Members of the Faculty Senate are taking a deeper look at how the University of Minnesota treats non-tenure faculty amidst ongoing concerns and questions about their role on campus.
The Faculty Consultative Committee has made the issue one of their main priorities for the semester. This year, the committee has been gathering non-tenure faculty together to listen to their experiences at the University and determine the best steps forward.
Joseph Konstan, chair of the FCC, said he was interested in exploring non-tenure faculty after the failed Academics United union movement, in which many employees expressed discontent with working conditions and treatment on campus.
“[There] were some significant allegations that those folks, who are an important part of our University and … who deliver a large part of our instruction, were being poorly treated,” he said. “We said, let’s take a little time to investigate.”
Konstan said he’s heard a diverse viewpoints — some positive, others more critical — from non-tenure members, which includes a wide range of University employees like instructors, teaching specialists and academic professionals.
“It appears that, in general, the practices have been very good, but there are isolated areas … where the complaints we’ve heard suggest there may be behavior that’s detrimental to the institution as a whole,” Konstan said.
The committee hosted several panels of non-tenure faculty during FCC’s annual retreat before the start of the school year. Konstan said many of those on the panel were content with their situations, but some non-tenure faculty were unhappy with their contract structure that determines the workload and benefits they receive. Some faculty members, Konstan said, were working more hours than they receive benefits for.
“Somebody can be working here 30 to 40 hours a week and be treated as part-time and not eligible for benefits because the number of course that they’re assigned to doesn’t correspond to a full time load,” he said.
Others expressed frustration with how they were assigned to teach courses; Konstan pointed out one example of an instructor called in to teach a week before classes started.
“One of the messages that was very clear is that there’s very little consistency here,” Konstan said. “Our university’s policy allow a lot of latitude.”
University policy specifies the details of academic appointments, including the length of contracts and how much notice is given to faculty when their contracts are non-renewed.
However, there are many classifications and categories for non-tenure faculty across the University, which can lead to differing experiences among faculty, said Rebecca Ropers-Huilman, the University’s vice provost for faculty and academic affairs.
“Different colleges do understand these categories differently,” she said.
Ropers-Huilman said that non-tenure faculty often provide greater flexibility for colleges, which often deal with changing financial circumstances. But she said that University policy provides stability and support for non-tenure faculty.
The University grants most non-tenure faculty a nine-month or 12-month renewable contract, although some contracts are for longer periods of time, according to University policy.
However, Ropers-Huilman said that some schools at the University, including the College of Liberal Arts, are providing faculty with longer, multi-year contracts, which provide more stability.
Marta Shore, a non-tenure instructor in the School of Public Health, is excited to see renewed interest in the issue.
“I think it’s moving in the right direction,” Shore said. She was one of the members on FCC’s panels, which she said provided good insight on the diversity of opinions at the University.
Shore left the University in 2015 to work a union job because of frustrations with her working conditions. At the time, she was in a different department, teaching four classes and working as an academic adviser.
Shore said she was expected to work far more than her contract stated, and sometimes her nine-month contract wasn’t renewed until a week or two before the semester started.
“It was a lot of uncertainty. A lot of expectation of work without knowing for sure what was going to happen,” Shore said. “And that general feeling of 'I’m the last priority.'”
Shore, who came back to the University in 2017, said she would like to see more conversation about non-tenure faculty on campus.
“I think there’s just kind of a general lack at the University of how we’re going to see this role and how do we support these people in their role,” she said.