By MARTY LEVINE
A “listening session” for non-tenure stream (NTS) faculty issues gave an earful to the University Senate’s Faculty Affairs Committee, as both full-time and part-time NTS faculty, as well as adjunct instructors, described a lack of transparency at every stage of their professional lives, from hiring and pay to promotion and opportunities for professional development.
The event, committee members said, was intended to gather NTS faculty concerns to take to the provost’s office and to inform the future focus of the committee.
“It’s not just the transparency of all these things; it’s the timeliness of finding out about these things, such as contract renewals,” said one participant — all of whom spoke anonymously. The session attracted about 40 people, mainly from the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences, but also from other schools and units of the University, including the regional campuses.
The Faculty Affairs Committee secretary Lorraine Denman — herself an NTS Lecturer II in the Dietrich School’s Department of French and Italian — led the meeting, with committee co-chair Yodit Betru, an NTS clinical assistant professor in the School of Social Work, and committee member Tom Songer, an NTS assistant professor in the Graduate School of Public Health.
“How we can make Pitt more equitable, more welcoming, more open to NTS faculty?” Denman asked. “There is no forum where NTS faculty can go and say ‘I have a problem,’ ” she added, urging the group to let their NTS colleagues know to contact the Faculty Affairs committee with any concerns they wish the committee to tackle.
Among the concerns discussed:
Salary and benefits
While the University’s benefits came in for praise (particularly the offer of health care for part-time workers), pay for NTS faculty was too often unknowable — even past the signing of a contract: “You have a question about (hiring salary) and you go to someone, like my chair, and they say, ‘I don’t know.’ ”
The pay also was deemed to be so low as to be unlivable. One participant reported teaching a course as a graduate student at one fee, only to be offered half that fee to teach the same course when returning with a Ph.D. Low pay for part-timers is apparently endemic to academia. One attendee said she had taught five classes a year at three different universities, including Pitt: “I might have cracked $20,000 that year. You could do better working at Starbucks — literally.”
Others bemoaned the lack of retirement benefits for part-time NTS faculty, and that they were not eligible for teaching awards.
Many in attendance expressed a love for the work of teaching but decried the uncertainties surrounding such a commitment, when even multi-year contracts can be cancelled if a position loses University funding. Alongside salary, perhaps the most pressing issue among attendees was the lack of job security:
“You have no opportunity to negotiate the terms of your contract,” one participant said. “There is no chance to sit down with someone. ‘We’ll tell you the terms of your pay later.’ Who does that?”
Tenure-stream faculty, one attendee noted, “negotiate hard for everything,” from research support to office space. For NTS faculty, on the other hand, “the expectation is, you’re lucky when you get such-and-such percentage bump in your salary. They gift you with this.”
A senior lecturer commented: “They just assume you’re going to sign on again because you are lucky to have your job” — a job from which there is no further possibility of promotion and for which one must re-apply every five years, the attendee noted.
“It’s not as if we have the option to not sign the contract that is offered us,” added another, noting everyone’s need for a job.
“Whether you’re full time or part time, students expect the best,” said one NTS faculty member, noting that NTS faculty have neither smaller classes nor less class preparation work than tenure-stream faculty. Another said that, even when not under contract for a coming semester, she cannot refuse to speak to former students who contact her: “You can’t say, ‘I don’t have a contract, call me in September.’ ”
“A lot of us have no idea what we can make” if and when promoted, said one NTS faculty member. “It’s less than you think,” she added — and faculty may, if they knew, realize they will never earn enough to make teaching their sole career.
Promotion criteria are either uncertain or default to the same criteria for tenure-stream faculty, resulting in the requirement that NTS faculty appear to be “tenurable,” said one person at the event — with research accomplishments and publications not normally required of NTS faculty — without the actual possibility of gaining tenure.
They also noted that, depending on the school or department, NTS faculty were often not allowed to vote on certain hiring decisions and chair appointments, or were given a partial vote. “It’s not shared governance when you only get half a vote,” said an attendee.
Some NTS faculty find themselves designated as an assistant instructor, “a rank that technically doesn’t exist at the University,” noted a participant. “But everybody knows what that means.”
Another added: “If you’re not a post-doc and you’re not tenure stream, what do they do with you? They don’t have a model for that.”
