

“I wish to say, first of all, that this is a step in the right direction,” said nontenured faculty member Sara Benson, of the College of Law. “I have been on the nontenure track for eight years, so it is quite a long time to be in no-man’s land, not knowing if there are any steps for promotion.”

Benson encouraged the Office of the Provost to hold an open forum for all faculty, after seeing that few nontenured faculty are members of the senate. She also called for some changes to be made to the language of the draft in order to ensure more clarity regarding non-tenured-faculty rights.

Some senators were also some concerned about a lack of non-tenure-track faculty representation within the senate, but Galvin clarified that a lack of representation did not have to do with this document and that representatives were selected in a separate process.

Another disagreement that was addressed by multiple senators was use of the term “specialized” to describe non-tenure-track faculty.

Vice Provost Barbara Wilson said this term was not decided entirely by the Office of the Provost, but instead through conversations with non-tenure-track faculty.

“The general consensus was that they needed a new phrase,” Wilson said. “It was in many peoples’ minds, a step in the right direction. It is not perfect.”

Wilson made clear that the document was not in its final stage and that she and Galvin were open to suggestions.

“We are happy to continue meeting,” Wilson said. “This is a draft document at this point, but I just want to reiterate that this isn’t coming out of nowhere, and we have really consulted as widely as we can.”

The Office of the Provost will continue to work on the communication in hopes of creating a plan that will allow the most stability to non-tenure-track faculty.

“I think that on this campus, people value the work of specialized faculty and there seems to be pretty common consensus to do what we can to predict employment and give more opportunities for career advancement opportunities for these faculty,” Kaler said. “This will help individuals in these positions feel more connected and want to stay with the University.”

MaryCate can be reached at [email protected]