Pres Schill’s “Open Mike” acknowledges importance of UO’s Non-Tenure Track Faculty, but

Dear Colleagues,

As my two-year anniversary as president of the University of Oregon approaches, enough time has elapsed for me to do some assessment and make some course corrections. Over the past 21 months we have achieved quite a number of things. We have hired great new deans for five of our eight schools and colleges; we have worked with all members of our community to increase diversity and inclusion on campus; we have begun the hard process of putting the university and each of our schools and colleges on a firm financial foundation; we have received the largest gift in the history of flagship public universities to launch the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact; and we laid the cornerstones for increasing student success and timely graduation. With each dean and faculty member we have hired, each gift we have received, each change to our administrative practices, and each student we have enrolled, we have emphasized our single-minded aspiration to become a great research-intensive university.

I am proud of what we, collectively, have achieved. But today’s Open Mike will focus on a failure, rather than a success. I am concerned that in my rush to change the trajectory of our school, to replace the chaos of five years of revolving presidencies, and to build our academic core, I have not appropriately acknowledged and articulated the valuable contributions of all members of our community. In this Open Mike I would like to write specifically about our non-tenure-track faculty (NTTFs) and discuss some of the issues we are grappling with that involve this important part of our community.

Instructors, lecturers, and professors of practice have always played a role in American universities. In recent years, however, their proportionate numbers have grown tremendously. Many provide valuable instruction to our students throughout the university, especially in the arts and sciences. Some do sponsored research, particularly in the natural sciences and College of Education. And, a significant number bring unique skills and perspectives to the classroom. Increasingly, as universities offer students experiential opportunities, NTTFs, particularly in professional schools, can tie what students learn in class to the work world beyond college.

The impetus for most of the growth of NTTFs at the UO and elsewhere, however, has been financial. Cash-strapped universities, particularly in the public sector, have increasingly substituted NTTFs for tenure-related faculty to save money and increase flexibility. Full-time NTTF salaries at public universities, on average, are 22 percent lower than assistant professors; 47 percent lower than full professors according to data from the American Association of University Professors. Part-time and pro tem NTTFs are often paid much lower salaries and many find it necessary to put together jobs from more than one university to make ends meet. At the UO, our reliance on NTTFs followed a two-decade wave of public disinvestment in higher education in Oregon. The number of NTTFs continued to grow, peaking in 2015-16, even as undergraduate enrollment shrunk.

The value of our NTTFs and the high esteem in which they are held here are reflected by the fact that the University of Oregon is a leader in professionalizing the role of nontenured faculty. For example, the first collective bargaining agreement negotiated between United Academics and the university reclassified hundreds of part-time “adjunct” faculty jobs as career positions, removing the old “up and out” system. Salary floors were created, career paths were set forth, multi-year contracts were offered, and significant promotional salary increases were agreed to. These were important advances for NTTFs, many of whom have dedicated their entire careers to the UO. An important role in shared governance was also fortified; indeed, last year the president of the University Senate was an NTTF. These changes enhanced the stature of NTTFs on campus, but they also greatly increased their cost.

For a variety of reasons the University of Oregon’s reliance on NTTFs is greater and began earlier than our peer public research universities. The effects of our disproportionate dependence on NTTF faculty are many. With respect to the quality of teaching, the picture is ambiguous. Some early studies indicate that students who are taught in environments with more NTTFs (compared to tenure-related faculty) are less likely to graduate on time.[1] On the other hand, a recent article coauthored by our former colleague David Figlio shows that at Northwestern University, teaching quality (as measured by course evaluations) was actually higher for NTTFs than tenure-line faculty.[2] There can be no doubt that for many classes, especially those offered in the professional schools, NTTFs play a unique and vital role in imparting wisdom that only years of professional experience can provide. And in all schools and colleges, NTTFs offer years of valuable experience in teaching and advising our students, and they increase students’ access to classes.

Perhaps I am biased by my own identity and history, but I believe that research-active (usually tenure-related) faculty can offer something unique and special to our students. In my experience, there is a certain magic that takes place in the classroom when faculty members share with the students the results of their own research. In addition, having an active researcher as one’s professor creates opportunities for students to engage in original research, which, in turn, enriches their experience and positively impacts student retention and successful graduation. Teaching and research can and should go hand in hand.

I have made hiring additional tenure-related faculty one of my top priorities. One consequence of our disproportionate reliance on NTTFs has been our underperformance in research. The hard truth is that with some notable exceptions the University of Oregon has not distinguished itself among its peers in research productivity. Whether the measure is dollars of research support obtained, citations earned, or the qualitative judgments of our peers, we are not performing at the level to which we all aspire, nor are we making the impact we would like. There are many things we can do about this, but focusing more of our resources on hiring research-active (tenure-related) faculty is one of the principal strategies we are pursuing.

