Goodbye Instructor. Hello Research: Faculty cut to make room for research
Correction: A previous version of this story stated that 31 non-tenured faculty members in the College of Arts and Sciences were not renewed. The correct number is 21 non-tenured faculty members and 10 staff members.
Twenty-one non-tenured faculty members and 10 staff members in the College of Arts and Sciences were notified on Thursday that they won’t be hired back by the University of Oregon next year. This comes as no surprise as the university copes with budget deficits; however, some faculty members are concerned that administrators are valuing academic rankings over student success.
The faculty cuts for the romance language department haven’t been finalized yet, and students and faculty are worried about the upcoming decision.
Full time instructors in romance languages teach three classes per term — representing roughly 60 students per term or 180 students a year. If five full-time romance language instructors are cut at the end of the year, the number initially handed down to the department, 900 seats will be unavailable for students trying to take language classes.
These changes are part of the university’s plan to improve UO’s status as Oregon’s flagship research institution.
According to Provost and Senior Vice President Scott Coltrane, a research institution’s focus is to train masters and Ph.D. students.
In 2008, enrollment at UO surged. Coltrane said this resulted in a short-term focus on hiring non-tenured faculty to accommodate the increase in underclassmen.
“What happened [during the surge] is we started looking more toward a teaching-intensive university instead of a research university,” Coltrane said. “So we are trying to find that balance.”
In order for the university to achieve its goal, budget cuts are trimming the number of non-tenured faculty across campus.
It is very difficult for the university to remove a tenured professor. This makes the College of Arts and Sciences budget difficult to cut because, according to CAS Dean W. Andrew Marcus, 96 percent of the CAS budget is allocated for personnel, meaning instructors are one of the only places to trim weight.
In February, United Academics, the union representing nearly all of the faculty on campus, announced that approximately 75 faculty members will be cut at the end of the year. UO President Michael Schill said the number was pulled out of thin air when he spoke to the Emerald last month, but said that some faculty member cuts were imminent.
The basis for cutting non-tenured faculty is to make room for more tenured faculty members down the line.
Tenured faculty — professors who have the security of a job until they retire, break the law or severely violate university policy — are responsible for conducting research and publishing their findings in addition to their teaching and service duties. Non-tenured faculty are hired either on 1- or 3-year contracts. Their duties are more narrowly focused on teaching and rarely include research or publishing obligations.
“The assumption is, for undergraduates, if you’re in the classroom with someone who is actually writing the books and doing the discoveries, then it’s going to be more enriching,” Coltrane said. “On a case-by-case basis that’s not always true, some of our very best instructors are non-tenure track faculty and they’re specialists in being instructors and they’re really good.”
Although these instructors may provide a better classroom experience for students, that experience doesn’t factor into how the school is ranked. Instead, rankings are based on the amount of patents the institution holds, what it discovers and how many grants it gets, according to Coltrane.
However, some faculty in the romance language department say that focusing on tenured faculty and rankings runs directly against the university’s mission statement to serve as a “comprehensive public research university committed to exceptional teaching, discovery and service.”
“We can’t afford to eliminate language programs or decrease the number of students who can get access to studying language in an environment in which globalization is so important, in which international understanding is so important,” said Gina Psaki, professor of Italian.
According to President Schill, the amount of money each department receives from the university is determined by the number of credit hours the department serves. Because fewer students are enrolling in humanities courses, those departments are not earning as much revenue as they once did. The overall effect of the low enrollment is driving down the need for non-tenure track faculty.
For Schill, this seems inevitable.
“The nature of non-tenured faculty is that they are not here permanently. They are here year to year,” Schill said. “… there’s a hardship in that, which is you don’t know if you have a job or not, but that is the point of non-tenured faculty, is that they are meeting teaching needs that are not constant.”
Psaki, who holds tenure in the romance language department, has been at UO since 1989 and currently serves as the assistant department head of romance languages in addition to her research, publishing and teaching duties. According to her, the romance language department relies on many of the non-tenured faculty’s expertise in teaching introductory courses.
“I can teach first and second year languages,” Psaki said, “but I’m not very good at it. My colleagues who are non-tenure track faculty members … they have immense experience”
Despite the value some of these instructors may bring to their departments, they don’t fit into the university’s long-term plan.
Amanda Powell is a non-tenured faculty member whose work compares to that of her tenure track colleagues. She is involved in research and publication as well as teaching upper division and graduate level language courses.
“Our teaching load is high. We are really dedicated to our classes,” said Powell, a senior lecturer II in Spanish. “It’s really disheartening to know that without regard to the quality of our teaching [or] the quality of our program, a number of positions are going to be cut purely on the basis of metrics.”
Schill’s new three-tiered budget model is supposed to rein in department spending by 2019 and bring UO’s balance of tenured and non-tenured faculty back into line with other research institutions.
Although this new model will help curb the budget and prevent future cuts, it doesn’t account for the instructors or classes that will disappear in the short term.
Increased interest in professional schools like business and journalism will mean more revenue is injected into those programs while less popular departments will face continued uncertainty.
“For me it remains the case that this is a comprehensive university,” Psaki said. “You can’t feed one division by starving others.”