Registration is a stressful time, and nothing adds to that stress like “STAFF” listed as the instructor for a class. There are many reasons why the instructor of a class may not be determined at the time of registration, one of which being the department plans on hiring a non-tenured instructor to teach that section.
“Sometimes you’ll get a lot more students than anticipated in a particular major, so you’ll get a bubble in the freshman class,” Al Liddicoat, associate vice provost for academic personnel, said. “Then, all of a sudden, you need a lot more sections of something, but you don’t need it forever.”
Who are non-tenured professors?
Non-tenured faculty are typically contracted for shorter periods of time with no guarantee of contract renewal. They differ from tenured faculty in that they may be part-time, not qualify for benefits and are not required to conduct research or serve on academic committees. The job assignment of a non-tenure track professor is almost exclusively classroom teaching.
According to the 2015-2016 Cal Poly Fact Book, the portion of full time equivalent non-tenured faculty at Cal Poly increased from 29 percent in 2011 to 35 percent in 2015. Full time equivalent non-tenured faculty is calculated differently than a simple headcount of the non-tenured faculty group; a full time equivalent non-tenured faculty member is considered the 15 hour sum of one or several non-tenured individuals’ working hours.
Previously, non-tenure faculty were traditionally professionals who worked in their industry of expertise and were hired to teach a class on that topic. For example, a senior engineer at Boeing might teach a class on jet propulsion at Cal Poly one quarter per year. The role of non-tenure faculty has since shifted. There are currently many full-time non-tenure track faculty teaching in higher education.
The opposition’s side
Opponents of extensively using non-tenured claim that universities are using non-tenure faculty in order to cut costs. Non-tenured faculty make less on average than tenured faculty and are not required to have a Ph.D. To qualify for tenure track, candidates must possess a Ph.D and go through an extensive selection process over the course of nearly a year, according to Liddicoat.
Additionally, non-tenured faculty typically work part-time and do not qualify for benefits. California State University (CSU) policy requires faculty to work longer than six months and teach more than six units of class to qualify for benefits.
Non-tenured at Cal Poly
Even though non-tenure faculty can play an important role in the education of students, some non-tenured faculty worry that their lack of unionization or job security leaves them vulnerable to exploitation.
“In the CSU, especially in the Bay Area and Los Angeles area, adjunct (non-tenure) faculty sometimes have appointments at three or four CSUs,” mechanical engineering professor and CSU Academic Senate member Jim Locascio said. “So therefore, they have no commitment to any one of those campuses, and their life is very difficult.”
However, since there are no CSUs within commuting distance, non-tenure track faculty at Cal Poly are more likely to be full-time at a single CSU and more involved in their departments according to Locascio.
Non-tenured staff are treated the same as the tenured faculty in the mechanical engineering department, Locascio said.
Despite the criticisms of the use of non-tenure faculty, some students prefer non-tenured faculty teach their classes.
“Because their performance is always under scrutiny and their future employment up in the air, they might have a lot more motivation to be engaged in students and constantly work on improving their teaching skills,” business administration junior Jonah Saraceno said.