Increasing our tenure-related faculty to promote our role as a great research university is not inconsistent with maintaining a strong corps of dedicated and talented NTTFs. For those NTTFs whose primary role is teaching, however, continued employment is highly sensitive to student demand. Given the gross underfunding by the state of our university over the past two decades and the more recent steep tuition increases for in-state students, we simply must use every dollar we have efficiently and effectively. We cannot be in a situation such as exists in some departments at the UO where NTTFs do the bulk of our undergraduate teaching, leaving our TTFs to staff upper level courses with few students. That is not fair to state taxpayers, to our students, and, quite frankly, to faculty members in other departments who teach large numbers of students. While some may argue that it is beneficial to our research productivity to shift teaching responsibility to NTTFs, this jeopardizes our students’ access to faculty engaged in research and is beyond the financial capacity of our university.

Our deans are currently grappling with how to balance their budgets, engender student success, and promote research excellence. In areas of declining enrollment we have and will continue to experience a reduction in NTTFs. In areas of growth, we will likely see increases. These fluctuations have nothing to do with meeting a “metric;” they have everything to do with making sure that our scarce faculty resources are appropriately deployed, and that our twin missions of teaching and research flourish.

As the schools and colleges make these necessary adjustments, we must understand that we are affecting valued members of our community. The same respect that caused the UO to greatly improve the working conditions and compensation of our NTTFs needs to be accorded to those who will lose their positions in the coming months and years. Indeed, I do not feel that I have been sufficiently attentive to this principle, and for that I apologize.

There will always be an important role for NTTFs at our university. Their teaching, their research activities in areas such as the sciences and the College of Education, their mentorship of students and connection to our professions will always be something we value even as we move forward in emphasizing the importance of our research mission.

Sincerely,
Michael H. Schill
President and Professor of Law

[1] See, for example, Ronald G. Ehrenberg and Liang Zhang, “Do Tenure and Tenure-Track Faculty Matter?” Journal of Human Resources, Summer 2005.
[2] See David N. Figlio, Morton O. Schapiro, and Kevin B. Soter, “Are Tenure Track Professors Better Teachers?” Review of Economics and Statistics, October 2015. The authors attribute this disparity in part to the fact that some tenure-track faculty are poor teachers whereas NTTFs who teach badly are not renewed.

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18 Responses to Pres Schill’s “Open Mike” acknowledges importance of UO’s Non-Tenure Track Faculty, but

  1. Bob Choquette says:

    “Many provide valuable instruction to our students throughout the university, especially in the arts and sciences.”

    Really glad to know that MANY of us do valuable work, but since I’m not in CAS, I guess the chances that my instruction is valuable is less.

    Who edits this crap – Sean Spicer? United Airlines?

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    • Oryx says:

      So quick to be outraged! There are NTTFs who do not teach, e.g. research-only soft-money NTTF positions. Therefore, even if all instructors were wonderful, it would be correct to say “Many [NTTFs] provide valuable instruction…”

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      • later alligator says:

        It would also be correct to say when meaning that the scores of NTTF getting layoffs are worthless. Isn’t it great when we can both be right?

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      • Bob Choquette says:

        Assuming you’re a TTF, how would you feel if the president told you that “Many TTFs provide valuable instruction, especially in (some college other than yours)?

        I’m here because I love teaching, so yes, I’m have every right to be outraged.

        And you calling me on my outrage is a sign of privilege.

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        • Dog says:

          One of the ways that other institutions (Research Universities) have dealt with this problem is by forming a unit known as the Graduate Faculty – these faculty do not teach undergraduate classes at all (well at least most of the time). I used to have a position on a Graduate Faculty. While there are pros and cons to this, it does formally dilettante duties and expectations for that faculty profile.

          Here at the UO we are all supposed to be wonderful and loved in everything: teaching, research, service, etc

          I for one am never going to achieve that. So I have zero problem with a president saying I have limited value, since, in the real world of interchangeable parts on the UO spreadsheet, the president would be correct.

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        • Oryx says:

          a. I think your proposed statement “Many TTFs provide valuable instruction, especially in (some college other than yours)?” is perfectly fine. How would you rephrase it? If instead I read “All TTFs provide valuable instruction …,” I would consider it either inaccurate or patronizing. Not all TTF provide instruction, and not all instruction provided is great. Personally, I’m tired of feel-good emails about excellence.

          b. I love teaching, too.

          c. There are few things lazier than calling someone who disagrees with you “privileged.” What does it accomplish? Am I supposed to feel insulted? I really don’t know. Anyway, I’m sincerely sorry if I hurt your feelings.

          d. I don’t even know if I disagree with you on any of the actual substance of this topic.

