University on track with Big Ten contract faculty rate

Tenure and tenure-track employees earn higher salaries.
January 24, 2013

Most faculty members at the University of Minnesota are here to stay.

The Twin Cities campus employs a high proportion of instructors who have tenure or are on track to receive it — 61 percent, just above the Big Ten average of 59 percent.

But many conference schools are increasingly relying on contract faculty, including adjuncts, to ease budget woes because those employees typically receive fewer benefits and lower pay than tenure and tenure-track instructors.

At the University, contract faculty members made an average of $62,000 in 2011-12 — about $30,000 less than those on the tenure-ladder.

But contract faculty at the University receive the same benefits as those on the tenure ladder, said Arlene Carney, vice provost for faculty and academic affairs .

“Many have been here for 10 or more years,” Carney said, adding that contracts with such faculty members are renewed annually.

Tom Wilsey, a communications senior, has had positive experiences with contract faculty in the past.

“Every time I’ve had someone come in and teach one class as an accomplished person, they seemed to care a lot more,” Wilsey said. “But I see a benefit from both [approaches]. [Contract faculty] could have a fresher mind from the field, but they could be a lousy teacher.”

Non-tenure and adjunct faculty members are usually brought in for their professional experience, said Michael Tanner, vice president for academic affairs at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. For example, a successful local business owner could be hired to teach a marketing class.

Those credentials can provide a valuable “reality factor” for students, Tanner said.

Most contract faculty members at the University are employed in the Academic Health Center, Carney said. Many of them do not collect a salary and instead donate their time in a supervisory role.

Brianna Lillo said one of her teachers in the Academic Health Center also works at a hospital.

Lillo, a genetics, cell biology and development freshman, said it’s important for teachers to have experience.

“I think it’s a better idea to have someone in the field [teaching the class],” Lillo said.

Conference comparisons

With state and federal funding drying up, it may seem obvious to turn teaching over to contractual faculty.

The average Big Ten university employs more than half of its instructional staff on the tenure ladder, but many schools have moved away from hiring new tenure-ladder employees.

“We had a number of faculty choose to retire … and many of them have not been replaced,” said Monica Bielski Boris, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “If they have been replaced, it’s been with adjunct professors.”

Though long-term data for the university was not available, Bielski Boris said her school’s move toward more contract faculty is a trend at public universities nationwide.

“It’s definitely concerning to a number of faculty on campus,” she said.

It creates a problem, she said, for people considering pursuing a career in higher education and a fear that professors will lose their job security.

The University of Iowa had the lowest proportion of contract faculty members among Big Ten universities in 2011-12 — three-quarters of teachers are tenure or tenure-track faculty members, according to university data.

Tom Moore, a spokesman for the University of Iowa, said the school has made a concerted effort to move faculty onto the tenure track.

Carney said she doesn’t see the University leaning toward employing more contract faculty members in the future.

“I think it’s tempting for some institutions, but I don’t think we would do that,” she said. “Our mission is to make sure students have the best instruction.”

Students appreciate the regularity and research opportunities tenured faculty members provide, Carney said.

“They like knowledge-makers, not presenters.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the University of Iowa's proportion of contract faculty members. The University of Iowa had the lowest proportion of contract faculty members among Big Ten universities in 2011-12; three-quarters of teachers are tenure or tenure-track faculty members.

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