July-August 2008 Resource Review: Today’s Majority—Faculty Outside the Tenure System
--by Judith M. Gappa
The work of colleges and universities—teaching, research, creative endeavors, professional service, and community involvement—is carried out each day by committed, talented faculty members. The faculty’s intellectual capital, taken collectively, is every institution’s principal asset. Today, as higher-education institutions are faced with new challenges that only seem to grow more difficult—maintaining technological infrastructures, dealing with budgetary constraints, recruiting and retaining diverse students, finding new sources of revenue, and responding to new accountability requirements, for example—the importance of all faculty members in achieving institutional goals is obvious. Thus, concern for the well-being and productivity of the faculty, collectively and individually, is a permanent and central issue for higher education institutions and governing bodies.
Fortunately, two recently published books about faculty include non-tenure-track appointments in their comprehensive discussions of American faculty characteristics, employment, working conditions, and careers: The American Faculty: The Restructuring of Academic Work and Careers by Jack Schuster and Martin Finkelstein (2006) and Rethinking Faculty Work: Higher Education’s Strategic Imperative by Judith Gappa, Ann Austin, and Andrea Trice (2007). The latter emphasizes successful recruitment and retention across all types of academic appointments.
Today, the new majority of faculty members are those not appointed to tenure-track positions. In contrast to 1975, when 58 percent of all faculty members were in tenure-bearing positions, by 2000 only 27 percent of all new faculty appointments and 56 percent of all new full-time faculty appointments were in tenure-track positions. In total, 60 percent of today’s 1,138,734 faculty members are in full- and part-time appointments outside the tenure system (Gappa, Austin and Trice, 2007, Schuster and Finkelstein, 2006), and full-time, non-tenure-eligible faculty are now one-third of the full-time faculty in all types of institutions, from two-year colleges to research universities. The percentages range from 20 percent of the full-time faculty in engineering to 50 percent in the health sciences. Roger Baldwin and Jay Chronister describe the types of appointments and working conditions of full-time non-tenure-track faculty in their 2001 book, Teaching Without Tenure: Policies and Practices for a New Era.
This trend away from traditional full-time, tenure-bearing appointments is due in part to the changing demographics of faculty members. The summary report “Doctorate Recipients from United States Universities” (Hoffer et al., 2005) shows that the proportion of doctorates received by women has grown steadily across all disciplines and has reached more than half of all doctorates awarded. The last 15 years have also seen an increase in faculty of color. In 2004, 20 percent of doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens went to people of color (Hoffer et al., 2005).
Judith M. Gappa is professor emerita of higher education administration at Purdue University, where she served previously as vice president for human relations. Before that, she was associate provost for faculty at San Francisco State University.The full text of this article is available by subscription only.