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    • honest Uncle Bernie says:

      Bob — most of us would like to be loved more. I don’t read it the way you do. Many of us are wonderful, not all. Maybe CAS is more reliant on nttf?

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  2. honest Uncle Bernie says:

    “teaching quality (as measured by course evaluations)”

    A bit of intended irony there?

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  3. honest Uncle Bernie says:

    Translation: the TTF will have to be more productive, including in teaching the cash cow courses that they currently largely shun.

    There will be correspondingly fewer NTTF. Sorry! [Uncle adds: unionization is making NTTF less attractive, Sorry!]

    Uncle notes: Schill speaks with forked tongue about taxpayers, or is this a dig at faculty? Are taxpayers stiffing us, are we ripping them off by shunning their kids, or both?

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    • hippo says:

      Both. I think we all know of well off departments that have pawned off intro undergrad teaching to NTTFs. What’s wrong with that? I could go on, but here is a start. It makes the people with power in the department (TTFs) clueless about what undergrads are learning, ignorant of problems in giant and badly structured classes, and disdainful of teaching the kids who pay their salaries.

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      • Max Powers says:

        Wiinner winner, chicken dinner! Article after article complaining about overuse of adjunct and other NTTF but how many want to teach those courses?

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        • honest Uncle Bernie says:

          I think Schill is saying that the TTF are going to be teaching more of those courses whether they like it or not.

          At top-notch schools, some of the senior faculty certainly do. I know of Nobel prize winners at both Harvard and Berkeley who have taught intro courses.

          At Caltech, the legendary Linus Pauling taught intro chemistry even when he was department head, I’m told.

          Of course, one might point out that UO freshmen are not Berkeley, Harvard, Caltech students.

          But one might point out that most of us at UO are not Nobel prize level faculty. Most of the scientists here are not at the level of Linus Pauling!

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          • "most", huh? says:

            The best thing the senate could do right now is start awarding tenure to all those athletic “faculty”. No more bullshit golden parachutes to destroy the budget after one bad football season.

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      • Hippo says:

        Please use your own handle!

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        • not hippo says:

          Sorry. I didn’t remember there’s already a hippo.

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  4. Heraclitus says:

    One way to “acknowledge” the contribution of NTTF would be to show awareness that many are, in fact, “faculty engaged in research”, including those whose job is to teach in CAS (even if they’re not paid to do it). At the very least, good NTTF teachers stay up to date with the latest research in their fields, and many make their own contributions to it. The dichotomy of TTF=research / NTTF= teaching is simple minded.

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    • Hippo says:

      Often, NTTF are looking for TTF jobs, so are in maximum research production mode. I know of a certain unit on campus that would hire NTTF to do the teaching they didn’t want to do, and many (not all) of these NTTF were more research-active than the TTF!

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  5. incredulous NTTF says:

    “Given the gross underfunding by the state of our university over the past two decades and the more recent steep tuition increases for in-state students, we simply must use every dollar we have efficiently and effectively. We cannot be in a situation such as exists in some departments at the UO where NTTFs do the bulk of our undergraduate teaching, leaving our TTFs to staff upper level courses with few students. That is not fair to state taxpayers, to our students, and, quite frankly, to faculty members in other departments who teach large numbers of students.”

    The raises in undergraduate tuition are not “given,” they are decisions by the upper administration. They are ethically dubious decisions inasmuch as they impose the cost of efforts of general social value (research) entirely upon undergraduates and their families, who benefit from that research hardly more than any other human being on the planet.

    Secondly, if fairness to undergraduates is the issue, Instructional NTTF are a much better deal for them. NTTF cost twice as much and only put 40% of their effort on the job into teaching. That means that they cost, per hour of instruction, something like 5x as much, even if they taught the same size courses as NTTF. Is whatever “magic” that may or may not occur on the classroom between students and TTF worth that grossly larger expense?

    To way to be more fair to NTTF is to fire them (with due “respect,” of course)?

    The (lack of) soundness of these arguments for a tenured legal “scholar”–and the president of a supposedly reputable academic institution–is utterly embarrassing. Never mind maintaining the dubious honor of membership in the AAU, we should worry first about having a figurehead and mouthpiece that advances plain nonsense and idiocy on UO’s behalf.

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