Many Cal Poly professors are leaders in their fields. They are developing technology used by Boeing, finding planets that defy gravitational laws and creating open government databases to bring state government back to the people. They carry out these projects with students, offering them chances to put their education to use; they guide senior projects and they plan out the curriculum for courses.
As the percentage of professors among all faculty members — tenure density — decreases, it becomes more and more difficult for them to perform these tasks.
Cal Poly’s paid Full Time Equivalent (FTE) faculty tenure density has decreased by seven percent since 2009, from 66.6 percent to 59.19 percent according to the 2016 Cal Poly Fact Book. Tenure density is calculated by dividing the sum of FTE instructional tenure track and tenured professors over all faculty, excluding the “others” category.
Tenure track faculty has increased since 2012, from 162 to 198, but tenured faculty have actually remained relatively constant and lecturers have increased by 100, according to the Fact Book.
The Cal Poly Academic Senate, the Academic Senate of the California State University (CSU) and the San Luis Obispo Chapter of the California Faculty Association (CFA) all agree that a 75 percent tenure density would be best for the university. Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong has also made it clear the university should hire more faculty.
The main issue, according to both CFA Chapter head and architectural engineering professor Graham Archer and Associate Vice Provost for Academic Personnel Al Liddicoat, is the decrease in state funds that makes it difficult for the faculty to grow. Archer also blames a lack of action on administration’s end.
Total funding is back up to approximately 2008 levels this year, although state funding is still low, according to online financial data from the CSU.
Making it happen
To make the move to 75 percent, the university would have to hire a mix of 703 professors and convert 176 lecturers to tenure track positions. But this is easier said than done.
According to the collective bargaining agreement, a conversion is not possible without a competitive search for other candidates for tenure first. This search requires national advertising, attendance at conferences and multiple readings of hundreds of applications for tenure. It takes a lot of money to put on this search and more tenure faculty also means more budgeting to pay these new professors.
The Cal Poly Student Success Fee, was the main reason Cal Poly was able to keep its faculty after the state furlough in 2008 that began the decrease in tenure density, Liddicoat said. The CSU system on average had a tenure density of 56 percent in 2014, meaning Cal Poly is actually above the curve.
According to Liddicoat, the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences tried to increase tenure density. However, due to the difficulty of the job search, they were working past deadlines and in the end were unable to pull it off. He was unsure what year this process took place, but in 2015 Dean Thulin received a vote of no confidence because, according to CAFES faculty, he did not act on these requests in a reasonable time.
Each applicant to a tenure or tenure track position at Cal Poly has to go through the college they are applying to, go through the process described and be recommended by the Dean before Armstrong even sees their application.
This means the burden to increase tenure density falls upon each college as well as the administration, creating a loose structure that makes it difficult for density to change.
According to Liddicoat, an increase in tenure track would diminish the hardship brought on by lack of tenure staff, but until tenure density actually increases, some professors will face greater and greater work loads.