Half of the NTS faculty attending the listening session said they had advisory or other administrative duties, but generally agreed that these duties were ad hoc and sometimes unclear. Others pointed out that NTS faculty may not realize that they can work as assistant chairs or assistant deans.
Among other issues of concern, listening session participants mentioned the need for clarity about their role in graduate education; the need to regain University credentials with every new contract (sometimes as often as once per semester); the lack of a neutral place to go with concerns; and their inability to receive adequate professional development funding, even for brief amounts of time, to attend programs to improve their teaching expertise.
Attendees gave good marks to the help they’ve received from their tenure-stream colleagues; for some departments’ current moves to change part-time positions to full-time; and for their chances to work with Pitt-caliber students and to design their own courses.
And there was no wish among some to be moved to the tenure stream: “I see what the tenure-stream people have to do,” one participant said. “I have no desire to work any 90 hours a week.”
Altering the climate
Faculty Affairs secretary Denman observed that even the category label, non-tenure stream faculty, “focuses on what we aren’t supposed to be doing.” To alter the climate at Pitt, other labels were proposed, some already in use in individual Pitt schools or other universities, such as “term professor,” “clinical professor,” “professor of practice” or “faculty outside the tenure stream.”
“You could just get rid of tenure,” someone suggested.
“In another 20 years it might be gone,” said committee member Songer.
“If everybody were treated equally,” said Denman, “you could call me what you want” — particularly since students don’t understand the distinctions among titles anyway.
“If we could come up with a title that has ‘professor’ in it, for those of us who profess to students,” that would be ideal, responded one attendee.
“Money talks and talk is cheap,” said another. “If they’re paying some people twice as much, they’re showing where their respect lies.”
“If we can make (NTS faculty) more visible to all stakeholders,” countered Denman, “then maybe it is worth it” to change the label.
“You’re still often thought of as an ‘other’ by your peers,” added Betru.
Concluded one NTS faculty member: “I don't think teaching alone is valued as much as the research. I think it’s recognized, I don’t think it’s valued.”
Added another: “I think they are trying to set a different tone. But they’ve got a long way to go.”
As the meeting ended, one attendee wearing a badge supporting the faculty union organizing effort expressed appreciation for the event, but added that “it feels like we’re spinning our wheels. We can take this all to the provost and they can just say ‘No’ or ‘We’re working on it.’ ”
“I’ve been full-time since 2006; I’ve only seen incremental change,” allowed Denman. But, she added, “I see it as a long haul.” She expressed hope that issues such as transparency might be an early committee target, with stickier issues such as pay coming later.
Provost points to recent improvements
Provost Ann E. Cudd said her office had not been aware of the listening session and thus did not send a representative. But she pointed to improvements in conditions for NTS faculty at Pitt over the past two years, following the “Final Report and Recommendations by the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on PT NTS Faculty,” issued in February 2017.
They include making emeritus status available to NTS faculty, which was awarded to as many NTS as tenure-stream faculty — more than 70 percent of retirees in both categories — in the 2017-2018 academic year, according to Laurie Kirsch, vice provost for faculty affairs, development and diversity.
Descriptions of promotion criteria are now available for faculty in all schools save the new School of Computing and Information, where they are still being formulated. A guide to these rules — telling faculty whether to visit a specific page on each school’s public website or its internal intranet site, to visit the dean’s office or to look for an email — is available on the provost’s website.
Kirsch also emphasized that part-time faculty handbook materials have been compiled by the University Center for Teaching and Learning at teaching.pitt.edu/part-time-faculty-resources/. And while Pitt ID cards do stop working for such things as borrowing books from the library 30 days after each contract ends, she said, online library privileges remain available for 155 days after a contract, and all privileges restart 45 days prior to the next teaching contract.
“There is some need for flexibility” concerning last-minute part-time teaching contracts, Cudd said, particularly in cases where the hiring is being done as a substitute for an ill full-time faculty member.
“But as much as possible we would like to make the amount we pay transparent,” she added. “It is helpful for us to plan.”
Asked how her office will respond when the Faculty Affairs committee forwards any of the concerns expressed at the listening session, Kirsch said: “We remain committed to hearing the voices of our faculty. Their views actively inform our path forward.”
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-758-4859.