Who needs tenure any more?

Overheard at Miami:

“Tenure? I think it should go away. It’s an unfair system. Some people get a golden ticket to lifetime employment and some of us who are just as qualified have to work for low pay and no benefits and have no protections.” — Part-time faculty member X.

We salute Part-Timer X and understand where he’s coming from. It’s tough to stomach having trained for years to be a scholar only to find oneself in a nonpermanent and low-paid position. The precarious situation of adjunct faculty — as well as that of temporary full-time faculty — is one of AAUP’s core causes; it’s unjustifiable on many grounds.

But is tenure to blame for the obvious injustice of the situation?

Let’s get clear on what tenure is. Tenure protects free, uncensored scholarly research and inquiry. Miami’s policy manual clearly associates tenure with academic freedom. In order for inquiry to be free, it must be protected from censorship. When you are awarded tenure, your university has to show just cause in order to dismiss you. That way, you don’t wind up getting dismissed for doing controversial research or expressing unpopular opinions. Tenure is simply a way to enable and protect academic freedom. And while the tenure system is especially important at universities, where knowledge is (ideally) freely produced and disseminated, it’s actually the way more workplaces should work. Instead of aspiring to make all workers equally unprotected, Part-Timer X, couldn’t we aspire to a system in which there could be due process and academic freedom for you and for all faculty?

Here’s what tenure emphatically is not: it is not permission to do whatever the tenured professor pleases, and is not a free pass to incompetent, illegal, exploitative, or discriminatory behavior. While different institutions vary over what counts as cause for dismissal, incompetence in the classroom and illegal behavior would be cause at most universities.

In short, the due-process protections tenure provides should be the right of the majority of educators and researchers, not the “privilege” of a dwindling few.

By the way, if you’re a lecturer, a graduate student, a VAP or visiting instructor, or a part-time instructor at Miami — that is, if you’re among the people who teach roughly 60% of the credit hours at Miami*you don’t have due-process protections, and therefore academic freedom in your classroom is not protected.

 

*See Miami University Budget Symposium 2017 presentation, p. 26.

Do NTT faculty at Miami have academic freedom?

Do NTT faculty at Miami have academic freedom? What about due process in case of non-renewal?*

Fact: The answer to both questions is no.

  • Miami’s policy manual, MUPIM, specifically associates academic freedom with tenure. (If you aren’t totally sure what academic freedom is or why it’s important, please read this.)
  • MUPIM is silent on academic freedom for NTT faculty—LCPL, visiting, part-time faculty, and graduate students—who teach ~60% of the credit hours at Miami.**
  • MUPIM provides for a very loose version of due process in cases of nonrenewal only for lecturers and clinical faculty, and only at department or program level. Due process procedures for these faculty are not required and their nature is not specified.

Here are the relevant passages.

From MUPIM 7.3: Tenure & Promotion:

“Tenure is a means of assuring academic freedom: that is, the freedom to teach, to inquire, to create, to debate, to question, and to dissent (see Section 5.1). Such activity is the essence of the search for truth and knowledge, and is primary to the University. This atmosphere is necessary as the University seeks to attract, maintain, and nurture a diverse and exceptional faculty.

From MUPIM 5.1: Principles of Academic Freedom:

“The following statement of principles of academic freedom adopted by the American Association of University Professors in 1940 was approved by the Board of Trustees, June of 1950:

Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition. (The word “teacher” as used in this document is understood to include the investigator who is attached to an academic institution without teaching duties.)

Academic freedom is essential to these purposes and applies to both teaching and research.  Freedom in research is fundamental to the advancement of truth. Academic freedom in its teaching aspect is fundamental for the protection of the rights of the teacher in teaching and of the student to freedom in learning. It carries with it duties correlative with rights.

Tenure is a means to certain ends, specifically: (1) freedom of teaching and research and of extramural activities, and (2) a sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive to men and women of ability. Freedom and economic security, hence tenure, are indispensable to the success of an institution in fulfilling its obligations to its students and to society.

No faculty member shall be obliged to make her or his nonpublic work available for inspection by a second party in the absence of compulsory legal process.

From MUPIM 7.11: Nontenured-Eligible Faculty Positions

“Appointments to nontenure-eligible faculty positions are made on an academic year basis. A person in a nontenure-eligible faculty position is eligible to receive, but not entitled to expect, renewal of appointment. No person shall serve more than five (5) years in a fulltime, nontenure-eligible instructional staff position except for those appointed as Lecturers or as Clinical/Professionally Licensed Faculty. Appointments to nontenure-eligible instructional staff positions are subject to renewal at the will of Miami University. Persons whose appointments are not being renewed are entitled to notice of nonrenewal on or before February 1.”

From MUPIM 7.11 C & D: Nonrenewal Process for Lecturers & Clinical Faculty:

In the event the nonrenewal of a Lecturer [or Clinical/Professionally Licensed Faculty] is under consideration, the department chair or program director (when appropriate) must first consult formally with the faculty consistent with the governance procedures of the department or program (when appropriate).

[No language about academic freedom; no language about cause or due process above department/program level in cases of nonrenewal; no language specifying that governance procedures governing nonrenewal exist at department program level, or what they should consist of if they exist.]

From MUPIM 7.1 1A & B: Renewal/Nonrenewal of Visiting Instructors and Visiting Faculty:

Visitors [& Instructors] are eligible to receive, but not entitled to expect, annual reappointment not to exceed five (5) years.

[No language about due process protections in cases of nonrenewal or about academic freedom.]

From MUPIM on per-credit-hour/part-time faculty:

[No language we could locate on either academic freedom or any due process protections for part-time/per-credit-hour faculty.]

The point here is not so much that Miami faculty don’t, in practice, have academic freedom most of the time. Most LCPL we’ve spoken with do feel they have freedom in the classroom. The point is that NTT faculty do not have express protections of academic freedom in the form of due process. That means that their academic freedom depends not on policy, but on the will of the people who hire them. And that means that when someone decides not to renew someone and it’s for the wrong reasons — let’s hope that doesn’t happen, but it could and does happen sometimes — then suddenly their academic freedom is a mirage. And if NTT academic freedom could become a mirage at any time, that means that actually NTT faculty don’t really have it at all.

 

*This piece focuses on nonrenewal, not abrupt termination. With nonrenewal, due process is not required and no cause for termination need be offered.

**See Miami University Budget Symposium 2017 presentation, p. 26.